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Dense By Design

Dense By Design

Focus on work density to build strength,
improve endurance and burn fat.

We’ve all been guilty of it at one time or another. Three sets of 10. Five sets of five. Up, down, up, down, re-rack, rest, repeat. We all want to become machines in the gym but we shouldn’t become mechanical along the way. While certain rep ranges and volume prescriptions produce particular results, we shouldn’t become so enamored of them as to marginalize other methods of training. Restructuring your workouts to chase a particular number of reps, even if for just a few weeks, can have a dramatic impact on muscle size and strength, while also improving endurance and metabolism.


Everyone reading this has been impacted in some way by the training lore of bodybuilding’s Golden Era. One Austrian, in particular, has inspired more training programs than others. We are speaking, of course, of Arnold Schwarzenegger. Strong, dense and intense, Arnold wasn’t always so concerned with adhering to particular, proven rep ranges. While he could perform like a boss on the old 10-8-6 pyramid programs, even Arnold found some lifts more challenging than others. One such lift was the pull-up.

Hoisting his 220 pounds of muscle away from terra firma for multiple reps was difficult, even frustrating. But he knew that if he wanted to maximize his back development, he would have to find a way to master this exercise. So he simplified the problem. Instead of starting out on 10 reps, while increasing weight and decreasing reps with each set, he would choose a number – say, 30 – and rep out to failure as many times as necessary to reach that number. Early on, these 30 reps may have taken The Oak five sets to bang out. But eventually, he became a master of the pull-up, aiming for higher numbers, less rest, fewer total sets and different exercise variations. It’s doubtful anyone would argue the results.

It all highlights a simple principle: workout density. By striving to complete more work in fewer sets each time – and constantly adjusting the goal higher – he was able to add ample size to his lats while also conditioning those muscle fibers to handle increasingly higher numbers of reps.


So how can you make this work for you? There are multiple avenues that you can pursue but the simplest is to follow in Arnold’s footsteps.

1 ATTACK A WEAKNESS. Though this tactic can be employed with any number of exercises, you may find that the greatest results are had with exercises that are traditionally a weak point for you. Choose exercises that are challenging but that offer big body benefits. Pull-ups are a great example – not nearly enough people train them regularly – but other underused moves may include front squats, Romanian deadlifts, barbell rows, high pulls, machine rear-delt raises and hanging leg raises. Each targets a different muscle group and all of them are generally unpleasant to perform extended sets with.

>> Big, multi-joint movements will have the greatest payoff in terms of strength and muscle gain and improvements to body composition. Try picking one exercise per bodypart and employ this method for that particular move once a week for 4-6 weeks.

2 CHOOSE A NUMBER. Arnold started with 30 pull-ups. This was likely a random extrapolation of his usual “three sets of 10” approach for growing muscle groups. So this is a good number to start with on difficult exercises, but well-conditioned athletes may choose to start in a higher range. You can, for example, mimic German Volume Training (GVT) by shooting for 100 reps but instead of doing 10 sets of 10, you simply do as many sets as it takes.

>> As a general benchmark, start with a number that you can reach in 3-5 sets done to failure. Set the target number higher as you become more conditioned. If you can reach your target number in three sets or less, then you’re ready to aim for a higher total. If you need more than five segments, you can adjust your target down or simply work until your conditioning can bring you into that range. Want to add another measure of success? Track the amount of time it takes to hit your number and strive to reduce that number each week.  

3 HOW MUCH REST? This is another good question that depends upon the athlete. The goal should always be to rest as little as possible between work segments. Your body’s explosive energy stores of ATP (adenosine triphosphate) and creatine, collectively known as phosphagen, replenishes fairly quickly between sets or work segments, but never to the level they were at the outset of the exercise. Your body’s other energy systems tend to need a bit longer to recover. So if you’re only managing a few reps (1-6), then shorter rest – as little as 25 seconds – is perfectly acceptable. But you will likely need more total sets to reach your number. This is basically a rest-pause training approach and has already been proven to build strength quickly. But you can also extend the rest a smidge in order to allow greater recovery between work segments. Resting 1-2 minutes, for example, may allow you to get more reps on your next go, meaning fewer total work segments to reach your number.

>> Rest as little as possible between work segments. If you fail in lower rep ranges, you may need less rest but take as much as necessary to just hit the target number in as few sets as possible.

Advanced trainers, or those looking to produce advanced results for particular muscle groups, are huge proponents of this method because it allows you to increase conditioning while focusing on one particular exercise. You snuff out weaknesses, condense workouts and increase workout intensity while escaping the familiar confines of scheduled sets and reps.

Train these antagonist groups in superset fashion with density as your guiding principle.

Exercise                        Sets         Reps
Wide-Grip Pull-Up            x             50

    -superset with-

Weighted Dip                    x            50

Barbell Curl                       x            50
-superset with-

Close-Grip Push-Up          x            50

On the first exercise of each superset, perform as many reps as you can to failure before moving to the second exercise. On the second move, strive to complete as many reps as you did for the first. Rest only as long as necessary to ensure you reach your target number in as few sets as possible, ideally between 3-5 sets. (See No. 2 above) Rest 2-3 minutes before moving to the second superset.

When Arnold was at his bodybuilding peak, it was said that he prepped for one of his prodigious workouts with a simple cup of black coffee. (Which only goes to show you what you can accomplish with sheer will.) Today, however, the range of pre-workout supplement choices has expanded widely beyond simple bean juice.

When you’re looking to extend your work output into previously uncharted territory, a pre-workout supplement like BioQuest’s AndroFury will prove invaluable. AndroFury contains a high-potency matrix of energy and focus catalysts that will elevate your game. In addition, AndroFury contains key endurance and muscle-pump support facilitators, as well as a full-spectrum protodioscin-rich botanical super compound that will help support your all-important testosterone levels and ensure you’re ready to dominate.

On the other side of your workout, you don’t want all that effort to go to waste. You want rapid-action, high-value aminos shuttling into famished muscle tissue moments after your last rep is concluded. MyoZene from BioQuest is bodybuilding’s ultimate fast-acting mass builder, featuring an ultra-hydrolyzed whey rich in growth factors, plus a leucine peptide technology that provides up to four times the ultra-bioactive leucine necessary to switch on anabolism after your workout. And MyoZene’s well-documented strength-supporting mechanisms of action will ensure that your plateau-busting program continues to deliver performance dividends.

Rethink your regimen, and reap the physique rewards of thinking outside the box!

Read more about AndroFury here.

Read more about MyoZene here.

Use as directed with a sensible nutrition and exercise program. Read and follow all product label instructions and warnings thoroughly before use. These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

The articles featured herein are for informational purposes only and should not be construed as medical advice. Specific medical advice should only be obtained from a licensed health care professional. No liability is assumed by ProSource for any information herein.