Ask Stew: PT Pyramid Mixed with Weight Training

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Soldiers complete exercises during physical training.
U.S. soldiers, with Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 6th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division, complete various exercises in a monthly physical training event in the Central Command area of responsibility, Dec. 14, 2020. (Spc. Jensen Guillory/Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve)

The PT pyramid is a classic go-to workout system that continues to help people build a solid base of stamina and endurance with common calisthenics-testing exercises today. By design, it is a warmup, max out, and cooldown all built into one efficient system. It is also a great way to monitor progress.

It is recommended that it not be the only system you use. You should mix in cardio activity (long distance and short/fast) and strength training. This question comes from a young man who loves the pyramid and prefers to make changes to it: 

Stew,

I have been doing the PT pyramid since I first read about it at 15 years old. Now at 25, I can look back and say that it has been instrumental in high school sports, staying fit in college and in my current federal law enforcement job. I am curious about other ways to use it, perhaps with a split routine -- with half of the workout being calisthenics and half being weight training exercises.  Any suggestions on how to make those substitutions? Thanks, Agent Smith

I, too, have been using the PT pyramid for decades. In fact, I did exactly what you are asking this week on an upper-body day. This is a pretty long workout so you can break it up as needed; I finished the cardio portion during lunch in a second session. The goal is to start the PT pyramid off like you normally do:

1. Do the first half of the PT pyramid as a warmup:

Set 1: 1 pull-up, 2 push-ups, 3 abs of choice, 2 dips

Set 2: 2 pull-ups, 4 push-ups, 6 abs of choice, 4 dips.

Set 3: 3, 6, 9, 6

Set 4: 4, 8, 12, 8

Set 5: 5, 10, 15, 10 …

Keep going up the pyramid (6, 7, 8, 9) until set 10: 10 pull-ups, 20 push-ups, 30 abs of choice, 20 dips

Now you should be sufficiently warmed up.  It is up to you, but you can mix in some dynamic stretches between sets, or add in a half-mile run every fifth set like the below workout does.

Note: if you cannot complete a full 1-10-1 pyramid, just go up to five or six, and that is the end of your “warmup.”

PT pyramid: Pull-ups/pulldowns x 1, push-ups x 2, abs of choice x 3, dips x 2

-- 1-10-1 (but go as high as you can -- repeat in reverse order but with weighted exercises)

Exercise pyramid 10 steps

Every 5th set, run 400 meters at goal mile pace

Reverse order: Now for the back side of the PT pyramid -- add weights and make them heavier (as possible/desired) as you progress down the pyramid. Sets 11-15 will be relatively light as the repetitions are still pretty high, but the last five sets can be heavier weights.  Here is a sample of the exercises you can select, the repetitions and weight you can try:

Set 11: 10 pulldowns or weighted pull-ups, 20 bench press, 30 weighted abs of choice, 20 military press

  • Sample weight -- 120-pound pulldowns or 20-pound weight with pull-ups, 135 pounds on bench, 15-pound medicine ball for twisting abs, 30-pound dumbbells for military press.

Set 12: 9 weighted pullups, 18 bench press, 27 abs of choice, 18 military press

Set 13: 8 heavy pulldowns, 16 bench press, 24 abs of choice, 16 military press

Set 14: 7 weighted pull-ups, 14 bench press, 21 abs of choice, 14 military press

Set 15: 6 heavy pulldowns, 12 bench press, 18 abs of choice, 12 military press

Cardio break (run, bike, elliptical, etc.) for 5-10 minutes. Now go heavier, if possible.

Set 16: 5 weighted pull-ups, 10 bench press, 15 abs of choice, 10 military press

Set 17: 4 heavy pulldowns, 8 bench press, 12 abs of choice, 8 military press

Set 18: 3 weighted pull-ups, 6 bench press, 9 abs of choice, 6 military press

Set 19: 2 heavy pulldowns, 4 bench press, 6 abs of choice, 4 military press

Set 20: 1 weighted pull-up, 2 bench press, 3 abs of choice, 2 military press

Top it off with a Lightweight Shoulders routine and a 1.5-mile timed run.

The later cardio pyramid we added was the following bike and swim pyramid:

Bike pyramid: Keep rpms at 75-100 and start off at resistance level 1 for one minute. Increase the resistance by two levels every minute for 10 minutes. then repeat in reverse order. This takes 19 minutes.

Swim pyramid:

Swim 100-meter warmup any stroke and stretch.

Swim 200 meters with a mix of freestyle and any stroke for 100 meters each

Swim 300 meters timed (any stroke)

Swim 400 meters with fins with alternating 50 meters of freestyle and back flutter kicking

Swim 500 meters with fins timed

There are countless ways to do pyramids. They also are known as drop sets or increasing intensity and distance for each set workout.  Enjoy the new addition to your routine.

Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Visit his Fitness eBook store if you’re looking to start a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to stew@stewsmith.com.

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