Use This Escalating Density Training Workout to Improve Your Strength Endurance

Mar 3, 2015 at 14:38
by James Wilson  
The hardest thing about designing a program for mountain biking is finding the right balance between strength and endurance. While you don’t need to be as strong as a powerlifter, you also don’t need to have the endurance of a Tour de France rider and focusing too much on one side of the spectrum will compromise your results.

In the gym this means that you need to make sure you don’t try to turn everything you do into endurance training. While I use a lot of circuit training in my programs, I usually advise that you rest long enough between exercises to let your breathing slow down so that you aren’t panting when you start the next exercise. Getting stronger in the gym fills in a lot of fitness gaps that hurt us on the trail and always turning strength training into a test of endurance is a sure way to stay weak and get hurt.

But sometimes you do need to push the Strength Endurance side of things a bit in your workouts. After you’ve spent some time getting stronger and more mobile, then working on the endurance to use your strength over and over on the trail can help. This means that you need a way to safely train for Strength Endurance and in my experience the best way to do this is through a training method called Escalating Density Training.

Also known as EDT, Escalating Density Training was developed by strength coach Charles Staley. Ironically enough, I used to work with Charles at the International Sports Science Association back in the late 90’s. I started as an intern and eventually got hired on to grade papers and answer calls from students with questions on their tests and that job was the springboard for where I am today.

Anyways, that is getting a bit off topic. My point is that EDT is an extremely effective training method for improving your Strength Endurance and there are a lot of different ways to use the EDT method.

EDT is unique because instead of focusing on a specific number of sets and reps, you look at getting as many reps as you can with the same weight within a specific time period. You can do as many or as few reps as you want in each set, but you usually want to avoid taking a set to failure – leaving a rep or two in the tank during your early sets will help you get more reps in during your later sets.

You usually pair exercises together as well so that you can do one while resting from the other one, which places even greater demand on your cardio and Strength Endurance. When the time is up you count how many reps you were able to complete of each exercise and you write that down. The next time you do that same workout you try to beat that number of reps and get at least 1 more in the same amount of time and using the same weight.

For example, instead of telling you to do 5 sets of 5 reps (25 reps total) I would tell you to pick a weight you can do for 6-7 reps for the deadlift and the shoulder press. Your goal is to get as many reps as you can in 10 minutes.

After getting your weights set up you start a timer for 10 minutes and hit your first set of deadlifts. You do 5 reps even though you know you could have done more if you really pushed it because you know it is going to be a long 10 minutes. After resting a bit you start your shoulder presses, doing 5 reps and stopping short of your limit again.

Odds are you will end up getting 2 sets of 4-5 reps before things start to get harder. You’ll end up doing some sets of 2-3 reps before finishing out with some 1 rep sets towards the end. Be sure to write down how many reps you do after each set so you can add them up at the end.

When you are finished with the 10 minutes, add up your reps. In this example let’s say you did 24 deadlifts and 22 shoulder presses. The next time you do that workout you would use the same weights and try to get at least 25 deadlifts and 23 shoulders presses. You can usually spend 3-4 weeks adding reps before you will need to increase the weight a little and repeat the process.

What makes this method so effective is that it makes smart use of a training variable know as density. While most of us pay attention to the sets, reps and weights we use we rarely focus on how long it takes us to finish the workouts, which is where the density variable starts to come into play.

Density is literally how much work you got done per unit of time. If you do more work (sets, reps or weight) but you take longer to do it, you did not improve in the density of the workout. This isn’t bad, it just is.

Conversely, if you do more work, but it takes you the same amount of time to complete it then you did improve the density of the workout. To illustrate this using our example, it is time for a little math.

Just to keep it simple let's say that you were using 200 pounds for your deadlifts. In the example above we said that you got 24 reps in your first workout. This breaks down to 4800 pounds (24 reps X 200 pounds) lifted in the 10 minutes, or 480 pounds each minute.

The next time you do this workout you stick with 200 pounds, but let's say that now you get 26 reps in 10 minutes. This comes out to 5200 pounds (26 reps X 200 pounds) lifted in 10 minutes, or 520 pounds lifted each minute.

As you can see, those 2 extra reps added up a lot when looked at from the density variable. You were lifting an extra 40 pounds per minute, which means that you were able to sustain a higher workload during the 10 minutes.

And that is exactly what we want to see happening on the trail – more work getting done per minute of effort. For this reason EDT is a great way to work on building strength endurance and general High Tension Cardio, both of which are extremely valuable on the trail.

Here is a sample workout you can use to try EDT in your own program.

Core Circuit – 2 rounds

A1 - Turkish Get Up X 1 rep each side
A2 - Plank X 60 seconds

EDT Circuit #1 – 10 minutes

B1 – Deadlift X As Many Reps As Possible (AMRAP) using your 6-7 rep max
B2 – Shoulder Press X AMRAP using your 6-7 rep max

EDT Circuit #2 – 10 minutes

C1 – Stagger Stance Squat X AMRAP using your 6-7 rep max
C2 – Chin Up X AMRAP using bodyweight


Kettlebell Swings 10 sets X 10 reps with 5 recovery breathes between sets

Please note that this type of workout is best if you have a good strength and mobility base. I also like to use it as a late off-season or early in-season workout since that is when you want to be focusing all of your strength and fitness into the direction of endurance.

