Following on from the theme of specially-designed resistance training workouts (from by last blog post) that boost effectiveness, let’s take a look at another strategy called pyramid sets.
Resistance training workouts can often be tricky to design because of the need to keep your routines challenging and effective for your body.
Working out for months with the same routine can easily get very stale because your body quickly adapts to anything that’s constant.
Unless you’re careful therefore, you could be wasting a lot of time in the gym and doing your body a disservice by sticking to an inadequate resistance workout plan.
But what about simply increasing your weights? As you get stronger over time you increase the weights you’re working out with, which will naturally continue to challenge you, right?
Well, yes and no.
You see, by working out with heavy weights and low repetitions, you primarily develop muscle strength. And by working out with lighter weights and high repetitions, you primarily develop muscle endurance. Optimal muscle growth happens somewhere in between the two.
But by constantly training with one protocol, you end up developing just one muscle attribute and ignoring the others. Not a good thing!
The trick is to push your body past its previous limits in different ways and keep it guessing as to what it will have to do next.
A really effective way of doing this is to use pyramid sets.
What are Pyramid Sets?
Pyramid sets are basically resistance training sets whereby you increase the resistance, or weight, with each set, while decreasing the number of repetitions per set. Here’s a simple example for say, dumbbell bench presses:
Set 1: 7.5kg, 12 Reps
Set 2: 10kg, 10 Reps
Set 3: 12.5kg, 8 Reps
Set 4: 15kg, 6 Reps
The reason this protocol is referred to as a pyramid set is that you’re essentially building a pyramid of repetitions, from a large number at the base of the pyramid to a small number at the top. And as you can see, as you work your way to the top of the pyramid the load increases.
With this arrangement, you’re targeting muscle endurance, muscle strength, and everything in between as part of each workout.
One important point to be aware of however when using pyramid sets is that you need to take extra care when working out with heavier loads than those you’ve been accustomed to. It’s vital that you maintain the correct form throughout your workout, even with heavier weights, to get maximum benefit and minimize the chance of any injuries.
If you find yourself having difficulties maintaining form at the top of the pyramid, you should back off on the amount of weight you’re using, and/or have a training partner act as a spotter to help you along.
The Benefits of Pyramid Sets
The major benefit of using pyramid sets in your resistance training workouts is that it trains your body to adapt to a wide range of resistances. In other words, it develops a variety of muscle attributes and not just one, as most programs have a tendency to do. This multi-faceted development is more in line with the principles of achieving good all-round health and fitness.
Mixing up your resistances in this way will lead you to achieving muscular development much more quickly and effectively, since it makes it much more difficult for your body to adapt to your workouts. On top of that it makes your workouts more interesting for you as well.
Designing Pyramid Set Routines
The number of sets you use in a pyramiding routine is really up to you, although they generally range from 3 to 6 sets.
The base of the pyramid can consist of say 12 to 18 repetitions, and the top, say 3 to 6 repetitions.
There’s no hard and fast rule.
There’s also no rule that says you must use the same number of repetitions for all your exercises however. Generally speaking, compound exercises (exercises involving more than one joint) such as squats, deadlifts and bench presses for example, are more open to the full benefits of pyramid sets because you’re able to use heavier weights with these.
Small muscles such as your biceps and triceps, on the other hand, generally get pre-fatigued while being involved in larger, compound exercises and therefore will endure fewer sets when being worked out on their own with simple isolation exercises.
For example, your biceps contribute as helper muscles in a compound exercise such as the bench press (which predominantly targets your chest). They will therefore already be pre-fatigued somewhat when you then come to perform simple bicep curls later on, and therefore might not be able to endure the same number of sets.
You may therefore choose to do 4 pyramiding sets of the large, compound exercises, followed by only 2 or 3 pyramiding sets of isolation (single joint) exercises for your arms such as bicep curls and tricep extensions.
It’s always best during a resistance training routine to leave the smaller muscles for last.
This is because targeting them early on in your routine will compromise the effectiveness with which you can perform any subsequent larger, compound exercises later on that will involve those smaller muscles.
Pyramid sets are a great strategy to use to take your resistance training sessions to the next level, to break through a training plateau, or just to add some variety to your workouts. You don’t necessarily need to make everyone of your sessions a pyramid set session; it’s really up to you. Give it a go, and enjoy!
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