Muscle Sport Magazine

Design Your Best Ever Chest Sessions Using Pyramid Training

If there’s one body part which shows people you train, it’s your chest. Want to stretch out your shirts, dominate the gym, and leave no doubt about your lifting prowess? You need to build your chest muscles. But not just any which way. You’ve gotta choose a training technique which blows up your chest so you build width, mass, and density across your entire upper body.


Working on your chest will have a knock-on effect on other body parts. You can’t train your chest without recruiting your shoulders and triceps. And plenty of chest exercises will bring the back and biceps into play, too.


Want to know the very best training method for building serious mass across the chest musculature? Get ready to discover pyramid training. Here’s how to design a pyramid training session that’ll leave your chest pumped.


Anatomy of the chest muscle


Before you design the best workout for your chest, take a look under the hood. There’s more to the chest than the pecs (but they are a good place to start).


The Pectoralis Major is the big fan-shaped muscle which makes up the majority of the chest. Its role is to move your arm across your chest and to help flex the shoulder. This muscle originates at your clavicle, ribs, and sternum, and inserts into the upper part of your humerus bone (the upper arm).


Then there’s the Pectoralis Minor which runs underneath the Pec Major from the shoulder blade to the 3rd, 4th, and 5th ribs. It helps pull the shoulder forward and down. It is small, but important – and very strong.


We should also mention the serratus anterior. Anatomy majors would roll their eyes to see it mentioned in chest anatomy. But most gym guys consider it an important part of the chest musculature. The serratus anterior attaches on the ribs, near the pecs, and moves the scapula up and forward.


What is pyramid training?


Pyramid training refers to the way you design reps and sets. Think of an actual pyramid (let us guess, you’ve got a mental image of a sandy desert, right?) A pyramid is an upside down triangle: wide at the bottom, getting narrower until they form a point at the top.


Pyramid training means designing sets that start low, then ascend to a peak, and then come back down the other side. Higher reps must be lighter weight, and the shortest reps need to be near to your max weight.


Confused? No worries, let’s make it simple. Sometimes a written example can be more helpful than abstract geometrical shapes. Here’s what we mean by a pyramid training style. (This is just an example – we’ll get into the workouts further into this article).


Example: pyramid incline dumbbell press


  • 15 reps with the 12.5kg dumbbells
  • 12 reps with the 15kg dumbbells
  • 10 reps with the 17.5kg dumbbells
  • 8 reps with the 20kg dumbbells
  • 6 reps with the 25kg dumbbells
  • 8 reps with the 20kg dumbbells
  • 10 reps with the 17.5kg dumbbells
  • 12 reps with the 15kg dumbbells
  • 15 reps with the 12.5kg dumbbells


Pyramids don’t always have to be 15, 12, 10, 8, and 6 reps. They could just be 12, 10, and 8. Or you could make bigger leaps and do 15, 10, 8, 5. The aim is to get a ton of work through the target muscle, to pump the tissue full of blood, and to max out volume on one exercise.


Ascending, descending & triangle pyramids


The example we’ve just given is a triangle pyramid – ascending up and then coming back down the other side. But there are plenty of ways to play around with pyramids in your chest workouts.


The Egyptian pyramids might need a wide base (would be kinda weird to see them balancing on their pointed top!) Your workout pyramids can be either way round. You can start with the “long and wide” end and progress through to the “short and narrow” end of the rep range. Or you can switch it up, start with the short reps and descend to the longer reps.


Descending pyramids (where you start heavy with fewer reps, then take it lighter for more reps) has a different set of benefits. You get to tackle your heaviest sets when you’e fresh, so you can recruit more muscle fibres before you fatigue. You can then rep out and drive a ton of blood into the muscle with the lighter sets.


Pyramid training is an awesome way to design a hefty workout which puts a ton of volume through the target muscle group. You can use it for cutting or bulking, and make it work for any goal (strength, size, or endurance).


Pyramids are awesome for hypertrophy because you pack so much volume into each exercise, and take it close to muscular failure every time. It’s gonna be tough, but rewarding!


