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Pyramid Training with Weights

Vary Your Workout with Pyramids


Updated April 17, 2012

Horizontal chest press

Horizontal chest press

(c) Paul Rogers / Cooloola Fitness

Recently you saw how to get past a plateau in your training workout. This required increasing volume and intensity and perhaps adding variety to boost enthusiasm.

Beyond increasing training work done, a range of specific techniques can fine-tune your workout, and add variety in your work load. One of these techniques is called pyramid training. No, pyramid training is not running or climbing up and down the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt, although that would be an excellent workout if you could get permission.

Pyramid training is a stepped approach to sets and repetitions. A 'pyramid' means big at the bottom and narrow at the top. A 'reverse pyramid' means big at the top and narrow at the bottom. And that's what pyramid training means in a weight training context. You start heavy and gradually decrease the weights or reps; or you start light and gradually increase the weight or reps. Or you can include both in an extended set.

How Does Pyramid Training Work?

Like all overload systems, pyramid training suggests that if you create metabolic stress in muscle tissue it will grow bigger. Note, though, that this type of training does not hit the sweet spot for strength increases, although bigger muscles will increase strength to some extent.

Warm up and Cool Down

A warmup should include light aerobic exercise and stretching for ten to fifteen minutes. Before doing any lifting exercise with weights a few repetitions with a lighter weight than chosen for the main exercise is a good strategy.

A cool down may help to reduce muscle soreness in the following hours. Pyramid training can make you sore. Cool down with light stretching, callisthenics or with some modest aerobic work on treadmill or cycle.

Varieties of Pyramids

Standard Pyramid. Increase the weight and decrease the reps for each set. Adjust the weight and sets for the equipment chosen, dumbbell, barbell, machine etc, and for the maximum that you can tolerate in each set. Example:

  • Set 1 – 30 lbs x 12 repetitions
  • Set 2 – 40 lbs x 10 reps
  • Set 3 – 50 lbs x 8 reps

Reverse Pyramid. In this pyramid, decrease the weight and increase the reps with each set.

  • Set 1 – 50 lbs x 8 reps
  • Set 2 – 40 lbs x 10 reps
  • Set 3 – 30 lbs x 12 reps

Diamond Pyramid. In this pyramid, increase then decrease weight in an extended 5-set muscle blast. (Called a diamond from the rhomboid shape.)

  • Set 1 – 20 lbs x 12 reps
  • Set 2 – 25 lbs x 10 reps
  • Set 3 – 30 lbs x 8 reps
  • Set 4 – 25 lbs x 10 reps
  • Set 5 – 20 lbs x 12 reps

Step Pyramid. In this pyramid, you flow up and down or down and up (in weight) like an up and down step series. It could look like this.

  • Set 1 – 50 lbs x 12 reps
  • Set 2 – 40 lbs x 10 reps
  • Set 3 – 30 lbs x 8 reps
  • Set 4 – 40 lbs x 10 reps
  • Set 5 – 50 lbs x 12 reps

Or, you could mix and match weight and reps like this, which is probably somewhat easier because you finish low even though reps are higher.

  • Set 1 – 30 lbs x 12 reps
  • Set 2 – 40 lbs x 10 reps
  • Set 3 – 50 lbs x 8 reps
  • Set 4 – 40 lbs x 10 reps
  • Set 5 – 30 lbs x 12 reps

You can probably see from the examples, there are many possibilities for experimentation in modifying the standard sets and reps for exploiting metabolic overload in order to improve your workout. Give it a try.

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