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Straight Sets vs Pyramiding


This is an interesting debate/comparison that I am still not convinced about which method of loading is more effective. I guess in a way it boils down to your classic argument of a high intensity set (as a % of 1-RM) as your top set versus multiple sets with a moderately heavy load.

On the one hand, when you pyramid up in weight over several sets, you are able to challenge your muscles with a max effort type of load for the final set. By using straights sets, however, you provide a greater working volume but do not lift that ultra heavy load to finish.

I have noticed that most pro bodybuilders utilize the pyramiding style but many coaches seem to favor multiple sets. I am just sort of curious as to what most of you have had the best results with in regard to strength and size?


Pyramiding isn't usually recommended for strength gains, but it's a cool hypertrophy tool because it allows you to work in different hypertrophy zones. The problem with pyramiding is that by the time you reach the max effor set, your muscles are already fatigued from the higher rep work.

If you want to utilize pyramids for strength, add volume and change them into wave loading. It more of potentiates than fatigues the muscles when done right, and it's one of the best ways to build strength. Check out CT's "Best Reps" and "Locked and Loaded" articles for more info.


Part of what Undeadlift said was true. You have 3 different muscle fibers, fast, medium, and slow twitch. Fast twitch would be you 1RP and sometimes is good for up to about 3 or 4 reps. Medium twitch is good until about 10 or 15 reps until they become tired. Slow twitch are the muscles that last the longest, most endurance from everyday normal tasks, and these are the ones that endurance runners use. If you go from lower to higher you will be more fatigued, so it would be better to go from high to low so you work your fast, then medium, and then slow to get the best gains in SIZE. You will get some in strength but way more in size. Im going to assume it would be the opposite if you went from low to high in weights, or just the same weight.


my best strength results have come from straight sets, I used to pyramid all of the time but haven't in a while as i find straight sets more effective.


I should probably clarify that by "pyramiding" I am merely referring to adding weight to sets of the same number of reps. For example, I could do 5x5 on the bench with 275 lbs. using straight sets, or I could do the following:


This is the comparison to which I am referring. This is essentially the way bodybuilders like Dorian Yates train. They do the same number of reps per set, but they add increments of weight each set. As I mentioned, you can either go for more working volume or for a heavier top end set. It's hard to say which works better.


what i do for straight sets is pick the heaviest weight i could do on a particular exercise for a target number of reps and then use tht weight for each of my sets. For example

Bench Press

Something like that I find it works well as 275 is the heaviest weight I can use for 6 reps so I know I am thoroughly taxing my nervous as well as muscular systens. I've seen sdome pretty heafty strength gain as well as size gains using this type of system


pyramiding doesnt really tickle my bell.
i mean wats the use of using heavier poundages if u r gonna fail on lesser reps while u kno fully well that hypertrophy takes place in the 8-12 reps range.
dorian s old workout was something ,he used to keep the weights same.straight sets and used to see his reps come down from 10 to 7.
neways for the nervous system i presume u can always keep a seperate day aside for ur powertraining.


I see. Well, that kind of pyramiding potentiates your CNS to do heavier load, so it's not bad at all. If you can do 305 instead of 275 using that method, that's cool.


Since when does simply working in the 8-12 rep range dictate hypertrophy and everything else some different kind of progress? haha

As far as the original question, I personally prefer pyramiding.

By increasing the weight while decreasing the reps from set to set, you fatigue the slow twitch muscle fibers, leaving your fast twitch muscle fibers primed to work very hard on that final set. This stimulates an excellent environment for muscle growth, and I have seen more strength gains this way than with straight sets.

But everybody is different. Maybe my opinion will change 100lbs from now. Haha


I use straight sets and my 1RM goes up 25-30lbs. every 6 weeks. Go figure.


this is what ive come up with after a few years of experimenting, comment if you like

6x6 straight sets has given me the best strength gains

reps usually end up 6,6,6,5,4,3 or around there

then 2 sets of 135lbs to failure

then one set, just bar to failure, in the 100 to 200 rep range

note, i only do this every 6 days


The heavier weights must be always before low weights in every workout. If you lift low weights prior to heavy weights, the fatige accumulation will not allow you to lift heavy weights.


I use both in combination to warm up the body and central nervous system and get more work done.
For example if one were to bench 225 for 5x5:

bar x 20
95 x 5
135 x 3
185 x 1
225 x 5 x 5


Technically this is ramping, not pyramiding. it's a common technique in strength training and is used exactly this way in the popular Madcow 5x5 intermediate program. It's not a bodybuilding routine though.


This is what I wanted to say because the majority of the responses were about pyramiding weights instead of ramping which is what the OP really meant. I don't see how people don't ramp weights up personally but that's just me. If I know I could do 315x10 but did sets of 295x10 instead of ramping up to 320x10 or whatever then I feel like I'm not going anywhere.


Not necessarily.

Yes that's true if you are really pushing it with the lower weights. But if that's the case, how would you suggest warming up? With even heavier weights than your work sets? Of course not. You'd use lighter weights to prepare the nervous system/muscles for the task to come.

And, most likely, you'd use increasingly heavier warm up sets as well. But, you wouldn't go till fatigue on these sets either. Going to fatigue on the lighter sets would lead to fatigue accumulation and hinder your performance with the heavier loads.

With ramping (at least in my experience) the earlier lighter sets aren't supposed to be super challenging. As the weight increases so does the difficulty of finishing the set. You want to aim for the final set as being the maximum amount of weight that you can lift for the desired number of reps (and generally have it be heavier than the weight you used during the previous workout).


I don't know what to call how I handle this.

On upper body days I use this health walker thing I got for 10 bucks at a garage sale for 4 or 5 minutes to warm up and on leg day I ride the stationary bike. I'll do one or 2 sets of something pretty light. For instance on leg day I'll do a set of 15 bodyweight squats and a set of 15 hyperextensions.

Depending on how I feel I may go into say sets of 10-12 and just let the reps decrease as fatigue accumulates or I may go right into heavy sets of 4-6 and decrease the weight with each set. Sometimes I'll decrease the weight on the 10-12 rep sets as I go to keep the reps at 10-12.

Sometimes I'll warm up, do one face bursting, vomit inducing, psychopathic triple drop set and call it a day. OR do one very light set for as many reps as I can.

Pyramiding the weight up doesn't do much for me. Once warmed up I don't see the point in any subsequent set not being for keeps in some way.


You guys are right. I guess that I used the wrong term in my initial post, but I was actually referring to "ramping" one's weights each set. It seems that most of the responses to this thread have been in regard to the classic definition of "pyramiding" where you work from high reps to low reps. I never do this due to the residual fatigue that would hamper my heaviest sets.

In regard to which is more effective, I have done a little experimenting, and I think that ramping works better for maximal strength and straight sets of 3-4x6-12 reps with a challenging weight within those parameters works better for hypertrophy. At least it seems that way for me.

I have been using a Westside template, so I incorporate both of the above methods into my training. This has been working very well.


I'll defer to the rest of the guys here for proper terminology definitions. I haven't kept up like I once did. I will say that like anything else people will respond best to different methods and maybe in cycles. Professor X is a ramping up guy and who could dispute that it worked for him.


It was my understanding that Professor X was a big proponent of pyamiding, mentioning that his first few sets may be as high as 8-10 repitions, his working weight at times being heavy enough to only achieve 1 rep, but ideally 3-4. This being for the very purpose I mentioned above.

But who knows, unfortunately I don't train with him and he doesn't seem to be active on these forums anymore.