density training - JMax Fitness

How to Use Density Training for Rapid Fat Loss

As a coach, one of the things I’m constantly asked by people is “What’s the best workout program for fat loss?”
Everyone wants to know what’s going to help them shred maximum fat, without spending hours in the gym. To those people, the first thing I always say is that they need to be prioritizing nutrition first. You can have the best training plan in the world but if your diet is garbage, results will be hard to come by.


When it comes to training for fat loss, many methods work. But there are some that work better than others. One of those methods, as we know, is heavy strength training. The benefits of strength training are well established. Lifting heavy weights not only will increase muscular strength, but help preserve lean tissue; critical when you’re in a calorie deficit. Strength training also helps stimulate the release of key hormones like testosterone and growth hormone, both of which aid in building muscle and burning fat. But strength training isn’t the only type of training I like to recommend for fat loss. Yes it’s great for increasing strength, but this type of training also requires longer rest periods in order to recover between sets. Otherwise your strength will suffer. As a contrast, I like to ramp up the intensity of some workouts by dropping the weight, upping the reps, and eliminating the rest. Combined, this is a recipe for maximum fat shredding. And the best way to do this is by utilizing Density Training.

density training

“When it comes to training for fat loss, many methods works. That said, some do work better than others.” Image courtesy of

What is Density Training?

The concept of density is quite simple; it’s how much work you do in a given time period.

There are two factors that affect density: volume and duration. Volume is equal to weight x sets x reps for a given workout, while duration is how long your workout lasts.

There are two ways to increase your training density. First, you can keep your volume the same while decreasing your workout duration. Say you are doing a typical 5×5 bench press workout that usually takes you 20 minutes to complete. If I tell you that now you have to complete that workout in 15 minutes, but keep the weight the same, you’re going to have to either lift faster, rest less, or both.

The second method for increasing training density is to keep your duration the same, but aim to add more volume. Using the same bench press example, you would keep the same 20-minute duration, but your goal would be to perform as much as possible in that time. Again, you are going to have to lift faster, rest less, or increase the weight.

In both cases you are going to be increasing your work capacity. By doing this you’re increasing your body’s ability to do work. This will set you up to build more muscle, increase strength, and burn more fat. Density training was originally popularized by Charles Staley with his Escalating Density Training protocol. EDT focuses on the number of reps you perform AND the total time working out in order to build the most muscle possible. But density training can be used just as effectively for fat loss.

Density Training For Fat Loss

So how much does density training for hypertrophy differ from density training for fat loss?

Turns out, not that much. It all has to do with work capacity and increasing workload over time.

I asked John Romaniello (aka Roman) – the man largely credited with popularizing density training for fat loss – what makes density training such an effective fat loss workout.

“The thing that makes density particularly effective for fat loss is the inherent increase in workload. Depending on the setup, you’re doing more work (i.e. more reps in less time) with each subsequent workout, or even each subsequent set. In addition to this just equating to a higher level of energy expended per workout, the cumulative effect is an increase in work capacity…The net result is that your ability to train improves, allowing you to continue burning more and more fat over time.”

Essentially what density training does is create a compound effect. The more work you can do in less time makes you better at training.  This increase in your ability allows you to train even harder, thus burning more calories. Density training not only has an increased metabolic effect during your workout, but post-workout as well. Because of the increase in stress and oxygen intake that comes with a high-intensity density training session, your body will take longer to return its normal state. This means an increase in calories burned post-exercise, also know as excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC). Lastly, while strength training is good for increasing growth hormone production (which helps burn more fat), this study suggests that shorter rest times during resistance training sessions can actually produce more growth hormone than longer rest periods. When you combine all this with the necessary caloric deficit required for fat loss you have yourself a fat shredding cocktail. But when fat loss is your main goal, there is a difference in how you set up your density workouts.

density training

“Essentially what density training does is create a compound effect.” Image courtesy of

Creating A Density Plan

There are a few different ways to design density workouts.

The first are called density blocks. These are blocks of 4-6 exercises repeated in circuit fashion for time.  

These workouts are designed to be fast-paced and highly metabolic, lasting only 20-30 minutes. The fewer exercises in the block, the more reps you will perform for each exercise. When setting up the blocks, follow these guidelines for exercise selection:

Pick Four…

  • Upper body push (Bench press, overhead press, push up…)
  • Upper body pull (Rows, pull-ups…)
  • Lower body hip dominant (Deadlifts, swings…)
  • Lower body knee dominant (Squats, lunges…)
  • Abdominal (Rollouts, leg raises, planks…)
  • Explosive (Med ball slams or throws, jumps…)

Other considerations include:

