Tip: The Push-Pull Pyramid

Test your mental and physical strength with this brutal (and fun) approach to supersets.


It might be the challenge you need to give yourself a swift kick in the pants. A pyramid is a collection of sets in which you do any given exercise starting with higher reps during the initial sets and progressively fewer reps as you work your way through the pyramid.

Basically, reps start high and drop each set. Some lifters will work back up the pyramid and manipulate the weight so that they go down in reps and then back up.

This is the former approach. Here's how it looks in action:

The Horizontal Push-Pull Pyramid

  • Do 10 push-ups, then 10 inverted rows.
  • Do 8 push-ups, then 8 inverted rows.
  • Do 6 push-ups, then 6 inverted rows.
  • Do 4 push-ups, then 4 inverted rows.
  • Do 2 push-ups, then 2 inverted rows.

Rest as needed. Try to complete it as fast as possible while maintaining strict form and tempo.

My feet are elevated in both exercises and I'm using band resistance. You can scale it back by doing it with your feet on the floor or without the band.

You don't have to use push-ups and rows. Take your pick of presses (push-up and bench press variations) and pulls (inverted and free-weight rowing exercises).

The Vertical Push-Pull Pyramid

  • Do 10 strict presses, then 10 chin-ups.
  • Do 8 strict presses, then 8 chin-ups.
  • Do 6 strict presses, then 6 chin-ups.
  • Do 4 strict presses, then 4 chin-ups.
  • Do 2 strict presses, then 2 chin-ups.

Vertical pressing movements include overhead exercises such as strict barbell presses and handstand push-ups with general emphasis on the shoulders. Vertical pulling movements include chin-up, pull-up, and pulldown variations with general emphasis on the lats.

When Should You Do Pyramids?

  • Use them as finishers. They're a great way to annihilate your muscle fibers at the end of a workout. I say "finisher" because you'll be toast if you're doing them right.
  • Try them as tests every 10-12 weeks. If you're doing bodyweight exercises, train to reduce your total time and beat your previous score. If you're doing weighted exercises, train to increase your loading between tests.
  • Don't use them every workout. You'll end up running yourself into the ground. Just sprinkle pyramids in periodically to keep things interesting.

Why Should You Do Pyramids?

  • Ramping up the intensity once in a while is a good way to challenge yourself.
  • Pyramids can be a measurement of general strength and performance. Use them to gauge where you're at in terms of overall strength and anaerobic endurance.
  • They help "even" things out. If you're using an opposing movement pattern-type pyramid, it can be an effective way to round out your workouts.