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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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!
- The Power and Effectiveness behind Reverse Pyramid Training
- Reverse Pyramid Revisited
- How to Use Reverse Pyramid Training to Supercharge Your Workouts
- ‘Three Day Split RPT’ Routine
Do you want to build a body like Daniel Craig in Casino Royale or Skyfall?
The Greek God Program has been designed to help you build proportionate mass and incredible strength while staying lean.
It is also the program that helped me build my physique.