Pyramid training has been proven to be an effective technique for increasing the strength, endurance and size of the bicep muscles. Unlike the standard weightlifting session of three identical sets, pyramid training techniques rely on varying the amount of weight lifted, and varying the number of repetitions used, in each of the three sets of a training session.
Whether working out with traditional weightlifting techniques or with pyramid sets, the two most common exercises for working your biceps are the bicep curl and the hammer curl. For the bicep curl, a weight is held in the palm of your hand and raised up toward your shoulder with your palm facing up. To execute the hammer curl, the weight is held with your palm facing inward and the thumb side of your hand oriented upward. The weight is then raised toward your shoulder with your palm facing inward and your thumb facing up.
Ascending Pyramid Sets
In a traditional training program for the biceps, the curl and hammer curl exercises are typically performed using three sets of eight to12 repetitions with each set using the same weight. In one form of pyramid training, the ascending pyramid, you begin the first set with a low weight, performing 15 to 18 repetitions. The weight selected should be between 50 percent and 60 percent of your 1-RM -- with the 1-RM being the maximum amount of weight your bicep can lift -- just once. For the second set, you'll increase the weight by about 10 percent and decrease the number of repetitions to between eight and 12. For the third and final set, you'll increase the weight again by about 10 percent and perform only four to six repetitions.
Descending Pyramid Sets
To perform a descending, or inverse, pyramid set, begin with the heaviest weight and perform only four to six repetitions. The weight to start with should be equivalent to about 80 percent of your 1-RM. For your second set, you'll decrease the weight by about 10 percent and increase the number of repetitions to between eight and 12. The third and final set will use the lightest weight and the highest number or repetitions.
Benefits of Pyramid Training
Weight training that uses heavy weights and low repetitions, referred to as high-intensity, low-volume training, is effective at maximizing gains in strength. Exercises that use low weights and high repetition, referred to as low-intensity, high-volume training, are most effective at increasing muscle endurance. Pyramid training provides for both a high-intensity, low-volume component and a high-volume, low-intensity component in the same workout, helping to improve both muscle strength and endurance.
- National Strength and Conditioning Association's Guide to Program Design; Jay R. Hoffman
- World Journal of Sport Sciences: The Effects of Delorma and Oxforf Techniques on Serum Cell Injuries and Growth Factor in Untrained Women.
A professor of allied health science and member of the American College of Sports Medicine, Warren Rosenberg has been writing since 1979 on topics including health and fitness. His works include the college textbooks "Exercise Science" and "Integrated Science." As a professional photographer, he provides photographs to textbook publishers, magazines and websites. He holds a Ph.D. from New York University.