How to Do Pyramid Weight Training Workouts

Young woman on cross training weightlifting. Wearing sports clothing and hijab.

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Pyramid weight training can help you progress with your workouts or get past a plateau, It can fine-tune your workout and add variety in your workload. Pyramid training is not running up and down the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt, although that would be an excellent workout if you could get permission.

Pyramid training is a stepped approach to sets and repetitions. A pyramid means big at the bottom and narrow at the top. A reverse pyramid means big at the top and narrow at the bottom. And that's what pyramid training means in a weight training context. You start heavy and gradually decrease the weights or reps or you start light and gradually increase the weight or reps. Or you can include both in an extended set, but this is an advanced style of training.

How Does Pyramid Training Work?

Like all overload systems, pyramid training suggests that if you create metabolic stress in muscle tissue it will grow bigger. Note, though, that this type of training does not hit the sweet spot for strength increases, although bigger muscles will increase strength to some extent.

Warm Up and Cool Down

A warmup should include light aerobic exercise and stretching for 10-15 minutes. Before doing any lifting exercise with weights a few repetitions with a lighter weight than chosen for the main exercise is a good strategy.

A cool down may help to reduce muscle soreness in the following hours. Pyramid training can make you sore. Cool down with light stretching, calisthenics, or with some modest aerobic work on treadmill or cycle.

Standard Pyramid

Increase the weight and decrease the reps for each set. Adjust the weight and sets for the equipment chosen, dumbbell, barbell, machine etc, and for the maximum that you can tolerate in each set. Example:

  • Set 1 – 30 lbs x 12 repetitions
  • Set 2 – 40 lbs x 10 reps
  • Set 3 – 50 lbs x 8 reps

Reverse Pyramid

In this pyramid, decrease the weight and increase the reps with each set.

  • Set 1 – 50 lbs x 8 reps
  • Set 2 – 40 lbs x 10 reps
  • Set 3 – 30 lbs x 12 reps

Diamond Pyramid

In this pyramid, increase then decrease weight in an extended 5-set muscle blast. (Called a diamond from the rhomboid shape.)

  • Set 1 – 20 lbs x 12 reps
  • Set 2 – 25 lbs x 10 reps
  • Set 3 – 30 lbs x 8 reps
  • Set 4 – 25 lbs x 10 reps
  • Set 5 – 20 lbs x 12 reps

Step Pyramid

In this pyramid, you flow up and down or down and up (in weight) like an up and down step series. It could look like this.

  • Set 1 – 50 lbs x 12 reps
  • Set 2 – 40 lbs x 10 reps
  • Set 3 – 30 lbs x 8 reps
  • Set 4 – 40 lbs x 10 reps
  • Set 5 – 50 lbs x 12 reps

Or, you could mix and match weight and reps like this, which is probably somewhat easier because you finish low even though reps are higher.

  • Set 1 – 30 lbs x 12 reps
  • Set 2 – 40 lbs x 10 reps
  • Set 3 – 50 lbs x 8 reps
  • Set 4 – 40 lbs x 10 reps
  • Set 5 – 30 lbs x 12 reps

You can probably see from the examples, there are many possibilities for experimentation in modifying the standard sets and reps for exploiting metabolic overload in order to improve your workout. Give it a try.

4 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Mangine GT, Hoffman JR, Gonzalez AM, et al. The effect of training volume and intensity on improvements in muscular strength and size in resistance-trained men. Physiol Rep. 2015;3(8).  doi:10.14814/phy2.12472

  2. International Sports Sciences Association. Is your warm up routine sabotaging your training?.

  3. American Council on Exercise. Five reasons you shouldn’t skip your cool-down after exercise. January 2014.

  4. American Council on Exercise. Weight lifting tempo; sets: how to select the right sets for your clients. July 2014.

By Paul Rogers
Paul Rogers is a personal trainer with experience in a wide range of sports, including track, triathlon, marathon, hockey, tennis, and baseball.