Want to mix up your training while still getting stronger? Here’s why pyramid sets could be the answer.
There are so many different ways to get stronger. You can use your bodyweight, lift barbells in low rep sessions or get sweaty with supersets. And if you’re looking for another way to challenge the body and mind, try pyramid sets.
“Strength training is so important, but often we get uninspired or hit a plateu,” says Faye Edwards, fitness coach and manager of Third Space. “Having different training protocols, such as pyramid sets, will always keep you interested, make training a bit more exciting and keep the muscles responding as you work through different movements.”
What exactly are pyramid sets?
“Normally, if you’re doing a single set or a superset, your reps and your weight stay the same. In a pyramid, both of those variables are changing to add a different stimulus to the body,” says Faye. “Your rep range will start big and gradually gets smaller – just like in a pyramid.”
To keep it challenging, you increase your weight as you decrease the reps. For example, you may start with an 8kg squat for 12 reps. In the next set, you’d do a 10kg squat for 10 reps. You’d finish with a 12kg squat for 8 reps.
That doesn’t mean you can only perform a pyramid set in the gym where there are lots of different weight options. “If you’re at home, you could build from bodyweight squats to resistance band squats to single kettlebell squats. Or you could move from standard press-ups to decline or eccentric press ups,” Faye explains.
And pyramid sets don’t just have to build up. “They can be versatile, so there’s more than one way to do them. You can use the original format, but design your pyramid sets in your own way,” says Faye.
Reverse pyramid sets
“A reverse pyramid is where you start off with your heaviest weight and lowest rep, then decrease the weight and drop the reps,” Faye says. Think of it as an inverted triangle, starting from the bottom with the smallest amount of work, and ending with the most.
Diamond pyramids involve working through a standard pyramid and a reverse pyramid to complete the set. “You’d start with the lowest reps, work your way up to the highest, then reverse back down,” explains Faye. For these, you’d probably be working in a higher set range than usual, in order to get it all done.
What are the benefits of pyramid sets?
“Pyramid sets give the muscle a new stimulus, which can help you get through a plateau or build more muscle,” reminds Faye. In a 2018 study, researchers found that pyramid systems resulted in similar muscle growth compared with a traditional training approach – so they’re great to use if you want something different while still progressing.
It’s also a good place to start if you want to start adding more weight to your sets. By adding more intensity for one set only, you’ll get used to lifting heavier loads. “It’s also going to improve your muscular endurance, as you’ll be lifting weights more weight over time while increasing your heart rate,” says Faye.
In a 2020 study looking at how pyramid sets improve cardiovascular health, the researchers concluded that they could be used as an interesting alternative to traditional resistance training. “It allows to train with a progressive overload for each set and gradually increase the muscle stimuli, which makes work more efficient and the training session more motivating and challenging,” they wrote.
If getting stronger, fitter and mixing up your sessions is the outcome of pyramid sets, we’re sold. Will you give them a go?
For more training tips, check out the Strong Women Training Club.
Images: Unsplash / Getty
Chloe Gray is the senior writer for stylist.co.uk's fitness brand Strong Women. When she's not writing or lifting weights, she's most likely found practicing handstands, sipping a gin and tonic or eating peanut butter straight out of the jar (not all at the same time).