Density Training — How I’m Training Now

TAGS: density training, muscle failure, Vince Gironda, Guillotine Press, hamstring curls, training split, body composition, muscle growth, Mark Dugdale, hypertrophy

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I realize its cliché, but the only constant in life is change. That holds true for me in the gym as well. I’ve been doing John Meadows' programs for the better part of four years now. I credit him with resuscitating my physique at a time when high-intensity training ran its course and did more harm than good to my body. Coincidentally, the two big takeaways from the past four years are that training frequency isn’t as evil as I once thought, and that properly applied volume provides a safer loading parameter than simply adding more weight.


RECENT: The Danger of Disposability


I’m now into my 40's, so if you’re from my generation or older with any appreciable amount of training time under your belt, you know that our approach to training must change with time. What works in your 20's likely isn’t going to suit you well two decades later. There’s also value in reading this article if you’re a 20 or 30-year-old because the intensity principles I’m about to share might very well fast-track your growth and prolong your training days. 

The 80’s

I loved this decade, in part because it reminds me of my impressionable, early teen years where the world was big and problems were small. Things just seemed simpler. The 80’s arguably marked the origin of some of the most inventive music and fashion. It’s also the decade in which I saw Arnold Schwarzenegger — not in-person, but in the 1982 action movie Conan the Barbarian. This film ushered in my quest for muscle.

It’s funny how various forms of 80’s fashion and music influences begin to recycle. The same thing often occurs with diets and training methods. I confess six-inch tall Aqua Net bangs capable of withstanding Hurricane Irma are best left in the 80’s, but I recently stumbled upon a gentleman and his training methods from this decade that warrants consideration.

density training mark dugdale

Vince Gironda

Known as the Iron Guru, Vincent “Vince “Gironda was an American professional bodybuilder, personal trainer, author, and owner of the celebrity-frequented Vince's Gym. He lived from 1917 to 1997 and his approach to low carb diets and training, much like 80’s fashion, is widely making its rounds again.

What intrigues me most stems from Vince’s analytical approach to training and his very clear distinction between bodybuilding and lifting weights. I continue to learn the value of thinking outside the box and training for an illusion onstage rather than pounds on a bar. Successful natural trainers (Vince’s claim) tend to pique my interest more because they’re forced to progress via their intellectual prowess and hard work rather than reliance on drugs.

Maximizing Hypertrophy

Training to failure triggers adaptation and subsequent muscle growth. Early on I knew only one method: load pounds on a bar until you hit failure in the six to eight rep range, performing the fewest sets possible. Chasing pounds eventually returned negative results from a purely bodybuilding standpoint.

Next, I learned volume provided a stimulus whereby after multiple sets of the same weight I eventually hit failure. Volume allowed me to lower the amount of weight I lifted because the approach of performing multiple sets led to the same point of failure, albeit with a safer training method.

Frequency advanced hypertrophy, allowing me to cut marathon workouts down to multiple sprints. If training is anabolic and proper recovery is achieved, why not train as often as possible to reap the most anabolic results?

With Vince, I tapped into the training technique most often attributed to him: density training. At the most basic level, it is astoundingly simple. Do as much work as possible within a short period of time, ideally in the 60-minute range. The go-to program most often looked like eight sets of eight reps with the same weight, and anywhere from 15 to 30 seconds of rest between sets, but Vince also utilized superset or giant set circuits.

My Training Split

Inspired by John’s primary and secondary workouts, I still train five days per week. Circling back and expanding upon my previous comments, frequency and volume/density are better loading parameters than simply adding pounds to a bar. To define better, I mean improved safety. You can’t train and grow if you’re hurt. Frequency and work density provide equal muscle adaption response and more favorable body composition.


Here is a look at my current training split:

  • Sunday — Chest, Shoulders, and Triceps
  • Monday — Back and Biceps
  • Tuesday — HIT Cardio
  • Wednesday — Chest, Shoulders, and Triceps
  • Thursday – Back and Biceps
  • Friday — Off
  • Saturday — Legs

To give you an idea of some exercises to which I applied a Gironda-style approach, check out these videos:

Guillotine Press

Alternating — Hamstring Curls/Chains

Triset — Back Circuit

Alternating — Occluded Legs

Triset — MAG Back Circuit

If you’re like me — pressed for time and required to work with lighter weight — I recommend test-driving some of Vince’s density training. For more details visit my training logs.

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