Arnold Schwarzenegger: Power of the Pyramid

Don’t give your muscles the same reps and weight every set — make ’em work!
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Diversifying my workouts was a constant challenge for me. Some guys go to the gym and do nothing but sets of 8–10 reps, 12–15 or 6–8. When I was training, I tried to do all of those rep ranges in the same workout — I’d lift heavy with low reps, light with high reps and moderate weight with moderate reps. I thought it gave my muscles an extremely well-rounded workout instead of letting them get used to one particular resistance. I’d even take it a step further and perform all these rep ranges in the course of a single exercise by using one of my favorite training principles: pyramids. Here are the three main types of pyramid routines and how to use them.

ASCENDING PYRAMID (increase weight, decrease reps):

You’ll be increasing weight with each successive set using an ascending pyramid. Let’s say you’re going to do four sets of shoulder presses. On the first set, select a weight that will allow you to get around 16 reps; on the second, increase the weight by 10–20 pounds so you’ll get 12 reps or so; increase the weight again on the next set so you fail at eight reps; and for your last set, pick a very heavy weight that allows you to get only four reps. What you end up with is a great mix of high-rep, moderate-rep and low-rep training. Your muscles will be thoroughly exhausted afterward.

DESCENDING PYRAMID (decrease weight, increase reps):

This method entails doing your first working set with the heaviest weight you plan to use. (Just make sure you work up gradually to the heavy weight with a few warm-up sets beforehand.) In this scheme, your first set might be somewhere around 5–6 reps; on each set thereafter, decrease the weight and do more reps until you’re doing 15–20 reps by your fourth set. The logic behind the descending pyramid is, again, to get a combination of high-rep and low-rep training (and something in between as well), but this time your muscles are fresh and rested for your low-rep set, which allows you to use more weight.

TRIANGLE PYRAMID (ascending + descending):

Here’s where you combine the first two pyramids into one giant pyramid. Start with a lighter weight and do an ascending pyramid up to four or so reps. But don’t stop there — after that, go right back down in weight the same way you came up. The reps in the pyramid should look something like this: 16–12–8–4–8–12–16. On the way back down in weight, however, you may not be able to get as many reps as you did in the first few sets. Just do as many as you can, or go lighter to reach the number of reps you want. As you can see, this complete pyramid involves more sets, but the higher volume will help you build more muscle! - FLEX

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