Escalating Density Training for High School Athletes – Elite FTS

One of the best ways I have found to utilize basic movements and keep them highly executed while crushing the soul of an athlete is using a technique called Escalating Density Training (EDT).

In today’s training day and age, modern-day strength and conditioning coaches tend to overcomplicate things. Most of the blame falls on the shoulders of social media and the rise of the TikTok trainer, as they would rather have likes and followers and be seen worldwide than care about the nuances of training their athletes. It never fails that a week won’t go by when one of my athletes asks me if I have heard of this trainer or send me a video of some movement because he thought “badass” and wants to add it to his program.

The problem with teenage athletes in this current landscape is that they don’t have the patience for the basics because they also want likes and followers. Boring and simplistic doesn’t come with the monetary rewards of thousands of followers; outlandish and stupid does.


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Trying to find ways to keep the training plan as simple and brutal as possible is not rocket science, but it does get overlooked.

Escalating Density Training

Popularized years ago by Charles Staley, EDT is a savagely simple variation of hypertrophy training that can help transform your athletes into monsters.

The basic principle of EDT is to increase the training volume over subsequent training sessions in a training block. In other words, beat what you did last week.

“Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.”

Albert Einstein

In setting up EDT for training blocks, I like to add them as my accessory movements to compliment my main strength movement. The idea is to pick opposing movement patterns (if you squat, you hinge…if you push, you pull, etc.). About 12 years ago, I wrote “Load for 6, Lift for 8,” and that philosophy fits EDT perfectly regardless of the rep scheme.

By picking a load that would be challenging for six reps, the goal is to lift that weight for eight near-perfect reps. The same principle sticks with eight to ten reps of an EDT protocol. The challenge is in picking the load. If your ego is high that day and you load too heavy, you will not survive the full ten minutes in the given rep range. However, if you pick a load that’s too light, you will not elicit the intended training effect. I always tell my athletes that week one of EDT is a guessing game. We’ll likely make some mistakes in load selection, but we can adjust as needed.

For high school male athletes, this seems to bring out the competitive nature in everyone. Friends don’t want to be out-lifted by each other in weight and reps, so it helps bring the intensity to sessions. For the ladies, this solves a very simple problem that I found: they hate long rest periods.

Getting high school female athletes to take two minutes of rest is a challenge. Don’t even ask them to take four minutes of rest between sets of their main strength movement. Two summers ago at Mount Baker High School, I had a group of almost 20 females who were terrible about resting. I made them all sit down on benches or the ground, and I timed their rest periods. The look of pure hatred flowed from their eyes, and it was so quiet you could hear a pin drop on the floor. Once the rest period was over, it was game on.

By implementing EDT, it turns the ladies loose! They can go for it and get after it, along with a warning to be careful. Most ladies will come out the gates swinging for the fences and set an initial number of rounds so high that they don’t realize how much harder they must go the next week just to beat that number. I encourage them to do so. It reinforces the need to train at a higher level and push themselves out of their comfort zone.

Escalating Density Training Implementation

There are a couple of ways I like to program for EDT. Feel free to choose which best fits your program and the goals of your training block:

OPTION 1
Weeks 1-4
10 minutes
8-10 reps

Weeks 5-8
10 minutes
1-5 reps

Or

OPTION 2
Weeks 1-2
10 minutes
8-10 reps

Week 3-4
10 minutes
1-5 reps

You would then repeat this cycle for the duration of your training block. For my athletes’ late off-season, we’ll repeat Option 2 over the next 12-weeks leading into the spring sports season.

Program Sample

Here is an example of a current Level 3 athlete (football, shot put) phase 1 late off-season training block:

Basic movements, highly executed with savage intensity.

For high school athletes, basic is king. Keep things simple by implementing EDT into your programmes. The intensity of the training sessions will remain at a high level and elicit massive growth in the off-season.

Chris Bartl is a Strength Specialist at elitefts. He’s a strength coach with over ten years experience, specializing in helping teenagers become the strongest humans they can be. Chris is a former multi-ply powerlifter with best competition lifts of 805 squat, 625 bench, and 700 deadlift. He has four National Championships working with the Santa Barbara Foresters baseball team, which included training athletes from University of Texas, Texas Tech, Rice, UCLA, BYU, USC, Auburn, Mississippi State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Clemson, Air Force, Cal -Berkley, University of San Diego, Arizona State, and more.

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