You might not have heard of pyramid training before, but if you’ve been training for some time there is a high possibility that you have utilised it at some point without knowing it.
Pyramid training is a very simple concept that has spawned many variations.
In this article you will learn what Pyramid training is and how to incorporate it into your training program.
The Basic Pyramid
You might say that the term Pyramid is the wrong choice for this training method because a pyramid implies that you rise up and then go back down again.
This gives people the impression that pyramid training involves starting on a light weight, progressing to a heavy weight, and then going back down to a light weight again.
This is not the case, Strength Pyramid training involves either starting with a low weight and high weights then increasing the weight and lowering the reps until you reach the top.
While regular Pyramid training involves using the same weight throughout, starting with high reps and slowly lowering the reps each set. Both models would be better described as a ladder or staircase than a pyramid!
But enough semantics! Let’s look at the basic pyramid. Pick an exercise, for this example we’ll use the bench press.
For a basic Pyramid program you would start with a set of 10 reps, then you would pause for a rest, before performing a set of 9 reps. Repeat the process for 8 reps, 7 reps, 6 reps and so on until you reach 1 rep.
To improve your results you would either increase the weight or shorten the rest period slightly the next time you attempted it.
You could either count the first couple sets as a workout or alternatively perform 2 warm up sets prior to starting.
The Strength Pyramid
This pyramid is a little more difficult to set up, although the rewards can be greater.
The idea here is to increase the weight whilst lowering the repetitions. As you are training for strength, the starting reps should be much lower than 10. Most strength pyramids start at 5 or 6 reps and then reduce the number of reps down to one.
What you want is for that one rep at the end to be close to or exceeding your current one rep max. Meaning that to some extent the preceding four or five sets are a form of warm up, with each set building up to the next.
Now you’ll definitely want to add some proper warm up sets in before a strength pyramid, so really you are looking at seven or eight sets in total.
What’s great about strength pyramid training is that it can really help boost the intensity of your workouts and increase your one rep max.
Strength Pyramids are very popular with Powerlifters for this exact reason.
What most people do is to add a bit more weight each week so that they are continuously increasing the overload on their muscles. Obviously this might not be possible every week, but trying to progress as much as possible week-to-week is an excellent way to build size and strength.
The Hypertrophy Pyramid
Very similar to the basic pyramid in that you don’t change the weight, just the repetitions.
The difference is that instead of starting at 10 reps and working your way down to 1, you would stick to the optimal hypertrophy range of between 8 and 12 reps.
There is slightly less volume (50 reps compared to 55 reps) than there is in the basic pyramid so you could add a set of 7 reps, or add in an extra warm up.
Each week you would look to increase the weight very slightly so that you are progressively overloading the muscles which will lead to hypertrophy.
The Reverse Pyramid
This form of pyramid training is often used for hypertrophic pyramids, but it can also work really well for strength training provided that there is adequate warming up beforehand.
A reverse pyramid is just the opposite of a regular pyramid. Start with a single rep at the heaviest weight for strength training and then lower the weight and increase the reps as you go.
For a reverse hypertrophy pyramid you would keep the weight the same and start with the lower reps (8) and increase the reps to 12.
This is where you follow a basic or hypertrophy pyramid with two opposing exercises at the same time.
For example bench press and bent over rows. So let’s say you were following a hypertrophy plan. You would perform 8 reps of bench press immediately followed by 8 reps of bent over row, then you would perform 7 reps of bench press and 7 reps of bent over row. Repeating this until you managed 12 reps of both.