Changing up your workout and learning new lifting techniques helps keep things interesting in the weight room. Lifting with a different routine also throws a little muscle confusion into the mix which is helpful when you're trying to continue full steam ahead with your gains and avoid plateaus. Pyramid routines and drop sets are two lifting techniques that can be useful departures from your typical lifting practice and to keep your progress on track.
The biggest difference between a pyramid routine and drop sets is the way you work through the two lifting techniques. With a pyramid routine you perform several sets of an exercise -- six or more -- and with each set you first increase the weight and reduce the number of reps -- the ascending side of the pyramid -- then decrease the weight and increase the number of reps -- the descending side of the pyramid. Yes, you're right, that's a lot of sets and reps. With a drop set routine, you start out with your equipment loaded to the hilt (not more than you can handle, of course), and do eight reps then remove some weight and jump right back into the next set to do 10 reps. Again, remove some weight and immediately do your last set of 15 reps. Don't forget to breathe.
No Rest for the Weary
The amount of rest, or lack thereof, is a marked difference between pyramid workouts and drop sets. When you're executing a pyramid routine you'll take the typical rest of about 30 seconds between each set before tackling the weight again, even on the "down" side of the pyramid. But when your routine of choice is drop sets, you work continuously through your sets with the only so-called rest being the few seconds it takes to reduce the weight before you add on another set.
Benefits of Both
The most common reason people choose to incorporate pyramids or drop sets into their workouts is that they are both effective for building strength. Pyramid training is also beneficial for increasing size while drop sets give additional help with muscle endurance. Both techniques add a level of intensity to your workout that your usual routine probably doesn't provide, which helps keep you off the plateau.
Not every weightlifting technique is for everyone. The disadvantages of both pyramid routines and drop sets can start right where the benefits left off: With the intensity. Because these are both high-intensity techniques, you shouldn't replace your typical routine with them altogether. Either one might be good for a change of pace once a week out of a month, but then you should go back to your regular routine for the other three weeks. Drop sets place a lot of stress on your muscles and joints. You might notice more fatigue during a week of drop set training because the added toll it takes on your body will keep you from recovering between workouts as fast as you normally do. Pyramids, on the other hand, take a lot of time to work through. If you don't have an open-ended schedule to get through all the sets, you might cut a workout short and miss out on some exercises.
- IDEA Health and Fitness Association: Secrets of Successful Strength Training
- ShapeFit.com: Bodybuilding Techniques - Drop Sets For Strength Training Workouts
- The Men's Health Home Workout Bible; Lou Schuler and Michael Mejia
- Matt Siaperas; Personal Trainer, Hardbodies Gym; Blackfoot, Idaho
Elle Di Jensen has been a writer and editor since 1990. She began working in the fitness industry in 1987, and her experience includes editing and publishing a workout manual. She has an extended family of pets, including special needs animals. Jensen attended Idaho and Boise State Universities. Her work has appeared in various print and online publications.