Boost your Training Intensity by using the Power of Pyramid

Boost Training Intensity

Experiment with New & Exciting Training Methods

Think back: When did you make the biggest-ever gains in your bodybuilding training? Rewind your memory to the days when you first learned how to lift weights. You likely weren't using very heavy weights, but it was probably during that period of your training when you made your biggest gains in both strength and size. In a sense, you made something out of nothing. You may have doubled your strength levels, or even tripled them. In terms of relative proportion, chances are that your early training career was when your strength curve was the sharpest and you put on the most muscle.

Now, think about your early training-what system of training did you use? You may have done a lot of workouts using the traditional three-sets-of-10-reps scheme. That approach may have been boring to perform, and it would have been almost too easy when you entered these numbers into your training log - nonetheless, this system worked when you first started. Since your early training days, you've probably advanced to incorporating a number of different training techniques (keeping in mind that you should switch your programs every 4-8 weeks so your body doesn't adapt and so muscle growth won't stagnate). You may however, be surprised to discover that you can still make sizeable mass gains using a specific manipulation of the three-sets-of-10-reps system known as the Oxford method. Read on and discover how you can implement this system in your training to pack on muscle. You'll graduate with an MMB - a Master's in Mass Building, in just six weeks!


Building a muscular body involves ups and downs. You'll often hear bodybuilders talking about pyramids, and this isn't a reference to the structures in ancient Egypt. In the context of bodybuilding, pyramids refer to the progressive change in resistance that you perform as you train a muscle group from set to set An ascending pyramid is one in which the weight increases until you hit a 'peak.' Ascending sets are sometimes done using progressively fewer reps, but not necessarily. The descending pyramid involves the opposite approach: You use the heaviest weight first, while your muscles are fresh and at their strongest, then lower the weight after each set as fatigue starts to set in. This descending principle is the basis for the Oxford method.

How to use this method: Warm up by doing a few sets using light weights. For each workout you'll do exactly three working sets per exercise, with 4-6 exercises per bodypart. With the Oxford method you'll begin by using a weight that is 100% of your 10-rep max and performing a set that allows you to hit failure on the 10th rep. You then lower the resistance such that you're still able to perform the same number of reps (failing at 10 reps) on the second and third sets. Essentially, the system acknowledges that you'll be slightly weaker on successive sets, but rather than doing fewer reps after your rest period, you'll instead decrease the weight so that you're still able to do 10 reps. Your rest time between sets should be brief - aim for 90 seconds, but make sure you rest for no longer than two minutes (slightly shorter for smaller bodyparts, longer for larger bodyparts).

Fail three times for optimal muscle growth. Research shows that when one of the sets in which you lift a weight is done to failure, you'll typically increase your strength. For the next six weeks however, you're going to be taking every working set to muscle failure to trigger even bigger muscle-building gains. The constant failing will effectively tear down your muscle fibers and pave the way for explosive muscle growth. Take note that going beyond three sets to failure will increase your chances of overtraining and injury - for this reason, you don't want to follow this type of high-intensity program for too long.


The Oxford workout encompasses every muscle group to help you pack on serious muscle size. You'll hit each bodypart very hard just once a week, providing ample recovery time, which is important because of the high-intensity level you'll be training at. While the Oxford method is fairly straightforward, it will require you to delve deeply into your energy stores, exerting all the effort you can muster on every set. Start each exercise with a few light warm-up sets to loosen your muscles and to get blood flowing. You'll be able to tackle even heavier weights on your working sets if you're well warmed up. Choose a weight that allows you to complete 10 reps with good form, and then reduce the weight slightly on each of the next two sets such that you're still able to do exactly 10 reps on every set. Do abs every other workout.


Be prepared to undergo some seriously grueling workouts over the course of this short-term program. "Taking a weight to failure on the 10th rep means you'll be using pretty heavy weights for each exercise," says New York state IFBB pro bodybuilder, George Farah. "But without heavy lifting, you'll never get your growth hormone (GH) level spiked so as to incite serious muscle growth. The best rep range for producing muscle is 8-12, so going to failure at the 10th rep will create serious stress deep into the muscle tissue."

