If you have ever exercised, you have likely used some form of pyramid program to either build up to a max effort lift or body weight repetition. You might have even used them with your cardio workouts too. The truth is that, when someone says to do a pyramid workout, there are many options for you.
Here are my top ten GO-TO pyramid routines:
- The Classic PT Pyramid: This one is no surprise. If you want to have a workout that is part warmup, max out, and cool down, do a PT pyramid. It's typically done with pullups, pushups, situps, and dips (sometimes), but you can use any exercise -- calisthenics or weights. Basically, each set gets tougher as you move UP the pyramid until you fail at something. THEN, repeat in reverse order going DOWN the pyramid, and soon the workout will get easier.
- Burpee / Run Pyramid: This one has grown into a favorite. It can be a warmup when done for 5 to 10 minutes before a workout, or it can be its own workout / gut check. Find a place for a short run (basketball court, football field, driveway, etc). Do 1 burpee at the start and run 25m (or more), stop and do 2 burpees, run 25m, 3 burpees, etc. Keep running back and forth until you hit your goal. Usually, we will go from 1 to 10 and then stop, which makes a really good full body warmup. Mixing in dynamic stretches during the 25m distances is a great addition to a pre-workout warmup. The gold standard Burpee Pyramid is to do 1 to 25 with runs in between, to equal 325 total. Try to build up to that if you want that kind of a gut check challenge.
- Pullup / Burpee Pyramid: By simply adding a pullup bar to the above Burpee / Run Pyramid you have a great Push/ Pull workout. Make the runs longer, faster, and as hard as you prefer. You can also add in travel events to and from the pullup bar / burpee area like bear crawls, crab walks, fire man carries, and farmer walks. You are only limited to your imagine for supplemental travel exercises you want to try. A 1 to 20 Pullup / Burpee pyramid is a legit workout totaling 210 pullups and burpees. However, a 1-10-1 full pyramid is 100 pullups / burpees, and still a challenge to many.
- PT Pyramid plus Run: Whatever pyramid you decide to do, you will have multiple sets. If you also need to work on your running pace, try adding a mile run every 5th set of your pyramid. After the 5th set and 1 mile run, you start where you left off with set numbers 6 to 10. This allows you to keep up with your running, work on PT to run transition, and give you a short break from all the reps being done. Many find that they can go higher up the pyramid by adding a 6 to 8 minute mile run every 5th set.
- Bike Pyramid: (also done with Elliptical): Start with Level 1 in manual mode on a stationary bike for 1 minute, and keep the RPMs at 80-100. With each minute that passes, increase the resistance by 1 level. Continue this process until you are having difficulty breathing and/ or peddling. When you get really good at this, you can take the bike to level 20. THEN, repeat the cycle in reverse order. This workout will take 39-40 minutes if you are that advanced. However, if you can only get up to level 10 and back to level 1, your time investment is only 19 minutes. I do the same on an elliptical machine but find that increasing by 2 or 3 levels each minute makes it more challenging.
- Skip Breathing Swim Pyramids: Swimming requires both conditioning and technique. Many people get the technique down to optimal scores long before the conditioning. Here is a quick way to push your cardio when swimming freestyle stroke. Swim 100m at 2 strokes per breath, then 4 strokes per breath, 6 strokes per breath, 8 strokes per breath, and so on. You may find that you will need to breathe prior to those individual arm pulls (strokes) accumulate. That is fine as the goal is to push yourself, open your lungs, and get the heart beating. NEVER DO ALONE, as this is very close to underwater swimming. These are also referred to as hypoxic pyramids.
- Weight Lift Pyramids: Start off with a weight you can do 10 times. Next you will increase the weight and switch to 8 repetitions. Increase the weight and do 6 reps, 4 reps, and 2 reps, increasing the weight with each set. Rest as needed in between each set. Keep doing 2 reps until you only can do 1 repetition of the heavier weight. This is obviously a strength-training program with a warmup and a max out built into the Reverse Pyramid.
- Reverse Running Pyramid: Don't be fooled by the first few sets of this workout. Start this workout slow and maintain an easy pace, but build to a near impossible sprint. We typically use a quarter mile as our repeat distance. Here is how the running pyramid works: Run a quarter mile in 2 minutes, followed by a light stretch and 100m walk Run 1:50 quarter mile – light stretch and 100m walk Run 1:40 quarter mile – light stretch and 100m walk Run 1:30 quarter mile – light stretch and 100m walk Run 1:20 quarter mile – light stretch and 100m walk Run 1:10 quarter mile – light stretch and 100m walk Run 1:00 quarter mile – light stretch and 100m walk Can you break a 1 minute quarter mile? Try. Then repeat in reverse order for up to 3-4 miles of paced intervals.
- Swimming Pyramid: Have you ever looked for a way to break up the monotony of swimming? Try the 100, 200, 300, 400, 500m pyramid. We typically do this one in reverse, starting with the 500m as a warmup swim. Then tread water for a few minutes and do the 400m swim – maybe mix in some hypoxic sets or a different stroke even. Tread for your rest again, and then do the 300m swim and so on. This is a great way to get in 1500m of swimming broken up in a way that is less boring than swimming 1500m or more non-stop. Although, you should be able to do that too.
- Adding Thinking Games to Pyramids: Face it, PT pyramids are monotonous and they will either take you to a happy place to finish or make you realize every single repetition. It all depends on your mindset. Adding thinking games each set as you start to tire is a good way to break up the monotony as well as challenge the thinking part of the brain when the body and brain is low on glycogen. Mix in travelling from the pullup and other areas, but get creative how you travel to and from each set. There are many options of travel to and from your pullup area -- so see what you can develop when the glycogen levels are low and the brain wants to stop working optimally.
This workout tires you physically but still requires you to think creatively and cognitively (math /numbers). Why is this important? Well in the Tactical Ops world where you are tired, hungry, and stressed out, having the ability to still think is a skill that can be enhanced by adding these types of events to your day.
Enjoy the Pyramids!