Density Training is a fantastic, proven method for increasing your reps in bodyweight exercises like dips, pull-ups, handstand push-ups, 1 leg squats (pistols) and more. As an athlete, having the ability to manipulate and control your bodyweight (your relative strength) is crucial to your performance on the field or court. If you are strong pound for pound, you can easily crank out lots of reps on bodyweight exercises.
Understanding the importance of relative strength, let’s say you want to develop the ability to rep out 20 pull-ups in a row. You could try to achieve this by constantly maxing out on pull-ups every day. Unfortunately, this method will burn you out sooner than later and lead to frustration as you stall out at 14 or 15 reps. Instead, reserve those max reps sets for infrequent testing of your progress (maybe every couple weeks or so instead of every day) and rely on Density Training to get you to your goal.
Density Training with Bodyweight Exercises
First, pick a goal for a bodyweight exercise you want to get better at. Let’s say you want those 20 pull-ups. Just like we did with the weighted movements, you are going to double the total volume (reps). So each Density pull-up workout will give you a total of 40 reps, broken up into sets. When breaking the 40 reps up into sets, make these individual sets easy, especially in the beginning of the program. So, if your current max reps for pull-ups is 12, then you might want to do 14 sets of 3 (yeah you get 2 bonus reps here) or 10 sets of 4 (10×4) instead of 4 sets of 10. This point needs to be repeated: the initial sets should NOT be challenging!
Density Training Next Steps
Once you have your set/rep scheme, then you’re going to do sets on the minute (it’s Density Training!). So if you went with 14×3, you are going to go for 14 minutes, doing 3 reps every minute and then resting during the remaining time until the next minute. This is important: if you get all the reps done WITH GOOD FORM, through the full range of motion and on the minute, then you will advance to the next set/rep scheme which is slightly harder-10×4 (then 9×4, 8×5, 7×6 etc…). REMEMBER, only progress when you can get the required reps with good form for the full time. If you start to fall apart before you have completed 75% of the total reps (in this case 30 reps) then you either didn’t heed my advice for setting up your initial sets or you progressed too soon. In this case, go back to the previous set/rep scheme and master it before advancing. Don’t forget that one of the best parts of training this way is that you should be well below your repetition max so all your reps should be perfect.
You can do Density Training for bodyweight exercises 2-4 times a week. Once in a while you can replace a day of Density work with 2-3 sets of max reps. You will definitely see progress in your max reps from the Density Training. In this example, once you hit 4 sets of 10 pull-ups on the minute, you’d be very close to your goal of 20.