Density Training

Density training is a four-week plan to increase your ability in one specific movement. The plan can work for almost any movement, but it works particularly well for pullups, handstand pushups, muscle ups, toes to bar, and other gymnastic movements. Most athletes can realize a 30% increase in capability over the course of the four-week program. You’re going to do two short workouts a week for four weeks. Each workout can be done in addition to other training either as a warmup or a cooldown.

So here’s how you do it.

Step 1: Pick the movement you want to work on. For our example, we’ll use strict handstand pushups (HSPU).

Step 2: What’s your maximum number of unbroken reps in that movement? Essentially, how many reps can you do without stopping? If you don’t know, then go test yourself. We kinda need to know that. For our example let’s assume I can currently do 12 strict HSPU.

Step 3: Now that we know your current PR, you have to set a goal PR for the end of the four-week  program. This is where you must resist the urge to be stupid. Density training is very effective, but it is not magic. It will not double your PR in four weeks—nothing will– so don’t set that as a goal. That would be stupid. A 25-35% increase is a very aggressive, but still doable goal, so I recommend shooting for about 30%. If you overshoot your goal then you will very quickly find yourself unable to complete the program. Then you will have to adjust your goal or restart the program entirely. Meanwhile, your buddy that chose a reasonable goal will be clicking along, making progress. In this example, I have set a goal PR of 16 strict HSPU, a 33% increase over my current PR of 12 HSPU.

Step 4: Now that we have your goal, multiply that goal by 2. In our example, my goal of 16 HSPU gets multiplied by 2 to get 32 HSPU. This is the total volume of HSPU I will do each workout—32.

Step 5: Lay out your workouts:

EMOM means “every minute on the minute.” That means at the beginning of a minute you perform your reps. You rest the remainder of the minute after performing your reps. At the top of the next minute, repeat.

How many reps are you supposed to do each minute? Well, remember your goal x 2? That’s the total volume of reps for each workout. So in the first workout, I will divide that volume across 12 minutes. My total volume is 32 HSPU, so I will structure my 12 minute EMOM like this: 2-2-3-3-3-3-3-3-3-3-2-2. The sum of all those sets is 32. Check out the table below to see how I’d structure each of my workouts throughout this example.

That’s it. On the final workout you re-test and find out how much you’ve improved. Many athletes improve even more than their goal number, so be ready for anything.

Finally, here’s some things you should know to make sure the program runs smoothly.

  1. Pick either strict or kipping and stick with it, if that term applies to your movement. It’s OK to do the program for kipping pullups. It’s OK to do the program for strict pullups. But don’t set out to do the program with strict pullups and then start kipping when you get tired.
  2. Rest at least one, but preferably two or more days between workouts each week.
  3. If the first workout, the 12-minute EMOM, feels awfully difficult, then you’ve probably set your goal too high.
  4. You should strive to complete your reps for each minute in one unbroken set at the top of each minute. If that becomes impossible, then simply try to finish the reps within the minute however you can.
  5. What should you do if you fail a workout? If you fail a workout then the first recourse is to repeat that workout your next training day and extend the program by an extra day. If you fail two workouts in a row, before you get to the 4-minute and 3-minute workouts, then you should adjust your goal PR and therefore your total volume. You can then continue on from that point with the new numbers.
  6. The 4-minute and the 3-minute workouts are very, very difficult. If you do not complete your prescribed reps, just soldier on and finish the program as best you can. I promise your max will still have gone up even if you can’t pass the 3-minute EMOM.
  7. What if your total volume can’t fill out the 12 minute EMOM with even 1 rep each minute? Relax. Just fill the prescribed time with the total volume you need, even if it means skipping some minutes. Maybe you’ll do a rep every 2 minutes for the 12 min EMOM and accrue 6 total reps. That’s fine. The reps will get denser as you move along. That’s why it’s called “density training.”