T Nation

Pyramid or Not?


There seems to be a split among trainees who use a traditional pyramid-type arrangement of sets, and those who do the minimum necessary warmup and then multiple sets with their work weight.

CW, and Poliqiun and really a lot of others would use something like arrangement 1:

1-2 moderate warmups
6 x 6 at a work weight (3 x 10, 4 x 8, 8 x 3 whatever)

But the BIGGEST guys I know still use a pyramid system more like this:

Easy 15 reps
15 reps at a work weight
10 reps at about 20% more weight
4-8 reps with 20% more

Which do you think is ideal as a normal rep scheme??

Warmup followed by several same-load work sets?

Pyramid with at least 3 sets at different loads pushed to fatigue, say 12-15; 8-10; 4-6.


Sounds like you got things a little wrong?
BB ramping/pyramiding up example:
315*8 (or less reps, depends on the trainee... Some keep reps the same on all warm-ups, others do less and less reps before their top-set to save energy for it)
405*as many as you get (your "work set" basically, where you constantly try to get more reps/weight)

That's what you see 99 percent of pro's etc do.
I don't see any really big people go to failure on three ramping sets.
What's the point?

Some do a 8-12 rep set after their top-set, but that's very rare. (in that case, they usually try to progress on both their top-set and their 8-12 rep set every time they train)

If you can handle high volume (actually manage to gain strength at a good pace while doing stuff like 4 sets of 12 with the same weight or whatever... Well, then you probably wouldn't ask questions on this forum, anyway.

Regular people generally make faster progress with 1-2 heavy sets per exercise instead of... A lot.

Another thing to consider: If you do low reps and especially when staying a rep or two short of failure, like many powerlifters do on their main exercises, then multiple sets at working weight are usually needed.

But 4*10-12 at the same weight is usually just going to hold people's strength progression back.

If you want to pyramid/ramp up, then look at my example above again and read this thread:
From start to finish.
(that's pretty much the standard system in use for bodybuilding today)


This particular subject always stumps me when it comes to training.

Ramping, NOT pyramids.

Ramping involves using the same amount of reps for each set, but increasing the weight each time.

Pyramid means going down in reps each set, and going to near failure (or failure each time).

Now, as what CC said, almost every pro does ramping on almost every single exercise.

HOWEVER, some guys that I highly respect and have a gold-mine of information (Christian Thibaudeau is the main guy i'm talking about) mostly write down straight sets in their training programs.

Or do they?

Personally, I would rather take CT's advice over a pro any day. Due to that fact that most pro's could probably sneeze and grow muscle.

Additionally, they have incredible mind-muscle connection and have the ability to exhaust their muscle in 5-8 sets.

But I have still yet to find out that when CT says "5 x 6, or 4 x 8" on an exercise, that it does infact mean straight sets.

If so, I would probably try straight sets over ramping, or at least do both in cycles to see what works best.

Saying that, I'm going through every single one of CT's replies on his Q&A threads and articles.

To see if he does infact mean straight sets on his programs, or to ramp up to a maximal weight.


Ok, why do you think "fatiguing" the muscle is so important?
Progression.... Progression... Progression... (if I keep repeating it, maybe people will eventually get it?) Do whatever the fuck allows you to gain strength in your chosen rep range the fastest... Is that so hard, come on now :wink:

(goddamn everyones' obsessive-compulsive "more sets sets for the sake of fatigue"+"throw my whole routine in the trash and switch to the next fad whenever I get bored"+"Eat too little" -mentality)


See, hypertrophy is about putting the maximum amount stress possible in the muscle. That's the principle of ramping; you build up to begin engorging blood into the muscle, prevent injuries... make your warmup. When you're ready, you make fewer top sets (1-2) and display the maximum intensity possible on them.

If done correctly, that maximal performance won't be able to reproduce in the same workout. The idea is also allows to improve loads more frequently.

Well, for Goodfellow, you can't take pros the credit of training hard. Yes, they have incredible genetics, but actually you don't see pros training like shit. I agree with the mind/muscle connection, 'cause these people can display the level of intensity necessary to fatigue/stimulate the muscle on fewer sets.

Finally, ramping up with fewer top sets is the best way to produce freaky muscle IMO, but not everyone is suitable for that type of training, shit most people won't ever understand how to make this training type work for them, so we go back to FIND WHAT WORKS FOR YOU WITH ALL HONESTY.


Why are they making this shit so complicated?


Why do they act like professional bodybuilders are from some other planet when the truth is, that is how most of them trained from DAY ONE LONG BEFORE THEY EVER TURNED PRO.

