Strength training pyramids have been around for decades in the bodybuilding community. The concept is rather simple, you start with a load and progressively do more work until you reach failure or near failure. There are a couple different styles to this pyramid, Ascending, Descending, and Triangle. Ascending being going up in either weight or reps, Descending being going down or weight or reps, and Triangle being, and Ascending and Descending pyramid combined into one. Pyramids are great for hypertrophy, volume, and intensity. We can also, and have, see/seen this format used in CrossFit. 16.2/20.2, are good examples of a pyramid test in the sport, but how can we use this for training purposes, and what are the benefits of using this pyramid format for conditioning?
For the sport a pyramid style of training can do a couple of things for us or our athletes. It can; teach them the sport, give them volume under sport specific fatigue, and give them gradual touches of intensity. All very beneficial to improving an athletes capacity, and ability to compete. Let’s break down an example:
In a 2 Min Window
15/12 Cal C2 Bike
10 Lateral Burpees Over the Bar
5 Squat Cleans building
Rest 1 min
Weights Male: 135/185/195/205/215/225/215/205/195/185/135
Weighted Female: 95/135/140/145/150/155/150/145/140/135/95
Percentages: Set 1/11: 30, Sets 2-10 Building from 55-68 and back down.
Teaching the Sport:
Since we only have 2 minutes to get this work done, we have to work relatively quickly, and with the rest we will have some time to recover, in order to keep the intensity high. If you instruct the athletes to find places to push the pace they can then begin to learn where they might need to recover, when they need to back off the C2 bike or the burpees, where they can push the burpees/bike, and where they might need to push the cleans. This provides a great opportunity for the athlete to learn and understand their body, and the fatigue that is going to be accompanied with the sport. This is not the only method of a pyramid; we can also use a rep increase style as well. Which would be used, as a learning experience, to teach the athlete speed of contractions and how to move a specific movement or movements faster.
While we have mostly seen ascending pyramids in the sport, triangles tend to work best for teaching purposes, as well as volume. The goal of this is to get to one or two steps before failure, and then ride the pyramid back down. This will be where most of the learning occurs for the athlete as they are now in a highly fatigued state, and they will need to teach their body how to recover, while still working at a high threshold, similar to the sport.
As you can see the athletes have touched 50-60 cleans, 100-120 burpees, and 150-180 Cals of C2 Biking. As well as 30-36 minutes of work. Hitting several different energy systems over the course of that time. In the above example the weight starts out light. A common characteristic of strength pyramids is to include warm up sets ino the pyramid. This can also be done for Conditioning pyramids in order to increase your volume, and time in an aerobic or threshold zone.
As mentioned in the previous section on teaching, going in up in reps can help you to better understand how to speed up or slow down contractions. If we want to include the Window time frame as a variable and we push that time out longer we can also use this as a way to increase volume both of movements and aerobic work.
The Final Benefit comes from the intensity component. As mentioned we want to take these pyramids about 1-2 intervals from failure and then bring it back down. This is called the triangle pyramid, and has the most carry over for the sport because it has all 3 benefits. We get a dose of intensity in our last interval, and then we get the benefit of working with sport specific fatigue on the way back down. This also is keeping the intensity higher on a couple intervals right after our last one as the fatigue and RPE will be much higher. This allows us to get a touch of intensity without overdoing it and putting ourselves into too much of a training hole. This is a GREAT method for more powerful athletes who really just need touches on intensity and then backing off into more aerobic work inside of their sessions. But i works well for everyone, due the other characteristics mentioned in this blog.
This is only just one example of what we can do with a conditioning pyramid. There is an endless amount of creativit that accompanies this format of training. You could have the athlete stop two steps before failure, in order to dial back the intensity and shift more towards a volume oriented pyramid. You could expand the time to complete the window in order to do the same thing, You could increase the weight or reps in order to provide more intensity, or you could just have the athlete ascend the pyramid in order to hit a maximal effort session. The possibilities are endless and really left up to the coaches imagination and what they are hoping to get out of their Athletes training! If you are new to implementing these you should monitor the athletes to see how they respond, an easier session or rest day the next day might be in order, but the benefits of this format shouldn’t be overlooked! Give it a try and have fun experimenting!