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Improve your Strength Level with Reverse Pyramid Training

You may have noticed that almost all the workout routines we recommend are built around Reverse Pyramid Training. We love this style of training because it’s so efficient!

In this article you’ll learn in detail what Reverse Pyramid Training is, how it compares to other training styles, and how it can help you gain strength fast or break through a plateau.
*Also check the end of the article for links to a few more awesome articles on Reverse Pyramid Training!

What Reverse Pyramid Training is

Reverse Pyramid Training (RPT) is a style of training where you perform your heaviest set first when you’re completely fresh and then pyramid down to a lighter weight usually with more reps for the latter sets.

An exercise done in a RPT fashion might look like this:

Warm-up sets
Rest 1-2 minutes
First Set: 5 reps x max weight you can lift for 5 reps without breaking form
Rest 2-3 minutes
Second Set: 6 reps x max weight you can lift for 6 reps without breaking form (usually 8-10% less weight than in the first set)
Rest 2-3 minutes
Third Set: 8 reps x max weight you can lift for 8 reps without breaking form (usually 8-10% less weight than in the second set)

The Benefits of Reverse Pyramid Training

RPT is a style of training that relies on very high intensity to be effective. No other training style allows you to lift as close to your limits as RPT. That is simply because you are performing your heaviest set first, when you are completely fresh and you don’t need to replicate that set for the rest of the workout.

Because of the high intensity used, you can create a complete training stimulus with very low volume (in fact, RPT works well only with low to moderate volume). That makes it particularly suitable for a cut, as Andy Morgan explains below:

„The goal of the experienced trainee when cutting is merely to maintain muscle mass while burning the fat off. -> Under calorie deficit circumstances recovery capacity from workouts is lower. -> Training volume is best reduced to match the reduction in recovery capacity to avoid the negative systemic stress effects of too high a workload, which can have negative repercussions on diet progress (strength & muscle maintenance, mood, soreness and body composition).”

Reverse Pyramid Compared to Ascending Pyramid

The opposite of Reverse Pyramid Training – the Ascending Pyramid – sucks in my opinion. This is the style of training where the heaviest set is done last and is preceded by 4-5 lighter sets done in a higher rep range.

Studies and anecdotal evidence suggests that muscle grows best when you use loads of 75-85% of your maximum as this provides an optimal balance of tension/muscle fibre recruitment, and fatigue/metabolic work. This means that the lighter sets done before you get to the heavy stuff are not productive at all. You don’t use weights that are heavy enough to cause growth nor do you take those sets close to failure (which might stimulate growth). So basically all you’re doing is limit your strength in your main set – the last one. In my opinion the Ascending Pyramid is the least effective way to train.

RPT is completely different. You do your heavy set first when you have the greatest strength potential and get full muscle fibre recruitment from the beginning. Moreover, the fatigue created by that set may actually make the lighter sets more effective because you’ll be lifting closer to failure. (I don’t have any proof for this but this has been my observation)

Reverse Pyramid Compared to Straight Sets

Straight Sets (like 3×8 or 5×5) is a style of training I like very much. I actually combine it with RPT in the same workout all the time. I believe RPT is superior for strength gains on the main compound movements but Straight Sets allows for higher volume to be performed.

The reason I think Straight Sets is inferior for strength gains is because you must pace yourself and not use the heaviest weight you are capable of lifting. So basically if you want to do 3 sets of 5 you can’t use your 5RM, you must use your 8RM. That’s great for your second or third exercise but I’d prefer to use RPT for my main lifts.

How to use RPT

1. Warm up for your heavy set

Evidently, we’re going to warm up before jumping into our heaviest set, otherwise injury will be inevitable. The goal of the warm-up is to prepare the nervous system as well as our mind for the heavy effort.

A good way to get ready for your heavy sets without getting fatigued is to perform 2-3 gradually heavier build up sets of 5-1 reps. I recommend you do 3 sets for your warm-up: 5 reps with 60% of the weight you’re going to use in your first set, then 3 reps with 75% and finally one rep with 90%.

