Structuring your workouts appropriately is a crucial step toward your strength-training goals because you want to make sure that you’re doing all the right things to move forward in your fitness journey instead of backward.
Before you jump in and start picking the most effective exercises to build muscle, you first need to decide which kind of training approach you’ll take. There are many ways to structure your sets depending on your goals, but if you’re looking to improve your strength and muscle size, standard and reverse pyramid sets might be for you!
This dynamic kind of set structure focuses on giving your muscles a new challenge to overcome during each set, maximizing your gains. In this article, we’ll tell you all you need to know about pyramid training, how to create your own workout, and some tips to get you started successfully!
Pyramid sets vs. straight sets
If you’ve been training for a while, you’re probably already familiar with what straight sets are. They’re simply a training approach that involves performing the same number of reps with the same weight for a specific number of sets, alternated with resting times. For example, doing 3 sets of 15 biceps curls each using the same dumbbell.
Pyramid sets, on the other hand, are a dynamic approach that changes the number of reps and amount of weight that you use on each set. This style of training is called a pyramid because you either start with a lower volume and gradually increase it, or you do the opposite, forming a triangle-shaped set.
For standard pyramid sets, you start with a lighter weight and higher reps, increasing the weight and lowering the reps as you go. Reverse pyramid sets, as the name suggests, are performed the other way around. You start with a heavy weight and lower reps, decreasing the weight and increasing the reps on each set.
So, while straight sets are usually the go-to option for beginners because they offer consistency and they’re easier to get used to, pyramid training is an incredibly effective muscle-building approach for everyone because it constantly gives your muscles a new challenge to overcome throughout your session!
Building a pyramid training set
While there are many ways to build a pyramid set, the two main ways are the ones we mentioned earlier – the standard pyramid and the reverse pyramid. A standard pyramid set for an exercise such as bench pressing could look something like this:
- Set 1: 25 lb x 10 reps
- Set 2: 35 lb x 8 reps
- Set 3: 45 lb x 6 reps
Of course, this weight is just a placeholder, but ultimately it’ll depend on your current fitness level and how much you’re able to bench press. A reverse pyramid set for bench pressing with the same settings, on the other hand, would look like this:
- Set 1: 45 lb x 6 reps
- Set 2: 35 lb x 8 reps
- Set 3: 25 lb x 10 reps
In these examples, the weight changes by 10 lb on each set while the reps change by 2, pushing to failure by the end. To make sure that you actually get to the end of your final set, there are two rules that you should always remember, whether you’re creating a standard or a reverse pyramid training set.
1. Always make gradual jumps
You need to keep in mind that, when creating your own set, the change between sets should be gradual enough that you keep the tension up without completely burning out your muscles by the second set. That said, if you do want to make big jumps.
2. Always keep the weight to reps ratio realistic
If you’re increasing the weight from 15 to 35 lb on the next set, decreasing your reps by just 2 or 3 won’t be enough. You’ll reach failure much sooner than expected, so make sure to keep the ratio realistic and decrease your rep ranges as much as your increase the weight, or vice versa.
As you can see, because of how dynamic it is, pyramid training is highly customizable. Ultimately, the approach you choose will depend on your preferences, whether you’d rather start heavy on the weights or finish with the heaviest load instead. It’s all up to you and your goals!
How to get started with pyramid training
If you’re ready to try pyramid training and take your weightlifting sessions to the next level, we have a few tips for you so you can get started safely and successfully!
Start slow and work your way up
If you’re new to pyramid sets, the smartest thing you can do is start slow and be mindful of your fitness level. This should be the #1 rule when it comes to any strength training approach because you definitely don’t want to lift more than you actually can!
Before you start, test the weights to make sure you can work with them. You can always add more weight if needed, so try to start with a lower weight at first. Remember, it’s always better to underestimate than to overestimate and fail!
Push for failure on the last set
For maximum gains, you need to put your muscles under enough stress to promote hypertrophy, which is when your muscles suffer micro tears due to exercise that are later repaired, growing new lean tissue on top.
When creating your pyramid set, structure it in a way that you’re giving all you’ve got by the last couple of reps, pushing for failure on that final repetition of the last set. If you find yourself struggling too early on, or instead you’re finishing your sets like a breeze, then it’s time to change a few things!
Don’t overdo your warm-ups
Warming up is the best way to prepare your muscles for what’s about to come, but if you take your warm-ups too far, you might make your muscles tired too early on in your session. This will prevent you from finishing your sets successfully, and instead, you might have to call it quits.
Try to limit your warm-up sets to 10 minutes when you’re about to do some heavy or intense lifting, like pyramid sets. This way, you’ll be able to keep your performance high and your gains even higher!
Play with your rest times
Because of how dynamic pyramid training is, your muscles might need some time to adjust between each set. Keeping your rest times between 2 and 3 minutes is a good measure, however, this will depend on the exercises that you do and your goals.
If you want to focus on maximum growth, resting around 1-2 minutes is best so you can keep your muscles fired up. But if you’re dealing with heavy sets of compound exercises, such as deadlifts, a longer rest time of 3-4 minutes might be the best choice to stay safe and keep a good performance.
Maximize your gains with pyramid training
Keeping your training programs dynamic is a great way to make progress at the gym without getting bored or stuck in a training plateau, and trying pyramid sets now and then is a great way to do this. Plus, you can mix them up with regular straight sets, drop sets, supersets… Your choice!
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