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These Pyramids Spawn Success

Whether you’re ascending or descending, you’ll still be making gains.

By Heather Neff, CPT


Whether you’ve reached a plateau in your gains or not, pyramid training is the perfect way to add a challenge and mix things up a bit. Aside from challenging your muscles, this type of training might also save your sanity. Why? In spite of the fact that pyramid training doesn’t require anything special, it does provide you with a bit of variety in your workouts. In other words, you won’t be doing the same old thing every week. All you need to do is keep good track of your rep count and weight amount. If you can do that, and you’ve adequately fueled your engine, you’re ready to start!


What Is Pyramid Training?

Pyramid training is a method of weight training where you lift varied weights, sets and reps and effectively increase both your size and strength. Basically, instead of performing the popular 3 sets of 10 to 12 reps of any given exercise, you’re going to either ascend or descend with your rep count. For instance, you could do 15 reps, rest, 12 reps, rest, 10 reps, rest and so on.

Regardless of whether you are ascending or descending with your reps, the amount of weight you are lifting should also be adjusted for each set. So if you’re doing an ascending pyramid, you should be increasing your weights as you are decreasing your reps. On the other hand, if you’re doing a descending pyramid, you should be decreasing the amount of weight you’re lifting as you are increasing your reps.


Types Of Pyramid Training

There are three main methods of pyramid training you need to know. Each type is just a little bit different. On the bright side, they are very easy to follow.

Ascending Pyramid (DeLorme Method) – For this version of pyramid training, you should be increasing your weights as you are decreasing your rep count. Here’s an example:

100 pounds 15 reps

125 pounds 12 reps

150 pounds 10 reps

185 pounds 6 reps


Descending Pyramid (Reverse Pyramid, Oxford Method) – This pyramid is otherwise known as the exact opposite of the ascending pyramid. For instance, you begin with low reps and high weight and then lessen the weight as you increase your reps as follows:

185 pounds 6 reps

150 pounds 10 reps

125 pounds 12 reps

100 pounds 15 reps


Triangle Pyramid – For this type of pyramid workout, you should be doing both ascending and descending.

100 pounds 15 reps

125 pounds 12 reps

150 pounds 10 reps

185 pounds 6 reps

150 pounds 10 reps

125 pounds 12 reps

100 pounds 15 reps


The Best Method?

No matter which method you choose, the good news is that they are each very effective in building muscle and strength. With that being said, there is a winner in the mix, but not by much.

A Johns Hopkins University study tested both the ascending and descending pyramid methods with participants performing leg extensions over a period of nine weeks. The results showed that the subjects who performed the ascending pyramid (DeLorme method) increased their 10-rep max by 160 pounds, while the subjects who used the descending pyramid (Oxford method) increased their 10-rep max by 150 pounds.

The reality is that a 10-pound difference really isn’t all that significant. But, in fairness, the win goes to the ascending pyramid (DeLorme method) for building strength. What about increasing muscle size? That’s where descending pyramids would come in. Why? With descending pyramids, you’re able to complete more reps to failure and that means you’ll be triggering muscle growth for sure! Of course, if you were looking to simultaneously build both muscle and strength, then the obvious choice would be to do triangle pyramid training to get the best of both worlds.



How To Do It

Pyramid training should be laid out just like your regular training plan. You can do it as a split plan (back day exercises, leg day exercises, etc.) or a full body workout with one or two rest days in between to give your muscles time for recovery. You can use machines, free weights or even perform bodyweight exercises such as pull-ups, push-ups and bodyweight squats. Although it should be noted that when it comes to bodyweight exercises, if you’re looking to increase and decrease the weight involved, you might need a weighted vest with removable plates.

One definition of insanity is repeatedly doing the same thing and expecting a different result. With the variety you get from pyramid training, you won’t have to worry about your sanity. It might not be for everyone, but it’s a tried and true method that ensures you’ll be making strength and muscle size gains.

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