Pyramid vs. Reverse Pyramid

Jerry Brainum

Research detemines the best training method—or does it?

You may not know it, but some of the most common styles of training have little-known names. For example, the method in which you start light and increase the weight on each set is called the DeLorme technique, after the researcher who first suggested it in 1945. According to the DeLorme principles, you hold your reps to fewer than 30 per set, since he found that with more than 30 reps, a muscle doesn’t get enough resistance to promote growth.

With the DeLorme technique you generally start with a weight that’s half the amount you can lift for 10 reps. On the second set you increase the weight to 75 percent of maximum for 10, and on the final set you do the maximum amount of weight you can lift for 10 reps. When you’ve achieved that goal, you increase the weight on all sets.

The idea was that the lighter sets helped prevent excess muscle soreness while promoting proper exercise form. On the other hand, when the DeLorme technique was used by anyone but highly motivated athletes, people got too fatigued after the first two sets to reach 10 reps with a maximum weight on the final set.

As a result, another technique was developed, known as the Oxford technique. It works in the opposite manner—you start with the heaviest weight for 10 reps and decrease the weight on each subsequent set. The idea was to diminish muscle fatigue while promoting exercise intensity, since you have to complete the full number of reps for each set.

Most bodybuilders today use either or both of of these weight-training techniques. The DeLorme method is commonly known as pyramiding, and the Oxford technique is known as reverse pyramiding. Is one of them superior for promoting muscular gains? Researchers examined that question in a recent study featuring 50 subjects who used one technique or the other on the leg extension for nine weeks.1 Both techniques produce similar results, with neither clearly superior at promoting muscle increases.

In practical terms that means it doesn’t make much difference which technique you favor; you’ll likely get the best results from the style that feels the most comfortable to you.


1 Fish, D.E., et al. (2003). Optimal resistance training: comparison of DeLorme and Oxford techniques. Am J Physic Med Rehab. 82:903-909.