Here's what you need to know...

  1. Pyramids involve picking a number of reps and working down from there on each subsequent set.
  2. There are different pyramids with different rep ranges for strength, generalized hypertrophy, and bodybuilding combos or supersets.

At my gym, we do a variety of what we call "pyramids" for fat loss, strength, and hypertrophy. Pyramids are very simple and effective, and when you combine exercises – bench, squat, and deadlift – they become even more effective.

What's a Pyramid?

A pyramid is super simple. You take an exercise, pick a start number of reps, and begin your pyramid. Let's use squats as an example.

  • Do 10 reps
  • Rest
  • Do 9 reps
  • Rest
  • Do 8 reps
  • Repeat this pattern until you hit your final pyramid number, which could be 8 reps, 5 reps, or 1 rep, depending on whether you're doing pyramids for fat loss, strength, or hypertrophy.

Pyramid Benefits

  • You use the same weight for all your sets.
  • As you fatigue, the number of reps lower.
  • Mentally it's easy to focus and maintain motivation as your rep numbers get lower with each set.
  • Pyramids can be used for conditioning, fat loss, strength, or hypertrophy.
  • There are unlimited combinations of exercises, rep schemes, and rest protocols.

Strength Pyramids

When it comes to building strength, the magic number for me and a lot of lifters has always been 5 reps. Anything more than 5 is too many, and doing singles over time isn't a good thing because it leads to CNS fatigue, injuries, and overall wear and tear on the body. As such, when I'm doing pyramids for strength, my starting number is 5 reps.

So let's say we're doing deadlifts and the starting weight is 465 pounds.

  • Do 5 reps at 465 pounds.
  • Rest between 2 and 5 minutes.
  • Do 4 reps at 465 pounds.
  • Rest between 2 and 5 minutes.
  • Do 3 reps at 465 pounds.
  • Continue in this manner until you finish up with 465 for 1 rep. The following week, increase the weight by 5 to 10 pounds and repeat the strength pyramid.

You end up doing 15 reps overall using the same weight. You're doing the same work as you would with 3 sets of 5 or 5 sets of 3, but the great thing is that every rep is high quality. You stay focused and you keep the bar moving fast and true because you use fewer reps with each set. As a competitive powerlifter, pyramids are perfect for me as I get in 5 sets of every lift, but I'm also working in all rep ranges from 5 right down to a tight 1-rep max at the end.

Here's a sample strength pyramid workout for powerlifting:

Day 1

A. Back Squat

  • Set 1: 5 Reps
  • Set 2: 4 Reps
  • Set 3: 3 Reps
  • Set 4: 2 Reps
  • Set 5: 1 Reps

B. Bench Press

  • Set 1: 5 Reps
  • Set 2: 4 Reps
  • Set 3: 3 Reps
  • Set 4: 2 Reps
  • Set 5: 1 Reps

C. Deadlift

  • Set 1: 5 Reps
  • Set 2: 4 Reps
  • Set 3: 3 Reps
  • Set 4: 2 Reps
  • Set 5: 1 Reps

Add 5 pounds to the bar the following week. Do this for 4-6 weeks and then change your program.

Flat-Bench-Press

Basic Hypertrophy Pyramid

The magic number for building muscle falls between 5-12 reps. Of course, with squats the magic number can be 20 or more, but for now let's stick with the conventional hypertrophy rep-range which is generally 8-12. As such, you'd begin the pyramid with 12 reps and finish with 8.

So let's say we're doing bench presses and the starting weight is 350 pounds.

  • Do 12 reps at 250 pounds.
  • Rest about a minute.
  • Do 11 reps at 250 pounds.
  • Rest about a minute.
  • Do 10 reps at 250 pounds.
  • Continue in this manner until you finish up with 250 for 8 reps.

The following week, increase the weight by 5 to 10 pounds and repeat the basic hypertrophy pyramid. You'd be doing 5 sets for a total of 50 reps.

Bodybuilding Hypertrophy Pyramid

When it comes to building muscle, I find it best to train opposing muscle groups together. Chest and back is a great combo, as are biceps and triceps and hamstrings and quads. This is nothing new when it comes to bodybuilding. However, when you combine a pyramid into training opposing muscle groups, things get to be a lot more fun and the benefits are amazing for blood flow, pump, recovery, and of course, building muscle.

Let's look at training chest and back together and we'll use bench presses and bent-over rows as examples. Your first set on bench press is 12 reps. You rest for 1 minute and your next set is 12 reps on bent-over rows. Rest another minute and do 11 reps of bench presses. Rest again and do 11 reps on bent-over rows. Continue super-setting in this manner until you finish sets of 8 on both exercises.

Pairing opposing muscle groups like this will allow for more recovery between sets and give you a pump that's beyond intense. Do this with your training partner in a "you go, I go" workout and things can get crazy. Here's how you might program a week of bodybuilding hypertrophy pyramids:

Day 1 Chest & Back

  Exercise Reps Rest
A1 Bench Press 12 working down to 8 1 min.
A2 Bent-Over Row 12 working down to 8 1 min.
B1 Incline Dumbbell Press 12 working down to 8 1 min.
B2 Seated Row 12 working down to 8 1 min.
C Push-Up 15 working down to 1 1 min.

Day 2 Off

Day 3 Shoulders & Arms

  Exercise Reps Rest
A1 Dumbbell Shoulder Press 12 working down to 8 1 min.
A2 Front Raise 12 working down to 8 1 min.
A3 Side Lateral 12 working down to 8 1 min.
B1 Barbell Biceps Curl 12 working down to 8 1 min.
B2 Lying Triceps Extension 12 working down to 8 1 min.
C1 Preacher Curl 12 working down to 8 1 min.
C2 Triceps Push Down 12 working down to 8 1 min.

Day 4 Off

Day 5 Quads, Hamstrings, Calves

  Exercise Reps Rest
A1 Back Squat 12 working down to 8 1 min.
A2 Stiff Leg Deadlift 12 working down to 8 1 min.
B1 Leg Extension 12 working down to 8 1 min.
B2 Hamstring Curl 12 working down to 8 1 min.
C1 Standing Calf Raise 15 working down to 1 1 min.
C2 Toe Raise 15 working down to 1 1 min.

Day 6 Off

Day 7 Glutes & Core

  Exercise Reps Rest
A1 Hip Thruster 15 working down to 5 1 min.
A2 Ab Roll Out 15 working down to 5 1 min.
B1 Single Leg Hip Thruster 15 working down to 5 1 min.
B2 Knee Up 15 working down to 5 1 min.

Related:  6 Ways to Keep Getting Stronger

Related:  22 Proven Rep Schemes