SUMMARY OF PYRAMID SETS FOR HYPERTROPHY: Ascending pyramids over several weeks resulted in greater displeasure during training. Descending pyramids over sets resulted in greater pleasure in response to training. Pyramids with descending reps can help reduce fatigue during training. Both protocols are equally effective for strength and muscle gains.
SUMMARY OF PYRAMID SETS FOR HYPERTROPHY
- Ascending pyramid workouts over several weeks resulted in greater displeasure during training.
- Descending pyramids over sets resulted in greater pleasure in response to training.
- Pyramids with descending reps can help reduce fatigue during training.
- Both protocols are equally effective for strength and muscle gains.
Traditional resistance exercise involves a limited number of sets and reps. For example, three sets of 12 repetitions at 75% of a one-repetition maximum. New research suggests there may be an easier way to gain muscle. Many other methods exist to increase muscle growth.
WHAT IS PYRAMID TRAINING?
The pyramidal resistance training system refers to sets performed with increasing or decreasing weights and rep ranges. Repetitions can start off higher with lighter weights and proceed to lower reps and higher weights (and vice versa). A previous article on Evidence Based Muscle discusses the benefits of a double progression system.
Ascending Pyramid sets (i.e., Light to Heavy) is a commonly used form of bodybuilding training to build muscle in which the intensity or weight is gradually increased set to set. Ascending Pyramids are often called the Delorme method after the famous periodization founder Thomas Delorme. Here is a typical squat pyramid workout:
- SET 1: 12 reps @ 65% of a 1-RM.
- SET 2: 10 reps @ 75% of a 1-RM.
- SET 3: 6 reps @ 85% of a 1-RM.
The sets increase in exercise intensity from light to very heavy. It is suggested that ascending pyramids induce high muscular tension due to incremental increases in exercise intensity exercise. The gradual increases in intensity increase total training volume (TTV − sets × repetitions × load [weight]), increasing the recruitment of fast motor units and, therefore, inducing greater gains in muscle strength than traditional training. (Mangine et al., 2015)
WHAT IS REVERSE PYRAMID TRAINING
Descending Pyramid Sets are when you start with a heavier weight and gradually decrease it for each set.
This type of set is also known as a Reverse Pyramid. Dropsets are similar to descending pyramids, but dropsets usually involve a shorter rest period between sets. This method is often called the Oxford Method of training. The Oxford method is suggested to be a better method of fatigue management because the intensity is reduced with each subsequent set. (Fish et al., 2003)
- SET 1: 6 reps @ 85% of a 1-RM
- SET 2: 10 reps @ 75% of a 1-RM.
- SET 3: 15 reps @ 65% of a 1-RM.
TRADITIONAL RESISTANCE EXERCISE COMPARED TO PYRAMID WORKOUT
Previous research has found that pyramid sets and traditional training are equally effective for strength training and muscle hypertrophy. (Angleri et al., 2017; Fish et al., 2003; Ribeiro et al., 2016) In the Angleri study, he compared ascending pyramid training, dropsets, and traditional training.
Participants in the ascending pyramid group performed the following:
- · ~15 repetitions in the first set (65% 1-RM),
- · ~12 repetitions in the second set (70% 1-RM),
- · ~10 in the third set (75% 1-RM),
- · ~8 in the fourth set (80% 1-RM), and
- · ~6 in the fifth set (85% 1-RM).
At the end of the study, all the groups had similar muscle mass and strength increases. Long-term studies comparing linear and reverse linear periodization programs with equal volume have found similar increases in muscle gains.
ASCENDING PYRAMID WORKOUT VS DESCENDING PYRAMIDS
Based on the research, performing heavy-to-light pyramids may be better than traditional light-to-heavy pyramid training. Performing the heaviest intensity first can lead to less fatigue. For example, researchers randomly assigned participants to a 15-min bout of recumbent cycling of either increasing intensity (0–120% of watts) or decreasing intensity (i.e., 120–0%).
The participants with the highest initial intensity found the exercise protocol more enjoyable than a gradual increase in intensity. The subjects remembered the exercise protocol with the highest intensity first and had higher enjoyment for future sessions than the bike ramp, which gradually increased the intensity. Ramping intensity down makes combining exposure to vigorous and moderate intensities possible with a pleasant experience. (Zenko et al., 2016)
PYRAMID WORKOUT STUDIES
Here are the existing studies comparing the two forms of training.
