To continue to get benefits from resistance training, you need to challenge your muscles in new ways. Do the same routine month after month and your body will adapt and you’ll stop seeing change. The good news? Making even small changes to your workout is often enough to give new results. Here’s a way to change your routine – try pyramid strength training.
What is Pyramid Strength Training?
The premise behind pyramid training is simple. Start out with light weights and a high number of repetitions and gradually work your way up the pyramid to heavy weights and low reps. For example, a pyramid might look like this:
15 reps using a 12-pound weight
12 reps using a 15-pound weight
8 reps using a 20-pound weight
4 reps using a 25-pound weight
This is only one way to structure a pyramid. You can have more or fewer steps. Most people choose between three and five pyramid levels. The key is to start light and gradually increase the weight as you move up the pyramid. Choose a weight for each step that’s challenging, so it’s challenging to complete the designated number of repetitions for each step and keep moving up, increasing the weight and decreasing the reps, until you reach the top. It’s a simple concept that can deliver satisfying results.
You can use a pyramid structure for almost any weight training exercise from biceps curls to squats to challenge your muscles in a different way. This type of workout structure typically works best for compound exercises where you can more easily handle larger amounts of weight.
What Are the Benefits of Pyramid Training?
When you do pyramid strength training, you’re working muscles in a number of different ways. You start out with light weights and multiple repetitions. This gives your muscles an endurance workout, activating mostly slow-twitch muscle fibers. As you gradually move up the pyramid, the weight becomes heavier and the repetitions fewer as you transition to heavier weights and low reps to build strength.
As you move up the pyramid towards the heaviest weight, you’re progressively challenging your muscle, giving them the stimulus they need to grow while activating more fast-twitch muscle fibers, ones that are important for strength and power. If you haven’t done this type of routine in a while, your muscles will feel challenged and thoroughly exhausted by the time you reach the top of the pyramid. That’s what you need for growth and change.
The pyramid sequence works nicely because the first set serves as a warm-up, increasing blood flow to your muscles while working on muscular endurance. As you move up in terms of weight, your muscles are warm and ready to meet the increased challenge of heavier weight.
Other Benefits of Pyramid Strength Training
Pyramid strength training is a good change of pace when you’re bored with lifting the same 8 to 12 reps every set. Doing a different type of routine helps with motivation and gives you a new challenge – but pay attention to form. When you’re doing so many sets, it’s easy to get sloppy. Minding your form closely will reduce injury and help you get better results.
Another Variation on Pyramid Strength Training
Some people do a different variation on pyramid training called the reverse pyramid. With reverse pyramids, you begin with a heavy weight and low reps and gradually work your way towards lighter weights and maximum reps. This challenges your muscles differently, but it’s not ideal for beginners.
Start with straight pyramid training first since the injury rate is higher with reverse pyramids since your muscles aren’t as warm when you lift the heaviest weights. With a reverse pyramid workout, always warm your muscles up first using lighter weights before starting up the pyramid to reduce the risk of injury.
The Bottom Line?
With a pyramid workout, you work endurance at one end of the pyramid and strength and the opposite end. In between, you challenge your muscles with enough resistance and reps to build mass. It’s also a good training technique to help move through a plateau and a nice break from straight sets.
I have an exercise DVD called “Pyramid Upper Body and Lower Body” that will take you through a complete full pyramid workout or you can do a premix for just a pyramid up or a premix for a pyramid down (reverse) workout. Take advantage of this different approach to working your muscles and expect to see positive changes.
“American Council of Exercise: Personal Trainer Manual: The Ultimate Resource for Fitness Professionals” Third edition. 2003.
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