The Great Pyramids of Arnold

New research supports old-school training
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Arnold Schwarzenegger had perhaps the most aesthetic physique ever. “When I trained, I tried to do all rep ranges in the same workout,” Schwarzenegger has said. “I’d lift heavy weight with low reps, light with high reps, and moderate with moderate reps. 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.”

Despite his relatively high rep ranges, Schwarzenegger typically used the pyramid principle, increasing weight and decreasing reps on each set of a given exercise. As it turns out, he was ahead of his time: New research suggests pyramid training can increase size and strength.

Researchers from Iran conducted a controlled eight-week training study to determine whether a double-pyramid loading pattern or a reverse-step loading pattern impacted strength and muscle mass. A double-pyramid loading routine begins with lighter weight and higher reps, and moves toward heavier weight and lower reps. Unlike a single pyramid, which would stop at this point, the double pyramid continues, once more reducing the weight and increasing reps over a period of one or two more sets. A reverse-step loading routine begins the workout with the heaviest weight you can handle, then moves to lighter weights. For each succeeding set, you decrease, or pyramid down, in weight (hence, the “reverse” pyramid) and increase the reps.

At the end of the study, both groups had increased strength, but the one using the double-pyramid technique— which was the way Schwarzenegger trained, up and down the rack—tended to have slightly more muscle mass, roughly a 2% increase in the thighs over the eight-week period. To add size and strength, try Schwarzenegger’s favorite exercise technique, pyramids.

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