040618 Loading patterns

040618 Loading patterns

Successful training programs apply a number of loading variations to consistently challenge the neuromuscular system. These range from the simple pyramid to the flat pyramid.

The basic pyramid loading pattern has been an effective tool for many successful strength enthusiasts. In this commonly used pattern the load progressively increases as the repetitions and sets decrease. For example after a general and a movement specific warm up the practitioner will begin with a set of five to six repetitions at 85% of the 1RM. After an appropriate rest interval this initial set is followed by another set of three to for repetitions at 90% of 1RM. Successful completion of these preliminary sets leads to a set of two to three repetitions at 95 1RM. The final set is at 100% with one repetition. This completes the sequence at this basic level.

The double pyramid begins as the basic. However, once the scheme reaches the 95% level, it repeats the 95% load. The schedule then calls for a set at 90% for two repetitions, which is followed by sets at 85% for three repetitions and a final one at 80 for repetitions.

A skewed pyramid improves upon the double pyramid in this aspect; the load constantly increases throughout the session until the last where a built in taper appears. The last set is performed, with good form, as quickly as possible.

The major disadvantage to all of these layouts is the load varies greatly between light to heavy. The load goes from hypertrophy to maximum strength. Nothing is worked effectively. There is a more efficient method of becoming powerful.

The flat pyramid loading pattern provides the maximum training outcome. Maximal strength gains result from intensity levels above 80%. The lower ranges contribute very little to the eventual outcome of power, unless the goal is speed development. Neurological adaptations occur as the physiological stresses exceed the 80% 1RM.

Keeping the intensity level in the correct strength building range throughout the entire series is the forte of the flat pyramid. The body is not confused by wide percentage changes of intensity and adapts to the imposed load.

The flat pyramid begins with a specific movement warm up then moves right into the strength ranges of intensity. The chart shows this scheme very well.

70% 80% 80% 80% 80% 70%
80% 90% 90% 90% 90% 80%
86% 95% 95% 95% 95% 85%

*Serious Strength Training,
Bompa, T.O., Pasquale, M.D., and Cornacchia. L. J.
Human Kinetics, 2003

Various load patterns can be developed with the flat pyramid. Focus on the objective and insert the proper percentage of intensity in the working portions of the scheme, i.e. the center four sets at the chosen percentage values represent the target goal levels.

Author: ActivelyFitSeniors

Danny M. O’Dell, M. A., CSCS*D is the co-owner of The Explosivelyfit Strength Training Gym, located in Nine Mile Falls, WA. He is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist, with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. He has a Master's Degree in Human Services and is a strength and conditioning coach in a local School District along with being a regular contributor to the Washington State Coaches Association magazine.