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Why Escalating Density Training?

With Joe Meier, CSCS, PN2

woman lifting a barre and headshot of Joe

Season 8, Episode 5 | April 16, 2024

Escalating Density Training (EDT) is an approach to training that’s focused on density during strength training — and that can mean big results in a shorter period of time while exercising. This can help you maximize workout efficiency and minimize fatigue without sacrificing gains in your strength and cardiovascular fitness.

Joe Meier, CSCS, PN2, explains what EDT is and what it looks in practice, including how it’s progressive and scalable for any fitness level. He also shares the nine-week EDT program that he created for Experience Life that anyone can follow.

Joe Meier, CSCS, PN2, is a Dynamic Personal Trainer and the Personal Training Leader at Life Time in Eden Prairie, Minn. He’s the author of the independently published book Lift for Life: A Practical, Evidence-Based Guide to Training.

In this episode, Meier covers some key takeaways about Escalating Density Training (EDT), including the following:

  • EDT is a form of training that compresses what you are trying to do into a short period of time. You select an exercise, set a time limit, and complete as many reps as you can within that allotted time. As you continue with your program, your density increases. Your goal over time is not to do longer workouts, but to get more work done in that same period of time and with the same exercises.
  • EDT is scalable to any fitness level. For example, the two people might be doing dumbbell bench presses for 10 minutes, but they would each be using the amount of weight that’s appropriate to them.
  • Technique and proper form are critical. You’re not just simply completing as many reps as you can; you’re completing as many good-form reps as you can.
  • Compared with traditional strength training, your heart rate during EDT workouts is going to be higher the entire time. You can expect to notice a benefit to cardiovascular fitness because of this.
  • The EDT program Meier designed is a nine-week program broken up into three three-week segments so that you progressively build over time. The time allotted increases across those segments from 10 minutes to 15 minutes to 17 minutes.

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Transcript: Why Escalating Density Training?

Season 8, Episode 5  | April 16, 2024


Welcome to Life Time Talks, the podcast that’s aimed at helping you achieve your health, fitness, and life goals. I’m Jamie Martin, editor in chief of Experience Life, Life Time’s whole life health and fitness magazine. And I’m David Freeman, director of Alpha, one of Life Time’s signature group training programs.

We’re all in different places along our health and fitness journey, but no matter what we’re working toward, there are some essential things we can do to keep moving in the direction of a healthy purpose-driven life. In each episode, we break down various elements of healthy living, including fitness and nutrition, mindset and community, and health issues. We’ll also share real, inspiring stories of transformation. And we’ll be talking to experts from Life Time and beyond who share their insights and knowledge so you’ll have the tools and information you need to take charge of your next steps. Here we go.


Jamie, what is going on? Excited to connect with you today and our special guest, we got Joe, we’re gonna be talking about escalating density training. So tell me a little bit what you’re excited about when it comes to this topic, Jamie.

Well, I think this is one of those type of workout approaches that maybe a lot of people aren’t familiar with, but that can really reap big results for people. And, you know, kind of almost a minimal amount of time of work in the gym, like on any given day, like a 30 minute workout. So I’m excited that we’re gonna introduce this to our listeners, but also be able to point them back to some ways that they can actually do this with us. So this escalating density training, we have Joe Meyer with us here today. Joe, welcome to the podcast.

Glad to be here. Very excited.

Awesome. I’m just going to tell our listeners a little bit about you. You are a personal training leader for Life Time at the Eden Prairie Athletic location in Minnesota. And he is also the author of the independently published book, Lift for Life, a Practical Evidence-Based Guide to Training. So a couple of things. So escalating density training, Joe, you created this workout for the January, February, 2024 issue of Experience Life. It’s a nine week program. And I remember when our fitness editor pitched this idea, I was like, I’ve been lifting weights and doing strength training for a really long time, but I had not heard of this protocol before. So I am excited for you to be able to tell us like, what is it? And then we’ll get into more detail. So let’s just start there. What is escalating density training?

Yeah, so escalating density training or EDT for short is just a form of training that compresses what you are trying to do into a small timed period of time. And your goal over time with this type of training isn’t to have longer workouts, it’s to try to get more done with your fitness level in that same period of time and with the same exercises and sometimes also the same amount of weight.

So I like how you broke it down and for our listeners, just understanding getting a lot more done in a shorter period of time. When you look at these two different elements, we’ve got plenty of acute variables as it relates to training. But when you talk about volume and density, can you explain to our listeners what exactly is the difference there? Yeah, so let’s say I have three sets of 10 on three different exercises and that is a certain amount of volume and it maybe takes me 32 minutes to complete. So if I want, a more dense workout, but I complete the same amount of volume in 15 minutes, which you’ll see if you follow any of these workouts, we have them starting off with the first workouts, 10 minutes, 10 minutes, 10 minutes. So each superset of exercises you do is just 10 minutes. You’re just doing the same amount of volume or more volume in a shorter period of time.

