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Physiological Response to Pyramid Repetition Scheme

Take Home Points

  1. High-intensity training increases lactate response during a pyramid repetition scheme.
  2. This form of training requires frequent monitoring for over-training and injury.
High intensity, short rest exercise is commonly used in exercise. This demanding form of training is believed to influence different energy systems, but has minimal research. Most of the praise for high-intensity short rest exercise is from HIIT, CrossFit®, and Insanity®. These forms of exercises are vastly different than the traditional periodization programs suggested by strength and conditioning certifications. Even though short rest training is not new, the associated high intensity (approximately 25% higher intensity) is novel and has high potential for over-training or overreaching.
Szivak (2012) evaluated the physiological effects of an acute, high intensity (75% 1 RM), short rest resistance exercise protocol. Specifically, nine trained men and nine trained women performed a pyramid scheme of back squat, bench press, and deadlift, beginning with 10 repetitions each, then 9, then 8, and so on until 1 repetition on the final set. If the subject was unable to perform with correct form, then the weight was decreased by 5% 1RM. Diet was controlled the day of the test with a standardized breakfast with 20/35/45 protein/fat/carbohydrate ratio.

Results of Physiological Response to Pyramid Repetition Scheme
Significant time effects were noted on lactate and cortisol, with significant sex effects observed in lactate response, but not in cortisol response. Total work was higher in men and directly correlated with lactate, but not cortisol. The average volume of lactate and cortisol were considerably greater than those produced in typical resistance exercise programming.

The results suggest relative intensity and rest period length are important factors that determining metabolic and adrenal stress.

Practical Implication
The effects of high-intensity training through a pyramid training approach stresses the anaerobic system. 

Further research is necessary to understand long term effects, specifically on the cellular level. If using this training intensity, monitor fatigue and failures, as the injury risk is likely higher due to the higher chance of failure.

At COR, our personal training and boot camps include HIIT and pyramid schemes, with close monitoring and biomechanical instructions. We also provide monthly consultations for each of our clients.



  1. Szivak TK, Hooper DR, Kupchak BK, Apicella JM, Saenz C, Maresh CM, Denegar CR, Kraemer WJ. Adrenal Cortical Responses to High Intensity, Short Rest, Resistance Exercise in Men and Women. J Strength Cond Res. 2012 May 3.