This is the last of our re-publishing of of past articles from Team ICG® Master Trainer Jim Karanas.

Pyramid training is a method typically used by strength athletes and body builders.  A session starts with high reps and low weight and incrementally adds weight while reducing reps per set.

Pyramids are typically described as ascending or descending.  Descending pyramids are also called reverse pyramids:  you warm up, then start with your heaviest weight.  From there, you decrease the total load, while trying to do a few more repetitions.  Triangle (or up-down) pyramids include both ascending and descending pyramids.

Pyramids are less commonly used by cardiovascular athletes, although they”™re strongly recommended by many pros.  Ascending pyramids are the only type discussed, and the format involves decreasing time with increasing intensity.  An example is a 4-3-2-1 ascending pyramid:  4 minutes easy, 3 minutes moderate, 2 minutes hard, 1 minute very hard.  Descending and triangle pyramids are seldom referenced.

In previous posts, I”™ve referred to ascending and descending pyramids as ladders and referred to a triangle pyramid as a pyramid.  I change the nomenclature here simply to align with how other trainers refer to these training patterns.

The infrequent use of pyramids in indoor cycling always amazed me.  Rowing introduced me to structured cardiovascular workouts.  I rowed competitively on the water in the ‘70s and competitively indoors in the ‘90s.  Rowing ergometer workouts investigate every possible variation of pyramid training and provide a useful template for indoor cycling instructors.  With that, you can create an almost endless variety of trainings.

Whether or not you have a computer on your bike, you have four primary variables:  cadence, resistance, intensity, and time.  In cycling, most ascending pyramids use only time and intensity.  The interval gets shorter and the intensity (RPE, HR or power) goes up.  This overlooks many potential training opportunities.  What about time and cadence?  Interval gets shorter and cadence goes up.

What if you involved more variables?  How about time, cadence and intensity?  Interval gets shorter, cadence goes up, but RPE, HR or power output has to stay the same.  This requires a subtle adjustment in the resistance as well as a greater integration of breathing to facilitate relaxation.  The result is greater efficiency at high cadences.

How about an ascending pyramid to build strength at higher RPM and improve the ability to spin a harder gear?  Time and resistance stay constant but cadence increases.  Perform three 1-minute intervals with a fixed resistance and ascending cadence (80-100-120 or moderate, fast, faster).  You can also put three of those pyramids together and add in ascending resistance.  After each pyramid, you increase the fixed resistance level for the next pyramid.

How about a reverse pyramid to facilitate strength development?  The intervals get longer as the cadence decreases, but intensity must increase.  This requires massive addition of resistance, as the slower RPM will tend to drop the HR or reduce power.  Increasing intensity while cadence is slowing requires a very hard gear.  Increasing duration as this happens is quite challenging.

Up-Down (triangle) pyramids are by far my favorite.  An 11-minute triangle consists of intervals that are formatted 3-2-1-2-3.  How about cadence going up and down (80-100-120-100-80) while intensity goes up and down?  I rarely see people coach the down side of this kind of pyramid effectively.

One of my favorite ways to coach this pyramid is to extend a super-threshold effort.  First, these 11 minutes are done after extensive warm-up. The ascending and descending portions of the pyramid are performed at different intensities.  I”™ll use HR percentages of max just for an example:  75%, 85%, 90%, 88%, 86%.  As the super-threshold effort begins to induce muscle failure, you drop the HR just enough to squeeze out the next interval.

You can vary this.  How about using the same ascending pyramid for HR but with a fixed cadence at 100 RPM?  On the descending portion, you maintain the 90% HR but drop the cadence (90 and then 80 RPM).  The slower cadences will very likely make 90% impossible for most people when sitting, so you move everyone to the standing position.  90% is possible when jogging at 90, as well as 80 RPM, but you”™ll have to increase the resistance as you drop the cadence to 80.  Brutal.

The variations are endless.  For those who haven”™t had the benefit of training on an indoor rowing ergometer, I”™d strongly suggest reviewing the rowing workouts available on the Concept 2 website (  You”™ll find many workouts that are easily adaptable to indoor cycling.

Originally posted 2015-01-22 05:09:42.

Jim Karanas
Latest posts by Jim Karanas (see all)

Add Your Thoughts...