5 Burpee Pyramid Workouts for Elite Fitness (and some muscle!)

Going into the push-up on a one pump burpee.

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The pyramid workout is perhaps as old as the push-up, and it’s still one of the simplest ways to structure a training session. If you’re looking to take your conditioning to the next level, then these four burpee pyramid workouts are guaranteed to provide you with the stimulus you’re looking for!

The advantage of pyramids, in general, is that they tend to feature natural warm-ups as part of the workout, meaning you don’t need to put a ton of extra thought and energy into fancy programming. Just pick the workout, and get to work!

In this article, I’ll share four of my favorite burpee pyramid workouts, and discuss the nuances of each:

What are burpee pyramids?

Burpee pyramids are a form of exercise where the number of burpees, a conditioning movement combining a squat, push-up, and jump, gradually increases in a structured pattern. The exercise starts with a low rep count, then progressively rises to a peak, and subsequently decreases back down the pyramid, creating a challenging and dynamic workout routine.

If you’ve been doing traditional push-up and pull-up pyramids and are looking to kick up the conditioning element of the workouts, then give these burpee pyramid sessions a try.

Five options for burpee pyramid workouts

After years of experimentation, I keep coming back to these four variations of the burpee pyramid:

Option 1: Traditional burpee pyramids (1-10-1 burpee pyramids)

Traditional pyramids (such as the classic 1-10-1 burpee pyramid) are typically performed with a set rep goal in mind. Completing them is simple and brutal, you’ll simply add a rep to each set, resting briefly, up to a certain number. Once finished, you’ll “descend” back down the pyramid by removing a rep at a time.

For instance, if you wished to max at 10 burpees, you would:

  • Set 1: one burpee
  • Set 2: two burpees
  • Set 3: three burpees
  • Continue until you reach 10
  • Set 11: nine burpees
  • Set 12: eight burpees
  • Continue until you reach 1

This is probably the most basic pyramid workout option, and it’s nice because it includes a natural warm-up and cool-down.

I would recommend resting only long enough to complete 5-10 deep breaths at the end of each set. While this may seem easy for the first few sets, it will get tough.

If the normal 1/10/1 burpee pyramid is too easy, you can just as easily perform 1-12-1, 1-15-1, and so on. Similarly, you could perform them as 1-7-1 or even 1-5-1 if the 10-rep top set is too difficult for you. Be warned, the reps add up quickly! Even a 12-rep top set is significantly more difficult than a 10-rep top set.

To figure out the total number of burpees completed, simply multiply the number in the top set by itself. So for instance:

  • Top set of 7 = 49 reps
  • Top set of 10 = 100 reps
  • Top set of 12 = 144 reps
  • Top set of 15 = 225 reps

As you can see, the reps add up quickly in this version. You’ve been warned!

Option 2: Ascending-only burpee pyramids

If you’re looking to keep the workout shorter or complete it more frequently as part of a micro workout program, simply do ascending pyramids. Because we’ll complete the top set and then stop, this variation works particularly well as a warm-up to a larger workout, like a weighted vest circuit.

These are done by completing only the ascending portion of the traditional pyramid, and then stopping the workout once the top set is reached.

The advantage here is that we’re still getting the natural warm-up offered by the traditional pyramid, but we’re cutting the length of the workout in half.

Two of my favorite ways to slice this workout up are:

  • The “dirty dozen” burpee pyramid (1-12): 78 total reps
  • The “dirty baker’s dozen” burpee pyramid (1-13): 91 total reps

Similar to the traditional pyramid, rest just long enough to complete 5-10 deep breaths between sets, and to complete the sets unbroken.

This variation of the workout is extremely quick and provides a quick conditioning session that will tax your entire body! It also works well as a warm-up for a more traditional lifting routine, since the entire body will be warm when the pyramid is completed.

Option 3: Burpee ladder workouts (Greyskull-style)

I continue to credit Johnny Pain of the Greyskull LP for this method. I don’t know if he invented it, but he’s certainly the person who introduced me to the “ladder” variation of the pyramid.

Burpee ladders begin the same way a traditional pyramid would: we complete a set of a resistance exercise, rest, then add a rep with each successive rung of the ladder until we reach failure. The difference is that upon reaching failure, you drop back down to the beginning and start over.

The benefit of the burpee ladder over the traditional pyramid is that after the hardest set (the top), we’ll get a welcome break by dropping back down to 1 rep, 2 reps, and so on. This should allow us to accumulate a higher volume over the course of the workout, and makes the workout notably easier.

