My Pyramid Scheme

Updated: Apr 30


If you've ever trained with me before, you probably know how much I love pyramid workouts. They are fun, engaging and very effective, not to mention the countless ways you can play around with them, depending on your goals and fitness level. Here are just a few examples of what a pyramid can look like.

Ascending pyramid

This is a basic ladder, that requires you to start at the base (usually one rep) and increase the number of repetitions as you make your way up to the peak. The peak can be determined as a number of reps (i.e. 10) or you can set a certain amount of time to finish as many reps as you can (i.e. 3 min). You can do this for a single exercise or combine two or more exercises.

If you're only using one exercise, you will need to determine the duration of the rest period between the steps. It can either be constant (harder) or equal to the work interval (this way the more work you do, the longer your rest will be - suitable for beginners).

If you use more than one exercise, then again your creativity is your limit on how you will combine them. The easiest option is to start with 1 repetition of each exercise, and then increase the reps on both as you go up. Another way is to only increase the repetitions of the first exercises and keep the other one constant, like in the video below.

Descending pyramid

This is the opposite of the previous workout. Here you start at the top, with a pre-determined number of repetitions and you work your way down to one (or, if you set a time limit, as low as you can get before the time is up). Same as the above, you can combine multiple exercises in multiple ways.

Full pyramid

Now things are starting to get fun. The full pyramid combines the first two: you will start at the base, work your way up to a certain number of reps and then (without repeating the last number), work your way back down to one. Pick one or more exercises, determine the peak and aim to finish as fast as you can.

Double pyramid

My absolute favourite. For this one you will have to pick two different exercises. The best is to choose one lower body and one upper body exercise, such as squats and push-ups for example. You will also determine the peak, let's say 10 repetitions and you will alternate between these two exercises. The first one will be performed as a descending pyramid from 10 to 1, while the second one is going to be an ascending pyramid from 1 to 10. So it's going to look like this:

10 squats, followed by 1 push-up;

9 squats, followed by 2 push-ups;

8 squats and 3 push-ups...

and so on, until you reach 1 squat and 10 push-ups.

With this type of pyramid, you should aim to take as little rest as possible. By choosing exercises for different body parts, you allow your lower body to recover, while you work your upper body and vice versa.

If you're a complete beginner, start with a smaller number, such as 5 or 6 and aim to increase it gradually. If you're fairly active, go for 10. And for a real challenge, try 15 or 20 and see how quickly you can finish the whole thing.

There are many other ways of doing a pyramid workout. Maybe I will go into more detail in another post. But let me explain why I love to combine this type of workouts with some shadow boxing drills.

The shadow pyramid

If you follow my account, you have probably come across some of the little SMURFs I have posted in the past. Many of them are pyramid type of workouts combining a shadow boxing drill and another exercise. Well, there's a very good reason behind that.

In my last post (Don't be that guy) I talked about the importance of repetition when learning a new movement pattern. It takes about 300-500 reps to ingrain a new pattern. I also mentioned the importance of practising with good form, or otherwise you'll end up with a faulty movement pattern and a lot of unnecessary corrective work. And finally, for combat athletes, there is the importance of practising the movement under fatigued conditions, while making sure that the technique doesn't break down as fatigue sets in during the fight.

Double pyramids are a simple and fun way of getting in a relatively large number of repetitions in a short amount of time, while gradually tiring yourself out with the other complementary exercise. This will help ingrain any new movement or technique you're currently working on. You will start with the shadow drill at the peak, performing between 10 and 15 reps (depending on your fitness) and the other exercise at the bottom. This way you will do a lot of reps of the target drill, while you're still fresh. As you progress, the repetitions of the other exercise increase, making you more and more tired. Now you need to focus on keeping good form when performing your shadow, thus teaching your body to never compromise technique.

I like to use squat jumps, push-ups and burpees as the other exercise. Squat jumps will tire your legs, making it harder to do kicks or even checks. Push-ups tire the shoulders and your arms, making it hard to keep your guard up. And burpees will work on everything (make sure you go chest to the floor), including your stamina.

So there you have it. It's not just that I'm fascinated with the Egyptians and their pyramids. There is actually a sound reason behind all this. But most of all, they can be really fun. So if you haven't tried any of these SMURFs before, give it a go and let me know what you think.

Work so hard that people think the aliens did it.

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