In an attempt to get stronger, many people live in the 1-5 rep range on their main lifts. This has proven to help athletes get stronger, no doubt. However, what I see often is that athletes are sorely lacking in muscle mass. Most of this is due to a lack of focus on training specifically to build muscle, or what’s technically called hypertrophy.
My solution? Pyramid sets.
Pyramid sets typically start with a high-rep, light-weight set and gradually progress to higher weight and fewer reps over the course of 3-6 sets.
Strength is built in the low-rep range, so you’re not doing anything wrong. But I believe that pyramid sets are superior for building muscle mass while at the same time maintaining or improving strength levels.
On the flip side, I feel like pyramid sets are superior to straight sets of high reps, which are traditionally performed for muscle growth, because you also get a few sets where you’re working with heavier weight.
It’s a win-win for an athlete looking to add muscle to his or her frame.
Strangely, pyramids feel very natural to you when you are lifting. Your strength seems to build set after set.
After you complete a thorough warm-up, you do a few very light sets of your main exercise. Then you do a set of 12 and add some weight. Then complete your set of 10. For each set, the weight gets heavier until you complete the power set of 6. Again, this must be done on the first main lift.
Sample Pyramid Squats for beginners
- Warm-up: empty bar x 10 reps
- Warm-up: 95 lbs x 10 reps
- 1st set: 135 lbs x 12 reps
- 2nd set: 155 lbs x 10 reps
- 3rd set: 175 lbs x 8 reps
- 4th set: 195 lbs x 6 reps
This is the classic pyramid, but there are other options. Some people like to work the heaviest sets first and do the volume sets after. The reverse pyramid would reverse the reps likes this: 6, 8, 10, 12. Personally, I like to do the heaviest sets at the end after my body has worked its way up to heavier weight and feels primed for the heavy stuff.
If you want more of a strength bias to your pyramid sets, you could just as easily move it to a 50/50 type pyramid with sets of 10, 8, 6, 4. This gives you 2 sets biased toward hypertrophy and 2 sets biased toward raw strength.
Do this for 4-6 weeks and focus on becoming a bigger and stronger athlete.