What Is Descending Pyramid Training And How Can You Use It To Build More Muscle, Faster?
You're reading this article because you want to build muscle, fast. After all, time is a wasting and you need to get on with the task in hand. And so ensues your frantic Google search for the latest and greatest training techniques to accelerate you to a leaner-stronger body. Luckily, you've ended up in the right place. Because I'm going to introduce you to descending pyramid training, the Iron Paradise Fitness way.
But let me be up front with you.
This isn't the standard approach to descending pyramid training you might have been looking for. I want to open your eyes to something new.
And if you read on, this is what you'll find out:
- Why your current approach to training is limiting your progress.
- What the Iron Paradise Fitness version of Descending Pyramid Training is.
- How to implement a Descending Pyramid Training protocol into your training to accelerate muscle growth.
Does that sound like what you're after? Cool. Let's get started.
Are you stuck in the ego trap?
Chances are, you might be stuck in an ego trap. Whether you're a guy trying to bench his way to a superhero physique. Or a lady looking to build goddess-like glutes, it's easy to fall into the trap of simply trying to lift more and more weight.
Picture the scene...
You're in the gym, and you're there to lift some heavy-ass weight. Because, that's Progressive Overload, right? And getting stronger over time is a key ingredient of the secret muscle-building recipe.
So you hit those bench presses and hip thrusts with maximum motivation, fervour, and vigour. It's time to "beat the logbook". One more rep. Let's go!
And this all sounds great. And I'm all for pushing hard in the gym. After all, regardless of the approach, no-one ever built muscle without putting in a shit ton of effort.
But here's the thing.
This simplistic approach of more reps and more weight might be what's holding you back.
In fact, it could be why you're frequently hitting training plateaus, despite training hard each and every week.
So allow me to highlight where you're going wrong. And get you out of the weight lifting equivalent of the Dagobah swamps, and accelerating like a Taun Taun on acid to more muscle than ever before.
Descending Pyramid Training And The Volume Equation
Quite rightly, Progressive Overload IS what you should focus on. Get it right and you'll build those biceps and booties faster than ever before. But it's easy to get it wrong.
Let me explain what I mean by talking about training volume.
The basic training volume equation used since the dawn of bodybuilding time is this... Sets x Reps x Weight. Now, I'm sure there'll be a bunch of people who will tell you there's more to it than that, which there certainly is. But, it still remains a valid measure of training volume. So, for the time-being, let's stick with it.
With that said, let's pick an exercise. How about the squat?
A traditional approach to your training might look something like this.
How Your Sets Normally Go...
Once you've got a few warm up sets under your belt, it's time for your first main set. This is where you shift some mass and work those leg muscles to within an inch of their lives.
Set 1 goes well and you nail 100kg for 10 reps. Awesome. You're a beast. It was a tough set and you were almost at the point of failure by the end.
You've now got 3 minutes to rest up and mentally prepare for set 2. Just enough time to tell social media how amazing that first effort was. After all, if you don't post about it, it never happened, right?
And so on to Set 2. Gripping the bar tight and squashing it down into your upper back. You take a few deep breaths, say a prayer to the Quad Gods and get to work.
Boom. Another tough set, this time grinding out 7 solid reps at the same weight. Slightly less reps than the prior effort. But solid work nonetheless. There's only one more set to go. Although, by now you're starting to feel it. And you're doubting how many reps you've got left in you.
Set 3 comes around and you're a little tentative. Naturally, you want to push hard. But equally, you don't want to push so hard you collapse in a heap of failing quad muscles, 20kg plates, and a small amount of poo. That would just be embarrassing. But by the end of set 3 you've managed 5 good reps.
And now you're well and truly fucked. #smashedit
But before you get too excited, let's analyse your training volume and see how descending pyramid training might have improved things.
First Set: 1 set x 10 reps x 100kg = 1,000kg
Second Set: 1 set x 7 reps x 100kg = 700kg
Third Set: 1 set x 5 reps x 100kg = 500kg
Total Training Volume = 2,200kg
Not bad. But what would happen if you left your ego at the gym door and thought about your training more objectively? Could you extract even more progressive overload? More than likely, the answer is yes. And now's the time to delve into Descending Pyramid Training to explain all.
Descending Pyramid Training For More Progressive Overload
Right back at the beginning I mentioned this approach to descending pyramid training is a little different to the norm. The traditional approach has been used by some of the bodybuilding greats for decades. And to great effect. So I'm not knocking it. And it definitely has it's place.
