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Muscle Building Pyramid Set Workouts

Muscle build
(Image credit: Unknown)

Sometimes you have to shake things up to take your muscle-building routine to the next level. One of our favourite tricks to work your muscles and get faster growth is to use pyramid sets. This has nothing to do with the ancient Egyptians. It’s about increasing the weight that you lift with each set of an exercise while reducing the number of reps.
The purpose of this is to exhaust your muscle fibres, maximising growth potential and making them bigger, fast. There’s no such thing as a ‘slightly activated’ muscle fibre – they are either engaged completely or not at all. By taking the muscle through an increasing range of weight while decreasing reps, you target each category of fibres in turn, completely exhausting the whole muscle.
Doing a whole workout of pyramid sets would take a long time and could be counter-productive, overtraining the muscles and sending the body into a destructive metabolism. Instead, strategically inserting pyramid sets into a workout will give you all the benefits of this technique in a manageable way.

The four-week pyramid plan here is divided into a chest, arms and shoulders workout, a back and core workout and finally a legs and abs workout. The low weight or bodyweight exercises in the workouts will also target any stray muscle fibres to promote growth across the whole muscle – a technique known as post-exhaustion.
Always eat a high-protein meal (20-30g protein) within two hours of working out, and within four weeks you’ll have built yourself some rock-solid muscle.

How to do this workout

Do workouts A, B and C once a week each, leaving at least a day between workouts. Warm up with five minutes on a cardio machine and sets of press-ups and bodyweight squats to raise your heart rate and get your muscles fired up. To begin a pyramid group of sets, choose a weight you can lift 12 times and use that for the ten-rep set. Then increase the weight by 2-3kg for each subsequent set. Rest for 60 seconds between each set and for two minutes between each exercise. For the non-pyramid sets you should use light weights or your bodyweight only and concentrate on maintaining form.

Workout A

Bench press

Sets 4  Reps 10/8/6/4 

Target: chest, triceps 

Place your hands shoulder-width apart on the bar, brace your core and press straight up.

Gym ball dumbbell curl

Sets 3  Reps 10 

Target: biceps 

Brace your core and retract your shoulder blades, keeping your lower back neutral and your torso static as you curl the weights up.

Push press

Supersets 3  Reps

Target: shoulders, lower back 

Bend your knees slightly, then explosively press the weight up as you straighten your legs.

Front and lateral raise

Sets 3  Reps

Target: shoulders 

Raise the weights in straight lines to shoulder height. Swap sides with each rep.

Dumbbell triceps extension

Sets 4  Reps 10/8/6/4 

Target: triceps 

Raise the weights until they are above your face, not your chest.

T press-up

Sets 3  Reps 10 

Target: chest, core, triceps 

Lower your body into a press-up and then explode up with one arm, raising the weight above your head.

Workout B

Dumbbell row

Sets 4  Reps 10/8/6/4 

Target: upper back, core 

Keep your torso still and your lower back neutral.

Gym ball back extension

Sets 3  Reps 10 

Target: lower back 

Raise your torso until your body forms a straight line from hips to shoulders.

Bent-over lower traps raise

Sets 4  Reps 10/8/6/4 

Target: middle back, traps 

Hold the dumbbells with your thumbs turned out and your palms facing forwards.


Sets 3  Reps 10 

Target: lats 

Squeeze your shoulder blades together as you pull yourself up.

Hang clean

Sets 3  Reps 10/8/6/4 

Target: back, shoulders, core 

Keep your back in a neutral position throughout.


Sets 3  Reps 10 

Target: core 

From a press-up position, bend your right knee and rotate your hips. Pause at the top of the movement before rotating to the left.

Workout C


Sets 4  Reps 10/8/6/4 

Target: hamstrings, glutes, core 

Keep your lower back in a neutral, unstressed position throughout.


Sets 4  Reps 30 seconds 

Target: abs, lower back 

Keep your body in a straight line between your heels and neck and don’t allow your hips to sag.

Barbell hack squat

Sets 4 Reps 10/8/6/4 

Target: quads, glutes, lower back   

Keep your chest out and lower until your thighs are level with the floor. Drive straight up through your heels until the bar hits your backside.

Lateral lunge

Sets 3  Reps 10 

Target hamstrings, quads, adductors 

Alternate sides with each rep.

Medicine ball leg drops

Sets 4  Reps 10/8/6/4 

Target: lower abs 

Use a heavier medicine ball for each set. Lower your legs under control but don’t let your feet touch the floor until the end of each set.

Rotational lunge

Sets 3 Reps 10 

Target: quads, hamstrings, groin

Alternate sides with each rep.

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