What are Pyramided Sets?

In the event you are a real beginner, and we all were at one time, let me first get a little terminology out of the way. An exercise is the movement, or lift, that you are doing. A set is the actual act of moving the weight a certain amount of times, and a rep is the 1 time movement of the weight. So a “set of 8 reps of bench press” means you will be doing the exercise bench press where by you raise and lower the weight 8 times without stopping.

I recommend doing 5 sets of each exercise. Why?

For starters each of the exercises I am suggesting you start and limit your self to, are compound exercises (work more than 1 muscle group and involve more than 1 joint) and work a major muscle group. Anything more than 5 sets would risk over training, assuming you are using appropriately heavy enough weights.

Also when you are working a large muscle group (chest, shoulders, back, legs) experience has taught that 5 sets are the minimum required to exhaust the muscle fibers enough to stimulate growth. Since at the beginning you will be working your entire body in each workout you need the 5 sets for each exercise to accomplish muscle fatigue for each muscle group. Later on in more advanced training certain exercises would be reduced to 3 sets because you will be doing multiple exercises for each muscle group, thus surpassing the minimum total of 5 sets a different way.

What makes a set “pyramided” is the weight amount chosen. For each of the 5 sets you will use a different weight amount such that if you to create a chart of the weights used, the shape of a pyramid would result.

What follows is a brief description of what each set of the 5 should accomplish.

Set 1: This is a warm up set, but not in the sense of stretching, because that has been done already. This warm up is to tell the muscle group being worked that it’s time to get serious. You should chose a weight that is about 50% of your maximum 1 rep weight and perform 6-8 perfect form reps.

Set 2: Increase your weight to 60-65% of max and perform exactly 6 reps using perfect form. Your muscles now know they are working.

Set 3: Increase weight to 75% of max and knock out exactly 6 reps using perfect form. At this point your muscles are warmed up, blood is rushing to the worked area, and your body is primed for the first of 2 “muscle building “ sets. These first 3 sets lay the foundation, if you were to stop right now, your muscles would recover quickly, with effectively no growth what so ever.

Set 4: Increase weight to 90 % of max and get 4 reps with good form and find a way to do 2 more reps for a total of 6. If perfect form were required you should not have been able to do 6 reps. This is the set that has told your muscles “time to get bigger”. If you want growth of any kind this is how this set must go.

Set 5: Drop the weight back to 60-75% of max and go to failure. If you can do more than 8 reps then your weight choice here was not enough. In the perfect workout you fail on the 6th rep. This set brings the muscle to exhaustion and reinforces sets 4 “we need to get bigger” mentality.

If you can honestly say that you performed 5 sets as described above, at this stage, you do not need any more work for this muscle group. With proper rest and nutrition when you do this exercise again you will be able to increase the weight.

The chart below shows the weight increase progression through 9 workouts of an exercise where your maximum lift is 100 lbs at the first workout. The numbers in the chart are the actual weights to use if you could add 10 pounds to your 4th set every other session. If you are a relative beginner or have not been showing any gains for awhile, adopting the plan we recommend should allow you to do this in the first month.

set 1 set 2
set 3 set 4 set 5
2 50 60 75 100 75
3 55 65 80 100 80
4 55 65 80 110 80
5 60 70 90 110 90
6 60 70 90 120 90
7 65 75 100 120 100
8 65 75 100 125 100
9 70
80 105 125 105