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What Is A Pyramid Workout?

Speed workouts are a central part of any training plan. They teach you how to push yourself hard, and they give great benefits to your strength and fitness. But simply doing 400m or 800m repeats on the track can get awful boring awful quick. To mix a bit of variety into your speed days, try a pyramid workout.

A pyramid is a speed workout that progressively builds, then shortens, the length of the intervals you run. Each interval is a new distance, so the challenge is constantly changing.

We’ll start by discussing a bit more about what pyramid workouts are. We’ll cover why they are beneficial, before ending with some workout examples you can follow.

What is a Pyramid Workout?

Let’s start first with a definition. A pyramid is a type of speed workout that uses intervals that get increasingly longer (or shorter) after each rep, and then it reverses back down and gets shorter (or longer) until the workout is complete.

Pyramid workouts differ slightly from their close cousin, the ladder workout. Ladder workouts don’t reverse the order of the the intervals; they simply progress in length, getting longer or shorter. With a pyramid, you go up, and then back down.

What are the Benefits of a Pyramid Workout?

Mixing things up is beneficial in many areas of life. Running is definitely one of them. What’s great about pyramid workouts is that they provide benefits in many aspects of your running. And not just physical ones.

Speed + Endurance

First, a pyramid workout is a great way to get faster but also to work on your endurance. While interval workouts tend to be shorter, you can get through a longer run with a pyramid workout.

Variety is the Spice of Life

If you’ve been getting tired of doing the same old run over and over, a pyramid workout will provide some variety in your training. This will help to beat boredom and encourage you to make sure you’re getting your runs in.

You’ll have a mix of sprints/hard running as well as mid-distance and slower pace running. Each interval will be different, so it will help keep your body guessing. You’ll be more engaged mentally and physically.

Practice Different Pacings

Maybe you’re someone who tends to have your go-to pace. A pyramid workout will give you a chance to try different paces without having to sustain them for a really long time. You’ll be able to test your lactic acid threshold. This could also help you find the perfect race pace.

There’s a possibility that you thought that you could only reach a certain pace, but in doing pyramid workouts, you realize that you can sustain a faster pace for longer than you thought. Pyramid workouts will give you a good idea of your abilities, while also pushing them further.

Easy to Adapt as Needed

Some days it’s just hard to get in a workout, and it’s helpful to have a run that can be adjusted as needed. For a pyramid workout, training time can easily be shortened or lengthened with longer warm-up/cool-downs or a longer recovery run after the peak fast run.

Additionally, for days when you are feeling unmotivated and tired, pyramid workouts are great. Because you need to focus on fast running and recover quickly in between, the training time always flies by super fast.

Teaches You to Push

Finally, pyramid workouts teach your body to perform when uncomfortable. Ever wonder how runners are able to give that final push instead of puttering out at the end of a race? They probably have pushed themselves to the peak in training like in a pyramid workout.

Where Can I Do One, and What Do I Need for It?

The great thing is that you can complete a pyramid workout anywhere. From the road to trails to the track to a treadmill, pyramid workouts can work everywhere. You can even work them into cross training. Pyramids are a common way to structure cycling, swimming, and many other workouts as well. That being said, they are better on smoother surfaces where you can focus on speed.

A track is probably one of the most ideal places to do a pyramid workout because you’ll easily know when you need to level up to your next interval and won’t need a GPS watch. However, if you want to run on another surface, just make sure that you have a GPS watch to figure out the intervals.

As a word to the wise, you probably want to avoid doing pyramid workouts on the street, especially in cities. Stopping at intersections to wait for a light or traffic will disrupt the whole point of the pyramid intervals.

What Pace Should I Keep Between Intervals?

Like many things with running, how to answer this question all depends on the individual runner. The pace and distance you just did will determine what pace you should keep between intervals. That being said, remember that you are supposed to recover, so they should be slower.

For most people, you’ll want to keep moving slowly at a jogging pace. This might be two minutes slower than a typical comfortable running pace. If you want to put in an intense workout, you can also set a goal in your recovery time and push yourself harder.

If you’re a beginner or if you’re going extremely hard on your intervals to work your speed capacity, you probably will simply want to walk in between your intervals to recover.

What is a Reverse Pyramid Workout?

A reverse pyramid workout simply means that you start at the top and then work down. In other words, you’d begin with the shorter time/distance and then work your way down slowing your pace and then bring it back up again.

A pyramid workout is good because it gives your body time to adjust and work up; however, you might want to do a reverse pyramid workout if you’re trying to train your body to go fast from the start, slow down some, and then push at the end. This could be good race prep training.

What Are Some Workout Examples?

While you can definitely create your own pyramid workouts, we’ve come up with several workouts for different goals that you can try.

Distance Workout 1

This workout is great for beginners and for those training for 5k races. The total distance is just over 5 miles and will take between 40-50 minutes depending on your pace.

Start by warming up for about ½ mile. Then begin with a 200-meter interval (or roughly 1/8th of a mile, or half a lap at the track). Increase each subsequent interval by 200 meters: 400 meters, 600 meters, and 800 meters before peaking at 1,000 meters. Then reverse the order of intervals and go back down.

You should always have a recovery jog of 200 meters in between each interval. Finish by cooling down for about ½ mile. Your total distance will be 5k at faster speeds, and one mile slow for recovery.

Distance Workout 2

If you’re training for a mid-distance run like a 10k, or you’re more advanced, you might prefer this workout. The total time will be between 45-60 minutes depending on your pace. You’ll do about four miles fast, a full mile faster than the first distance workout.

Start with a warm-up of about ½ mile. Begin with a 400-meter interval (roughly a ¼ mile, or a one lap) and then build, adding 400 meters every time. You’ll go from 800 meters to 1200 meters and peak at 1600 meters – a full mile – before going back down in 400-meter increments. Finish with a ½ mile cool down.

Time Workout 1

If you’re training for a 5k-10k race and aren’t as concerned about distance, but want to work on time instead, you should try this workout. Warm-up and cool down should each last 10 minutes. The total time of the workout will be an hour.

Start with a one-minute fast interval (5k pace or faster) and jog/recover for one minute. Then start adding a minute every interval, moving from 2:00, 3:00, 4:00 and peaking at 5:00 before working back down.

You should recover for two minutes after every interval except for that first one. Your total fast time will be 25 minutes, and you’ll spend 15 minutes recovering. To add training time or distance, you can increase the warm-up or cool down or throw in a longer recovery run after the 5-minute fast interval.

Time Workout 2

If you’re training for a slightly longer race like a 10k to a marathon, you’ll probably want to spend more time on your intervals to develop endurance. Warm-up and cool down for 10 minutes each. Your slow recovery intervals should always be 3 minutes.

The intervals look like this: 3:00 – 6:00 – 9:00 – 12:00 – 9:00 – 6:00 – 3:00. Total training time will be an hour and 26 minutes, so you might want to do this on a day when you have a bit more time.

Final Thoughts

Speedwork is great to help you become a better runner, and pyramid workouts are definitely the king of speedwork. Pushing up to a peak and then coming back down will help you get that last umph on race day when you need to push at the very end.

Just remember to tailor a pyramid workout to what is best for you. It’s all about making yourself a stronger runner and pushing yourself to do just slightly longer and/or slightly faster intervals until you reach the top.

Rachel Basinger
The Wired Runner