Pyramid Training & Drop-Setting - Both Useless? | Part 2/2 of a Research Update on 3 Popular 'Intensity Techniques'
|Machines offer ideal conditions for drop-setting: Switching back and forth between weights is easy and fast.|
While "no pain, no gain" may be a valid statement, "more pain, more gain" is a motto that may easily burn you out and ruin, not multiply, your gains.
The above obviously is the worst case scenario, while abusing intensity techniques can impair your gains, the majority of studies with negative study outcomes simply found no differences in long(er)-term outcomes such as lean mass or strength increases; and that's also the the case for the latest study of the effects of "crescent pyramid and drop-set systems" by Vitor Angleri, Carlos Ugrinowitsch, and Cleiton Augusto Libardi (Angleri. 2017).
Just like Nóbrega et al. (2017 | discussed in part 1), Angleri, et al. did a "leg-to-leg" comparison. In contrast to the previously discussed study, however, Angleri's 12-week within-subject design study compared the effects of traditional (TRAD), crescent aka pyramid set (CP) and drop-set (DS) training (note: for each participant, the comparison was TRAD vs. CP or DS).
- TRAD: 75% of the 1-RM load in the unilateral 45° leg press and leg extension exercises; 3–5 sets of 6–12 repetitions on each exercise; failure was achieved only during the later sets.
- CP: ~15 x 65% 1-RM, in the 1st, ~12 x 70% 1-RM in the 2nd, ~10 x 75% 1-RM in the 3rd, 8 x 80% 1-RM in the 4th set and ~6 x 85% 1-RM in the fifth set.
- DS: After reaching failure on a given set, the subjects performed up to two drop-sets, for a sequence the scientists describe as follows: "initial load—repetitions to muscle failure—short pause—reduction of 20% of the load—repetitions to muscle failure— short pause—reduction of 20% of the load—repetitions to failure" (Angleri. 2017)
In addition, Angleri's N=32 subjects were not untrained rookies but had 6.4 ± 2.0 years of training experience. Participants were advised to maintain their eating habits, and to consume only the nutritional supplement provided by the P.I., after each RT session (i.e., 30 g Whey Protein–Whey
Select–3VS Nutrition–Brazil); and the total training volume (TTV) was standardized as follows:
"[...] we utilized RT records to determine initialtraining load for each participant. Initial TTV was defned as 120% of the TTV that each participant performed in the 2 weeks prior to the commencement of the study. This procedure ensured the absence of abrupt increases or decreases in TTV at the beginning of the study. The TTV performed on each CP or DS session was equalized to the TTV performed on the TRAD session (i.e., trained frst). 70 and 30% of the TTV was performed in the 45° leg press, and leg extension exercises, respectively. The TTV was increased by ~7% every 3 weeks (i.e., 6 RT sessions) for all of the participants" (Angleri. 2017).
Figure 1: The scientists' standardization strategy worked out well: the total training volume in all groups was identical (see bottom line of a discussion of whether that's a good or bad thing).
Each leg was trained for 12 weeks. All training regimen allowed for 2 minutes of rest between sets and exercises; and the subjects' gains in muscle CSA and architecture, 45° leg press and leg extension 1-RM loads were re-assessed 72 h after the last RT session at post-training.
Why's the within-subject design with its leg-to-leg comparison a problem? There is no conclusive evidence that training one leg will have the other grow, as well. While this may be less of a problem in Angleri's study in which both legs were trained, an interference effect is still possible [If you haven't read up on the evidence and explanation in part 1 of this article, this would be a good time to do just that].As the scientists point out in the conclusion of their abstract, the results show quite unambiguously that "CP and DS systems do not promote greater gains in strength, muscle hypertrophy and changes in muscle architecture compared to traditional resistance training" (Angleri. 2017).
|Figure 2: Maximum dynamic strength (1-RM) in unilateral 45° leg press (LP) and unilateral leg extension (LE), combined measured at baseline (Pre) and after 12 weeks of training (Angleri. 2017).|
|Figure 3: Muscle cross-sectional area (CSA) (a), pennation angle (PA) (b) and fascicle length (FL) (Angleri. 2017)|
And even individuality appears not to matter as much, as previous studies have suggested. As the authors point out, resistance training-induced "changes in muscle CSA [usually] have a high between-subject variability (range: 11–30%)".
- Angleri, Vitor, Carlos Ugrinowitsch, and Cleiton Augusto Libardi. "Crescent pyramid and drop-set systems do not promote greater strength gains, muscle hypertrophy, and changes on muscle architecture compared with traditional resistance training in well-trained men." European Journal of Applied Physiology (2017): 1-11.
- Fisher, James P., Luke Carlson, and James Steele. "The Effects of Breakdown Set Resistance Training on Muscular Performance and Body Composition in Young Men and Women." The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research 30.5 (2016): 1425-1432.
- Nóbrega, Sanmy R., et al. "Effect Of Resistance Training To Muscle Failure Versus Volitional Interruption At High-And Low-Intensities On Muscle Mass And Strength." The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research (2017).