The notion of safety and making sure you train with good form using the Oxford method is echoed by South Florida amateur bodybuilder Jorge Betancourt, who's now president of Betancourt Nutrition. "You'll want to make sure you're in a very 'healthy' state when you embark on taking every set to failure on the 10th rep," says Jorge. "There's always a risk of injury if you push too hard or skip your warm-up sets when hitting a heavy first set. If you don't use excellent form even at failure, you can easily tear your pec or pull your groin."


The need to warm up well is even more essential. Every M.A.S.S. installment advocates warming up with a few light sets to get your muscles loose and to start the blood flowing. The Oxford method requires you to lift the heaviest of your three working sets first, so if s even more important to make sure you've had a good warm-up.

Why the Oxford method works. Your ability to develop muscle is influenced by several variables, one being the rate at which you produce growth hormone (GH). Each of the three sets per exercise should be taken to failure at the 10th rep. According to Jim Stoppani, PhD, and author of the Encyclopedia of Muscle & Strength (Human Kinetics, 2006), training to failure on every set can help elevate your training intensity and boost your growth hormone (GH) levels at a time when it's most critical - after your workout. Training to muscle failure is also important for inducing tissue growth. The process of reaching muscle failure on the 10th rep stimulates the release of GH and insulin-like growth factor (IGF-I).3 " Know and document your lifting ability. You may not know your 10-rep maximum weight per exercise off the top of your head and thus may need to spend a work out establishing these figures before commencing the Oxford method. Once you get a handle on your 10-rep max (defined as the amount of weight you can lift in a given exercise for 10, and only 10, reps with good form), you should also have a sense of how much fatigue you typically experience between sets, and how much weight you'll need to peel off for the second and third sets.

Use good form. The Oxford technique is predicated on taking each set to muscle failure, but not beyond, so don't use an advanced technique like forced reps. Note that if your form is sloppy and you're doing cheat reps, the weight's definitely too heavy. You may feel a psychological disappointment when you're unable to push or pull a weight, but don't let that feedback cause you to cheat. After all, failing at the 10th rep of every set is precisely what you're trying to do. So when you fail on a rep using strict form, rest assured you did it right - you're done for that set. " Safety first. It doesn't take a college professor to realize that certain exercises done to failure should never be done alone, such as squats and bench presses. Stoppani advocates that exercises performed to failure should always be done with a spotter. The only exception is when you're using machines or doing moves like the deadlift, dumbbell bench press or barbell curl where there isn't a significant inherent danger. A spotter is in fact very useful for many exercises because performing the last rep accurately and safely is crucial.

Because of the intense nature of these workouts, supplementation is critical. Seeing as you've made the commitment to exert your lifting output to failure for each and every one of 12-18 sets per workout, you're smart to consider taking the following muscle-building supplements regularly:

Whey Protein Isolate

Branched-Chain Amino Acids

Zinc-Magnesium-Vitamin B6 (ZMA) Arginine

Alpha-Ketoglutarate / Ornithine

Vitamin C and Vitamin E Beta-Alanine

Glucosamine / Chondroitin

Taking the right combination of these supplements will assist with your recovery and muscle building. These supplements will also help to increase your sleep quality, promote growth hormone release, oxidize free radicals and protect your joints from the stress of taking every set to failure. " Graduate from Oxford ... and move on to another program. The Oxford is a high-intensity technique and thus shouldn't be done as a long-term workout. After 4-6 weeks of using this method, change up your routine and try a different method of training - ideally you should choose a program that doesn't emphasize taking so many sets to failure. The need for your muscles to recover is very high with the Oxford, and as always, you want to avoid the rut of muscle adaptation that can cause your mass-building goals to become stagnant.


While on the Oxford method, train using a four-day split with plenty of rest days (e.g., two days on, one day off, two days on, 1-2 days off before repeating cycle).

Do 4-6 exercises (1-2 muscle groups) each workout.

Do a few warm-up sets per exercise starting with a very light weight.

Do three working sets of each exercise.

Take all sets to failure at the 10th rep.

After your first set of a given exercise, decrease the weight slightly such that you're still be able to fail on the 10th rep of each of your next two sets.

Rest no longer than two minutes between sets.

Be safe: Use a spotter whenever necessary.

Use good form: Don't cheat on your technique or use advanced techniques like forced reps or partials.

Follow this program for no more than 4-6 weeks, then switch to another training method to ensure your gains continue.

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