Pyramid Sets

Pyramid sets are a fun way to breathe new life into your workout routine. Without changing any of your exercises, you can use pyramid sets to shock your body and progress your training.

The term “pyramid set” typically refers to multiple sets of an exercise (or exercises) with descending or ascending numbers of reps in concurrent sets.

For example, you might only do 1 rep on the first set, then do 2 on the second all the way up to ten. Then you can start working your way down, like going up and down the steps of a pyramid.

You can do this with a circuit workout as well, performing increasing reps of several exercises in succession. (1 push-up, 1 pull-up, 1 dip; 2 push-ups, 2 pull-ups, 2 dips, etc.)

This type of pyramid protocol can become a serious endurance challenge after a few sets. It’s also a way to make a game out of building up your conditioning. Changing the number of reps not only mixes it up for you mentally, it also keeps your body guessing. But don’t forget, working out is serious business – it ain’t a game!

Pyramid sets are commonly seen in weight training as well. In this context, one will usually increase the weight as the reps decrease. In the weight room you might do your first set of squats with 95 lbs. for 10 reps, then 135 lbs. for 8, followed by 185 for 6, etc. This is a great way to build strength and size.

Check out this video of me trying a pyramid workout that I got from my friends The Bar-barians. The pyramid goes from 1-5 reps with pull-ups, muscle-ups and dips. Boy were my arms tired!

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  • Whitemike516

    When pyramiding with weights, is there some percentage of weight you would traditionally go up with each set? For example, when bench pressing and using 15-12-10 descending reps, would you go up 5 lbs each set, 10 lbs, more? The squats example you use goes up 40 lbs, then 50 lbs.

  • http://www.AlKavadlo.com/ Al Kavadlo

    Good question! It's better to use percentages as a way to gauge it. In the example I used, I increased about 40% in each set even though it was a larger increase the second time in terms of pounds. Remember that the first set is a warm up set, so the idea is to go light. As you do more sets you might go up a smaller percentage in weight. Also bear in mind that I chose these weights because they are based on using 45 lb. and 25 lb. plates on a 45 lb. bar, thus making for easier changing of weights if you're using conventional Western equipment.

  • Adam

    Did some Pyramid Sets today. Really liked it, haven't done them in years. I tried to keep up with the bar-barians workout, but had to give up on the muscle ups after the (2-2-2 stage), just did pullups and dips for the remainder. Awesome workout.

    Another one I tried was choosing 2-3 pushup variations and doing the same thing (1-1-1, 2-2-2…5-5-5,4-4-4,…1-1-1). I stuck with only 2 variations (1-1, 2-2 etc.) and it worked great. Thanks for the idea, loving the pyramids again.

  • http://www.AlKavadlo.com/ Al Kavadlo

    Right on, Adam! Keep practicing those muscle-ups and you'll get the full pyramid eventually.

  • http://www.strengthrunning.com Fitz

    I never thought of doing pyramid workouts in the gym (or playground…). I've been doing them for years out on the trails or on the track – like 2', 3', 5', 5', 3', 2' hard or something like that. The benefit is that you can change it up so often, each workout can be different.

  • http://www.AlKavadlo.com/ Al Kavadlo

    Yep, you can do pyramids in many contexts. Glad I could help you expand your horizons with this one, Fitz!

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  • Filip

    Hi,

    i started some pyramid trifecta training an have few questions.

    i can do:

    push up pyramid up to 10 and down (squats too)
    but my pull up is bad. 

    you sad “until you fail to get through the circuit.”

    is that mean that i should stop when i reach pull up limit or should continue to work circuit but without pull ups? :)

  • http://www.AlKavadlo.com/ Al Kavadlo

    I meant the first one, though either one would be fine.  My recommendations are simply guidelines – follow your intuition.