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How to Use Pyramids and Reverse Pyramids to Increase Strength and Mass

It's one pyramid scheme you won't mind being a part of.

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Bentover Row
Edgar Artiga
Bentover Row
Edgar Artiga

It’s not a difficult concept to grasp: Training for size requires you to ramp up the intensity of your workouts and use heavy weights to build maximum amounts of muscle. But every set doesn’t have to be a ballbuster. In fact, by slowly working your way up to a max set using the pyramid method, you’ll better warm up your muscles, lubricate your joints, and target a variety of muscle-fiber types. Using those lighter sets to focus on form and technique is also good practice. Execute each rep with precision and control as you work up to moving serious poundage—and building serious muscle.

Pyramid Set Basics

  1. A pyramid grows progressively heavier with fewer reps from one set to the next.
  2. The lighter sets serve as a warmup for the heaviest sets.
  3. A reverse pyramid grows progressively lighter with more reps from one set to the next.
  4. Pyramids and reverse pyramids let you work one exercise through an entire rep range.

Pyramid Power

What It Is: A pyramid is a progression of sets that grow heavier as the reps reduce. This culminates with the apex: a maximum set of, typically, three to six reps. This may look like a set of 12 reps, followed by a set of 10, then a set of eight, ending with a set of six reps.
Why It Works: By saving your effort for one set, you ensure that you have enough energy to train with 100% of your intensity—and, after all, intensity equals growth. Additionally, working one exercise through multiple rep ranges will target different muscle fibers, which will reap muscle- and strength-building benefits.

Put It In Reverse

Why It Works: Another way to trigger growth is to reverse the classic pyramid scheme. You may lose the advantage of progressing to a strength-focused, low-rep set, but starting heavy and working to reps of 15 to 20 will push your muscle fibers beyond what they’re used to, triggering more growth.

Pyramid Set Tips

  1. Performing fewer reps with heavier weight makes it harder to eke out an extra one. Also, making your final set your heaviest set isn’t best for maximizing a pump. For those two reasons, you may want to do a final pump-out set of 12 to 15 reps after your pyramid apex set.
  2. Alternately, you can combine pyramids and reverse pyramids, as in our sample routine, to rotate between a heavy apex set for one exercise and a light final set for the next. This will help build strength while flushing the muscle with nutrient-rich blood.

 

Routine

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The Pyramid Set

Heavier = Fewer Reps

Exercise
Equipment
Sets
Reps
Rest

The Reverse Pyramid

Lighter = More Reps

Exercise
Equipment
Sets
Reps
Rest
Exercise 5 of 0

Barbell Good Morning

Equipment
Barbell
Sets
1
Reps
6
Rest
--
245 pounds
Exercise 6 of 0

Barbell Good Morning

Equipment
Barbell
Sets
1
Reps
8
Rest
--
225 pounds
Exercise 7 of 0

Barbell Good Morning

Equipment
Barbell
Sets
1
Reps
10
Rest
--
205 pounds
Exercise 8 of 0

Barbell Good Morning

Equipment
Barbell
Sets
1
Reps
12
Rest
--
185 pounds

Pyramid Quad Routine

Exercise
Equipment
Sets
Reps
Rest
Exercise 9 of 0

Squats with Band

Equipment
Elastic Band
Sets
5
Reps
12, 10, 8, 6, 3
Rest
--
Exercise 10 of 0

Leg Press

Equipment
Sets
4
Reps
8, 12, 15, 20
Rest
--
Exercise 11 of 0

Hack Squat

Equipment
Sets
4
Reps
12, 10, 8, 6
Rest
--
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