No matter how fixated you are with resistance training, there’s a good chance your gym regimen will start to feel like a monotonous task at some point. One simple way to elevate your mood, reintroduce enjoyment to your workouts, and make progress in building muscle? Incorporate pyramid sets into your routine.
To assist you in doing just that, Shape sought advice from a fitness expert to provide information on pyramid sets, including their main characteristics and advantages. Additionally, she shares tips on how to integrate pyramid workouts into your schedule to break out of your fitness stagnation.
What Are Pyramid Sets?
Put simply, pyramid sets are a distinct method of organizing your strength-training sessions and challenging your muscles with different loads and repetition ranges. You’ll commence by performing a high number of repetitions of a specific exercise with a lightweight. On the next set, you’ll decrease the repetitions and increase the weight, and continue this process with each subsequent set, as stated by Tina Tang, a personal trainer and strength coach certified by the NCSF in Jersey City, New Jersey. The example below may provide further clarification:
Bent-Over Row Pyramid Set Example
– Set 1: 15 repetitions with 10-pound weights
– Set 2: 10 repetitions with 15-pound weights
– Set 3: 5 repetitions with 20-pound weights
However, that’s not the only way to apply this technique. You can also perform reverse pyramid sets, where you initiate your workout by executing a few repetitions of an exercise with a heavy weight, then decrease the load and increase the repetitions with each subsequent set. Alternatively, you can utilize both regular pyramid and reverse pyramid techniques in one set, known as a triangle pyramid set. In this case, you will begin with a light weight and a high number of repetitions, progress to a heavy weight and a low number of repetitions, and then decrease the weight and increase the repetitions once again.
The amount of weight you add or remove with each set depends partly on the total number of sets you aim to complete. For instance, if you plan to do five sets of shoulder presses, you will likely make smaller load increases with each round compared to if you were only doing three sets of the exercise. Tang explains that the equipment available to you also plays a role, as you may not have the ability to consistently increase or decrease the weight by exact increments for each set. In summary, there isn’t a single “right” way to adjust your load during a pyramid workout; it depends on the weight options at your disposal and your goals.
The Benefits of Pyramid Sets
Uncertain if pyramid sets are worth experimenting with? Take into consideration the following key advantages that this strength-training technique offers for your health and fitness routine.
Introduces Variety to Your Strength Workouts
Among the potential benefits that pyramid sets offer, their capacity to add excitement to your workouts stands out, according to Tang. “When it comes to strength training, there are only a limited number of ways to perform exercises and a limited range of movements that your body can execute. That’s where various protocols, like pyramid sets, come into play,” she explains. “They help diversify the routine for individuals who engage in strength training frequently and wish to avoid monotony.”
Promotes Muscle Growth
In addition to keeping your workouts dynamic, incorporating pyramid sets into your training regimen can stimulate hypertrophy (also known as muscle growth), Tang states. In fact, a small eight-week study discovered that pyramid sets are an effective approach to enhance muscular strength and growth.1
The reasons behind these improvements are twofold. Firstly, high-intensity resistance training causes microtears in the muscles, which, when properly repaired, ultimately lead to muscle growth, as indicated by research.2 Moreover, incorporating pyramid sets into resistance training helps boost total training volume, according to an article published in the American College of Sports Medicine’s Health & Fitness Journal.3. For your information, training volume refers to the amount of physical work performed in a single workout session or throughout an entire exercise program. It is calculated by considering the weight used in each set, the number of repetitions performed, and the total number of sets in a workout, as outlined by information published by the American Council on Exercise (ACE). The positive news is that as training volume increases, so does muscular strength and hypertrophy, as long as proper recovery takes place between workouts, according to the Health & Fitness Journal.
Prepares Your Muscles for Your Workout
By initiating your strength-training session with lighter weights and gradually increasing the load during traditional pyramid sets, you will gradually warm up your muscles, making them ready to handle the heavier exercises to follow, explains Tang. In this scenario, the weight you are using will not feel as overwhelming to your body and mind compared to starting with a heavy weight. However, if you were to begin with an extremely heavy weight, it may still be necessary to perform a comprehensive warm-up beforehand to minimize the risk of injury and optimize your performance, as indicated by research.2.
Who Should Perform Triangle Pyramids?
Given their potential advantages, triangle pyramids can be integrated into the exercise routine of any individual, even novices who want to experiment with different repetitions and weights, states Tang. “It’s an option for anyone,” she adds. “…[It’s] not only a physical workout, but it also becomes a mental workout. [With triangle pyramids specifically,] you’re like, ‘What, I just descended the pyramid and now I have to ascend again?!'”
That being said, pyramid workouts do not have to be a fundamental element of your exercise routine. “It is not essential to perform them frequently,” says Tang. “Whatever objectives you have for strength training or your workouts, triangle pyramids are not essential to accomplish them.” Instead, you should concentrate on the basics of strength training (think: selecting weights that are just sufficiently heavy to complete 10 reps) and consider triangle pyramids as something you sporadically incorporate into your workouts to add some excitement, she suggests. This is particularly true for individuals who are focused on powerlifting and assessing their one-rep maximum, as triangle pyramids will be too tiring to regularly execute, says Tang.
How to Integrate Triangle Pyramids into Your Strength-Training Routine
If you are now persuaded to give triangle pyramids a try, borrow these suggestions on how to effectively incorporate them into your weightlifting regimen.
Be Strategic with Your Rest Intervals
Before attempting triangle pyramids, you first need to determine how much rest time you should incorporate into your training session. There is no set recommended rest period to insert between pyramid sets, so you will need to take into account your goals and the purpose of your workout when deciding how long of a break you will take. If you are performing pyramid sets of a single exercise as a workout finisher, try keeping your rest intervals to a minimum between rounds in order to maintain high intensity, suggests Tang. “The advantage of not resting or resting minimally would be on the metabolic side, where your heart rate is increasing,” she explains. “It is almost like performing a sprint but with weights.”
However, if you are hoping to make progress in terms of muscle growth, aim to take a breather of around one minute between sets. “Taking much longer than 60 seconds would compromise the metabolic stress aspect of training and decrease the potential for muscle growth, but resting for less than 60 seconds does not provide enough recovery for the muscle to perform well in the next set,” Sabrena Jo, the senior director of science and research at ACE, previously stated to Shape.
Utilize Them to Customize Entire Workouts
Once a week or month, consider attempting a resistance training workout structured entirely with triangle pyramids, suggests Tang.
Give Them a Try as an Exhilarating Closer
If you desire to fatigue a specific muscle group at the conclusion of your strength-training session, employ pyramid sets to accomplish the task. Choose one exercise — let’s say, the glute kickback — and complete three consecutive sets of the movement, escalating from five, to 10, then 15 repetitions while reducing the weight, suggests Tang. This closer will assess your muscular endurance, elevate your heart rate, and leave your posterior trembling — in a positive manner, of course.
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