  • Rep selection – The more exercises in a block, the fewer reps you will do. So for example: 6 exercises = 8-10 reps, 5 exercises = 10-12 reps, and 4 exercises = 12-15 reps.
  • Weight selection – You want to select a weight that allows you to complete all the reps throughout the entire block. For a lot of people this is going to be a weight that would allow them to complete 6-8 more reps than prescribed for each block.
density training

“The more neural activation you achieve, the easier it is to push heavy weights, because you’ll have an easier time recruiting muscle fibres to do the job.” Image courtesy of:

Sample density block

Directions: Set a timer for 18 minutes and perform A1-A6 sequentially. Rest only as needed, trying to rest as little as possible between exercises and circuits. Select a weight that is appropriately challenging for each exercise and perform 8-10 reps of each. Try and get through as many rounds as possible in the time allowed. If you get through 4 or more rounds, up your weights the next workout.


A1. Dumbbell Push Press

A2. Bodyweight Reverse Lunge

A3. Ab Wheel Rollout

A4. Goblet Squat

A5. Alternating Bent-Over Dumbbell Row

A6. Med Ball Slams

The second way to set up density workouts is by utilizing supersets or tri-sets, similar to EDT. Unlike EDT, you’re going to limit the number of sets you do to two, and perform each for time. According to Roman, “Instead of having a predetermined number of reps, you’re going to be performing each of these exercises for time. You simply have to do as many reps as you can in a given time period. That’s where density comes in. The idea is to perform more reps on each exercise, and that’s where the increase in density becomes a factor.”

So instead of performing a circuit for reps, you would do it for time. Simply choose 2-4 exercises and perform as many reps as possible in a set amount of time.

Density Tri-Set for Reps

Directions: Take a tri-set of three exercises: a barbell incline bench press, barbell row, and goblet squat. You are going to perform these exercises for 30 seconds each, completing as many reps as possible in that time. So let’s say you do:

  • Barbell Incline Bench Press – 95 pounds for 18 reps
  • Barbell Bent-Over Row – 115 pounds for 16 reps
  • Dumbbell Goblet Squat – 50 pounds for 20 reps

For your next circuit, we’re going to keep the time the same. So in order to increase our density we know we’re going to have to increase the weight for each exercise or the number of reps performed. But what about increasing both? Not possible you may think…but it is. It all has to do with neural activation.

“The more neural activation you achieve, the easier it is to push heavier weights, because you’ll have an easier time recruiting muscle fibers to do the job,” says Roman.

The first set essentially primes your muscles and gets them warmed up for the second set. Then on the second set, you up the weight approximately 15% and try and beat your previous rep number. Similarly, instead of using weight as your progression, you could use time.

Density Progression for Time

Directions: Select a compound movement and perform as many reps as possible in 30 seconds. Perform 4 sets total, resting 60 seconds between sets. Then each week, add 5 seconds to your work time.  A 4-week progression would look like this:

Barbell Bench Press

  • Week 1: 30 sec work/60 sec rest
  • Week 2: 35 sec work/70 sec rest
  • Week 3: 40 sec work/80 sec rest
  • Week 4: 45 sec work/90 sec rest

Even though your work time is increasing by 5 seconds each week, you want to maintain a work-to-rest ratio of 1:2.

density training

“The most important thing to remember about density training; is that’s about doing more work from set to set, workout to workout.” Image courtesy of:

Rules For Density Training

Make no mistake, density training is an intense workout.

You’re going to be doing a lot of work in 20-30 minutes. You want ensure you’re getting everything out of it that you can, without putting yourself at risk for injury.

Here are a couple of rules to follow in order to get the most out of your density workouts:

  1. Keep the weight manageable

Regardless which style of density training you’re doing you’ll want to go lighter with the weights, at least to start. Say you’re going to be performing an exercise for 8-10 reps. You don’t want to select a weight that’s equal to your 10-rep max for that exercise because you’ll burn out quickly. Select a weight that is challenging, but isn’t so challenging that you have to reduce the weight halfway through the workout. This not only allows you to complete the workout with maximum intensity, but will allow you to keep good form as workout progresses.

 2. Alternate movements

Because of the intense nature of these workouts, they’re going to produce a lot of fatigue. And reducing intra-workout fatigue is actually the key to getting the most out of density workouts. What I mean by this is you don’t want to be performing back-to-back exercises targeting the same muscle groups. Whenever possible, you want to alternate upper and lower body exercises as well. This allows you to train with the most intensity possible on each exercise.


The most important thing to remember about density training is that it’s about doing more work; from set to set and workout to workout. When implemented correctly, and in conjunction with a proper calorie deficit, density training is an effective and lethal fat-burning training method.

About the Author

Jordan Pagel - JMax FitnessJorden is a Wisconsin based personal trainer with a passion for deadlifts, ice cream, and the Green Bay Packers. A self-proclaimed Macro Wizard, he blogs and coaches clients through his website