Density Training for Fat Loss: Maintain Size & Get Lean

Density Training for Fat Loss
Stop sweating cardio and boost the intensity of your strength training instead. Get all the details on density training plus a fat burning workout!

When it comes to training for aesthetics, particularly when fat loss is the topic of choice, there are endless debates in this industry.

Clean eating vs. IIFYM, steady state cardio vs. interval training - the list goes on.

While each of these have their merits, one very effective fat loss method that has slipped through the cracks is density training. It’s time we bring this training style into the light, and learn how it can be used to help you in your quest for a shredded physique.

What is Density Training?

Despite its name, density training does not refer to training for thicker muscles, although this can be a side effect. Rather, density training is a methodology that simply refers to trying to get as much work volume completed in a given time frame as you possibly can.

Related: 4 Advanced Techniques for Pushing Through Plateaus

When referring to volume, we are referring to the total amount of reps performed with a given weight. If you do ten reps with 200 pounds, your total volume for that set is 2,000 pounds. Likewise, twenty reps with 100 pounds would also equal 2,000 pounds of total weight moved in that set, even though the reps are different.

In comparison, workout duration refers to the amount of time spent training, and with density training, it typically refers to the time per workout set. Pretty simple, right? Training density refers to a combination of the two - how much volume you complete in a given training time frame, or duration.

When you increase your total volume, but duration stays the same, you’ve increased your training density. Likewise, if total volume stays the same, but you perform the exercises in less time, thus reducing your workout duration, you’ve improved your training density.

Density Training Circuit: Lat Pulldowns

Sets and reps are important, sure, but with density training, the goal is to set a time limit, get as many good reps as you can within that time, and try and do more within the same time frame during your next session. Improvement isn’t measured through heavier weights lifted week to week, but rather through increased volume during a set time frame.

Before we look at how to implement density training in your program, and give you sample workouts to try, let’s first look at how it works, and the benefits of it. While density training was originally popularized as a way to gain muscle, it works very well for fat loss, which is the aspect we’ll be exploring.

Greater Training Volume Means Greater Fat Loss Results

This one is quite simple - according to the law of thermodynamics, if you are doing more reps with a given weight, you will be expending more energy, and thus burning more calories. Every process requires energy, and this includes doing an extra rep or two. It won’t necessarily have the same effect if you drop the weight and do more reps, but if you keep the weight the same, more reps means more total energy expenditure at the end of the day.

Burning calories shouldn’t be the main goal of your training session, however. You should be focused on good form, and training with as much intensity as possible. Increase caloric expenditure is simply a pleasant bonus. In the long run, this caloric burn won’t be the biggest factor, but more calories burned per training session will definitely result in greater fat loss over time.

Greater Long-Term Metabolic Response

A high intensity training session will increase your metabolic output, or calories burned, for hours after a session. Your body will be highly stressed, and it will take longer to restore everything to normal operating levels, as well as repair itself from the damage inflicted. Consider the difference between going for a long walk, and doing a set of sprints on a track or hill - you’ll feel winded and tired much longer after the sprints.

Density Training Circuit: Reverse Lunges

When you begin to use density training, and push yourself to get more volume within the same training time, it will definitely be taxing on your body. If you’re currently using a basic set and rep program, with nice rest periods and adequate recovery between sets, shortening your time and pushing through a tough density workout will be very challenging at first, and you should very quickly notice improved body composition and cardiovascular function.

How to Implement Density Training

Benefits aside, it’s time to get in to the meat and potatoes of this article, and learn exactly how to implement density training in your program when you want to get shredded. Information is great, but you need to know exactly how to put it into practice, and that’s what we’re going to look at now.

As mentioned earlier, there are two main variables involved with density training: total volume and workout duration. As you progress, you may want to increase your workout duration over time, but for the purpose of this article, we’re going to keep workout duration a constant, and instead focus on training volume, or total reps performed.

Related: How Long Should you Workout? Get The Down and Dirty on Duration

For the purpose of fat loss, your workout should consist of two to three circuits, which are groups of exercises performed back to back. You can adjust work time, rest time, and exercise selection based on your own personal fitness level, but for the sake of this simplicity, let’s assume 30 second work times across the board, and 15 seconds rest time in between exercises. Each circuit will be performed three times, with 1-2 minutes rest in between.

Your first round will be with a weight that is moderately challenging, but not an all-out effort. Think of this as a neural activation round - you are seeking to get your nervous system firing on all cylinders, but not go all out quite yet. This is the warm-up lap before the big game. The second two rounds will be with heavier weights, and because your nervous system is awake, don’t be surprised if you actually get more reps done, even with the heavier weight.

The Workouts

To summarize, here are the rules we’ve established for our density workouts.

  • 2-3 circuits per workout, each circuit consisting of 3-6 exercises.
  • 30 seconds work time per exercise, with 15 seconds rest in between.   
  • The first round of each circuit is a neural activation, or warm-up round, with lighter weights.

Density Training Circuit: Bent Over Rows

You would take the workouts below to the gym with you. Do a brief warm-up, preferably involving some foam rolling and mobility work. Once you are adequately prepared, you’d start with the first circuit, using moderately challenging weights. After the circuit is completed, you’d rest 1-2 minutes, repeat, rest 1-2 minutes, and repeat, before moving on to the second circuit. Sound good? Good.

Density Circuit A
Exercise Time
Dumbbell Push Press 30 sec
Alternating Reverse Lunge 30 sec
Bent-Over Row 30 sec
Front Squat 30 sec
Reverse Crunches 30 sec

Rest 15 seconds between exercises, and 1-2 minutes between rounds. After 3 rounds of Circuit A, move on to Circuit B.

Density Circuit B
Exercise Time
Dumbbell Incline Bench Press 30 sec
Alternating Bench Step Ups 30 sec
Neutral Grip Chin Ups or Lat Pulldown 30 sec
Stiff-Leg Deadlift 30 sec
Cross Body Mountain Climbers 30 sec

Summary

To wrap this up, the important thing to remember is that density training, particularly for fat loss, is all about doing more work in the same amount of time. Each time you repeat a circuit, your goal should be to do more reps than the previous round, if at all possible.

Another approach would be to keep the repetitions the same for each exercise, and simply try to do the workout in less time, but I’ve found this can cause your form to breakdown quicker as you rush. With a time goal it’s easier to focus purely on the quality and intensity of the movement, while keeping good form.

Now go forth, implement density workouts to the best of your ability, and enjoy the results. It may be tough, but the end result is worth every minute.

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About The Author
Matt Dustin is a personal trainer, online coach, and fitness author based out of San Diego, California. Matt has interned with Under Armour’s sports performance center in Baltimore, MD, written articles for many publications, contributed textbook chapters to personal training certification textbooks, and is releasing his first full-length published book in April 2016.

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