What Is A Pyramid Workout?

Updated:

You’ve probably heard of pyramid workouts, but what exactly are? Should you add them to your weekly workouts?

A pyramid workout is a type of interval training that involves gradually increasing or decreasing the intensity and/or duration of intervals in a structured manner. It resembles a pyramid, which is where it gets its name.

In this article, we’ll break down the fundamentals of this workout. Whether you’re a seasoned runner or just getting started, pyramid workouts can add a fun twist to your training routine.

What is a Pyramid Workout?

A pyramid workout is a type of speedwork to build endurance and speed and increase overall performance.

Unlike regular interval training, which has fixed intervals in both distance and intensity, the intervals in pyramid workouts increase and decrease over the entire workout.

How Do Pyramid Workouts Work?

The concept is simple: start your first interval with a certain distance followed by rest. This is Interval Workouts 101. But with a pyramid run, the next interval will be longer or shorter, followed by a longer or shorter rest. The next interval follows the same progression and so on. In a regular pyramid workout, the intervals get shorter. In a reverse pyramid workout, they get longer.

Imagine each interval like a “block” you’re using to build your pyramid, stacking a shorter block on top of a longer one. Continuing to build this way eventually creates a pyramid shape. Vice versa, for a reverse pyramid.

As an example, you might begin the base of your pyramid with a 600-meter interval and stack on top of it a 400-meter interval, a 200-meter interval, and a 100-meter interval (with rest in between each).

If you prefer a reverse pyramid structure, start with the tip of the pyramid—the smallest interval—and work your way up. For example, a 100-meter interval, followed by a 200-meter interval, followed by a 400-meter interval, and so on.

Benefits of Pyramid Training

Pyramid training is challenging, but it offers plenty of benefits if you include it in your training program. Here’s what you can look forward to.

Improved Endurance

Running fast helps build endurance. The more you train to run fast, the more your body gets used to running faster for longer.

Increased Speed

Like endurance, running fast also helps your body get used to running fast. Which helps you maintain a faster pace during races or other training runs.

Variety and Engagement

A pyramid workout’s progressive intervals keep your workouts interesting! When you need a break from the monotony of long, steady runs, they’re a welcome distraction.

Mental Toughness

Pyramid workouts can help build mental resilience. By pushing yourself to maintain your effort during challenging segments, you’re training your body and mind to push through when things get tough.

Adaptability

You can customize pyramid workouts to your fitness level and running goals, making them suitable for beginners and experienced runners. They can also be adapted to almost any time frame, so they’re one of the most versatile training tools around.

The Types of Pyramid Workouts

While the pyramid structure is self-explanatory, there are a few different types of pyramid workouts you can choose from.

Traditional Pyramid

In a traditional pyramid workout, you’ll begin with a short, high-intensity interval. From there, increase the distance of each following interval. For example:

  • 200-meter run
  • 1-minute rest
  • 400-meter run
  • 1-minute rest
  • 600-meter run
  • etc

Reverse Pyramid

The reverse pyramid workout works the other way around. It begins with the longest interval and works backward, decreasing the distance of each segment.

  • 600-meter run
  • 1-minute rest
  • 400-meter run
  • 1-minute rest
  • 200-meter run
  • etc

Triangle Pyramid

A triangle pyramid workout consists of both a traditional and a reverse pyramid. In other words, you work your way up the pyramid, and then come back down again.

  • 200-meter run
  • 1-minute rest
  • 400-meter run
  • 1-minute rest
  • 600-meter run
  • 1-minute rest
  • 400-meter run
  • 1-minute rest
  • 200-meter run
  • etc

Step Pyramid

A step pyramid workout uses equal-length intervals that increase in intensity. You can choose your interval length; for example, 400 meters.

  • 400-meter run, moderate pace (+- 70% effort)
  • 1-minute rest
  • 400-meter run, slightly faster pace (+- 80% effort)
  • 1-minute rest
  • 400-meter run, hard pace (+- 90% effort)
  • etc

How to Structure a Pyramid Workout

Ready to start incorporating pyramid workouts into your routine? Here’s how to do them.

Choose Your Pyramid Structure

You can choose a traditional pyramid, reverse pyramid, triangle, or step. You might feel more comfortable trying one over another initially, although we recommend trying them all at some point.

Here, you’ll also decide whether to use distance or time for your intervals. You can use both—distance for speed and time for recovery—but make sure you know exactly how you’ll track your distance or time.

Determine Repetitions

Work out how many reps you’re going to do. For example, if you’re starting with a 30-second run and increasing by 10 seconds each time, how high do you go? You might need to experiment with this for a while before you find your sweet spot.

Set Target Paces

Once you know your target times or distances, figure out your paces. You can use the rate of perceived exertion scale here if you’re not sure how to figure out pace. You might need to experiment with this too, so you can get an idea of how it feels to run at “70 percent of your max effort,” for example.

Warm-Up

Warm up thoroughly before starting. 5 to 10 minutes of light jogging and 5 minutes of dynamic stretching should have you ready for some serious speedwork training.

Start Your Pyramid Workout

Once you’re warmed up, work out!

Who Should Do Pyramid Workouts?