Why do people act like genetics somehow trump hard work?

No, most pros can NOT sneeze and grow muscle. If they could, they wouldn't be in the gym 5+ days a week for over an hour each time.

They grow because they found what works for their own bodies....something way too many newbies seem afraid to figure out.


Your response does clear up some things in my mind. I remember reading a post from Prof X about 3 years ago where he said that he pyramided up but he felt that all 3-4 sets were "working" sets, yet his weight jumps were pretty large. I think his point was though that those sets were done as seriously as the hard set-that you still practice intensity and concentration.

I know about the ramping system, but you still see Ronnie Coleman Ramp up with sets of 12-15 (and huge jumps) but then he'll still do a max set of 8, and possibly a real heavy double on something like squats or deadlifts, or maybe 4-6 on presses.

Ramping up to a baseline weight is a given (although if I was going to try to hit a work set of 10-12, I would probably ramp up with sets of 4-6. Why isn't that better?

Basically it sounds like oyu are saying that most pros use, and have used something like 1 hard working set. I think that has been the primary method of training since the early 90s. Most workouts I have read in the last 15 years have 135 x 10, 225 x 10, 315 x 10, and then 365 for 6-10 for example.

Anyway, again, your response helps me because basically what I take away is that there are not really 2 strikingly different theories of how to build muscle.

Everyone "ramps" and then when they reach a training weight, they do something to produce intensity which can be:

1) 1 hard set, possibly with controlled forced reps
2) 1 hard set in a rep range, and perhaps another heavier hard set for fewer reps to build strength
3) A heavy weight, say 70% max done for a challenging set-rep scheme like 4 x 6. (sometimes for example, I have taken a 12 rep max on a movement that I feel I need to get stricter on, like rows, and I would instead do 4 x 6, or 6 x 4 at that weight, but with better focus on each rep.


At any rate, my training was more power oriented in the past.

Typically I would work up to a heavy weight and do 2-4 sets of just 2-5 reps of a heavy exercise like squats, deadlifts, benches or overhead presses. Then I would do something like 4 sets of 10 at a single weight on a few assistance exercises.


Bench: 135 x 10; 185 x 5; 225 x 2; 255 x 2; 285 x 1; 315 x 2 sets of 3

Tricep extensions: 4 x 10 at the same weight
Laterals: 4 x 10
Hammer curls: 4 x 10


I didn't mean to come off that way.

I know this gets into the whole strength = muscle debate (which of course it does).

BUT, I am curious if a higher volume (and fatigue) would result in more muscle gain, opposed to just purely focusing on my strength gains.

ALSO, couldn't changing up to straight sets every once in a while be more efficient for gaining strength (and size).

It just seems that the majority of my strength gain so far is neural...

Elaborating... my mind is just getting better at co-ordinating them to move the weight.

So straight sets could cause more MUSCLE fatigue/damage and therefore more growth.

That is what I was getting at with bodybuilders only needing to do 1 top set. They are very efficient at co-ordinating and recruiting their muscle fibres, so they can cause a lot of muscle damage with that set, and therefore get growth out of it.

I am not as efficient, so I was wondering if doing more than 1 top set on an exercise would be more beneficial.


Also, guys, I'm not saying the pro's dont 'work hard' and focus their whole lives on bodybuilding.

I'm just saying that I would rather take advice from someone who has trained hundreds of different people, has 'average' (or slightly above) genetics and has built a very decent body himself.

Again, see the end of my last post.

Sorry that I'm not very clear when I explain myself.


It doesn't even make sense to use the same weight on all sets. There have been many days I go into the gym and have a little trouble with a certain weight only to come back to it after two other exercises to find that it is much easier to rep with.

The more sets you do, the greater the chance that muscle fibers not initially fired can be affected by the movement. This also means if you are easily able to get 10 reps with THE SAME DAMN WEIGHT for 4 sets, then there is no doubt in my mind that the weight you are using isn't challenging enough for you to see much growth.


Actually I learned this because of you, but the problem comes when I try to explain it to other people; they think they won't work enough, they don't display enough intensity on that set. They're usually guys who will do more than 6 exercises for chest to be sure they work it 100%.

I'm sure you have also found this problem several times during your lifting career. Is there a way to make them understand? They'll see me bigger than them but will end up making anything else but not what I tried to explain. Otherwise there won't be a reason to open my mouth for guys who want help from me.


typically, I would do 10 super-strict reps on my first set, then on set 2 I might have to do 2-3 forced reps to finish the 10, then on set 3, I'd get maybe 3-4 strict and 6-7 with forced reps (just a little body momentum) and on set 4 I'd use dome momentum to lift, and then just lower under control. Not every set was the same, and I couldn't do 10 strict sets on my second set.

