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Straight Sets & Pyramid Sets


This is just one thing i'd like to clear up.

Whenever I see someones general layout of their workout program, it goes like this:

Bench press: 5 x 6
DB inc press: 4 x 10
Pec Deck: 3 x 12

Seeing that, I would imagine straight sets, looking something like this for bench press:
120kg x 6
120kg x 6
120kg x 6
120kg x 6
120kg x 6

Now, i've seen big guys post that sort of thing, but I very rarely see someone doing 4 or 5 straight sets with the same weight at the gym.

When probed about it, it seems these guys count their warm up sets when they say 5 x 6, and it turns out looking like this:

60kg x 10
80kg x 8
100kg x 6
120kg x 6
140kg x 6

Which is more of a pyramid up to 6 reps, and is A LOT less volume.

I've been using Jim Wendler's ideas on the main lifts, which is essentially same as the above, (5/3/1 on bench/squat/dead/m.press) so I'm sorted there.

However, on the secondary lifts such as DB bench, DB row, DB shoulder press etc. I'm not sure whether to build up to a max one or two sets on them also, or just do 3-4 straight sets with the same weight.

So what do you guys use? And do you find that is most effective for getting bigger?

Straight sets with the same weight? Or gradually building up to 1 or 2 all out sets?


I prefer to pyramid up on my first movement, like bench press. But when I move on to incline I might do one lighter set just to get a feel for the movement, and then it's straight sets.

I think pyramiding up is essential. Helps prevent injuries and gets you ready to move the big stuff.


I've personally always done straight sets with the same weight...and when the weight gets up there, its extremely brutal.

Now, I'm wondering if that has been too much. I am currently experimenting with a ramping up approach. Sort of Max-OT style warm ups, with one set to get the blood flowing, and subsequent sets mainly for nervous system prep. After one all out set, I add in a back off set (sorta DC inspired here.)

For deads, something like:
back off 545x8

For deadlifts I used to SHOOT for a 5x5 scheme but use a weight that I would fall a bit short with (maraudermeat wrote about this too).

So I'd take my 6 rep max and do something like:

The latter was MUCH MORE brutal, and really took everything out of me.

I'll tell you one thing - I have a LOT less aches and pains training this way. Getting stronger, too, so far it seems to be worth it.

However, I haven't put this to a prolonged bulking approach yet, so I can't comment in terms of effectiveness FOR ME in that regard.

But, many huge dudes train with pyramiding up to one all out set, so obviously its an effective way to train.


Some people like multiple sets with the same weight. Others ramp the weight up to a final all-out set. Both approaches work.

I usually ramp the weights up for several sets, until I reach the top weight, then rep out. My second exercise usually gets 1 warmup set, then 1 or 2 sets for maximum reps.

Sometimes, time permitting, I will add in a couple of lighter sets if I think I need more volume. That's the basic premise of my training right now--I'm trying not to make it more complicated than it needs to be, and it's working fine.


There is a fundamental problem with an idea that things are supposed to mean different than what they say, and there should be some universal decoding method to transform things from what they in fact say to what they are "supposed" to mean.

It's true that often people say or write things that in fact are not what they mean, but

1) they should not do that, and 2) there is no universal means to correct it when they do, and 3) any such attempted means will wind up "correcting" things that in fact were meant just as stated, to something that is NOT what was intended and was not what was said.


Agree, Bill.

OP, when I see something call for 4x6, or 5x5 without any clarification, I take it to mean that those 4, or 5, sets are all meant to be done with the same weight.

Also, in that scenario, I was also under the impression that when one is able to achieve all the reps for all the sets, one should increase the weight.


I'm probably way less experience then those of you who've posted above by i've been thinking about this sort of this for a while now.

On the big lifts i've been warming up to my work sets by increasing the weight a lot. Then on my work set only a little. For example a typical deadlift day would have:


I'd call this 6x3. I made great gains in strength doing it this way but always wondered how everyone else handled incrementing their weights. I'm glad the OP brought this up.

In addition i should probably mention that the supplemental lifts were done using straight sets. something like 3x10 without warms ups and ending with failure on the last set. The big lifts did not go to failure if I got all the reps


Yes, I agree... it is reasonable practice for each person to use the warmup they need, and the written protocol to not provide a warmup.

Thus I'd interpret, for example, 5x5 as being five work sets of the same weight.

The author might himself do any of many possible ways of warming up for it, or no warm up, but need not clutter up his instructions by talking about sets that he considers just warmup. But he certainly might include them as a suggestion or prescription as well.


You also get a ramping version of 5*5 (much smaller jumps than you'd do when using the standard BB ramping approach though), I think that's also just written out as 5*5 usually...

I understand your frustration here, I remember how everyone used to go on about Arnold's extreme volume (Bench: 7 sets or 12, 10, 8, 8, 6, 6, 4 or whatever...) And everyone thought these were all sets at working weight...

This topic has caused a lot of confusion... How you interpret sets can turn a low-volume routine into a high-volume routine, make an entire approach more or less useless...


I like pyramiding, but it's much harder to keep track of progress that way. I put on about 25lbs not writing down any numbers and just pyramiding up and doing lots of sets to failure.

I do more straight sets now and track progress. It's working very well.

It's still important to do some warmup sets. I like to do a set of 20-30 reps for the first set of the workout, then a lighter set of about 12-14 to get a feel for the lift, then another set of about 10 reps moving the weight up a bit more and prepping the muscles/tendons/etc for the weight.
Then, I'll do my straight working sets.

If I'm doing say flat, then incline, then decline, then flys, I'll warm up for the flat the most since it's the first exercise, then warmup less for the incline and decline since the tendons/muscle is ready, and I won't even do a warmup for flys, but I do them for higher reps and on an incline.


Hmmmm, how are you defining "pyramiding". I believe Goodfellow meant "ramping" where you do progressively heavier warm-up sets until you hit your final "working" weight set and then try to set a PR with it.

It's pretty easy to keep track of that actually, since only the last set really "counts" or gets recorded.


I used to do all my sets at the same weight, and then C_C said that's now how many successful BBers do it.

They ramp up. I've switched practices as of a few months ago and I can see a difference with my strength increases, you have a little more juice left in the tank for that final set.

Not sure if I'm doing it correctly, because for some exercises there just isn't room for a big jump, unless you start really really light.

For example, my DB Incline Chest Press will increase 5 lbs from set to set, maybe 10 lbs at most.


Since the ramp sets usually include the "warm-ups", that should be all right.
It's different with Wendler 5/3/1 or ramped 5*5, though. There, ramp sets use small jumps of 5-10 percent of 1RM and you get actual warm-ups before those sets.

If you were to use the 100's (hypothetically) for DB incline presses for 4 ramp sets (standard BB style), that'd mean starting with the 30's or 40's for, say 12 reps, then the 55-60's for 8, then the 80's for 4 or so, then the 100's for as many as you get...

Now if you only use, say, the 60's, just don't do as many sets then or do smaller jumps but lower reps on the warm-ups to keep fresh for you top set...
20*12, 40*6, 60*AMAP

Or whatever else you prefer... You can go with the smaller increases but more sets, of course, though in that case I'd go 8, 5, 3 on warm-ups (or so) to save energy.

Many ways to go about this, others like keeping reps the same on every set.

And hey, the stronger you get the bigger the jumps on ramp sets will become (to the point where you'll need more than 4 total sets on exercises like squats and deadlifts and such).


hmmm, I seem to use a combo of the two methods.

With my big lifts ie. deads, rows, pressing, squats

I'll "ramp" up to the heaviest working set I can handle, then just repeat that set with the same weight for another 4-5 sets...

or is that just straight sets