Let’s see an example. Let’s say you’re preparing for Standing Press and your first set is 155 lbs (70kg) x 6. You’re going to warm up like this:

First warm-up set: 5 reps with 60% of 155 (this means 90 lbs/40kg)
Second warm-up set: 3 reps with 75% of 155 (this means 115 lbs/52.5kg)
Third warm-up set: 1 rep with 90% of 155 (this means 140 lbs/62.5kg)
Now you’re ready to start your work sets.

*Rest 1-2 minutes between your warm-up sets.

*You only need to warm up once for each muscle group. So if you do Incline Bench Press first and then you do Flat Bench Press or Dips you only need to warm up for the incline. However, if you feel that you need a couple of build-up sets to get used to the movement, by all means take them. They sure help sometimes.

2. How to get started with RPT

Depending on how your workout routine is set up you may work in a higher or lower rep range. For this example let’s say your routine asks for 3 sets: 5, 6, and 8 reps.

After warming up, you’ll start your first set with a weight that allows you to do 5 reps – full range of motion, without compromising form, or getting help from a spotter. This set should be max effort.
*Rest 2-3 minutes.

For the second set, you’re going to drop the weight by 10% and strive to get 6 reps – full range of motion, without compromising form, or getting help from a spotter. This set should be high effort, but should not be taken to failure.
*Rest 2-3 minutes.

For the third set you’re going to drop the weight by 10% again and strive to get 8 reps – full range of motion, without compromising form, or getting help from a spotter. This set should be high effort, but should not be taken to failure.

How to progress with RPT 

First of all, to progress with RPT it’s essential to track your workouts. You must know exactly how many sets and reps you did in your last workout and what weights you used. The weights you use today are based 100% on your last performance and not on the way you feel.

There are 3 ways you can progress with RPT. We’ll address each of them one by one.

1. Micro-Loading

This is a progression model that assumes adding 1.5-2.5 lbs (0.75-1.25kg) total to the bar every workout while keeping the same number of reps in each set.

I think this is the most effective way to progressively overload your workouts. With that said you’d probably need to get your own fractional plates because most gyms don’t carry weights under 2.5 lbs (1.25kg). Ideally, you would get a set of ¼, ½ and 1 lbs plates. This would give you the luxury to increase the total weight by 0.5 lbs (250g) to 3.5 lbs (1.5kg) and everywhere in between by the half pound.

So if a routine ask for 3 sets: 6, 8, 10 reps then you can just add between 0.5 and 3.5 lbs to all of those sets at every workout.

2. Independent Set Loading

With Independent Set Loading you alternate adding 5 lbs to your first set or your subsequent sets. This is the progression model most commonly used in the Greek God Program.

Here is an example:

Workout 1: 190 lb x 5; 170 lbs x 6; 150 lbs x 8
Workout 2: 190 lbs x 5; 175 lbs x 6; 150 lbs x 8
Workout 3: 195 lbs x 5; 175 lbs x 6; 150 lbs x 8
Workout 4: 195 lbs x 5; 175 lbs x 6; 155 lbs x 8

So you first add 5 pounds to your third set, then your second set, and finally your first set. This method would have you adding 5 lbs to your main set every third workout while keeping the reps the same.

This is a VERY effective progression model if you don’t rush it or push your sets to failure. Pushing your sets to failure will eliminate the “predictability” of your strength level next workout.

3. Double-Progression

A double-progression model means you increase the weight on the bar only when you hit the top of a given rep range. You first increase the reps, only then you increase the weight.

Each set has it’s own rep range (depending on the workout routine) and they are increased independently. When you reach the top of the rep range in a given set, you increase the weight in that set with the smallest plates available (usually 2.5 lbs). The increased weight sometimes results in you losing 1 rep in that set. That’s normal and now the target is to reach the top of the rep range again.

Let’s see an example for Standing Shoulder Press:

Standing Shoulder Press – Set 1: 4-6 reps, Set 2: 6-8 reps, Set 3: 8-10 reps.

