Build beastly conditioning, lose fat, and strengthen your weak muscle groups with density training. Here’s how to do it.
If you train for 90 minutes, you’re actually not training much. Really. Let’s say that each set takes about 30 seconds to complete, then you rest for two or two-and-a-half minutes between sets. That extrapolates to only 15-18 minutes of actual exercise time in a 90-minute workout.
And let’s not even talk about diddling with your phone or chatting with other people. Your workout probably needs to be more “dense.”
“Workout density” is the amount of work performed within a given timeframe. There are several ways to increase it. The simplest is to cut down on your rest intervals and complete your planned workout in less time. But most of us enjoy our gym time and don’t want to cut it short.
The other option is to add more work into what would normally be scrolling time. Basically, do secondary exercises between your primary exercises. The benefits?
- Increased energy expenditure for fat loss.
- Fixing weaknesses. If you’re smart about choosing your secondary exercise, you can bring up your weaker, less developed areas.
- Improved conditioning. Regardless of whether you add in conditioning-focused work or not, you’ll improve your general conditioning by keeping your heart rate elevated.
Here are a couple of ideas:
Think about what you need (not want). Lifters tend to be very pressing-focused, leading to under-worked pulling muscles. So, throw in some band pull-aparts, face pulls, or hamstring work between sets of squats. How about a high-rep set of dumbbell hip thrusts between sets of dumbbell presses? Or drop down and do some ab/core work after your main set. Maybe you want to get better at bodyweight exercises like push-ups, lunges, dips, or pull-ups. You could easily throw in some calf or forearm work, too.
You get the idea. There are some things you neglect, so do more of that in-between sets. You can do just about anything, but there are a few principles to follow:
- You don’t want the additional work to interfere with your primary exercise (hence the “non-competing” thing). Avoid combining exercises that are grip-intensive. And don’t do any core work after squats, deadlifts, or bent-over rows to avoid over-taxing your erectors.
- Keep the rep range relatively high on your second exercise. No heavy stuff.
- Don’t be an equipment hog. Whatever your secondary exercise, make sure you can do it at the same station you’re already using. Bring whatever you need over, both to minimize your transition time and to avoid pissing off everybody else. Bands, body weight, or floor work are ideal. If you lift at home, do whatever you want.
- Complete the first set for your primary exercise, then go right into the secondary exercise – no break yet.
- Rest after the secondary “filler” exercise, but not as long as you normally would between normal sets. Remember, those primary muscles have been resting while you kept working on something else. The goal is to increase density, not make your workout even longer.
Instead of hypertrophy work, get your heart rate up to improve conditioning.
Again, avoid work that targets the same muscle groups. That makes conditioning work a challenge to combine with leg exercises. That said, Prowler pushes with back work, Farmer’s walks or sled pulls with pressing exercises, or bike or treadmill sprints with anything upper body-focused are amazing combinations.
Whatever you choose, shoot for 30-60 seconds of conditioning after your primary exercise set. Once again, don’t extend your rest interval to compensate. You may still rest 3 minutes between sets of the primary exercise, but 30-60 seconds of that 3-minute period are spent doing something else.
If this leaves you panting on the floor, then that’s a good sign you need this type of work and will quickly reap the benefits of increased training density.