But here's the thing.
Descending pyramid training can work in terms of the weight you put on the bar, as well as the rep count you use.
Approaching descending pyramid training the standard way might focus more on unilateral exercises and look something like this.
For the purposes of the example, I'm going to use the bicep curl. After all, whether you're man, woman, or Wookie you want more well-defined arms.
You start with a weight that's roughly your 10RM. For ease of maths, we'll say that's 10kg.
You do 5 reps with your left arm, followed by 5 reps with your right. Then, without pausing, you do 4 reps with the left and 4 reps with the right. You alternate this way as you descend all the way down to 1 rep on each arm.
From a pure training volume perspective you've instantly managed to increase the total load you're working with. Let's do the math.
Training Volume With Traditional Descending Pyramid Training
Your 10RM max meant you'd normally do 1 Set x 10 Reps x 10kg for a total training volume of 100kg per arm. But with the descending pyramid training approach you were able to increase that. 1 Set x 15 Reps (5+4+3+2+1) x 10kg for a grand total of 150kg. You see, those little rests meant you could squeeze out a few more precious reps.
But don't get too carried away.
Why? Because of a little thing called tension. Maintaining tension throughout a set is a crucial part of building muscle. Resting releases that tension and potentially works against you.
That's why the Iron Paradise Fitness approach to Descending Pyramid Training is a little different. There's a focus on both increasing training volume while maintaining that all important tension. You could say it's the perfect bodybuilding storm. So let's voyage into the eye of the hurricane.
The Iron Paradise Fitness Approach To Descending Pyramid Training
I want to take you back to the squat example. Remember how you kept the weight the same to crank out those heavy reps for 3 straight sets? Well this time I want you to drop the weight with each set.
"Woah, woah, woah! But surely dropping the weight means I'm lifting less and not getting as strong. Not to mention the fact my Instagram videos are going to look lame."
Don't panic, I know what I'm doing. And don't call me Shirley.
Here's an example of how you can lift less to lift more.
First Set: 1 set x 10 reps x 100kg = 1,000kg
Second Set: 1 set x 10 reps x 80kg = 800kg
Third Set: 1 set x 10 reps x 70kg = 700kg
Total Training Volume = 2,500kg
So by reducing the weight as your muscle reaches greater levels of fatigue, you're able to lift more weight. Thereby increasing overall training volume without compromising on tension. In fact, your ability to create tension is likely to increase. Because you're no longer fearful of folding in half in the squat rack. Instead, you're able to focus on the excellence of execution (a WWE reference never goes amiss).
And let me reiterate here, these descending sets aren't easy. You're still pushing towards 1-3 reps short of failure. Because there's no getting away from it, you've still got to put the effort in and train HARD.
So it's not difficult to see how descending pyramid training can increase your training volume significantly and accelerate muscle growth. Agreed?
The Bottom Line On Descending Pyramid Training
Descending Pyramid Training is a more advanced technique. Do you need to focus on it if you're just starting out? Probably not. Simply focusing on getting stronger in basic lifts is your best modus operandi.
But if you're more advanced, or feel like you've hit a training plateau, then it's worth looking at your training volume in more detail.
Make sure you're recording, measuring, and assessing your training volume. And experiment with descending pyramid training to see if it unlocks the door to more volume and more muscle, faster than your current methods.
Of course, trying to lift a given weight as many times as possible for 2-4 straight sets is still a valid way to train. And within the context of a well-structured, well-thought out training programme, there's clear benefits. But if your training is primarily set up to satisfy your own ego, you're doing yourself a disservice.
Building muscle should be a well-thought out, structured, and logical process. A programme based on ego is one that's based on failure.
So be intelligent with how you approach your training. I'm not saying you HAVE to do it this way, but Descending Pyramid Training is a tool in the toolbox that might be worth your consideration somewhere down the line.
Want A Free Training Programme To Get Started On The Road To A Leaner, Stronger Body?
Here’s what to do next to get on the fast track to a leaner, healthier, stronger body. Simply click the link below and I’ll send you my Lean Life Kickstarter Pack. In it you’ll find a free 4 week beginner’s training programme (complete with exercise videos and a workout tracker), a guide on calculating your calories, plus so much more.
If you want it, grab it here.
But for now, all I’ll say is… Keep living the Lean Life and I’ll see you soon.