For burpees, we need to make a modification since the repeated breaks from push-ups make it unlikely that we’ll actually hit muscular failure.

For this reason, I like to use a timer when I’m doing ladder-style burpee pyramids. Complete each set EMOM (every minute on the minute):

  • One burpee the first minute
  • Two burpees the second minute
  • Three burpees the third minute
  • Continue until you’re unable to finish a given set within the time frame
  • Start over at one and “climb the ladder” again for 1-2 more rounds

The ladder-style pyramid is a fantastic pyramid variation popularized by Johnny Pain of the Greyskull LP barbell program and the now-defunct strengthvillian.com website. It is nice because it allows for a max-out followed by easy sets, leading to another max-out.

This means that even though the workout will be tough, we’ll have natural downturns during the main workout, allowing for more reps to be completed with less perceived fatigue and strain.

Option 4: Down sets (descending ladders)

This variation of the pyramid is the exact opposite of the ascending pyramid. Rather than adding a rep each set until reaching a top set, we’ll start with the top set and work our way down by removing a rep each set. This is also referred to as a “down” set. For instance, if you were completing a 20-1 burpee ladder, you would refer to the set as “20 down” burpees.

This version is fairly self-explanatory, but the drawback is that it doesn’t include a warm-up like the other pyramid types. For this reason, “down” workouts tend to work well as finishers.

If you’ve completed a full-body or upper-body workout and you’ve still got some gas in the tank for some conditioning, try throwing in a 10-1 or 20-1 burpee ladder at the end of the workout.

Option 5: Juarez valley-style pyramids

The Juarez Valley method is deceptively difficult, and is so named for its origination in Mexico’s Juarez Valley prison. In this variation of the pyramid workout, you’ll start by completing a top set, followed by a bottom set. Then you’ll simultaneously remove a rep from the top set while adding a rep to the bottom set with each successive round.

In practice it looks like this:

  • 10 burpees
  • 1 burpee
  • 9 burpees
  • 2 burpees
  • 8 burpees
  • 3 burpees
  • 7 burpees
  • 4 burpees
  • 6 burpees
  • 5 burpees
  • 5 burpees
  • 6 burpees
  • 4 burpees
  • 7 burpees
  • 3 burpees
  • 8 burpees
  • 2 burpees
  • 9 burpees
  • 1 burpee
  • 10 burpees

If it sounds brutal, that’s because it is! I’ve used the number 10 as the top set simply for this example. If you complete this pyramid workout a couple of times and find it too easy, you could just as easily start at a top set of 12, 15, or beyond.

The jumping portion of a traditional one pump burpee.

Benefits of burpee pyramids

The workouts are short and brutal

This is perhaps one of the biggest benefits of burpee pyramids: they are true, brutal micro workouts.

They don’t take long, but they’ll leave you with a hardcore conditioning stimulus. Former Navy Seal Jocko Willink has famously stated in the past that if you don’t have time to work out on a given day, just do 100 burpees.

Though this style of workout doesn’t truly replace real resistance training, it is an excellent stand-in for a workout when we simply don’t have the time.

The warm-up is built into the workout

Since we’re starting most burpee pyramids with a set of one, followed by a set of two, etc., there’s no need to have a fancy warm-up routine leading into the workout. Just perform your reps in a controlled manner, and allow your heart rate to ascend naturally.

They are HIIT workouts

Since we’re exerting ourselves with a high-effort conditioning exercise, interspersed with short rest periods, these workouts are truly a form of high-intensity interval training (HIIT). Therefore, we can expect a lot of the same benefits we’d get from high-intensity interval training: a quick session with a high-calorie burn per minute of effort expended.

Additionally, we’ll technically be burning more calories throughout the day after the workout (though the benefits of the so-called “post-exercise oxygen consumption” effect are chronically overstated by the fitness community at large).

How to make the workouts full-body

Though burpees are a fantastic conditioning tool that can also have some muscle-building benefits, it’s hard to ignore the primary drawback of the burpee as a “catch-all” exercise. Burpees completely neglect the back and biceps.

The solution? Add the king of compound upper back and bicep exercises: the pull-up.

In my article on burpee and pull-up workouts, one of the options I outlined was the burpee and pull-up pyramid. The advantage of this variation of the workout is that you will eventually hit muscular failure on pull-ups, signaling the top point of the pyramid.

If you’re interested in a true “full body” strength and cardiovascular training hybrid session, go ahead and check out the various ways I outline in that article to add pull-ups to your burpee training sessions.