One of the first methods of weight training many young men (and some women) experience is pyramid loading. Pyramid loading is, typically, done by performing high reps with low weight for the first set of an exercise. As the sets progress you add more weight but decrease the number of reps. Here’s an example:


  • Set 1: 15 reps x 135
  • Set 2: 12 reps x 145
  • Set 3: 10 reps x 155
  • Set 4: 8 reps x 165
  • Set 5: 6 reps x 175


For years many young athletes and fitness enthusiasts would, and still to this day, use this method to increase muscle size and strength. Chances are it worked for someone they knew and, so, they followed suit and began pyramid lifting. For a time, this worked well for them but after a certain number of months the results began to dwindle or stop all together. Why? First, let’s go over some of the “pros” of pyramid training.



First, pyramid training is simple. People like simple. The example above is a base from where many lifters will continue their lifting journey. As the weeks pass young lifters will add a little bit of weight to each set and, hopefully, hit the same number of reps. This is the basics for hypertrophy training. In order for muscles to grow (hypertrophy) one must lift enough weight with enough repetitions to stimulate this change. As I’ve said before “time under tension is the name of the game.” The example above highlights the amount of volume that could easily stimulate muscle growth in most individuals. The total volume of work done in the example above is 39,525lbs! Yeah, most people would grow from that.


Second, because of the shear volume of training associated with pyramid programs most beginners will see great results in a relatively short amount of time. This is, arguably, the greatest advantage for anyone who has never lifted before in their life.


Third, you can manipulate the pyramid program a few different ways as progress begins to slow down or you’re bored. One method is called reverse pyramid. Instead of starting with low weight and high reps you begin with high weight and low reps. Example below…


  • Set 1: 2 reps x 225
  • Set 2: 4 reps x 215
  • Set 3: 6 reps x 205
  • Set 4: 8 reps x 195
  • Set 5: 10 reps x 185


Another version is to perform inverted pyramid loading. You follow the same guidelines as a regular pyramid (light weight with high reps). Once you reach the heaviest weight with the fewest reps you begin reversing the sets: decrease the weight and increase the reps. This method is sure to leave you exhausted by the end.



Pyramid training is not helpful in increasing overall strength by much. Yes, a beginner will see large jumps in weight used but any advanced lifter with at least 2-3 years under their belt won’t see the weights go up any higher. Sure, you might have some muscle size increase but not strength increase. Remember, you can increase muscle size without making muscle stronger.


Second, pyramid training is pointless (and detrimental) to athletic training. The goal of athletic training programs is to increase strength (see point above). Most strength programs for athletes have a very specific rep scheme to follow in order to produce results that will translate to the field/court/ring. In some cases, increasing muscle size will hurt an athlete’s performance.


So, if you’re a beginner and looking to add some size and a little bit of strength try a pyramid training. If you are an athlete or veteran lifter looking to make more progress, don’t.



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