I like that. People are probably saying, yes, I can get more done in a shorter period of time. Is this right for any fitness level? Can anybody do this or how would you recommend that?

Yes, I think any fitness level could definitely do this and like any workout or any class you go to at Life Time, you’re gonna scale things to your fitness level. So if you and I are doing the first superset on week one, day one of dumbbell bench press and dumbbell bent over row, we’re both doing 10 minutes, but we might use a different amount of weight. So as long as you are capable of having proper technique with the exercises that we choose in there and you can always sub things if you need to. Technique is huge. Obviously you want it to stay consistent through the 10 minutes because you’re moving through pretty quick, but you can definitely scale to any fitness level.

Let’s talk about that technique for a second, because that is one thing when you’re moving fast in a workout, you’ve already alluded to this, that can be compromised. You can be like, okay, I’m going to get this done. I’m going to knock out as many of as I can. Let’s say it’s the dumbbell bent over roll, for instance, but you might start to feel it in your low back if you’re moving too quick or somewhere else. So, why is technique still, even though this is about doing more work in the same amount of time, why is form still so critical?

Yeah, David could speak to this too, being the alpha guy, but form is super critical, especially when you’re moving at a faster pace. And hopefully it’s clear if anyone follows this workout that we try to explain if you take your 10 rep max or a weight, let’s say on that dumbbell bench press example, that I can bench press 10 times. When I use that weight during the actual 10 minute set where I’m moving quickly through it, I’m not going for 10 reps every time. So I should be able to focus on good technique, because I’m probably only going to shoot for five or six reps with that 10 rep max weight, and then I’m jumping to the bent over row. And then I’m going to wait 15 seconds or so, and then I’m going to go back to it. So the technique is important, especially when you’re moving quick, because when people are out of breath, there’s a good chance that they’re going to have a hard time focusing on their technique. And obviously, if you have technique breakdown and you’re just going to failure every single time versus leaving a couple of reps in the tank, you definitely want to focus on the technique and make sure that that is right at the front of your mind.

I feel the approach is key. I like what you call it out there. Regardless if it’s alpha, if it’s GTX, any of our signature programs or Dynamic Personal Rraining, this is a great benefit when you jump into a program to have some type of subject matter expert to help support in the beginning phases. A lot of times what we are seeing on social or maybe out into our resorts is people doing workouts versus what you said earlier. This is a program. So this isn’t a one and done. This is a program that you want to follow. You probably go a little bit more into detail of what a full program might look like and the benefits behind it once again. But that’s, that’s why I want to double down on when starting a program, it’s great to have somebody to help support the guidance through that program. Would you agree?

Totally agreed. And if you’re into this sort of working out, going to an alpha class is fantastic because you can get the extra coaching in the community that helps people a ton. And the alpha program also is it’s progressive over time, which this nine week program is progressive. It starts with 10 minute work blocks and then I believe it moves to 12. And then I think towards the end, it goes up to 17 or so. So you get up to 17 minutes of straight work with three exercises in a row and that sort of, it’s kind of like what most people think of a metcon at the end of a conditioning class or an alpha class. So you’re just getting a lot of work done in a short period of time.

This nine week program. And like you said, it’s broken up into three, three week segments essentially, so that you are having that progressive build over time. I think the second set of three weeks is actually 15 minutes. So it’s 10, 15, 17. We got it. We got it. Whatever. It’s close enough, right?


Okay. So. Let’s talk a little bit about who this is for. You said anybody at any level can do this, but are there things people should consider before they start a program like this? Or is there anyone who should maybe consult with their healthcare provider ahead of time?

I think with any program, especially one that’s designed to be of somewhat of a high intensity, you should definitely make sure there’s no underlying reasons why you should not do this sort of thing. Because as you do this workout compared to traditional strength training, your heart rate is going to be higher the entire time and that’s one of the biggest benefits of it and one of the biggest benefits of just doing really time efficient workouts where you’re either timing it or you’re doing supersets or triceps with three exercises. So you’re going to expect one of the biggest improvements that people will notice is an improvement in cardiovascular fitness when you do this sort of training compared to I’m doing three sets of 10 on the bench and I’m looking at my phone in between and then after two minutes I do my next set. So as long as there’s no underlining reasons why you shouldn’t do it and you are confident in each exercise technique, then I think you can go for it.