Thanks to their versatility and adaptability, pyramid workouts can be suitable for almost any runner. However, they’re a great choice for runners who get bored easily, those wanting more challenge, anybody who feels like their progress has halted, and runners who enjoy pushing themselves to break their own boundaries.

Where Can You Do Pyramid Workouts?

As long as you can track your own distance or time, you can do pyramid workouts almost anywhere. That being said, some places are easier than others.

Track

Tracks are excellent places for pyramid workouts because they provide precise distances for each interval.

The track is also a great place to do speedwork as it’s a forgiving surface that reduces the impact on the joints of the feet and knees.

Treadmill

Treadmills are convenient for pyramid workouts, as you can easily control speed and incline to boost intensity. You can also easily keep track of your distance or time intervals.

Some treadmills come with built-in pyramid workouts, or you may be able to create and save your own if you’re using your own treadmill and not one at the gym.

Street or Local Park

Quiet streets or parks with open spaces, paths, or flat areas are great for pyramid workouts. You can use benches, lamp posts, or other landmarks as reference points for your intervals, but try to do your intervals when it’s quieter and not filled with people.

What Should Your Pyramid Workout Pace Be?

The pace for your pyramid workout should be tailored to your fitness level, goals, and the specific structure of the workout. Here are some guidelines for determining your pyramid workout pace.

Start Easy

Start at a moderate to easy pace. These intervals are the base or foundation of the pyramid, and should be run at a moderate pace of around 70 to 80 percent of your maximum effort.

Get Progressively Faster

As you move up the pyramid, the intervals should become faster. Around the peak of the pyramid you should be pushing yourself at about 90 to 95 percent of your maximum.

Stay Consistent

Try to maintain a consistent pace throughout each interval. Although you will be running faster or slower on each subsequent interval, try not to speed up or slow down during the interval. This helps you build good pacing skills, which are important for longer races and competitive events.

How Often Should You Do Pyramid Workouts?

If you’re new to pyramid workouts or have limited running experience, start with one pyramid workout per week. Intervals take longer to recover from, so any more than this and you may be at risk of pushing yourself too hard.

Intermediate runners can aim for one or two pyramid workouts per week. This allows for diversity in your training routine and provides opportunities to improve speed and endurance, without overdoing it.

We recommend not doing more than two per week, as the high-intensity exercise places more strain on the body. Give yourself at least 1 full day between pyramid workouts for optimal recovery.

Tips for Your Pyramid Workouts

Ready to start doing pyramid workouts? Here are our tips to help you incorporate them safely and enjoy them!

Start Gradually

If you’re new to pyramid workouts, start with simpler, shorter pyramids. Gradually increase the complexity and length of your pyramid sessions as your fitness improves.

Monitor Your Pace

Pay close attention to your pace during each section of the pyramid. Use a fitness tracker or smartphone app to make sure you’re hitting your target pace or intensity for each interval.

Mix It Up

You don’t have to stick to the same pyramid structure every time. Experiment with different types of pyramid workouts to keep your training fresh and challenging.

Recovery is Key

Interval training is harder on the muscles, joints, and cardiovascular system than lower-intensity runs. Give your body enough time to recover between pyramid workouts. Recovery is when your body adapts and becomes stronger, so don’t neglect it.

Other Examples of Pyramid Workouts

Speed Pyramid Workout

  • Warm-up, 5 to 10 minutes
  • 200 meters, fast pace
  • 1 to 2 minutes recovery
  • 400 meters, moderate pace
  • 1 to 2 minutes recovery
  • 600 meters, fast pace
  • 1 to 2 minutes recovery
  • 800 meters, moderate pace
  • 1 to 2 minutes recovery
  • 600 meters, fast pace
  • 1 to 2 minutes recovery
  • 400 meters, moderate pace
  • 1 to 2 minutes recovery
  • 200 meters, fast pace
  • 1 to 2 minutes recovery
  • Cool-down: 5 to 10 minutes

Endurance Pyramid Workout

  • Warm-up, 5 to 10 minutes
  • ¼-mile, moderate pace
  • 1 to 2 minutes recovery
  • ½-mile meters, moderate pace
  • 1 to 2 minutes recovery
  • ¾-mile meters, moderate pace
  • 1 to 2 minutes recovery
  • 1 mile meters, moderate pace
  • 1 to 2 minutes recovery
  • ¾-mile, moderate pace
  • 1 to 2 minutes recovery
  • ½-mile, moderate pace
  • 1 to 2 minutes recovery
  • ¼-mile, moderate pace
  • 1 to 2 minutes recovery
  • Cool-down: 5 to 10 minutes

Hill Pyramid Workout

  • Warm-up, 5 to 10 minutes
  • Uphill, +-100 meters, hard effort
  • Recover by walking or jogging back down
  • Uphill, +-150 meters, hard effort
  • Recover by walking or jogging back down
  • Uphill, +-200 meters, hard effort
  • Recover by walking or jogging back down
  • Once you’ve reached the top, reverse the intervals.
  • Cool-down: 5 to 10 minutes
Photo of author

AUTHOR

Ben is an avid road and trail runner, and has completed multiple marathons and ultras. A former running store owner, he now shares his knowledge and experience writing these articles.