Introduction

When you initially start weight training in a gym environment, you are usually issued with a relatively straight forward program to follow. There’s nothing wrong with this at all and it will allow you to gradually ease into a new form of physical exercise, building both muscle and self confidence along the way.

This initial program will more than likely include a selection of what is known as straight sets. This basically means that for each exercise, you complete the same number of sets, using the same weight and for the same number of repetitions. As you begin to develop, so do your training needs. In order to continually make progressions, you must keep your target muscles guessing whilst at the same time shocking your muscular system into continual growth and strength developments. This is only achieved through regularly altering your training program. It also helps to keep you interested whilst at the same time reducing monotony.

One way to alter your weight training program is to move away from these straight sets. Two methods utilised frequently by experienced gym users include what are known as drop-sets and pyramids. This article will explore these two alternative methods, providing explanations for their use and potential benefits achieved.

Drop-Sets:

As the name suggests, drop-sets involve dropping the resistance after each set to allow you to extend beyond your normal ceasing point. This technique involves starting with the normal resistance you would have selected during straight sets and exercising to exhaustion. Once muscular failure has been achieved, simply reduce the resistance and repeat. The idea is to continually reach muscular failure, each time reducing the resistance so you can continue to exercise without rest. In theory, you can complete as many drop-sets as you like, but most individuals select between 3-5 drops before resting.  

Here is an example of how the drop-set technique could be utilised within a chest session whilst completing the bench press. Initially start with 100kg and perform the exercise to exhaustion before dropping the weight to 75kg and again immediately performing the exercise until no more repetitions can be achieved. Finally, drop the weight to 50kg and repeat above.

Pyramid Training

With the above drop-set technique you start with a heavy resistance and reduce the weight accordingly, ending on a lighter resistance. Conversely, with the pyramid technique you work in the opposite direction, starting with a lighter resistance and building up on each set. You also manipulate and control the actual number of repetitions performed each time, rather than simply working to exhaustion. The idea behind this technique is that as the resistance becomes greater, the repetitions you are required to perform reduce to give you a balance throughout each set. Again, most individuals select between 3-5 pyramid levels within each set performed. Unlike the drop-set technique however, this method can include rest intervals.

Here is an example of how the pyramid technique could be utilised within a chest session whilst completing the bench press. Initially start with 80kg and perform 12 repetitions of the exercise. Then select 90kg but on this occasion you are only required to perform 10 repetitions. Finally, select 100kg and perform 8 repetitions of the exercise. Remember, a rest interval can be utilised on this method between each weight increment.

The Benefits

The idea behind drop-sets is to increase both muscular mass and endurance by pushing the target muscle to complete failure on numerous occasions. Pyramids however, allow you to gradually increase your workout intensity through a scheduled session. There are no rules concerning selecting the resistance as it is unique to the individual performing the exercise. With regards to the repetitions required on the pyramid, again this has not been specified. It may be that you wish to perform a 12-10-8 combination or an 8-6-4 combination, it really is that flexible and each technique can be applied to almost any exercise.

Both techniques look to get more out of the target muscle than the simple straight sets. Due to the additional stresses placed through your body, it is not recommended that these training methods be utilised continuously. The reason for this is simply that your body will require greater rest periods between sessions to allow the target muscle to both recover and grow. Again, to some extent, rest periods will be determined by your ability to recover and your pain threshold. Be guided by your body however and look out for signs of over training.

With all this in mind, why not switch up your straight set sessions and experiment with the above?