Density Day

Strength, endurance, power, flexibility.  These are some of the main components of fitness that we strive to improve every day.  Athletes at all levels may excel at some while struggling with others.  Most of us recognize the importance of fitness in our lives and seek to improve our conditioning and, thus, our well being.  Surprisingly, some say we aren’t a healthy or fit nation.  But the diet and exercise industry is one of the largest in America, so we must be moving in the right direction, right?

At least we have good intentions; we introduce healthful living at an early age.  At my school my students are working on the Presidential Fitness Tests, and I definitely don’t envy them.  When I was in school, I DREADED these tests!  I remember dry heaving during the shuttle run, “twisting” my ankle for the mile, and hanging on the pull-up bar for a good five minutes, whining for a boost.  I got laughed at instead, but at least I could do the sit-and-reach.  I guess my practice at grabbing food from across the table gave me a performance edge.

If you couldn’t tell, I’m a late comer to the fitness world.  It took me until after college before I could adequately perform the basic exercises listed above.  I take my fitness more seriously now, and I’m always looking for ways to supplement my martial arts training and my health.  Devoid of even a modicum of natural athleticism, I’ve also learned that working harder goes hand-in-hand with working smarter.

Confession:  Americans generally don’t like the “no pain, no gain” mantra espoused by fitness enthusiasts, and sometimes neither do I.  The most recent Planet Fitness commercial sums it up.

This bodybuilder has clearly worked himself stupid in the gym.  This can be avoided most easily by riding an elliptical for 15 minutes, three times a week, while watching Oprah Winfrey.  Talking on the cellphone and/or listening to your iPod and/or reading a book help as well–especially if you do them all simultaneously.

If you check out the other gym rats in the video, you can see what they lack compared to that Neanderthal that’s duped out the door.  No, I’m not talking about oiled-up muscles.  I’m talking about intensity.  INTENSITY!  There’s a reason it’s called a workout.  If you have time to watch other people training, then you’re probably not trying hard enough.

I’m not trying to sound macho or tough here.  The consequence of a relaxing visit to the gym is that you’re not reaping the full benefits of your exercise regimen.  You don’t need to get pumped, and you don’t strain yourself to the verge of puking, but you will get better results with more focused, concerted effort.

(By the way, I don’t put much stock in the P90X or Insanity videos.  The workouts look challenging, but their models look like they’re on diuretics and thermogenics.)

All natural?

However, it is very hard to work up to the intensity levels demanded by the hardest workouts.  It takes a long time to build your conditioning no matter what sport you play or routine you follow.  Density workouts can help.

The idea is to fit as much work into a set amount of time as possible.  For example, pick any exercise you like–say it’s running.  Instead of running for distance, you run for time.  How much ground can you cover in five minutes?  Can you run a half mile?  That’s a good start.  Now run as fast as you can for just those five minutes.  Chances are you just ran harder than you would if jogging for three miles, and you burned just as many, if not more calories.  How far did you run?  Maybe 3/4 of a mile.  Keep doing other workouts and try it again in a month.  Maybe you’re closer to running a five-minute mile.

Density workouts are meant to build work capacity.  The above example shows the health and performance benefits of this training method.  My overall fitness has been regressing a bit lately, so I decided to take a work-capacity booster.  Here’s a workout from earlier this week.  It consists of five density blocks of five minutes each.  Each block contains exercise circuits meant to tax cardiovascular and muscular endurance.  I threw in a round for the core and a round for striking skills as well.

Again, the key word is DENSITY (it rhymes with intensity).  To improve/rehab work capacity you have to move a lot.  The more you move in a given time, the more your body will fatigue, the more you fatigue this time, the more work you will be able to handle next time.

So here’s the actual workout,  Remember to adjust the reps and weights as needed.  If you reach failure and can’t complete the reps, then you won’t complete the rounds well enough to improve work capacity.  Drop reps and weight to ensure that you keep moving for the entire round without rest.


  • 3 pull-ups
  • 3 dips
  • 5 push-ups
  • 5 standing Arnold Presses (30 lbs. dumbbells)


  • 10 dumbbell/kettlebell swings (5 per arm)
  • 10 medicine ball slams


(This is a complex borrowed from Ross Enamait.  All exercises are performed with 30 lbs. dumbbells except down-ups)

  • 6 burpees
  • 6 lunges (3 per leg)
  • 6 clean and press
  • 6 squats
  • 6 bent-over rows
  • 10 up-downs


  • 10 leg lifts with “Ryan Hall triangle action” at the top
  • 10 “break dance” spins (lie like you’re in guard and use one leg to spin 180 degrees, repeat with the other leg to spin back to the starting position)
  • 10 Supermans
  • 4 Turkish get-ups (or just stand up in base)


  • Work on striking combos on the heavy bag.  Try to stay as active as possible!

If you try this out, let me know what you think.  Just a note:  I’m not a certified trainer.  I just like to experiment with different exercises to test for results.  Feel free to take or leave what I provided here and to make it your own.  If you do anything to hurt yourself or your training partners, don’t say I didn’t warn you.  Questions, comments, concerns, or critiques are more than welcome.

About moaimartialarts

Lucky enough to grow up with the martial arts, I have felt their positive influence throughout my life and am especially interested in sharing these experiences with others. I enjoy working with youth and adults to give back some of what I've received. If you would like to learn more about Uechi-Ryu/Shohei-Ryu Karate, or if you want to find people to train with, please contact me. I am the head karate instructor for the Meriden Martial Arts Club.
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