What is Reverse Pyramid Training: Get the Best out of your Workouts

Reverse Pyramid Training (RPT) is a style of training where you perform your heaviest set on the first set and then “pyramid” down to lighter weights on the second and third set.

 

RPT Bench Press Example:reverse-pyramid-training

Warm Up Set 1: 30 kg, 3-5 reps

Warm Up Set 2: 55 – 60 kg, 1 rep

then…

Set 1: 70 kg, 4-6 reps

Drop the weight by around 10 %

Set 2: 62.5 kg, 6-8 reps

Drop the weight by 10 % again

Set 3: 55 kg, 8- 10 reps

Note: Don’t do as many reps as you can on warm up sets, you want to start fresh on your first set.

 

Benefits of RPT

You get a complete training stimulus with low volume training! This is because you are training with very high intensity, and you are lifting very close to your limits on all 3 sets.

Keep in mind that the first set is the most important one. The first set is the one that stimulates your muscles the most which will lead to more muscle gains.

This style of training is not recommended for beginners though, since it requires good technique and/or form on your exercises.

 

How to Progress with RPT

When training RPT style, you should always keep track on your lifts. Know how many reps and how heavy you lifted last time, and improve your self by setting new personal records. Here are the different methods on how you can progress your lifts:

 

#1 Micro Loading

This method would be the easiest one out there, but it requires micro plates which most gyms don’t have. When you micro load you simply add around 0.5 kg – 1 kg to all of your sets in one workout keeping the same amount of reps.

Example:

Workout 1: 75 kg x 5, 65 kg x 6, 55 kg x 8

Workout 2: 76 kg x 5, 66 kg x 6, 56 kg x 8

 

#2 Independent Set Loading

In this model, you alternate adding 2.5 kg on your third and second set, before adding it to your first set.

Example:

Workout 1. 75 kg x 5, 65 kg x 6, 55 kg x 8

Workout 2: 75 kg x 5, 65 kg x 6, 57.5 kg x 8

Workout 3: 75 kg x 5, 67.5 kg x 6, 57.5 kg x 8

Workout 4: 77.5 kg x 5, 67.5 kg x 6, 57.5 kg x 8

 

#3 Double Progression

In the double progression model, you are focusing on increasing the reps before increasing the weight.

Example:

Workout 1: 75 kg x 4, 65 kg x 6, 55 kg x 7

Workout 2: 75 kg x 4, 65 kg x 7, 55 kg x 8

Workout 3: 75 kg x 5, 65 kg x 8, 55 kg x 8

Workout 4: 75 kg  x 5, 65 kg x 7, 55 kg x 10

The amount of reps on the sets should be:

Set 1: 4-6, Set 2: 6-8, Set 3: 8-10 

 

Video showing how Reverse Pyramid Training looks like on the first, second and third set

 

If you are planning to start using this style of training, remember the following things:

  • ALWAYS track your progress (weight and reps)
  • You can use 3 different method to progress on your lifts.
  • Only use this style of training on your main exercises (compound exercises)
  • The first set is the most important
  • Requires good technique and/or form
  • Never compromise form in order to lift more weight. This will actually lead to plateaus not better gains
  • This is a style of training that we use in the Kinobody Programs

 

If you enjoyed this post, feel free to leave a comment down below.

 

15 Comments

  1. Peter

    Interesting post I didn’t know about reverse pyramid training before reading this. In a way, it makes sense to lift the heaviest weights first when you are fresh as opposed to the normal ascending weights. I wonder when you do the first rep in the second and third sets does it seem “easy”, as your muscles have already been prepared for heavier weights?

    Reply
    1. Antonio Alessandro Bianculli

      Hey Peter,

      The second and third set becomes a little easier. The first set is the one you want to focus most on, the second and third are to get more volume on your workouts. Although I will suggest you only do 2 sets if you are cutting (on a caloric deficit).

      Reply
    2. Antonio Alessandro Bianculli

      Hey Peter,

      The second and third set becomes a little easier. The first set is the one you want to focus most on, the second and third are to get more volume on your workouts. Although I will suggest you only do 2 sets if you are cutting (on a caloric deficit).

      Reply
  2. Peter

    Interesting post I didn’t know about reverse pyramid training before reading this. In a way, it makes sense to lift the heaviest weights first when you are fresh as opposed to the normal ascending weights. I wonder when you do the first rep in the second and third sets does it seem “easy”, as your muscles have already been prepared for heavier weights?