If you’ve spent the time to build some strength and mobility and need a workout to help you put a mountain bike specific edge on it then give this workout a shot.

Until next time…

Ride Strong,
James Wilson
MTB Strength Training Systems

MTB Strength Training Systems is the world leader in integrated performance training programs for the unique demands of mountain biking. As the strength and conditioning coach for World Cup Teams and 3 National Championships, his programs have been proven at the highest levels. James has helped thousands of riders just like you improve their speed, endurance and skills on the trail. Visit to sign up for the free Trail Rider Fundamentals Video Mini-Course.

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  • 61 0
 I need to do this. I wont. But I need to.
  • 13 18
flag kungfupanda (Mar 23, 2015 at 19:57) (Below Threshold)
 You don't need this.... Just go ride your bike!
  • 17 2
 This was around before crossfit. Pretty much everything crossfit says they came up with was around way before crossfit was invented. @fit took everything from John Jesse's Wrestling Physical Conditioning book that came out in 1974. I get so tired of hearing about the crap that is crossfit.
  • 5 1
 Who in Crossfit says they invented these workouts? I thought the point of CF was to take the best workouts from all realms of exercise and combine them...thus nothing in CF is original...admittedly. Is someone from CF telling you they invented deadlifts?
  • 6 2
 Haters gonna hate man
  • 21 1
 Haters gonna hate and crossfitters gonna crossfit. And never shut up about crossfit and their organic paleo gluten free lactose free diet
  • 16 0
 Yep, Crossfit polar oppisite of Fight club. First rule of Crossfit is to not shut the F*ck up about crossfit.
  • 2 0
 But they pay $200 a month to overtrain so I would run my mouth too....if I was that stupid
  • 4 0
 you guys are looking at it from inside the box, step out of your MTB mind for a second and look a it from a different perspective, people is doing Sports, people is exercising!!!, we complain about our cultures getting fatter every year, while exercising and good eating is the healthy solution, the more people doing sports, bigger the possibility for MTB or any sport to grow. I understand it is exhausting to hear crossfiters brag about their way of life, let them be, lots of them haven't practiced sports in their hole life and now they have the opportunity to be part of one, don't take that away from them, better yet, construct on it, you might get something out of their experience or they might get something out of your experience. This is about improving what you currently have. by the way my best DH rider is a crossfiter.
  • 4 0
 oh I forgot, some Crossfiter chicks are pretty hot
  • 13 2
 Can't deny that weight training is very beneficial for mountain biking, but as far as endurance goes I'm still convinced that riding more is the best way to train
  • 7 1
 Yeah ive been doing weight training like this for 18 months, 4-5 days a week, and while I'm sure its helped my strength and endurance, the biggest thing I notice is when I have a break from riding, my endurance drops dramatically...
  • 2 1
 I've been lifting every day for the last two months, my strength is top notch but it's only good for like 2 pedal strokes... Riding everyday is so much better
  • 5 0
 I definitely feel the benefits of weightlifting more when going downhill rather than uphill.
  • 5 0
 guess that all depends on the type of lifting you do , i have been doing kettlebell swings , goblet squats , and several other movements with some planking routines and it has helped my endurance and recovery on the bike huge !!! i can sprint up hills and thru sections and not be having lactic acid burns and gasping for breath i can climb faster and further again with the ability to recovery quickly on the bike .
  • 1 0
 @demon666 I'll buy that. I'm definitely not doing the kind of lifting that would aid in endurance. Mostly lower-rep strength-based stuff. I've never tried kettlebell swings, but I can imagine how they would improve endurance. Just recently started adding sled-pushes to the end of workouts. I'm sure those will have some carryover to biking uphill.
  • 3 0
 the routines that James Wilson has shared on here over the years are pure gold for bike related endurance and strength , bikes and their designs have made riders faster to a certain degree , but IMO truthfully riders who are serious have gotten faster thru cross training as well as training on their bikes .
  • 12 0
 But I can still pedal the exercise bike to nowhere right?
  • 8 19
flag kungfupanda (Mar 23, 2015 at 20:00) (Below Threshold)
 No. Sorry. Not according to this guy.. You need to go to the gym and lift weights. That's what'll make you a better cyclist. Forget riding your bike....
  • 8 0
 I feel so bad James Wilson who tries to help create a stronger and more functional breed of bikers. Then gets the most uneducated guesses and opinions possible as a response. As a Strength and Conditioning Coach this is why I am very reluctant to take on Mountain Bikers..... you are all so far behind compared to other sports because of the lack of correlation between your in-gym training and performance. A Coach could make you so much stronger and fitter and then you wash out on one corner and assume it did nothing.... or the opposite: you clown around in the gym and happen to have the best run of your life.

- This is not meant to replace aerobic training. There are many types of strength. Strength-Speed, Strength-Endurance, Muscular Endurance... and on and on and on.