Workout 1

120 lbs x 4
110 lbs x 6 (120lbs – 10%)
100 lbs x 7 (110lbs – 10%)

In this example we’re at the bottom of the rep range in all our sets. Our target now is to add one or more reps to either one of the three sets.

Workout 2

120 lbs x 4
110 lbs x 7
100 lbs x 8

Nice! We managed to add one rep to both our second and third set.

Workout 3

120 lbs x 5
110 lbs x 8
100 lbs x 8

This time we got one extra rep in our top and second set. In our second set we’ve reached the top of the rep range which means we’re going to add weight in that set the next workout (the smallest plates available).

Workout 4

120 lbs x 5
115 lbs x 7
110 kg x 10

We lost one rep in our second set with the new weight. That’s ok. But look, we got 2 extra reps in the third set and reached the top of the rep range. We’re going to increase the weight in that set in our next workout.

That’s how you progress with Double-Progression Reverse Pyramid Training. It’s a very productive way to train and delivers awesome results if you don’t rush it. Again, pushing yourself to failure will eliminate the “predictability” of your strength level next workout.

Here is an example of RPT done with a double-progression model:

General Notes for RPT

  • Your first set is the most important and the one we constantly strive to improve
  • Always track your progress
  • Take long rest periods between sets (2-3 minutes or sometimes more if needed)
  • Never compromise form in order to lift more weight. This will actually lead to plateaus not better gains (believe me)
  • RPT requires very good exercise technique. This is why I wouldn’t recommend it for a complete beginner.

Ok, I think we covered everything. If you have any questions, feedback or suggestions, hit me up in the comment section below!



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  1. Carter on June 21, 2015 at 3:33 pm

    Hey Radu! great post man! You should do an article on the science behind lifting 3-days a week. Other than Greg’s stuff, there are very few sources out there that show the effectiveness of the three days a week routine. You are also great at spitting out the science of it too!

    • Radu Antoniu on June 21, 2015 at 3:44 pm

      Thanks Carter!

      To be honest I’m not aware of any research that looked at the style of training we do. We know it works great but at the moment I could not explain why in scientific terms.

  2. Greg on September 6, 2015 at 11:50 am

    Hi, should I do an extra set after the 3 sets? Is doing 4sets better or should I just keep it to three sets

    • Radu Antoniu on September 8, 2015 at 9:50 am

      90% of the time stick with 3 sets.

      You can do a 4th set sometimes but only when you’re feeling fresh and only for one or two movements each workout.

  3. iulian popa on September 10, 2015 at 5:51 pm

    De unde ai luat discurile alea mici pentru micro loading?

    • Radu Antoniu on September 10, 2015 at 7:53 pm

      De pe

  4. Hassan on November 17, 2015 at 8:04 am

    Can u do a full video on how to get lean functional legs with a workout and ofcourse not bulky and thanks !

  5. David on February 1, 2016 at 5:01 am

    So if on the first set I hit 6, I go up in weight with 2.5? How would I increase it with reps, if I do not have micro-loads?

    • Radu Antoniu on February 1, 2016 at 6:44 pm

      You use double-progression.

      You set a rep range and when you hit the top of the range you increase weight. If you don’t have access to small plates you need to use a large range. If you must increase by 10lbs for example you’re going to lose 3-4 reps. So your rep range could be 5-9

      If you can increase by 5 pounds your rep range can be 6-8

  6. salih on March 28, 2016 at 5:06 pm

    Hi radu
    i only workout with Dumbbells because i just prefer them
    I will start doing reverse pyramid training but the dumbbells in my gym are by 5 lbs jumps so 65s to 70s
    10 lbs total i will lose more than 2 reps i think
    what do you think about 4-8 , 6-10 , 8-12
    in this way when i hit the top end of rep range i go to next db
    what do you think of this ?

    • Radu Antoniu on March 29, 2016 at 4:46 pm

      Yes, working with rep ranges is great!

  7. Kris on May 1, 2016 at 6:59 pm

    Hi Radu,

    I recently discovered your website and channel, I think it’s great – all the info is very helpful and simple to follow. I’m now 3rd day into Intermittent fasting and really hope to love the regime.

