Arnold Schwarzenegger : The Power of Pyramid Training

When you’re working out, you want to switch up your routine as much as possible in order to give your muscles a challenge so that they keep growing and getting stronger. When Arnold Schwarzenegger was reaching his ceiling, he encountered this problem too, but he found the magic formula – instead of just doing sets of anywhere between six and fifteen reps, he would change the number of the reps constantly.

When Arnie started training, he tried a whole lot of rep routines while doing the same exercise. He would lift a lot of weight a low number of times and a relatively light weight for a lot more, while medium weight would get lifted a medium number of times.

After a while though, he realized that even though he thought it made his muscles look better, it would also make him stronger and the exercise more efficient as well. Arnold started doing the same exercise with a bunch of different rep ranges such as 6-8, 8-10 and 12-15 reps. However, he built muscle mass and strength with one of his favorite principles for working out – pyramid training.

What is Pyramid Training

Pyramid training is a highly effective training technique for building muscle mass and strength. The pyramid is a structure of arranged reps and sets for a certain exercises. The pyramid usually means starting with lighter weight and doing high reps (around 15). Then with each set you would increase the load you lift, but decrease the number of repetitions. There are a few types of pyramid training and we’ll take a look at each one.

Types of Pyramid Training

1. Ascending Pyramid Training – Increase Weight, Decrease Reps

There are three principles when it comes to the pyramid training scheme. The first is the ascending pyramid, where you increase the weight you lift but you decrease the number of times you actually lift it.

This means that if you do four sets of barbell curls, when doing your first set, you want to get a high number of reps, so pick a weight that will let you do 16 of them, but not 17 in order to be more effective.

On your second set, put on a few extra pounds so that you will only be able to lift it 12 times.

On the third set put some more plates on, and this time you should only be able to lift the barbell 8 times. For the last set, put on even more weight that will let you lift it with perfect form for four more reps.

Ascending Pyramid Training Example:

Set 1 – light weight: do 13-15 reps
Set 2 – increase the weight: do 10-12 reps
Set 3 – moderate weight: do 8-10 reps
Set 4 – heavy weight: do 4-6 reps

Descending Pyramid Training – Decrease Weight, Increase Reps

The second type of pyramid is the descending pyramid. This means that your first set will have the maximum weight on it and then you’ll take off weight instead of putting more on. Know that you will definitely need to warm up before you lift something that heavy so that you don’t hurt yourself.



Your first set while doing a descending pyramid should be six reps or less, but after that you should take some weight off all the way through your fourth set. This means that your second set will have 8-9 reps, your third set will have 13-14 reps and your final set would have anywhere from 17 to 20 reps.

Descending Pyramid Training Example:

Warm up (3-4 sets)

Set 1 – heavy weight: do 4-6 reps
Set 2 – moderate weight: 8-10 reps
Set 3 – decrease the weight more: 10-12 reps
Set 4 – light weight 13-15 reps

Triangle Pyramid Training – Ascending Descending

The third type of pyramid is a combination of both, which means that you will use both the ascending and the descending pyramid. If you draw two of them, the resulting exercise routine would be a picture of two pyramids joined at the tips. This means that you start with an ascending pyramid, so just a light weight that will let you lift it 16 times. After that, go through the pyramid until you reach a weight that will only allow you to lift it four times.

After that, just do the descending pyramid – take weight off the bar until you reach 16 reps again. Note that when you’re doing the descending pyramid, you might not be able to get the same number of reps as you did when you performed the ascending one due to your body tiring out after the first four sets. You should have rep numbers that go 16-12-8-4-8-12-16 and you will be fine. Just do as many as you can – it doesn’t matter if you don’t do one or two as long as you reach muscle failure. This will help you build an awesome amount of muscle, so get pumping!

Triangle Pyramid Training Example:

  • Set 1 – light weight: do 13-15 reps
  • Set 2 – increase the weight: do 10-12 reps
  • Set 3 – moderate weight : do 8-10 reps
  • Set 4 – heavy weight : do 4-6 reps
  • Set 5 – moderate weight: 8-10 reps
  • Set 6 – decrease the weight: 10-12 reps
  • Set 7 – light weight: 13-15 reps

Arnold gave another tip – how to use the pyramid routine for a chest workout to get your pecs pumping. For incline barbell presses, he suggests you do an ascending pyramid with 4, 8, 12 and 16 reps per set respectively.

For dumbbell flat-bench presses, he suggests a descending pyramid that goes from 12 to 10 to 8 and finally to 6 reps per set. After that, try some incline dumbbell flyes for three sets of 15, 12 and 10 reps each, and then finish off with three sets of 12 reps each of cable crossovers.

Perform all of these one after the other, and you’ll be sure to be on a steady road towards having awesome pectorals just like Arnie. Arnold Schwarzenegger is one of the world’s bodybuilding legends and if this stuff comes from him, I’d want to listen! After all, the man has spent his life in the gym and of course he has experience.



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