Mini-Study Results: Sinister vs Density Progression to Increase Dead Hang and Front Plank Max Efforts for Time Inconclusive

By Rob Shaul, Founder


Density progression outperformed Sinister progression on Dead Hang Improvement, and Sinister Progression outperformed Density on Front Plank Improvement. Overall, the goal to identify which progression is best to improve these type of efforts was inconclusive.


Background and Study Design

This study tested two types of progression to improve bodyweight, max effort, isometric holds – the Dead Hang from a Pull Up Bar and Front Plank.

Twenty-three remote lab rats were split into to groups, (1) Density and (2) Sinister.

Each group began with max effort for time for both the Dead Hang from a Pull Up Bar and Front Plank.

After these assessments, each group performed different progressions 3 days/week over  the next 3 weeks, then retested their max efforts on week 4. The week 1 and week 4 max effort for time Dead Hang and Front Planks were then compared.

Density Progression is a percentage-based progression based on a max effort. In this case, the progression began at 5 Rounds of 30% of the athlete’s most recent Dead Hang and Front Plank times, with a 30 second rest between efforts. For example, if the athlete’s max effort Dead Hang was 90 seconds, 90 x .3 = 27 seconds. For the first Dead Hang progression, this athlete would complete:

5 Rounds
27 Sec. Dead Hang
30 Second Rest

Each Training day the Density Lab Rats completed this for both Dead Hangs and Front Planks. Here is an example:


(1) 6 Rounds

    • 30% Max Effort Dead Hang
    • Rest 30 Seconds between efforts

(2) 6 Rounds

    • 30% Max Effort Front Plank
    • Rest 30 Seconds between efforts

“Sinister” Progression is simply 5 Rounds of Max Efforts, with a 60 second rest between. There is no built in progression. For example each training day the athlete completed


(1) 6 Rounds

    • Max Effort Dead Hang
    • Rest 60 Seconds between efforts

(2) 6 Rounds

    • Max Effort Front Plank
    • Rest 60 Seconds between efforts


This mini-study applied MTI’s pace-based programming to power, and measured the results.

Modern spin bikes, rowing ergs, and assault bikes can measure power, both in terms of total kilojoules produced, as well as current power output in watts.

Twenty-three remote lab rats completed  the 3.5-week mini study.

All lab rats will completed the same, 3-day/week programming. Below was the weekly schedule:

  • Monday: Dead Hang/Front Plank Max Effort or Dead Hang/Front Plank Intervals
  • Tuesday: No Dead Hang or Front Plank Training
  • Wednesday: Dead Hang / Front Plan Density or Sinister Intervals
  • Thursday: No Dead Hang or Front Plank Training
  • Friday: Dead Hang / Front Plan Density or Sinister Intervals

Athletes were allowed to complete other training during this mini study – just no additional Dead Hang or Front Plank work.

The initial and last Max Effort for Time Dead Hang and Front Plank results were compared.


Results and Discussion

A total of 23 individuals completed the entire training 3.5 week cycle. Below are the individual lab rat results.


The average percent Dead Hang / Front Plank max effort for time improvement for both groups was impressive, but the results between Density vs Sinister progression were split.

The Density group outperformed the Sinister group improvement by 41.51% to 29.74%.

But the Sinister group outperformed the Density group in Front Plank improvement – 66.9% to 29.74%.

As well, the results between lab rats with in the same group showed wide variations. For example, Density group improvement in the Front Plank ranged from 7% to over 117% and Dead Hang improvement in the Sinister group ranged from -6% to 59%.

The one fairly consist part of the results is the overall average improvement.

Density group Dead Hang improvement of 41.51% and Front Plank improvement of 47.36% average out to 44.4%.

Sinister group Dead Hang improvement of 29.74% and Front Plank improvement of 66.4% average out to 48.1%.

We’re fairly confident in stating that either progression will increase isometric hold time by around 40% over 3 weeks.

Next Steps?

This was one of the more cruel mini-studies we’ve had remote Lab Rats complete. It’s hard to describe how painful max effort Front Planks are … and these poor lab rats endured them 3x/week for three weeks. Pain from max effort dead hangs is not quite as acute, but not much less.

From a programming perspective, right now in terms of increasing isometric holds, I consider Density and Sinister progressions to be equally effective, and interchangeable. One advantage of Sinister progression is its simplicity.

Our current bodyweight exercise programming primarily deploys a version of Density progression. What may be interesting is to deploy Sinister progression for max effort bodyweight rep exercises like push ups and sit ups – and compare the results to what we’ve seen with Density progression over the years. Not sure we’ll pursue this – but it’s possible.


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