Explaining Pyramid Sets

When lifting weights and bodybuilding what is the best way to perform your sets? Most beginners will use the simple 3 sets of 10 reps approach, but most of the pros will use pyramid sets.

Pyramid sets a called as such because they follow a pyramid structure with the lifter starting with a light weight for high repetitions, then gradually increase the weight used whilst dropping the number of reps performed.

Firstly the pyramid set will begin with a light weight that the lifter can use for around 10-15 repetitions. This set is used to warm up the targeted muscle and also increase blood flow into that area and prepare the joints for the movement of heavier weight.

The next set after a short rest of about 90 seconds must be loaded with a weight that can be lifted for around 6-8 reps

In the third set your should reach muscular failure in the 4-6 rep range.

You can see that the pyramid set starts with a light weight for around 12 reps, then weight is gradually added to the movement as the repetitions decrease.

Advantages of the pyramid set method
Starting with a lighter weight for high repetitions primes the muscle for the heavier sets. This greatly lowers the chance of injury and also increases the amount of blood flow and nutrients delivered to muscle tissue so that you are fully prepared for the heavy sets.

Using lighter and heavier weights has shortened the amount of time in the gym as we can rest for less time during the first two sets as opposed to lifting heavy for three sets. This method will also prevent over-training.

Using three different repetition ranges
Another advantage of using three different ranges of repetitions is the types of muscle fibres that you will incorporate. To attain the most muscle hypertrophy it is recommended that you use both low AND high rep ranges. If you use just one rep range your muscles will adapt to this and not grow as much as if you used differing rep ranges.

It’s true that this can be done on a longer term basis for example 3 weeks training at the 10 rep range, then 3 weeks at the 5 rep range. However performing pyramid sets will achieve the same result with greater flexibility.

Muscle Fibres
Although there are strictly more ‘type sets’ of fibres I will outline two broad types here.

Slow twitch fibres are those that use oxygen as an energy source through aerobic respiration. They are utilised when performing higher rep ranges and are used mainly for endurance and do not fatigue easily. However they do not provide much power or strength.

Fast twitch fibres are opposite to this. They use stored glycogen as an energy source and not oxygen therefore they are anaerobic. As they rely totally on stored energy they can only perform work for very shot periods, however because they are almost twice as large as slow twitch fibres they create large amounts of power and strength.

Let’s face it, if you’re looking to build muscle then you don’t want to train your slow twitch fibres like a marathon runner, but you do need to switch your rep ranges as this has been shown to trigger the greatest muscle fibre growth response. So keeping you rep range from the 15 rep range, down to the 3 rep range using pyramid sets will incorporate the muscle fibres you want to grow.

Pyramid Sets – The Perfect Way…
Well, life isn’t that easy, the fact is as mentioned before the best way to keep your muscles growing is to keep your muscles guessing! Give pyramid sets a try for 8 weeks and then go back to your normal 3 sets of 10. Pyramids are not the perfect answer (that doesn’t exist) but they are effective as part of a consistent and varying programme.

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