- Proper weight training will Reinforce good movement, Make you stronger, and the goal for higher level athletes who compete often: Make you more Durable!

If you get stronger without adding too much bulk AND without losing your base conditioning levels in the process each pedal stroke will be a lot easier and lighter than before and therefore tax you less and therefore give you a sense of better conditioning. The spot of mountain Biking is not a natural human movement at all and requires more work to reverse the negative effects of very poor postural positions and unnatural movements compared to field sports, track, gymnastics, weightlifting. I love biking but that's the truth.
  • 1 0
 And everyone thinks it's so easy to bulk, as if it's just 1 additional rep away from happening overnight. If this mindset went away, I'm sure there would be a lot less resistance to weight training
  • 8 0
 I do all this clipped in. Out of spite.
  • 7 0
 What is this "training" thing referred to in the title?
  • 4 1
 Performing movements like a deadlift and trying to get "as many reps as you can", and fast, dynamic, whole-body movements like kettlebell swings for "cardio" will inevitably result in improper form as you fatigue towards the end of the work out, and give you a high probability of injury. I think you would have a better workout program if strength and endurance were focused on in separate workouts, especially since they're very different by definition.
  • 9 5
 Said in a faint, dying voice: "Can't finish reading... no pictures... or video... too much fitness jargon... won't last much longer..."
  • 3 0
 Agreed with riding is training and hella more fun, but... Working your core has exponential benefits. Want better balance And control, work your core, i.e., abs, lower back, etc. helps keep that spine strong too
  • 2 0
 So much bro science on here it's untrue. The only thing that sounds like it has any sort of scientific back up is the article itself. How much off season training do u think the pros do? I'm betting they spend a shit ton of time in the gym doing workouts exactly like the one mentioned here.
  • 3 2
 I would also say that 2-3 rounds of 10 reps of a clean and press or hanging clean and press with a weight is near a 20 rep max would be a good warm up for the upper body, core, and legs. Great for cardio, warmup, power, endurance, and overall strength. Also helps with you warn up your form before making bigger/heavier lifts.
  • 10 0
 Not for the general population id say though. Those Olympic lifts require a lot of skill and a ton of flexibility and associated strength. Great if you CAN do them though!
  • 2 0
 oooorr you crap your pants :p
  • 1 0
 i'm good with stuff like this over the winter when i'm just trying to slow down the decline, and make up for lost muscle mass, but not during riding season!
  • 1 0
 There are better methods to increase the density variable... if you don't prescibe rest time, your training is based in nothing.
  • 2 0
 Good advice. Will give this a try.
  • 1 3
 Mtb weights training is a very grey area imo, I believe being stronger is a good thing but not at the loss of agiliy & stamina If you bulk up.
Any time you swing a weight you are only training the muscle at the start & end of swing.
That & risk of injury is why I don't believe in using kettle bells.
I question the need for dead lift too cos your weight is always supported via arms on your handle bars I.e shoulders and triceps.
  • 2 1
 Could you clarify your statement about deadlifts? Are you saying they might hurt your shoulders and triceps? You can hurt yourself deadlifting, but it'd be pretty hard to hurt your shoulders or triceps that way.
  • 5 0
 F.Y.I. If you were riding with a good body position you wouldn't have all of your weight on your arms & handle bars.
  • 1 0
 No I mean that I fail to see how dead lifts are relevant to body position riding. I.e they would be if you had no arms. But most of us have arms and use them to hold handle bars and support part of your weiht whilst riding. I could be wrong but need it to be explained/ justified.
  • 1 0
 Lol to have all of your weight on your hands you would have to be in a hand stand.
Thats kinda my point
At what point riding a bike do you deadlift more than your body weight. ...? I would say that at least 50% weight is always on your pedals & the rest supported through the arms. So what good is a deadlift to riding?
  • 4 0
 The purpose to weight training is to strengthen specific muscles to aid in performance in one way or another. So, technically no, no one should ever be performing a deadlift motion with a resistance greater than their body weight while riding their bike. However, performing moves like deadlifts and squats can strengthen muscles that are used during mountain biking, mainly muscles in the hips and quads. The reason this strength is helpful is because it can increase power, which can be understood (in the simplest way) as force exerted over time; your bike and you both have weight that needs to be moved to best maneuver difficult terrain, not to mention different positions can provide additional resistance. Hence, if you increase the strength capabilities of muscles that are used to move you and your bike on the trail they will be able to exert more force; exerting more force will increase power (Force/Time), and allow you to move your bike faster and more precisely on the trail.
To put it in perspective, think of a football QB and shot-put thrower. In both cases they need power, however the shot-put thrower has to overcome resistance; though the shot-put doesn't weight more than about 12lbs (between 5 & 6kg), the athlete will train in the gym with heavier weights to exert more power.
Not to mention, lifting can help prevent imbalances from using certain muscles more than others around joints, an issue baseball pitchers have in their rotator cuffs for example.
  • 1 0
 I don't know about this program but you can never go wrong with 5/3/1
  • 2 4
 tl;dr lol
  • 5 8
 This is crossfit.
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