Decrease Repetitions - Increase Intensity

Sunday, July 26 2020

Looking for ways to thrill your students with some fun cardio exercise in the pool?  The Pyramid Water Workout features 50 minutes of non-stop water aerobics.  As the repetitions go down, the intensity goes up.  Buckle up and get ready for a wet and wild cardio roller coaster ride. 

Gold Medal Standard of Fitness Instruction
Celebrating 25 years of teaching group exercise this summer, pyramid training remains my favorite method for teaching fitness in both the studio and the pool.  Pyramid training was developed during the dance aerobic era as a method of teaching more complex choreography.  Back then, most aerobic classes were taught pure patterned to the structure of the music, meaning that a combination was taught in its final form and repeated until participants hopefully got it.  Many never did and instructors wised up and developed instructional styles to help less rhythmically gifted students follow along.  One of those instructional styles was pyramid training. 

How does it work?
Pyramid instruction involves teaching components of the final combination separately, starting with a higher number of repetitions so that participants can master the form of each movement.  The repetitions of each movement are gradually decreased before the final combination is taught.  In the Pyramid Water Workout, each of the six combinations feature four exercises.  Each of the four exercises are first taught with 8 repetitions, then 4, then 2 and then the final cut – 1 rep each.  If you started with the final cut, chaos would reign.  Tragically, I often unleashed mayhem in step classes during the 90’s by teaching combinations in their final form.  Eventually, pyramid instruction became my “go-to” teaching style in an effort to make my classes more inclusive and user friendly. 

Increasing intensity
Beyond fitness instruction, pyramid training is also effective because it increases intensity thanks to Newton’s Law of Inertia.  An object remains at rest unless acted upon by a force.  The force in this example is movement.  The more frequently you change movement, the greater the force and thus intensity.  For example, if you spent one minute doing jumping jacks and one minute doing cross country skis, energy output would be more steady state and less intensity would be experienced.  However, if you spent those two minutes alternating jumping jacks and cross-country skis every 15 seconds, energy output would increase because the limbs are changing directions much more frequently, forcing the heart to pump oxygenated blood more vigorously to the quickly changing limbs. This is essentially aerobic exercise at its finest. If cardio is your goal, pyramid is an effective and fun way to achieve it.  WATCH Mark explain more.

Agility & Coordination
Clearly, making their way to the final cut, one repetition of each, is a motor skill challenge for participants.  They will not pick this up right away.  Kinesthetic awareness will improve over time, along with proprioception and neuromuscular control.   Exercising with repetition reduction is not only good for the body, it is good for the brain as well.

Teaching Advice for Instructors
Likewise, riding the cardio roller coaster down to the final cut is a scary endeavor for instructors.  Newer instructors or those with participants less exposed to choreography should avoid creating trauma with the final cut.  It moves very quickly and requires rapid, “spot-on” cueing skills.  Consider introducing this workout and staying with just 8 and 4 reps until your students become familiar with the moves.  Then you can forewarn them that you are reducing repetitions to 2 the following week.  Once they master 2 repetitions, you can make the big announcement to expect shock & awe in the next class as you will be going down to the final cut – 1 rep each.  Transform the Pyramid Water Workout into a fun, weeks-long adventure. 

Exercise Preferences
Clearly this pyramid workout will not be for everyone.  Trust me, I have had my share of class-walkouts in the last 25 years.  Not everyone is a fan of more structured cardio choreography.  Today’s style of boot camp and HIIT is the antithesis of more traditional aerobic training.  Fitmotivation has lots of HIIT and timed interval workouts for those who do not like a choreographed style.  However, if you enjoy the pyramid workout and would like to try other workouts that are similar, please consider the following Fitmotivation videos:
Greatest HIITs of Water
Dual Depth Pyramids
Kicks, Drills & Thrills
The Change Game
Aqua Choreography HIITs
Aquatic Pyramids

And good news for those who do not care for a more choreographed approach – the videos posting in August and September will be high intensity interval styles of exercise, performed to timed intervals and minus the choreography.  Drag resistance in August and noodles in September.


Author: Mark Grevelding is the founder of Fitmotivation. He is also a training specialist and consultant with the Aquatic Exercise Association’s (AEA). Mark has been active in the fitness industry for 22 years as a group fitness instructor, personal trainer, international presenter and a continuing education provider for AEA, AFAA & ACE.