What is a ‘Descending Pyramid’ Workout, and Why is it Important for Injury Prevention?

Last month, I had the pleasure of chatting with Rachel Lapidos of Well + Good to discuss injury prevention as it relates to exercise.

While exercise is beneficial for health and can be used to rehabilitate and prevent injuries, the specific exercises we choose and the order we choose to execute them in, matters. We commonly think of heavy lifting as the issue in the gym that can cause back problems, however several factors play into a scenario of “things gone wrong.”

A pyramid style workout is one that is designed to start low, with increasing load as you progress through your routine. This can be seen as increasing the number of repetitions, increasing the weight, or increasing the length of time a position is held as you cycle through the workout. In this example we will look at a circuit with 3 sets of bicep curls, tricep extensions, and plank. Increasing repetitions might look like:

Set 1: 5 reps

Set 2: 10 reps

Set 3: 15 reps

Increasing weight would look like:

Set 1: 10 pounds

Set 2: 12 pounds

Set 3: 15 pounds

Increasing time (for holding the plank) would look like:

Set 1: 30 seconds

Set 2: 45 seconds

Set 3: 60 seconds

The bad news is, this is a very common method for designing a workout, and can pose a risk; the tissues become more fatigued as we progress through the workout, and the safety threshold begins to lower. Form and alignment can become compromised, muscles lose their ability to stabilize joints, and the risk for injury increases.

The good news is, this issue can be partly mitigated by simply reversing the structure of the pyramid. By beginning with the highest number of reps, the highest weight, or the longest holds, you are challenging the tissues when they are at their strongest, and progressively reducing the load as the body becomes tired. You get the same quality workout, while keeping yourself safe.

If you enjoyed this content, check out the full article here. Speaking of injury prevention, you can find my Top Exercises To Avoid If You Experience Back Pain here.

There is a lot of information floating around on do’s and don’ts when it comes to exercise. Recommendations change frequently, and fitness trends come and go. If you get tripped up, come back to these 3 simple principles:

Move the body.

Not always in the same way.

Rest in between.

Until next time my friends!