- Researchers found heavy-to-light pyramids were superior to light-to-heavy pyramid training for increasing isometric back and leg isometric strength. The researchers suggested that fatigue occurs earlier in light-to-heavy pyramid training pyramids, as the practitioner is already exhausted when reaching series with heavy weight. (Leighton et al., 1967)
- Researchers compared the heavy-to-light and light-to-heavy pyramids and concluded that the most important training bout should be performed first to reduce the effects of fatigue and allow for a greater number of repetitions to be performed. (MILLER, 2013)
PYRAMID WORKOUT STUDIES
- Performing sets that decrease exercise intensity may improve workout adherence and enjoyment. In 2022, participants completed a resistance-training circuit under two randomized and counterbalanced conditions. In the increasing intensity condition, the resistance load progressed over 3 sets, from 55% of 1-RM to 65% 1-RM, and finally to 75% 1-RM, while in the decreasing intensity condition, this order was reversed.The ascending pyramid condition resulted in decreasing pleasure over time. In contrast, the reverse pyramid condition increased pleasure (i.e., participants felt the most pleasure at the end of the workout). (Hutchinson et al., 2020)
- Similar findings were found in the newest research study to the one above. Researchers had subjects train for three weeks in either an ascending workout or a descending work. Participants in the pyramid group completed the exercises by beginning with one set at a lighter load and ending with one set at a heavier load.
In contrast, participants in the reverse pyramid group began with one set at a higher load and ended with one set at a lighter load. Both protocols were matched for total volume so that only the increasing or decreasing slope of exercise intensity differed between the two groups.
The workout looked like this:
Ascending Pyramid Workout:
- Week 1: 55% of a 1-RM to 60% of a 1-RM
- Week 2: 60% of a 1-RM to 65% of a 1-RM
- Week 3: 65% of a 1-RM to 70% of a 1-RM
- Week 1: 60% of a 1-RM to 55% of a 1-RM
- Week 2: 65% of a 1-RM to 60% of a 1-RM
- Week 3: 70% of a 1-RM to 65% of a 1-RM
At the end of the study, participants in the ascending pyramid workout group reported a decline in pleasure during each session (i.e., from the first to the second set), whereas those in the reverse pyramid group reported an improvement in pleasure during the workout. Moreover, across all training sessions, remembered pleasure was significantly higher in the descending workout group compared to the ascending workout. (Hutchinson et al., 2022)
Based on the research, both styles of training (i.e., ascending and descending pyramids) are effective training programs for gaining muscle and strength. However, the standard pyramid of increasing the weight of each set while decreasing the reps seems to result in more fatigue. Descending workout routines allows muscle groups to be less tired, resulting in greater workout enjoyment.
Angleri, V., Ugrinowitsch, C., & Libardi, C. A. (2017). Crescent pyramid and drop-set systems do not promote greater strength gains, muscle hypertrophy, and changes on muscle architecture compared with traditional resistance training in well-trained men. European Journal of Applied Physiology, 117(2), 359-369. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00421-016-3529-1
Fish, D. E., Krabak, B. J., Johnson-Greene, D., & DeLateur, B. J. (2003). Optimal resistance training: comparison of DeLorme with Oxford techniques. Am J Phys Med Rehabil, 82(12), 903-909. https://doi.org/10.1097/01.Phm.0000098505.57264.Db
Hutchinson, J., Jones, L., Ekkekakis, P., Cheval, B., Brand, R., Salvatore, G., Adler, S., & Luo, Y. (2022). Affective Responses to Increasing- and Decreasing-Intensity Resistance Training Protocols. https://doi.org/10.51224/SRXIV.210
Hutchinson, J. C., Zenko, Z., Santich, S., & Dalton, P. C. (2020). Increasing the Pleasure and Enjoyment of Exercise: A Novel Resistance-Training Protocol. Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 42(2), 143-152. https://doi.org/10.1123/jsep.2019-0089
Leighton, J. R., Holmes, D., Benson, J., Wooten, B., & Schmerer, R. (1967). A study on the effectiveness of ten different methods of progressive resistance exercise on the development of strength, flexibility, girth and bodyweight. J Assoc Phys Ment Rehabil, 21(3), 78-81.
Mangine, G. T., Hoffman, J. R., Gonzalez, A. M., Townsend, J. R., Wells, A. J., Jajtner, A. R., Beyer, K. S., Boone, C. H., Miramonti, A. A., Wang, R., LaMonica, M. B., Fukuda, D. H., Ratamess, N. A., & Stout, J. R. (2015). The effect of training volume and intensity on improvements in muscular strength and size in resistance-trained men. Physiol Rep, 3(8). https://doi.org/10.14814/phy2.12472
MILLER, J. R. M. a. J. D. (2013). Comparison of Ascending and Descending Pyramidal Loading Using the Bench Press. Int. J. Exerc. Sci. Conf. Proc., 2(41).
Ribeiro, A. S., Schoenfeld, B. J., Souza, M. F., Tomeleri, C. M., Venturini, D., Barbosa, D. S., & Cyrino, E. S. (2016). Traditional and pyramidal resistance training systems improve muscle quality and metabolic biomarkers in older women: A randomized crossover study. Exp Gerontol, 79, 8-15. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.exger.2016.03.007
Zenko, Z., Ekkekakis, P., & Ariely, D. (2016). Can You Have Your Vigorous Exercise and Enjoy It Too? Ramping Intensity Down Increases Postexercise, Remembered, and Forecasted Pleasure. Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 38(2), 149-159. https://doi.org/10.1123/jsep.2015-0286