3 Minimalist Muscle Pyramid Methods for Size and Strength
- Pyramids involve starting with a number of reps and working down (or up) in reps from set to set.
- Done correctly, the right pyramid can help you build size and strength at a much faster rate than straight sets, like good old 3×10.
One size fits all.
How many times have you heard that phrase?
From T-shirts to diets to workout programs, everyone is looking for a one size fits all solution. But everyone’s situation is different.
To be blunt…
There’s simply no such thing as a single solution that’s right for everyone.
As a former 103-pound skinny runt turned fitness professional, I know the gym is the last place to look for a one size fits all answer. And yet….
Every day, enthusiastic guys and girls download a one size fits all program from the internet, or tear out a “guaranteed” shoulder building workout from FLEX magazine. Even worse, a co-worker convinces them that his or her method is the be-all-end-all foolproof trick to training “the right way.”
We’ve all seen it. And hell, most of us have done it. I know I have….more times than I’d care to admit.
Truth be told, there isn’t a one size fits all, especially when it comes to building strength and muscle.
However, there are basic foundational components of muscle building pyramid that you need in order to take your strength and physique to their peak heights (and, you know, look great naked!).
And I’m going to lay down the basics of getting stronger and building muscle for you in this article by looking at 3 rep-scheme pyramids that I mention in Minimalist Muscle…
But first, let’s look at why basic rep pyramids are the best way to build massive muscle.
Why Rep Schemes Matter?
Do rep schemes really matter all that much? Does Aaron Rodgers slang touchdowns like it’s going out of style? Of course rep schemes matter.
See, even though not everybody in the gym has the same goal per se, their chosen rep schemes will determine whether they reach their particular goal in the fastest amount of time possible, or not.
Different rep schemes place your nervous system, joints, ligaments, and muscles under unique stressors that determine how exactly they adapt. This is why natural bodybuilders first get strong, then emphasize a fair amount of volume.
This is also why some powerlifters can stay relatively small, but hoist barbells meant for a crane.
These pyramids provide a method to the madness, calculations for the chaos that is your fitness journey.
They keep your workouts on a directed pathway that promises strength, lean muscle, and a physique that performs as good as it looks.
Without a rep pyramid in place, you’re merely closing your eyes and swinging for the fences, hoping that you’ll hit a home run. But it’s more likely you’ll strikeout rather than building muscle without getting fat.
So check out the following rep schemes so that you get to the point of the pyramid (build strength and muscle) as fast as possible, just like you can in the new Minimalist Muscle Blitz.
Strength Pyramid (5/4/3/2/1)
Now, this isn’t a one size fits all recommendation…
However, I do suggest that when someone first steps foot into the gym, his or her goal should be as simple as this: Get stronger.
Strength is the foundation of not only lifting heavier weights (I know, obvious, right?), but also of building better muscle. The more weight you can lift, the more your muscles have to grow in order to adapt to that load.
Think about this with me for a minute.
If Jim bicep curls 30 lbs. for 8 reps, and Tom bicep curls 50 lbs. for 8 reps, who’s going to have the bigger biceps?
Well, damn near every time, it will by Tom.
Because Tom is stronger than Jim. He can create more tension in his muscles to generate force and move the dumbbell. This same tension needed to build strength is a primary driver of muscle hypertrophy or #gains for those in the #fitfam generation.
As I cover in Minimalist Muscle, all massive muscle building begins with a good foundation of strength. And that’s why the 5/4/3/2/1 Strength pyramid makes its appearance first of the 3 pyramids I’m going to mention.
Here’s how the Strength Pyramid works:
Let’s say you’re on the bench press and your starting weight is 155 lbs.
- Complete 2 warm up sets with 135 lbs.
- 155 x 5, rest 2-3 minutes
- 175 x 4, rest 2-3 minutes
- 195 x 3, rest 2-3 minutes
- 215 x 1
This rep scheme will warm you up to lift bigger loads in the gym, and as a result not only increase strength frequently but build better muscle as well.
Want to develop a workout plan around the 5/4/3/2/1 method?
Muscle Building Pyramid (12/10/8/6)
The Muscle Building Pyramid is next on this list of rep scheme pyramids because it’ll help you to build muscle while lifting relatively heavy weights.
Not as heavy as the Strength Pyramid, but hey, that’s why it’s called the Strength Pyramid.
This rep scheme in particular increases mechanical tension, stimulates metabolic stress and increases muscular damage. These are the three proponents of massive muscle growth.
Mechanical tension comes from the “time under tension” concept. The more significant the amount of tension, or the more amount of time your muscles are under tension, the more muscle fibers your body will recruit to combat that tension, and as a result, the more muscle you’ll build, faster.
Metabolic stress is what you call “the pump.” When you get a pump, your body builds up lactate, hydrogen ions, creatine, and other metabolites, while keeping blood in your muscles… And this balloon sized pump leads to muscle growth.
Lastly, muscular damage is a group of micro muscle fiber tears that initiate an inflammatory response. This response is necessary for muscle growth. And even though you shouldn’t chase after “soreness” it’s a good indicator that this necessary process has taken place.
Here’s how the Muscle Building Pyramid works using the bench press:
Because the reps are higher, you’ll decrease the weight.
- 135 x 12, rest for 2 minutes
- 150 x 10, rest for 2 minutes
- 165 x 8, rest for 2 minutes
- 180 x 6
As I mentioned above, this pyramid includes the three elements of building muscle: mechanical tension, metabolic stress, and muscle damage.
Reverse Pyramid (6,8,10,12)
No surprises here. This one’s exactly what it sounds like.
For the Reverse Pyramid, you’ll take the pyramid I listed above and put your thang down flip it and reverse it, Missy Elliot Style.
Why would you reverse they pyramid?
To lift the heaviest weight that you can, you must lift when you’re not yet fatigued. A basic but huge error most lifters make is they hit numerous heavy sets warming up without sufficient rest. Then they bomb out when it comes time to lift heavy.
The reverse pyramid fixes this issue by ramping up to a heavy work set before you’re tired out. You’ll lift heavier to build strength and muscle, then decrease the weight as you fatigue.
Heavier weights on the first set will increase muscle fiber recruitment on the subsequent sets, leading to faster strength gains and more muscle-building metabolic stress on the higher rep sets.
This isn’t the most common pyramid you’ll see in the gym but it’s an effective way get strong and build an impeccable physique.
Here’s how the Reverse Pyramid works with the same bench press example I used above:
- Complete 2 warm up sets with 135 lbs.
- 185 x 6, rest 2 minutes
- 170 x 8, rest 2 minutes
- 150 x 10, rest 2 minutes
- 135 x 12
Note: In Minimalist Muscle, I take you through a specific warm-up so your body is ready to rock and roll by the time you do your first work set.
Notice that even though your 10 and 12 rep sets didn’t change from the above example. You lifted a total of 10 lbs. more (185 vs. 180; 170 vs. 165) during the entire exercise because you had better strength to lift heavier at the beginning of the exercise.
If you want to switch things up a bit with the Reverse Pyramid, check out more ways to utilize it by grabbing the Minimalist Muscle Blitz.
There is no one-size-fits-all program for every person in the gym.
But you do need a method to the muscle-building madness if you want to see results, fast.
Try out one of the 3 pyramids I listed about to build strength and muscle mass the better way.
Also, check out Minimalist Muscle, my new revolutionary program to help you build muscle and look great naked without living in the gym.
No fluff. Just the stuff that works.
For more rest pause training and other training techniques to build muscle faster, grab your copy of the Minimalist Muscle Blitz today!