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Pyramid training, one of the oldest forms of weight training and bodybuilding, has been around the gym for over a century. During the late 19th century, athletes like Eugene Sandow changed weight lifting and strength training from side show performance to a science. The conventional method of pyramiding up in weight while also pyramiding down in repetition number. The purpose of pyramid training is to gradually increase the weights used, the training volume and the strength and size of your body. Pyramid training can increase your power and endurance, but is most effective for strength and hypertrophy.

A recent study, Effects of Modified Pyramid System on Muscular Strength and Hypertrophy in Older Women, using groups of women trainees found that increases in muscle mass were approximately double using pyramid system training when performing sets in a wide “pyramid” repetition range (15, 10, 5) versus a narrow rep range (12, 10, 8) similar to the traditional 3 sets of 8-10 reps. This study supports a potential benefit to training across a wider range of loading zones. While this study’s subjects were elderly women, there may be similar results in younger lifters. The conclusion supports the theory that training with the goal of size and strength should include a combination of low, moderate and higher rep sets intended to maximize gains.

For a detailed example of how pyramid training works, let’s choose an exercise, we’ll use the bench press in this example. Your first set should be performed using a lighter weight and higher repetitions, let’s say 135 on the bar for 15 smooth and relatively easy repetitions. Now add more weight, say 225. The weight you use should make you work to complete 10 reps. Now find a spotter or your training partner and add weight close to your max bench press. Using that near maximal weight, perform 5 complete reps.

Strength training experts believe that pyramid training is the single safest way to train, and one that stimulates maximal growth in the muscles after every training session, without the risk of plateaus at one intensity level. Generally, the pyramid technique works on the principle of body building called progressive overload. The principle states that continued improvements in muscle mass and strength only occurs, if and only if, the body builder impose a greater weight load demand on his or her muscles than what the muscles are regularly accustomed to.

Progressive Overload – Pyramid training at its simplest, involves adding weight as you decrease the reps for each exercise. This is a effective approach to building both strength and size as your total volume for each exercise will also increase.

Riccardo Alessandro Migliorini

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