    Anyway, my question is, since I am a girl and you don’t have much information, if any, specifically about women (and the Superhero physique isn’t really what I am striving for lol) – do you think the RPT would be the the best thing to do? I’ve been doing weightlifting and strength training for around 6 months now, 2-3 times a week, usually stick in the 8-15 rep range. Also what are the best compound moves you’d recommend for women? I do squats and deadlifts and pushups, but pull ups for example are still too impossible for me to do.
    It would be very much appreciated if you could address some of your posts/vlogs to the female auditory and to whether there are any key differences to be considered if following your general tips on training and nutrition.


    • Radu Antoniu on May 3, 2016 at 3:11 pm

      Hey Kris!

      My brand is currently focused on men, this is why there’s no content for women. But maybe in the future this will change.

      RPT is great for women too if they enjoy heavy lifting. If you don’t like pushing your sets near failure I think you’d do better using straight sets instead of RPT.
      Yes the best compound moves for women would be squats, deadlifts, bench press or pushups, DB shoulder presses and Lat Pulldowns. If you want to focus more on the butt you can also add hip thrusts and kickbacks.

  8. Hybo on May 5, 2016 at 10:02 am

    can i use this for dead lifts and squats too ?

  9. Lucas on May 8, 2016 at 12:48 pm

    Hey Radu,

    thanks for the great content. I’ve plateaued at relatively low weights. I think it’s probably because I tend to push myself to failure a lot and possibly also because my frequency is too high for certain body parts (for example I train back 3 times a week). Anyways, I’d like to give RPT a try, adjusting my frequency to 2 x / week / body part. Since this means reducing volume quite a bit, I’m wondering how I know when to add more volume in by doing straight sets or in other words: How do I know a body part is lagging enough to warrant more volume down the road? Thanks!

  10. Marko on May 24, 2016 at 11:27 pm

    Hey Radu!

    I found out about your channel a few weeks ago, and I think you give great information. I’ve completely changed my workout and diet routines since i subscribed. I started doing 5×5 instead 4×10 (three times a week instead of four to six) I did so far and I already see visible strength improvements. I also started with intermittent fasting, but haven’t seen too much results (lost 2kg in two weeks, but only went down from 16,6% to 16,3% bf). I was wondering on which exercises would you recommend me to keep doing 5×5 routines, and where I should start doing RPT. My routine now looks like this:
    A: Bench press, chest press (or shoulder press, dumbbell bench press), weighted chin ups, weighted dips, biceps curls.
    B: Squats, deadlifts, leg press, scull crushers, calf raises, ab wheel.

    I forgot to mention that I’m the best example of skinny fat you can find on the market (1.93m, 80kg). Even though I’ve been working out for two years now, I’ve always seemed to bounce in one place, cause when I lose a few kg I look really skinny, and then when I bulk up a bit I seem fat cause the muscle isn’t visible. I took your advice and I’ll try to cut down to single digits bf (although that seems impossible at this moment, cause I seem to store fat very easily) and see what happens, but I had a few issues that I mentioned above.

    Thanks in advance and keep up the good work!

  11. Rotem katzir on May 26, 2016 at 8:38 pm

    Hi radu, first of all thank you for the hard work and amazing article about the RPT.
    Just a question: if I am not a complete beginner but haven’t been using RPT ever before, on which excersizes should i use the RPT? or maybe in every drill I do start using that system?

  12. hassan on June 19, 2016 at 2:10 pm

    hey radu can i progresse in rpt with the aggressive fat lost program ?

  13. hassan on June 19, 2016 at 2:49 pm

    can i do progress with the aggressive fat lost diet ?

