The Exercise Pyramid

The Exercise Pyramid

The Fun Stuff should be at the Base

Meaning most of your time exercising should be spent doing the fun and easy stuff. I know that sounds counter intuitive but there’s a logical reason for it, and there are conditions attached as well.

Below is what the pyramid should look like based on a weekly time frame. Three layers of exercise:


PEAK: 10% – HIIT
MIDDLE: 20% – Weight Training
BASE: 70% – Light Cardio, Walking, Fun Exercise (classes etc…)

PEAK – The exercises in this layer of the pyramid are to take up the least amount of your time but are most ESSENTIAL for weight loss. HIIT stands for High Intensity Interval Training, which is a fancy way of referring to exercises done with lots of effort.

Examples include:

  • 30 seconds of very HARD pedaling on a stationary bike, followed by 2 minutes rest. This is repeated 5 times and takes 15 minutes total.
  • Running up and down stairs or hills for 15 minutes. Up fast, down slow to recover.
  • Sprints, 5 hard runs
  • Cross Fit workouts
  • Pulling a weighted sled
  • Swim sprints

What’s important here is that you spend no more than 15 minutes on this workout with most of it being rest. BUT, the exercise portion MUST be at a high intensity. These types of workouts (HIIT) have been proven to really fire up the metabolism and induce weight loss, more than any other type. They can be done from 1-3 times per week.


Pretty self explanatory. Weight training makes up the middle portion of the pyramid and should take up no more than 30 minutes in the gym each session. Like HIIT, weights are pretty important and I would say essential for weight loss also. They are good for taking the weight off and especially keeping it off long term.

Not all exercises are created equal though, and there are only a few that are really beneficial.

Examples include:

  • Squats (hips, butt and legs)
  • Deadlifts (hips, butt and legs)
  • Bench Press (Pectorals)
  • Pull-Ups (back)

Those are the main exercises that most people should be performing, although there are many variants of them so it may seem like there are hundreds to choose from. Examples of variants include lunges, machine squats, kettlebell presses etc…

The rule of thumb for weights are:

Lift heavy (but don’t risk injury)
– Make it intense but brief
Focus on the main exercises above

Weights make the muscles stronger and more toned (dense) and that means that they need more energy during the day and so increase your metabolism throughout the rest of the day and week without you having to do anything. The workouts should be done 2-3 times per week.


Like I keep repeating throughout this blog, it’s gotta be fun or else you won’t stick to it. This is where most of your time will be spent and it encompasses a wide variety of exercises.

Examples of exercises at this level of the pyramid include:

  • Walking
  • Hiking
  • Cardio
  • Dancing
  • Aerobic type classes
  • Yoga
  • Ultimate frisbee
  • Recreational sports like softball etc…

A lot of these are fun and really good for your health and weight loss goals. It’s true that they may not be as effective as HIIT exercises but they do contribute to the cause overall. They can and should be done as often as possible and should be something you look forward to.


It may seem like there is a lot to have to do, so to save time many people opt to do 2-3 of the pyramid layers in one gym session. Here are some sample sessions to illustrate this:

Sample 1
– 30 minutes of cardio like the stair-master [base]
– 20 minutes in the gym [middle]

Sample 2
– 15 minutes HIIT on stationary bike [peak]
– 30 minutes weights [middle]

Sample 3
– 45 min walk to gym [base]
– 15 minute HIIT [peak]
– 45 min walk home [base]

Sample 4
– Ultimate frisbee; both fun [base] and [peak] with sprints.

Those are just examples of how people structure their workouts to get the maximum benfit in the least amount of time. You can see that with samples 1 and 2 that the hard stuff takes less than an hour and is mostly rest and is only done twice per week. Sample 3 is 15 minutes of hard work and then 90 minutes of pleasure. That’s how it should be. Very little time spent on the hard stuff and most of it in bliss.

Keep that pyramid in mind when structuring your exercise plan. It’s good both for losing weight and for your health. Plus the fun stuff is good for your psychological well-being.

The tiny bit of effort required to plan will pay off in spades down the road.

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