To most of the world, pyramids are synonymous with ancient Egypt, but to fitness buffs it’s the favored form of resistance training.
The name may be foreign to some, but pyramid training has struck the fitness scene as the most popular method of resistance training. Unlike those training methods that cause a muscle to fail in a single set, pyramids spark the same reaction over the course of multiple sets.
Ascending pyramids are generally the easiest to perform. The initial set is started with the weight low and repetitions high. With each set, the weight is increased, while a normal body-fatigue-reaction causes a decrease in repetitions.
Descending pyramids are the complete opposite of ascending: the weight is started high and repetitions low. As the weight is decreased on each set, the amount of repetitions is naturally increased.
And then there are the ever-grueling complete triangle pyramids. This combination of ascending and descending pyramid training starts off with the weight low and repetitions high, as if an ascending pyramid is being performed. Once a peak is reached and only a couple repetitions can be done, the body’s energy is exhausted through a complete descending pyramid.
As a general rule, ascending, descending and complete triangle pyramids are most effective when done two to three times per week, involving multiple body parts and three to five sets per exercise. But complete triangles can climb as high as 10 sets per exercise. All repetitions should be done slow and controlled, while practicing quality form.
As with any type of resistance training, the main objective of pyramids is to bring the body to muscle failure, as this is the time the muscular system is most effective in generating strength and growth.
But exercise physiologist Kathy Leistner notes that this type of training should only be done with healthy, uninjured people. "I work in a rehabilitation facility where training this way when the body is in the process of healing will not be a wise choice," she said. "When a trainee is fit and needs to add variety to a workout, [pyramid training] is a useful opportunity to stimulate muscle growth."
Blitzing the body
While many resistance training fanatics opt to work out multiple body parts per training session, blitzing is an intense method that focuses on strength training a single muscle group per workout. Blitzing, when combined with pyramid training, is virtually guaranteed to build muscular strength and size.
When a blitz is performed, a variety of exercises are executed for a single muscle. For example, a blitz workout for chest may include flat bench, incline bench, decline bench and flys -- all hitting the same muscle from different angles, ranging from three to five sets per exercise using ascending, descending or complete triangle pyramids.
"A blitz is a good challenge to the muscles," Leistner said, "but one that I would recommend be done as a special workout."
Due to the intensity of blitzing and stress placed on the targeted muscle, it’s wise to leave 48 to 72 hours before retraining the same body part. A sample blitz schedule may include: Monday: chest, Tuesday: back, Wednesday: shoulders, Thursday: legs, Friday: chest/back option, Saturday/Sunday: off.
Blitzing should keep the duration and volume the same as those training methods that incorporate multiple body parts during a single workout. Even though it can be used by any population, it’s wise to have a solid resistance training foundation before attempting this type of program.
"I don't believe blitzing is good for a beginner," Leistner said. "Beginners need to focus on a full body training routine and proper form while executing the exercises."
Brian T. Dessart is a nationally accredited Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist, a New York State Critical Care Emergency Medical Technician and an FDNY firefighter. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter: @briandessart.