  14. Nci on June 21, 2016 at 5:29 am

    Hey radu, great site and gread infos – thank you! Some questions: martin form leangains only do 1-2 reverse pyramid exersice per workout @ 3 set of each. When im trying to build a workout i found alot of confusing informations in the internet, like aome jucy guys who will do bench, incline bench, military bench, dips all in one workout and all in the 3-4 sets style of reverse pyramid.. Isnt that waaaay to much? Can you share a sample workout where you combine RPT and straight sets? Thx alot and greetings from switzerland…

  15. hassan on June 21, 2016 at 12:26 pm

    radu please this question is really important
    you said on the model progression it’s really important to don’t rush for the progression not more than 1%

    ok but some part of the body have TWO key mouvement i think for exemple the back
    shin and dead lift or chest with the incline and flat
    should i try to make gains in both or just focused on of those key mouvement ?
    if try to make gains in both is it to much ?

  16. mahmoud on July 21, 2016 at 12:38 am

    really cool information but i have kind of problem here adding weight because the smallest plates in the all the gyms of my shitty city are 2.5 kg and that can be a pain in the ass while following RVP

  17. mahmoud on July 21, 2016 at 12:47 am

    really cool information but i have kind of problem here adding weight because the smallest plates in the all the gyms of my shitty city are 2.5 kg and that can be a pain in the ass while followin RVP

  18. Namina Jayasinghe on September 1, 2016 at 7:58 am

    Hi Radu,
    Can you explain about independent set loading a bit further? It’s not clear a bit, you saying that i should add eg:5lbs to my every third set until I able to hit the first set with 5lbs?

  19. Nawaz on October 7, 2016 at 3:52 pm

    Hi Radu,

    Thanks for all the great content here and on YouTube. I picked up the ShredSmart program two days ago and noticed that straight sets are used instead of RPT. My apologies if I missed the RPT, as I’ve only had a quick skim through the program so far.

    Is there a reason why you chose not to include RPT im your program?


    • Radu Antoniu on October 8, 2016 at 6:59 pm

      Hey Nawaz!

      Thanks for getting ShredSmart.
      At and above the intermediate level, periodization becomes important for managing fatigue. And to include a periodization model why I opted for straight set over RPT.

  20. steve on February 6, 2017 at 11:16 pm

    Hey Radu! Im curious to know if RPT with three sets (5,6,8) is enough volume to optimize growth. I am currently on the Greek God program and I want to make sure that I am maximizing my potential. Thanks in advance

    • Radu Antoniu on February 8, 2017 at 4:24 pm

      It can be.

      For me personally it was not enough. I noticed better progress with 3-4 sets of 4-6 reps.

      When strength gains stall with RPT it’s a good idea to increase volume.

      • Adrian on August 21, 2017 at 2:51 pm

        This is what I was also wondering.
        With RPT, you’re only doing 5 + 6 + 8 = 19 reps per exercise. This seems quite low, compared to the 5 x 5 = 25 reps I’m currently doing .
        Would adding a 4th set to the RPT(To have something like 4 + 6 + 8 + 10) be wise to do?

  21. Cesar Padilla on May 18, 2017 at 2:14 pm

    Hi, I’m stacked at standing shoulder press, I just can pass at any of the two sets:
    The routine: Standing Barbell Press 4-6 (RPT) and Standing Barbell Press 6-8 (RPT)
    Me: 4 reps con 42.5 lbs
    6 reps con 40 lbs
    I just can’t increase 1 more rep.
    Please give some advice on hat should I do. I was increasin the weight but at this point I’m stacked.

  22. Dave on May 20, 2017 at 8:24 pm

    Fixing to destroy some fat and malodorous effects of sitting too much reverse pyramid continuous tension and the concept of 40 either for at least 40 seconds or repetitions going very slowly especially the downward movements looks like a sissy or weaker guy but it actually takes a moderate Wright heavier stimulating HGH response and increase fiber activation superlative when combined with intermittent fasting and not going to failure as you mentioned the controversial point is training frequency Breaking rules for 2 to 3 Days hitting the same muscle groups extrapolates growth fat burning the motor pathways hook em horns buddy

  23. […] week and building off them with a style of programming referred to as Reverse Pyramid Training, give this article a read if you are interested in learning more about it. Make sure you record your results from week to […]

  24. […] it comes to training style we know that Greg’s a big fan of the reverse pyramid training, so all the workouts in this program are based on that particular training […]

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