I like that. Let’s go to the people who will probably have some rebuttals for this style of programming, right Joe? So we definitely don’t want to say that rest is not important. So obviously rest is needed here and there for the body to be able to recover so you can get the most optimal lifts that you’re trying to do within that set or setting. So can you kind of explain, once again, you said the cardiovascular benefits behind it. I do kind of want to go on the other end of the spectrum too saying, hey, why rest is important when you’re doing certain style of programming, but then how you can start to sprinkle this style of programming in when you are on a time crunch. So go a little bit about the importance of rest in between sets and then bring it right back to EDT.

Yeah, I think with, I think my training personally is, could answer that question pretty well. Most of the time I do traditional strength training, I’ll do supersets and trisets, but if I’m working on strength with a shoulder press, I’m not going to try to shoulder press like my four rep max when my heart rate is 145. So I’m going to take a longer break before that comes. And during that part of my workout, I may time my rest periods, but towards the end of my workout, I’ll use arms, for example, or core exercises. There’s a very good chance that towards the end of my workouts, I’m not going to take more than 15 seconds in between a bicep and a tricep or a core thing. So I might have some EDT sort of style sets or timeframes within my own workout. But if the beginning of my workout, my goal is strength related and I want my heart rate to be down and I wanna be super focused, I could definitely group those together in the same workout. Or if you’re a person that, let’s say goes to Alpha on Saturdays or you do your EDT style workout on the weekends, cause you just need to squeeze it in or weekdays even, cause people might work till 6 p .m., that would be a really good way to have the best of both worlds and have some EDT style workouts and see how you like them. And then some of your just traditional strength training where you’re working on specific things where you might have to rest a little bit longer.

I want to, you said a word that stood out to me. You said your heart rate might be elevated to 140 or whatever it may be. How does, how do you now relate heart rate training to EDT as well? Like how would you frame that being that usually we use that as a metric to say, hey, maybe let this come down to recover before you do your next set. So tell me how you would utilize metabolites within this.

Yeah, that’s a good point. So let’s say my zone three heart rate is like one 52 and I have a heart rate monitor on and I’m doing EDT training. I’ve had clients do a tri set of exercises before. And if the first one at the beginning of that tri set is a deadlift, I might make sure that we don’t start the deadlift set until their heart rate’s like 135. And then after they finish deadlifting, they go boom, boom, boom to their next two exercises. And then our rest period again gets it down just for that big muscle group exercise. So if you’re also someone that does structured cardiovascular training, I wouldn’t say, it’s probably a good takeaway from today too, I wouldn’t say that you should consider this EDT training to be better or like a replacement for your zone two long distance, yeah, like low intensity, steady state stuff, that’s still gonna be a little bit different, but just know that if you’re a basic or a beginner fitness level, you can definitely notice a lot of improvement strength, muscle mass wise, since you’re improving your volume over time and volume is a good indicator of building muscle mass and strength, that you’ll improve your cardiovascular fitness doing these at the same time. But if you’re already like very cardiovascularly fit, I would definitely still consider this to be a little bit separate from your zone two, zone three, maybe your zone four cardio type training that you do every week.

Awesome. Yeah, that’s a great reminder for people. You mentioned a couple of specific lifts when you just talked. You mentioned deadlifts, you mentioned some upper body things. Are there certain moves or exercises that lend themselves to EDT training or can you really incorporate any type of move into this training? I mean, yes, we offer some ideas in this workout that we’re providing in the magazine, but if somebody wanted to build their own EDT version of that, could they just pick and choose or are there certain moves they should focus on?

That’s a great question. So this is the program that we built was built that way because the equipment you’re using doesn’t require you to jump around a gym and hog a bunch of stuff and put your towels on three different machines. So if you’re building your own workout, the main thing is that you are doing exercises that you’re confident in the technique with, like we talked about before, because if you’re trying to cram in 15 minutes and you’re doing, let’s say for some reason you just choose overhead squats with a barbell. Probably not the best choice for EDT training versus something a little more stable like a back squat or a goblet squat, but if you were to pick two or three opposing muscle group exercises that you’re confident in the technique, you can roll with basically anything. So if you go to Eden Prairie, for example, you’ll know that there is a chest press machines right next to seated row machines. And you can do those two back to back as an alternating push and pull. And that could be your 10 minute exercise superset. So yeah, you can certainly choose different things. Hopefully it’s clear in the workout when you see that we explain you want to pick opposing muscle groups or upper lower or push, pull, core, that sort of thing when you’re building your own.

And I think what’s key is something also you just alluded to is that you can use free weights, you can use machines. There’s a variety of ways that you can do this.

Definitely. If you’re a beginner and you’re kind of worried about doing some of the exercises that are in there, just sub the bench press for a chest press machine or sub the dumbbell thruster just for, let’s say a suitcase squat where you’re holding dumbbells down by your sides or even a leg press where you just ideally don’t have to think too much about the technique because you’re used to it. Or you just pick something that’s not extremely difficult mentally when you’re getting tired and you’re getting towards the end of that 10 or 15 minute window.