Pyramid training by percentage


Are you a number guy? If you like to calculate your working sets by percentage, you’re probably wondering exactly how to select your weights for a chest pyramid.


  • 12-15 reps should be around 60% of your 1RM.
  • 10 reps should be around 70% of your 1RM.
  • Peak sets (6-8 reps) should be around 80% of your 1RM.


Got it?


Chest exercise selection for pyramid training


Pyramid training can be done on just about any piece of equipment. But you only want to rest for about 30 seconds between sets. So it’s best to choose pin-loaded machines, cable stacks, or dumbbells. If you do want to use a barbell or a plate-loaded machine, have a willing helper close at hand to strip and load one side of the bar for you! Here are our favorite pyramid exercises for chest day.


Barbell exercises:flat bench, incline bench, decline bench, close grip bench press

Dumbbell exercises:incline dumbbell press, flat dumbbell press, floor press, flat dumbbell flies, incline dumbbell flies, plate pullovers

Cable exercises:standing cable flies, bench cable flies


Antagonist muscle training


Want to take it further? Use pyramid style training to work antagonist (opposing) muscles. Choose a pair of exercises that work opposite muscle groups, like chest and back. This ramps up the volume, recruits even more muscles, and helps burn more calories. A great selection would be flat dumbbell press with chest-supported dumbbell rows, or incline dumbbell press with bent over dumbbell rows. Simple, but crazily effective.


Pyramid training: Things to remember


1 – Always use proper form

Pyramids mean volume, but don’t get lazy or put yourself at risk of injury.

2 – Track your workouts

Keep a note of what weight you used for which part of each pyramid so you can progress over the weeks

3 – Be honest

Are you rested enough to tackle a hefty pyramid in today’s workout? It’s gonna be a lot of volume

4 – Plan your recovery

You need to eat, rest, and sleep well to recover from the sheer volume and load of pyramid training

5 – Don’t hog the equipment

You’ll be on one bit of kit for a long time with a pyramid, so be considerate towards other gym users

6 – Warm up gradually

If your first couple sets feel light, that’s fine. Remember you have a lot of work ahead of you

7 – Stop short of failure

Take any of the sets close to failure and you’ll struggle to complete the entire pyramid.


5 Benefits of pyramid training for the chest


  1. Built in warm-ups –If you start with the high rep, low weight end of the pyramid, you’ll naturally get your warm-up done as part of the exercise.
  2. Density and volume – Most guys back off before reaching enough volume to build serious mass. You can’t skimp on training volume using pyramids!
  3. Fun and simple – Pyramid training isn’t easy but it’s pretty simple, no need to overthink it or use a ton of equipment.
  4. Variety – You’ll get the chance to work through a lot of rep ranges with different weights.
  5. Results – Pyramid training boosts strength, size, mass, and definition – visible results!


Example ascending pyramid session for chest


Exercise 1: barbell bench press

  • Set 1 – 15 reps
  • Set 2 – 12 reps
  • Set 3 – 10 reps
  • Set 4 – 8 reps
  • Set 5 – 6 reps


Exercise 2: incline dumbbell press

  • Set 1 – 12 reps
  • Set 2 – 10 reps
  • Set 3 – 8 reps


Exercise 3: decline chest press (barbell or hammer strength machine)

  • Set 1 – 12 reps
  • Set 2 – 10 reps
  • Set 3 – 8 reps


Exercise 4: flat dumbbell flies

  • Set 1 – 15 reps
  • Set 2 – 12 reps
  • Set 3 – 10 reps


Best supplements for pyramid training


Pyramid training is high volume. Your sessions might stretch out longer than you’re used to. So consider using an intra workout supplement for extra amino acids, BCAAs, and carbohydrates. Stay on top of hydration, and use electrolytes in hotter weather. Have some protein ready for after your workout (a quality whey isolate is ideal). Pyramid training will blow up your chest with impressive density, size, and fullness. There’s no need to take any weird supplements that have risky side effects, like dangerous anabolic steroids.


Get ready for real results


Done with proper form and consistency, pyramid training will give you a chest which will turn heads at any beach. So what are you waiting for? Work hard, recover well, and enjoy the results of smart training.

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