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"DeLorme." "Oxford."

One sounds like the name of that infamous sports car of the '80s that sent Michael J. Fox hurtling through time. And isn't the other a pretentious university in England?

Good guesses, but wrong for our purposes on both counts. In fact, these are both scientifically tested training methods that you can use to tune up your pursuit of more strength and size – no driver's license or college degree necessary. They both center on pyramiding, a technique used by lifters for generations, which involves going up or down in weight from set to set.  Simple enough, but DeLorme and Oxford fast-forward the concept into modern day, getting specific and squeezing more benefits out of pyramiding for you in the process.


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There are two sides to pyramid training: up and down, or more technically, ascending and descending. For example, to train up the pyramid for three sets of incline bench presses, the first set might be 135 pounds, the second might be 200 pounds and the third might be 265 pounds. A descending pattern could simply be that three-set pattern in reverse. 

Through scientific research, some specific theories and training protocols have been developed that you can use in the gym. One of the more commonly used ascending pyramid techniques is the DeLorme pyramid method. 

With this ascending pyramid technique, your with about 50% of your 10-rep max (10RM) for a given exercise, but for just 10 reps (although you would obviously be capable of doing more). For the second set, increase the weight to about 75% of your 10RM for that exercise and again stop at 10 reps. For the third set, increase the weight to 100% of your 10RM for that exercise and complete as many reps as you can until reaching failure.

The repetition maximum is not critical, as many powerlifters use this pyramid method with 3RM, 4RM, 5RM and 6RM loads to develop strength. 

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On the flip side, a popular descending pyramid technique is the Oxford method. Here, the first set is performed with 100% of your 10RM to failure. For the second and third sets, reduce the weight just enough to allow you to complete about 10 reps. Again, the repetition maximum you use is not critical, as it’s commonly used with 6RM, 8RM, 12RM and 15RM. 

Interestingly, when choosing between the DeLorme and Oxford methods to incorporate into your own training, take note: research suggests that one of these methods may be better than the other depending on your goals.


To determine which technique, DeLorme or Oxford, was best for building strength, scientists at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine (Baltimore, Maryland) compared the two.

They placed 50 men on a nineweek weight-training program of leg extension workouts on a machine three times per week. They all did three sets of about 10 reps; half the subjects used the DeLorme ascending pyramid method (50%, 75% and 100% of 10RM, for the first, second and third sets, respectively) and the other half used the Oxford descending pyramid technique (100% of 10RM for the first set, and the second and third sets with weight reduced just enough to allow for 10 reps to be completed). The amount of weight the lifters could leg press for 10 reps was measured before and after nine weeks of training.

The Johns Hopkins researchers discovered that the lifters who used the DeLorme technique had increased their strength for the leg extension by 10 pounds more than lifters who used the Oxford method (160 versus 150 pounds). Although in scientific circles, the 10-pound difference wasn’t significantly large enough to indicate a strong recommendation for DeLorme over Oxford, in practical terms, 10 pounds is 10 pounds in the gym.

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Bottom line, you can take two points from this study: both pyramid methods work well, but the DeLorme ascending procedure has a slight edge in its ability to increase strength.

You could even project further from this study to conclude that although the DeLorme ascending pyramid method seems to be best for gaining strength, the Oxford descending pyramid method may be better for gaining muscle mass. Why? Let’s look at the number of times the lifters in the study trained to failure.

With the DeLorme technique, failure is reached only once, but the Oxford technique elicits failure for all three sets. Research out of Australia shows that training to failure for just one set increases strength more than training to failure for two or four sets. Yet muscle failure is important for inducing muscle growth because it better stimulates the release of growth hormone and insulinlike growth factor-I. Both are important anabolic factors that encourage muscle growth.

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In the end, smart bodybuilders use both the DeLorme and the Oxford pyramid methods within their overall programs. We suggest you cycle both over a 12-week training program, as in the Seesaw Muscle Program provided here.

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With this approach, you’ll pyramid up in weight for all your exercises for the first six weeks, as prescribed by the DeLorme technique. This phase of the program has you training each bodypart twice per week. That’s because you will need less recovery time between workouts since you do fewer total working sets per workout, training to failure for only the third set per exercise.

Next, you’ll utilize the strength you gained during the first half of the Seesaw Muscle Program for lifting heavier weights during the second half. The last six weeks take you down the pyramid, decreasing the weight for each successive set for all exercises, just as in the Oxford method used in the Johns Hopkins study.

During this phase, train each bodypart just once per week. Recovery is important, since you’ll do more total working sets per bodypart — training to failure during every set. At the end of 12 weeks, you can switch to another training technique altogether or continue cycling these two pyramid plans for gains in muscle and strength that won’t quit climbing. – FLEX