So Joe, I want to go into something else as far as in this EDT style of training when it comes to rep scheme. Is there a set rep or are you going to muscular failure? I think some people might identify this as, alright, I’m about to do burnout sets and then try to come back and repeat that. And obviously that’s not going to be the case. So can you make sure our listeners understand how you would do EDT training versus like a burnout set or a muscular failure?

Yes, let’s make sure everybody listening is loud and clear on you are not going to try to go to failure on every single one of your sets during EDT training. So if you said, if you took your 10 rep max, and you might have to before you do this, do a set of bench press and see what kind of weight you can use for 10 reps. Use that same exact weight and have your sets be five or six reps when you start that workout. And of course, towards the end of two or three weeks within that 15 minute window, hopefully you’re doing sets of seven or eight every time and you’re still able to complete it with good technique. That would be super ideal. But I think one of the benefits of this workout too is that you’re purposely not going to failure. And we know for some, even for strength gains, it can be counterproductive to go to muscular failure. So I would say that is a huge takeaway. So thank you for making that loud and clear that we’re not trying to go to muscular failure every single set during this.

You know, I edited this article and I read it multiple times and even this is offering even more clarity. And that was why we wanted to do this episode today with you, Joe. So anything else like, like do we miss anything on EDT? I mean, we kind of talked about the what it is, why it’s good for us, who it’s for, you know, how to do it. Anything we missed? Anything you’d want to add before we sign off this mini episode?

I think there was one question that we had talked about previously that was, if you are not increasing your weight over the course of three, six or nine weeks, how do you expect gains to happen? And I would confidently tell you that there’s plenty of research on muscle growth at least that says if you were to increase your reps over the course of a training period versus increasing your weight, the improvement in muscle mass is virtually the same, not much of a difference. So if you’re like, I really wanna, by week three, I wanna increase five or 10 pounds on the bench press on this exercise, you certainly can if you think you’re able to do it, but I don’t think that would be a main goal for everybody doing this. So if you’re increasing reps over time in that same time period, you should be hopefully super happy with your performance as you go from week to week.

David, anything final to add?

No, I’ll piggyback off of that before we sign off. I think that’s a great takeaway because we associate success usually to a number, a heavy load or max out for a PR. But what you just said, if I’m able to go from eight to 10 reps, 10 to 12 reps, like we got to definitely celebrate those wins. And obviously the muscular endurance and the things that are being established, that’s we definitely got to celebrate that more. And what it might not be the oohs and ahs that you might see that one rep max on a, on the social media post, but by the end of the day, what are we doing this for longevity, vitality and functionality in life? So I’m glad you called that out.

Exactly. Good point.


Well, Joe, thank you for being with us today. I want to make sure people know where they can find you as well as this program. So I’m going to start with where the program is. People can visit and you’ll go right to this nine week program that Joe created. It’s also available as a program in the Life Time app. So if you are a Life Time member and you have the app, you can go into the featured program section and find it. And even if you’re not a member at Life Time, you can download the app and go in there and try this program too. So there’s that. And then Joe, if people want to connect with you directly, they can find you on Instagram @joemeier. Anywhere else?

I’m at Flagship Life Time at Eden Prairie. So you can definitely come see me or my team. And we’d be happy to connect with anybody that’s looking to tackle some goals this year. We’d be super happy to meet anybody.

Awesome. And I also just want to make sure people know too that you have your book that came out back in 2023 and that’s Lift for Life. That’s available on

Yeah, if you’re a lifelong learner, check it out.

Yes. Yes. It’s a great book. I have it as kind of just a little resource on my desk right now.

Awesome. Well, Joe, thank you so much for coming on and explaining this to us in a little bit more depth. We only have so many words in a magazine.

Exactly. I hope it was helpful.

Yes, absolutely.

We thank you, man.

Thanks, guys.

Thank you.

See ya.


Thanks for joining us for this episode. As always, we’d love to hear your thoughts on our conversation today and how you approach this aspect of healthy living in your own life. What works for you? Where do you run into challenges? Where do you need help? And if you have topics for future episodes, you can share those with us too. Email us at or reach out to us on Instagram, @jamiemartinel and @freezy30 and use the hashtag #LifeTimeTalks.

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Life Time Talks is a production of Life Time Healthy Way of Life. It is produced by Molly Kopischke and Sarah Ellingsworth with audio engineering by Peter Perkins, video production and editing by Kevin Dixon, sound and video consulting by Cory Larson, and support from George Norman and the rest of the team at Life Time Motion. A big thank you to everyone who helps create each episode and provides feedback.


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