    Reply
    1. Antonio Alessandro Bianculli

      Hey Peter,

      The second and third set becomes a little easier. The first set is the one you want to focus most on, the second and third are to get more volume on your workouts. Although I will suggest you only do 2 sets if you are cutting (on a caloric deficit).

      Reply
    2. Antonio Alessandro Bianculli

      Hey Peter,

      The second and third set becomes a little easier. The first set is the one you want to focus most on, the second and third are to get more volume on your workouts. Although I will suggest you only do 2 sets if you are cutting (on a caloric deficit).

      Reply
  3. Liz

    I think this is a good strategy for muscle gain. I used to be a personal trainer, and although most of my clients were woman who just wanted to tone up, I was aware that many of the male clients training with the male PT’s wanted to train like this. The first set really gets the nervous system primed for action. I am curious though, would this training affect people in different ways depending on what kind muscle fibers they have predominately have eg fast twitch/slow twitch?

    Reply
    1. Antonio Alessandro Bianculli

      Hey Liz,

      Check out this article I found, I’m sure it will answer your question 🙂

      Reply
  4. Henry

    Very nice examples for different exercise routines.
    In my experience reverse pyramid training works great.
    Equally, in all the cases – from bodybuilding to powerlifting to strongman. Don’t you think so?
    In my case, I basically do all of the heaviest exercises & maximum lifts in that manner to give my muscles proper beating.

    I also like the part you’ve added warm up sets for each routine. In my option one just can’t ignore that part, it’s crucial. Although, some folks tend to walk in to gym & start out almost on max weight which in my mind is quite dangerous thing to do. Not sure how exactly they do it without consequences.
    What do you think?

    The one thing I’d do a bit differently is I would be adding more sets to each workout. 5 is too few in my opinion. On bigger exercises I’d say you warm up with 3 sets at least, you get 4 working sets in & then you’ll start reverse sets to come down all the way.
    But of course it can be all about our level of athleticism & our current shape – it can be entirely different for everyone. So it’s open for debate.
    For beginners 5 is definitely a good way to go.

    Thanks for informative post!
    I’ve found the Micro Loading, that you point out here, incredibly good to push your max lifts. For muscle gains in size I’d simply go for Double Progression, weights would be quite irrelevant in that case.

    Regards,

    Reply
    1. Antonio Alessandro Bianculli

      No problem Henry. You may be right when you say to do more warm up sets, but in my opinion, 3 working sets is enough as long as you are increasing the weight consistently on your exersices.

      Reply
  5. Jeff

    Question 1:Do you have a recommendation as to how to track your reps/amount of weight? Example-do you recommend writing it down in a good old fashioned notebook you take to your work out session or do you have an app you recommend?

    It seems important to be able to track this information so that not only can you make the correct adjustments while you are working out, but that you can track progress over time.

    Question 2: When lifting do you recommend reaching 100% muscle fatigue after you lifted your last rep. I.E., that you can’t possibly lift one more rep?

    Reply
    1. Antonio Alessandro Bianculli

      Hey Jeff,

      Use whatever you want to track, I personally use notepad on my phone it’s easy to carry around and you never forget to take it with you because is your phone of course.

      On your first set try 100% BUT never do one more rep if you know you can’t do one more. This way, you will learn how to train hard without a spotter.

      Reply
  6. emmanuel

    Hey Antonio,

    I have been doing reverse pyramid training and I have seen tremendous results. It allows me to get stronger in the gym and always hit PRs.

    I love the feeling of getting stronger and pushing heavy weight. Over a year I have increased my bench tremendously. It is great!

    What do you do if you hit a strength plateau?

    Reply
    1. Antonio (Post author)

      Hey Emmanuel, There are many things you can do when you hit a plateau. Here are some:

      – Change the exercise to a similar one (for example: instead of flat bench press, do incline or decline. Or instead of chin ups, do pull ups).

      – Lift about 5-10% less weight on all your sets while increasing the reps.

      I hope thing tips are enough to help you 🙂

      Reply
  7. Lyle

    I’ve never really read up on pyramid training before this article. Like I knew what it was I just never took the time to research it. But now I’m quite interested considering the results that are possible.

    I’ve never really liked using the same routine every session, I prefer to change it up after every few months. So this style is definitely something to consider.

    Thanks for the good read, I’ll make sure to use what I’ve learned!

    Lyle

    Reply

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