I'm not trying to justify it, just explain where I am coming from.

My main purpose for this thread is that I am 38 now, and I have stalled on powerlifting style training for over a year. I've trained harder and harder, and tried about everything but when I get to the end of a cycle, my bench, squat, and dead haven't moved.

I figure that I either have weaknesses in other areas that are holding those lifts back, and that I will get more progress if I focus on stricter bodybuilding style movements like dumbell incline presses, and hack squats versus power style benches and squats, and train in a little higher rep range, and also split my bodyparts up.

I used to do 2 upper body and 2 lower body PL workouts a week. Now I want to use a 4 or 5 day split.

I consistently have trained 4 or 5 days a week for a decade, and I basically can get in about 18 workouts in 4 weeks. I am worried because with power lifting, I originally felt I had to train a lift 2x/week to get stronger.

After a while I dropped to 1x per 5 days, but I need to make the leap that I can train a muscle group hard about once a week and add muscle if I use the higher rep schemes and proper focus.

If I train an average of 18 times per 4 weeks, how would you recommend I split things up?

I have been using the following split:

Delts and triceps
Lats and lower traps (rows)
Quads and calves
Chest and biceps
Hams and abs.

Completing the 5 day split over about 8 days.

I stay sore for about 4 days after a workout.


why do people overcomplicate this bullshit? this isn't quantum physics... oh sorry yeah sme coaches like to make it out to be.

this is building fukin muscle. primal and barbaric. let me tell you human beings LOVE to make something simple into a fukin math equation... love overcomplicating shiat.

there's thousands of cats in gyms pumpin the heeeellll out of their bodiez with 20 sets but still looking pretty much the same year after year.

you know what gives you big ass muscles? big weights done for 'a lotta work'. and you know why i say 'a lotta work'? i say that because i don't wanna discuss sets, reps, tempo, supersets, yo mamma, et cetera. you make sure you add more rusty iron to that bar my buddy, and punish it, kill it. whether that takes you 2 sets or 5, you make sure you hit it hard and then next time around (or in three weeks, whatevs) add more weight.

why is this shit so complicated? ive been training with a couple BIG fellas lately and they don't even know what 'hypertrophy' means - i ain't even kidding. but you know what these cats know the definition of? hard fukin work. they load up teh bar and bust out as many reps as they can with it until their muscles are screamin and theyre screamin.

now if you are liftin a heavy ass weight and you can only get it up 4 or 5 times this week... then yeah take a couple minutes of rest, strip down the weight and pump out some lighter set. the goal should be = destroy the muscle with heavy ass weight... rest and eat ... then repeat with heavIER weight.

you feeling tired this week dawg? take a few days rest, eat some more, back off a little in the workouts and don't kill yourself.

mankind made the most simple and primal thing ever into a complicated, shit storm. we have little shits who look like starvin marvin wonderin if they should do presisely 3 or four sets... and 'yo what reps?'
what ever dude...


Just wanted to say I'm a big fan of this thread... I think the pyramid vs straight sets is something not talked about nearly enough, because just about every program you read about has something like 3 x 10 of the same weight, and yet any video you see of a bodybuilder working out, they don't do that.

You just always hear that you want to stress the muscle more, more time under tension etc by doing more sets, but the more I hear about it the more I really think that the one main set for that exercise is just so much more important.


He doesn't necessarily go to failure on all these extra sets though (usually just on the last, and even there he stays short of failure on squats etc so he can walk the weight back to the rack. Also, most of them he does simply for the camera. His normal training, by his own admission, is usually within the 12-15 rep range... High for a pro, but well...).
As for doing lower reps on his last bench set(s): His vids are usually shot during contest prep, so when he gets 495*6 or whatever in a vid, he'd be doing that weight for 10 or so in the off-season.

? Do you mean do less reps on warm-ups to save energy? (like 8, 5, 3, work set)
Many now do it, some pros go 12, 8, 6, (6), work set or so.

Forced reps are usually employed by the "low-rep" guys:
Levrone, who liked 4-6 or 6-8 a lot as his base rep-range for many exercises like btn presses. He only used forced reps on some exercises though.
Most of the people going higher in reps stay away from them.
Also, you're doing 2-3 exercises per muscle-group usually, so you ultimately get more than 1 set under working weight.


