The Flat Pyramid Approach
There are many ways to skin a cat when it comes to strength training sets and I would never declare one approach superior given the amount of subjectivity involved. Training a high level powerlifting competitor is not the same as a training a ball sport athlete, and not the same as training the general population. At Performance360, we’ve always leaned heavily on what’s called the Flat Pyramid Approach on days when we have our dedicated strength work because of its overall efficacy in getting results in a concentrated amount of time.
The Flat Pyramid Approach is when you build up to a working weight, and then you perform that working weight for all of your sets at a fixed amount of reps for each set. For example, a few warm up sets and then you settle into 225 x 5 for the entire tier (or three reps, four reps, whatever is on the board). The amount of set reps remaining fixed is the key component to the flat pyramid and the reason that it’s so beneficial is the amount of work you perform at high percentages. You can certainly increase your weight in the workout a little, but the key is the fixed volume and staying at a relatively similar percentage, and not reducing the amount of reps you perform in order to accommodate more weight.
To understand why we prefer the Flat Pyramid approach, it’s helpful to understand that ultimately, there are three major load classifications for our strength training tiers: medium, heavy, and maximum.
– Medium would be our higher rep approaches around eight reps, targeting more muscle growth.
– Heavy would be our middle rep approaches around five reps, targeting a combination of strength and muscle growth.
– Maximum would be our lower rep approaches around one to three reps, targeting more pure strength.
The reason the Flat Pyramid is so effective is because the overall amount of work you perform in a single load classification. You aren’t bouncing all over the place with our program design options as we’ll explain below, so you’re able to achieve a singular output very well within 16-20 minutes. As Dr. Tudor Bompa of the famed Periodization Straining for Sports offers, “The physiological advantage of the flat pyramid is that by using a load of one intensity level, the best neuromuscular adaptation for maximum strength is achieved without confusing the body with several intensities.”
This would be in contrast to wave loading, double pyramids, and other forms of strength training that actively increase load and varying percentages each set, thus bouncing back and forth between medium, heavy, and maximum intensities and ultimately never really targeting any one to a significant degree. An example of this would be five reps at 225, three reps at 250, and one rep at 275. We use wave loading on a macro level, meaning we alternate between rep counts over a period of weeks, but I am not a major fan of it for daily training due to the limited volume in one particular load classification.
We like all approaches, and as yesterday was a great example of more of a wave loading approach (ten reps moving down into six progressively), today is a prime example of a Flat Pyramid approach where you’ll be consistently working at either eight reps (more of a medium intensity focused on developing muscle) or four reps (more of a heavy intensity focused on building strength).
In a format where we go for the maximum benefit as efficiently as possible, the Flat Pyramid has proven to work quite well.