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Everything You Need to Know About Pyramid Training

Everything You Need to Know About Pyramid Training

It seems like everyone in the gym is doing 3 sets of 10 reps. These numbers are applied to every exercise and every workout. There is good reason for that, the rep range of 8-12 is seen as ideal for hypertrophy training. But do other rep ranges work? Is there another way? In this article, we will be talking about pyramid training, helping you to understand a classic strength training method.

What is Pyramid Training?

Pyramid Training is a collection of sets within the same exercise that either starts at high rep low weight working to low rep high weight. A complete pyramid training set would flow from one to the other.

Interestingly, there are several different types of pyramid training, and this can lead to some confusion as to which one is best. We will look at a few different examples now:

Traditional Pyramid Sets

Start off with a light weight and perform a high number of reps. Let’s say 10 reps with a weight that is 50% of your 1 rep max. Have a rest, and then increase the weight and lower the reps. Keep repeating this process until you have performed the fewest reps with the heaviest weight.

  • 10 reps (50% 1rm)
  • 8 reps (60% 1rm)
  • 6 reps (70% 1rm)
  • 4 reps (80% 1rm)
  • 2 reps (90% 1rm)
  • 1 rep (100% 1rm)

This is just an example. You may not go all the way down to one rep, and you may not start as high as ten reps. But the idea is simple, start at high reps/low weight, and finish at low reps/heavy weight.

Reverse Pyramid Sets

The idea with reverse pyramid sets is to start with your 1 rep max, and then slowly lower the weight and increase the reps. The problem with this method is that you need to warm up beforehand, which kind of defeats the object.

Which is why there is a third type of pyramid training.

Example Complete Pyramid Sets

This is where you would start with your 10 reps (50% 1rm) and keep reducing the reps and increasing the weight up to a certain point, but you would then start to reverse your way back to the beginning. This rarely goes all the way to 1 rep, as that would be way too much volume. It may look something like this:

  • 10 reps (50% 1rm)
  • 8 reps (60% 1rm)
  • 6 reps (70% 1rm)
  • 4 reps (80% 1rm)
  • 6 reps (70% 1rm)
  • 8 reps (60% 1rm)
  • 10 reps (50% 1rm)

Or it could start at 5 reps, go down to 1 rep, and then go back to 5 reps.

Alternative Pyramid Sets Example

Another variation is a lot easier to do, as it involves using the same weight for each set. This is much better suited to hypertrophy training and is a good way to increase volume. It may look something like this:

  • 10 reps (50% 1rm)
  • 8 reps (50% 1rm)
  • 6 reps (50% 1rm)
  • 4 reps (50% 1rm)
  • 2 reps (50% 1rm)
  • 1 rep (50% 1rm)

You could then add a reverse pyramid set if you wanted. Which would give you 62 reps in total at 50% of your 1 rep max.

What are the Benefits of Pyramid Training?

The main benefits of pyramid training are that it can increase the amount of volume you perform for each exercise. You can save a lot of time this way and can massively increase the intensity of your workout. It works very well for bodybuilding and hypertrophy and is also a decent fat burner.

It is also a good way to increase the intensity of a bodyweight workout, as you can do this for push ups, or squats (using the last technique mentioned). If you train with a partner, then pyramid training is great for saving time, particularly if you both use the same weights, as they can train during your rest period, and vice versa.

What are the Downsides of Pyramid Training?

It can be boring, it involves a lot of repetition, it also involves quite a lot of estimation of what weight you can manage. You need to know your 1 rep max for each exercise, which means you will have to do at least a couple sessions where you assess this.

Pyramid Training FAQs

Is Pyramid Training Good for Beginners?

Not really, you need to know your 1 rep max, which most beginners are incapable of finding. Also, you make a lot of progress during your first few weeks of training, so your 1 rep max will be constantly changing. Pyramid training is great for intermediates and perfect for advanced lifters.

Are Pyramid Sets Good for Building Muscle?

Yes, particularly the higher volume ones, and the one where you use the same weight but vary the reps.

What is a Drop Set?

A drop set is often confused with pyramid sets, but it isn’t really the same thing. With pyramid and reverse pyramid sets you start off with heavy weight/low reps, or low weight/high reps, then progress or regress the reps/weight. With drop sets, you would perform 3 normal sets (3 x 10 reps) with one weight, and then you would immediately drop the weight after the 3rd set (no rest) and perform as many reps as possible until your muscles are fully fatigued.

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