pyramid class profiles

By ICG® Master Trainer Jim Karanas

Last week”™s post covered variations in intervals and ladders.  This week”™s covers variations in pyramids and steady-state workouts.


A pyramid is a training technique that is essentially two ladders back to back, one ascending, one descending.  The pyramid begins as an ascending ladder, but the top of the ladder becomes the midpoint, rather than the end.  From the top of the pyramid, the progression of the training variable reverses and decreases in increments that are similar to the way in which it built.

Here is an example of a cadence pyramid that focuses on controlling leg speed:  80 RPM, 100 RPM, 120 RPM, 100 RPM, 80 RPM.

I should clarify that pyramids (and ladders) are not always about increasing and decreasing intensity.  A cadence ladder or a cadence pyramid might adjust the resistance so as to keep the intensity consistent throughout.

Like ladders, pyramids can be done in either an interval or a continuous format.   There are endless ways to approach them.  A fairly standard intensity pyramid using intervals might be:

  •  3 — 5 minutes of warm-up
  • 30 seconds high intensity, 1 minute low intensity
  • 45 seconds high intensity, 1 minute low intensity
  • 60 seconds high intensity, 1 minute low intensity
  • 90 seconds high intensity, 1 minute low intensity
  • 60 seconds high intensity, 1 minute low intensity
  • 45 seconds high intensity, 1 minute low intensity
  • 30 seconds high intensity
  • 3 — 5 minutes of cool down

Here are a few ways you can vary pyramids:

  1. Ladder up and down, using identical variables for each step in both the up and down ladder.  The cadence pyramid above is an example of this.
  2. Ladder up and down, keeping one variable consistent while varying another.  Use the cadence pyramid above and increase the intensity on the way up the pyramid.  Then maintain the intensity on the downside.
  3. Invert the pyramid.  Use the cadence pyramid above but begin at 120 RPM and build to a peak of intensity as the cadence slows.  Then reduce the effort as the cadence increases.

My favorite pyramid is 11 minutes, as 3-2-1-2-3.  This structure provides endless possibilities for class design.


In recent years, the concept of interval training has been popularized.  Maybe over-popularized.  Along with that, a rather major backlash against traditional forms of aerobic training (i.e., “fat burning”) has occurred.  It”™s common lately to read that low-intensity aerobic work is useless for fat loss, that everyone should always do intervals, that “regular” aerobic work causes muscle loss, and more.  I”™ve even read claims that aerobic exercise makes you fatter and stresses the adrenals.

In broad terms, steady state training is repetitive, rhythmic work that maintains a given level of intensity.  The intensity is usually moderate and aerobic because the term refers specifically to exercise that”™s maintained while workload, heart rate, oxygen consumption, and blood lactate remain constant.  During steady state, the removal of lactate keeps pace with its production, preventing accumulation.  As a result, the work can be maintained over a long time.

So this might be along the lines of 20 to 60 minutes at a steady heart rate.  Steady state is a critical aspect of indoor cycling.

What are the benefits of steady-state training?  Depending on the intensity, steady state may burn more calories during the exercise period than interval training.  It”™s also more appropriate for beginners.  It can be done more frequently — daily or even more often.  This last point depends on the duration, frequency and intensity, as well as the set-up of the rest of the training program.

Also, some research suggests that regular exercise encourages people to stick to a diet better. Considering that interval training shouldn”™t be performed daily, steady-state activity might help people stay on their diets.

For indoor-cycling instructors, steady-state training is a chance for us to communicate, rather than just cue the next change.  (Please see “The Art of Cueing” from several weeks ago for topic suggestions.)

Finally, high-intensity interval advocates tend not to take into account that you can go hard and long.  Steady state doesn”™t have to be limited to a recovery class.  It might be a time-trial at 95-100 rpm at threshold heart rates, depending on duration.

These four elements of variation — intervals, ladders, pyramids, and steady state — are tools that enable you to create endless variations on similar class themes.  This method uses both sides of your mind.  Your creative thinking allows you to vary your approach and create concepts.  Your ability to organize and structure what you”™re doing creates a class that makes sense and is easy for the student to follow.




Originally posted 2012-04-16 12:00:53.

Jim Karanas
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