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  • Writer's pictureKevin Mullins

Best Program Ever: Density Strength Circuits

Let's start this blog with some absolute honesty. There is nothing new here. This isn't going to be about some newly discovered way to build 999% more muscle in 1.5 billion less seconds. You aren't going to lose 20 pounds in 20 days due to a revolutionary new diet formula.

The fitness industry has an incredible way of trying to market everything is new and exciting when all they are really doing is repackaging sound concepts in a new way. This isn't hating on the industry, because...that is literally what I'm doing with this article.

I'm bringing back up density, something I've written about in the past (2015 actually) and merging with circuit training because I genuinely believe that it may be one of the best bang-for-your-buck methods for fitness.

Let's not waste too much time, there is so much to read on the net and only so long you have in the bathroom before your butt goes numb...

The density strength circuit works as follows -

5 to 8 exercises in circuit fashion (no more than 30 seconds between movements). All of these movements are challenging from a strength perspective, meaning you are training between four to twelve reps per set.

You'll set the timer to a challenging, but comfortable period of time to train. Your goal is to spend as much time in quality motion as possible during this period of time. It isn't about demolishing yourself and needing to pump an IV or do CPR on yourself at the end of each series.

The end of your timer though, well that's a different story. You might feel a little tickle by that point.

Ideally, each exercise in the circuit addresses one of the major seven movement patterns (squat, hinge, lunge, vertical push/pull, horizontal push/pull, rotation), or an anti-pattern (anti-rotation, anti-flexion, anti-extension).

The key to these circuits, as opposed to your standard AMRAP (as many reps as possible) circuit found at your local Crossfit box, is that each exercise is trained optimally by leaving repetitions on the table during each set.

Wait, so don't kick my own ass to failure each time?

How do I even get the gainz?

How could I possibly see all my striations and tear through my tights if I'm not murdering myself each set?

The answer lies in the cumulative workload over your set amount of time. Instead of training four sets to an absolute failure of ten repetitions each time, you'll stop at eight and move on. In the end you'll probably be able to steal extra repetitions by skipping long rest periods.

Think of choosing loads that you'd normally fatigue at ten, but stop at 8. Or, load for 6, but stop at 3. Our goal is optimal movement patterns at a weight that is pretty damn challenging the whole time.

You should do your best to maintain the resistance you started with throughout the whole circuit. So, instead of dropping as your become fatigued - you'll maintain the same load and manipulate your repetitions.

One final point is that "sets" don't matter here. A density circuit is about seeing how many quality repetitions you can get out of specific movements with set loads as time continues to tick.

For those who like things laid down very neatly here are your factors:

Constant - Load, and Time

Variable - Reps, Rest Periods

Doesn't Matter - Sets

This manner of training pushes the metabolic rate of the body into overdrive as you are training the anaerobic systems of the body with strength specific modalities, all while maintaining an overarching cardiovascular buzz.

Again, the goal isn't to push yourself each "round" to the point where you breakdown and reach your anaerobic or aerobic threshold. Rather, the goal is to push yourself to stay in motion and throwing load around as consistently and efficiently as possible.

  • This program style can absolutely increase fat loss if the dietary and recovery strategies are appropriate for such a change.

  • This program style can absolutely lead to increased muscular hypertrophy if there is a caloric surplus and proper rest and hydration take place.

  • Moreover, you may even get stronger via this method - with a caveat -

We have a tendency to view strength only as a "top-end" asset, as in , "bro, what is your max bench"? However, strength is also the capability to maintain a high level of force output over an extended period of time.

Call it strength-endurance if you need fancy titles.

But honestly, for most training individuals - having elite strength-endurance is far more attainable and a respectable goal, then simply pushing maxes all the time.

Sure, it's insanely awesome to see someone throw around a ridiculous amount of poundage at a meet, or move a damn airplane on a tarmac. Yet, maximal fitness comes from the ability to repeat high strength performances with far less rest than the standard four to six minutes a power lifter may take.

(no slight on powerlifters either, because that shit is hard, that shit matters to you, and I'm all about that shit if it is your shit).

I'm just saying that most people have no desire to nearly drop a deuce on a max weight deadlift wearing spandex overalls. So why not train the strength endurance capacity?

What would a Circuit Look Like?

Let's wrap this up with an example of a density strength circuit I've used with myself and my clients recently. What good is teaching concepts if you don't provide any tangible examples, anyway?

Total Time - 23 Minutes

1. Barbell Deadlift (foot stance to personal preference) - 85% max load (2-4 repetitions)

2. Dual Kneeling Overhead Press (DB or KB) - 75% max load (6 to 8 repetitions)

3. Plank Saws (10 to 15 repetitions)

4. Bent Over Reciprocal Rows (DB or KB) - 75% max load (6 to 8 repetitions)

5. Farmers Carries (Same weight as Rows) (appropriate length for your gym)

This circuit covers the hinge pattern, vertical push, horizontal pull, anti-flexion/extension/rotation, and loaded carries. Depending on the person this could be an absolutely crushing circuit that leaves little left after the fact beyond some accessory work. If you are a coach - this could be the meat and potatoes of one of your sessions.

Repeating once more - you should always have something left in the tank after doing your repetitions for each exercise. Save the "failure" for that last and final run.

Have fun with density strength circuits. Challenge yourself to get out of the mindset of straight sets vs. circuits. You can merge the two - you just need to think it through.

Happy Training!


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