What is Reverse Pyramid Training?
In many traditional resistance workout routines, the individual starts with a light weight and works up to heavier weights as the sets progress. In a full pyramid scheme, the individual comes back down as well. An example of sets and reps for squats might look like (after warm-up):
So start light and finish heavy.
The term “reverse pyramid” is the opposite from the above: start heavy and decrease weight instead of increasing. That means your first working set (don’t count warm ups) is at the heaviest resistance, and you descend from there. A Reverse Pyramid Routine (RPT) might look like:
It’s fine to do warm ups before you jump to your heaviest weight. The purpose of the warm up is just that – to warm up without tiring the muscles. Warm-up sets might look like:
|warm up||40% 1RM||8|
|warm up||50% 1RM||6|
|warm up||60% 1RM||4|
Reps, Sets, and Weight
Reverse Pyramid training is a high intensity training method. This means a type of training where you are working with a higher percentage of your one-rep max (1RM). You’ll be doing fewer reps, since you’ll be working with a heavier weight and going to the point of failure.
A word about going to failure: going to failure doesn’t meant going to the point where you can no longer complete a repetition, it means going to the point where you can’t complete another repetition with good form. Always keep proper form in all yor exercises.
Since you’re working closer to your max effort, keep the number of sets lower. For most exercises, 3 sets is good. For an exercise that stresses the whole body, like dead lifts or squat, you might want to do only 1-2 sets. When I’m doing an RPT routine, I do 1 set of 5 for dead lifts, and 2 sets of 6 and 7 for squats, and sets of 8, 9, 10 for bench press. I’ll detail my full routine below.
Here’s my dead lift routine including warm up:
Weight and Reps
When I’m doing more than one working set, I take the weight from the set before, reduce it by 10%, and then do the same number of reps from the previous set + 1. So if my first working set of bench press is 200 pounds for 8, then my next set will be 180 pounds for 9, and my third would be 172 (or as close as I could get) for 10. If I get all reps, I go up by 2.5 – 5 pounds on the first set.
Here’s my actual bench press routine including warm up:
If you get all your reps in each set, go up in weight 2.5 – 5 pounds the next workout. If you fail to get your reps in any of your sets, stay the same. If you any of your reps in any set in two consecutive workouts, drop the first set by 10% and work back up. The caveat here is dead lifts – if you miss reps in dead lifts, drop by 10% and reset.
So if you miss getting reps in bench press on Monday and Thursday, the next Monday you would start 10% lower. If you want to be aggressive, you can go 5% lower, but 10% has always worked better for me.
You’re probably wondering how to figure out how many reps to do. There is no set amount that is best, but I recommend you start with a first set in the range of 5 – 10.
With rep increases between sets, that means the least amount of reps you would do is 5 and the most is 12. I tend to do heavier with fewer reps for the bigger compound movement like squat, dead lifts, and bench, and lighter with more reps for things like shoulders, chins, curls etc.
I need to caveat that though. I’m 50 years old, and despite a good warm up, going heavy has started causing me some shoulder pain when I bench, and my back is sensitive as well. Because of that, instead of doing a 5, 6, 7, I do 8, 9, 10 on bench. And for squats I do 6, 7, 8.
A Reverse Pyramid Training Routine
So know that you’re all bloated with general about RPT, let’s put it all together. First, a quick review:
- Heaviest weight for the first set
- Reduce weight by 10% between sets
- Increase reps by 1 between sets
- Maximum of 3 sets per exercise
- Fewer sets for big body exercises like dead lifts and squats
- Go up in weight 2.5 – 5 pounds when you hit all reps in all sets
- Stay the same if you miss any reps in any sets
- If you reps in any set in two consecutive workouts, drop the first set by 10% and work back up
- If you miss reps in dead lifts, drop by 10% and reset
- Rest 2 -3 minutes between RPT sets
I’m using these guidelines in my own RPT routine:
Monday/Thursday for me is chest, shoulders, triceps. My first exercise is Bench Press:
My second exercise is Seated Military Press. I do seated because standing overhead presses bothers my back and I can go heavier seated. I don’t do any warms ups because my shoulders are already ready to go from benching:
|Seated Military Press|
These two are my main exercises, done Reverse Pyramid Training style. I also do accessory exercises, but I don’t follow RPT for them. On Mondays I also do:
I do close grip bench using a 3 x 10 scheme – 3 sets of 10 reps, same weight all sets, when I get all sets and reps I go up by 5 pounds. I do upright rows using 5 x 5 – 5 sets of 5 reps, same weight all sets, when I get all sets and reps I go up by 5 pounds. that’s because I want to go heavier on upright rows, but still get good volume.
A special note about upright rows – don’t pull to high and risk your shoulders. I use a heavier weight, a wider grip, and I pull to the bottom of my rib cage. I find this hits my rear delts and traps very well. The way I do it, it’s almost more of a modified high shrug than a front row.
Tuesday/Friday is legs, back and biceps. Note that I alternate; on Tuesdays I do squats, on Fridays I do dead lifts.
|Dead Lifts (Friday)|
Second exercise is weighted chins. Don’t forget to include your body weight when figuring out resistance. I weigh 185 pounds, so the weight listed is my body weight plus added weight. Since my last set is less than my body weight, I do max reps. I have a dip belt I use to hang weights between my legs. I’m already pretty warmed up from deads, so I get right to it.
|set 1||220 (+35)||6|
|set 2||197.5 (+12.5)||7|
|set 3||body weight||max|
These two main exercises, done Reverse Pyramid Training style. I also do two accessory exercises, but I don’t follow RPT for them. On Tuesday/Friday I also do:
- Seated Cable Row
- Yates Row
- Bar Curl
- Dumbbell Concentration Curls
I do each of these exercises using a 3 x 10 scheme – 3 sets of 10 reps, same weight all sets, when I get all sets and reps I go up by 5 pounds. I use very strict form on all my exercises, but on these in particular. Sometimes I’ll sub out Reverse Rows for seated rows, doing 5 x 10 since reverse rows are body weight only.
Reverse Pyramid Training is a high intensity routine that is good for gaining strength and especially good for maintaining strength during a cut. it can be done in a shorter amount of time than a traditional volume style workout.
Main points to remember are to keep your form and to let your reps be your guide for increasing or decreasing weight.
Going to failure doing mean failing the lift! It means to the point where form begins to break down.
Rep ranges are adjustable, from as low as 5 to as high as 12, depending on your training goals and personal style.