Here you have to ask yourself, "why do 4 sets of high reps with the same weight? What's that going to do for me?"
You a) Can't use all that much weight on tri extensions etc compared to other exercises, so usually progression is slow as it is. Now you're also using a set/rep scheme which really sucks for constant strength progression (compared to 1-2 top sets of moderate/high reps, 1 DC RP set, 3*5-3 or so).
So why not use a set/rep scheme which allows for better progression here, 15-30RP is nice for extensions, and just get stronger faster here, too?
Bigger muscles that way...


If you only do 1 set of 1-4 reps all the time, then yeah, not much size is going to come off that.
If you work your way up from 1 rep to 10 reps, that's an entirely different matter (ala pX, if I remember correctly).
Other people go for smaller weight jumps and stick with the 6-8, 6-10 etc rep ranges or rest-pause.

Also, you're doing more than one exercise per muscle-group, so you get 2-4 sets at working weight total, just on different exercises.

Again, if you want to go low-rep all the time, then more sets would be needed..

Frank McGrath is close-gripping 405 for 8, non-failure.
Adding 5-10 lbs on your curls/CGP/whatever isn't going to produce much visual change anyway.

What you need to do is go from curling the 20's for 10 to curling the 50's for 10(provided that your bicep actually does the work), then you'll be seeing a real difference.
And then onto the 90's+...

Again, try doing 4 sets of 12 on curls. I guarantee you that even if you were to do 4*15 with the 60's or more, the guy doing 1 set of 8 with the 90's is going to totally smoke you in the bicep department.

If that were the case, then we'd all be doing 8*8 or 10*10 on everything and weighing 470 lbs in contest shape.

If you lift like a 3 year old girl, then no amount of sets is going to help you.

You can do 2 if you want, why not. But then I'd suggest not doing 3-4 exercises per muscle-group, else you'll pretty much slow your gains down again (or at least most people would). Try that with 2 exercises per muscle group maybe...

Btw: One can't "teach" intensity over the net, I suppose, but I guess I could try to get you on the way:

Stand up from your comp seat, get somewhere where you have some space.

Ok, just stand there, keep your body loose, get your hands into CGP position (shoulder-wide grip or so, elbows tucked) and, without minding your scapulae etc, just mimic a close-grip press. Rep out...
If you do it explosively, you're probably rocking back and forth as well.

-Get into CGP position again, but this time touch your scapulae together behind you and shrug your shoulders down, chest out, tense your mid/upperback. If you were lying on a bench, your rear delts and upper back should be forming a stable base and be pressed into that bench.

-arch your back so that the upper part of your pelvis tilts forward and the lower part of your chest comes out/high. If you were lying on a bench, your head and traps would be pressed into the bench now.

-whilst keeping your back arched like that, bring your pelvis into a more neutral position again (sort of flexes your abs and butt, your low-back isn't as hyperextended anymore but still extended to some degree).
Your whole body should be tense (we can't simulate leg drive while standing, I guess, but keep your legs tight, too. You'd be straddling the bench with your thighs if you were lying on a bench now).

Ok, now rep out again (keep everything tight and tucked). If you got it right, you should now be wanting to rep out real fast.

Get angry at that thing, explosively push it away from you (while staying totally tight so that your shoulders don't rise off the bench), and then lower it back under control (could think of it as "rowing" the bar back into you).
If, on a real CGP, the weight were getting real heavy now or your triceps aren't in there as they should be, make a conscious effort to force your elbows under it/tuck harder.
Bar comes down just below the nipples or so.

Try this out a few times, then try it in the gym...

Well, this doesn't make you "intense" per se, but it might help you understand the whole concept a bit better...
(I didn't mention breathing, but you should now how to breath during training anyway)
You have to lift with your whole body... The body doesn't lie there relaxed while your arms move on that cgp.

When doing laterals even... You get tense before the rep, initiate the movement with your delts and hate those goddamn db's. You have to think of yourself as "powerful" or so... I'm not too good at explaining this... Maybe X could give us a better example or so.


Then go have a look at ironaddicts.com

Pro's aren't just born as intense motherfuckers.

And what about some of us in this very forum?
We've trained that way from the beginning, do you think we we're all long lost brothers or sons of Dorian Yates?

You want to learn/develop intensity, then do something which requires intensity and keep doing it until you "get it".


1) You're not the youngest anymore. If your test levels have gone down the drain, consider HRT...
2) Food. Protein.
Look into...
-Wendler 5/3/1 (requires no actual maxing or even real low rep work, ramped, works with a reduced max, nicer on the joints than regular pl training)

-DC (if you can stomach the food intake and you're putting up some respectable numbers...)
-the standard bodybuilding method. Because you haven't really done it before.

<- Doesn't matter.

What's your diet like... Lifts, weight, height...