Subscribe

Is your workout routine feeling a bit too routine? 

Pyramid training has long been used by lifters to change things up. The ability to stack sets and work with greater resistance can be a great way to challenge your mind and body.

But what about reverse pyramid training?

In a nutshell, reverse pyramid training takes us through our heavy sets and finishes with lighter sets. I’ll share a lot more information about this coming up.

Over my time in gyms, I’ve witnessed the benefits of training in both reverse pyramid and standard pyramid. We’ll explore those, too. 

And if you decide you want to try reverse pyramid training, I can get you started. Keep reading to get the best reverse pyramid training guide, exercise, and sample program.  

What is reverse pyramid training?

what is reverse pyramid training

Reverse pyramid training (RPT) is characterized by performing exercises with a heavy set first, dropping resistance, and increasing repetitions with each set. 

This reverse pyramid contains three sets. Each set is followed by a 60-second rest before performing the reverse pyramid again.   

What is the difference between reverse pyramid training and traditional pyramid training?

Pyramid training is performed with lighter sets first and heavy sets to finish.

Reverse pyramid training is done by completing the heavy sets first and lighter sets to finish.  

As resistance gets heavier the number of repetitions decreases. At the same time, lower resistance repetitions will increase.  

Both pyramid and reverse pyramid training results in enhanced muscle hypertrophy.

Looking to build lean muscle? Check out A Healthy 3000-Calorie Meal Plan With PDF

Reverse Pyramid Training vs. Straight Sets

Reverse pyramid training is an incredible way to increase the volume of your training.

Straight sets training requires us to perform sets of 8-12 repetitions. Outside of choosing the right weight, this can leave us with some fuel in the tank.

Reverse pyramid training, on the other hand, requires us to lift heavy sets of 4-8 repetitions, a moderate set of 8-12 reps, followed by a light set of 12-15 reps.

This increase allows us to stimulate the muscle for longer, while the increased volume of training is beneficial for promoting muscle hypertrophy.    

Is reverse pyramid training effective?

Related: Horizontal Push Exercises

Yes, and there’s some research behind this. Reverse pyramid training has scientifically been shown to promote muscle hypertrophy

The ability to fatigue the muscle past its limits that is traditionally found with straight sets allows for increased volume which is beneficial for increasing muscle mass. 

reverse pyramid training program effectiveness

Reverse Pyramid Training Benefits

Here’s my list of the benefits and reasons you should consider implementing reverse pyramid training.

Progressive Overload

Reverse pyramid training for mass can work for you. It’s a great way to promote progressive overload, which is crucial to improving strength and increasing muscle.

Reverse pyramids allow you to train through the full repetition spectrum.

By training at rep ranges of 4-8, we will promote strength and hypertrophy, while sets of 12-15 promote endurance.

This gives you the opportunity to overload your muscles at the beginning of each set with heavy resistance for a short time, followed by lighter working sets.

Over time, this will increase strength and muscle size.    

Promote Muscle Hypertrophy

Reverse pyramids can be a tool for increasing your muscle mass.

Many people find that this method helps them perform more reps.

Naturally, this increase in volume is associated with increased muscle mass.

Increase Strength

One of the best things about performing reverse pyramids is that you implement strength working sets.

When performing regular straight sets, we’re locked into our repetition ranges.

However, when we practice reverse pyramid training, we get the benefit of low repetitions and heavy weight training, which is beneficial for developing strength.   

Increased Muscular Endurance

When we increase the volume of training and work to high repetition ranges, we’re challenging our muscle tissue and cardiovascular system to adapt.

This makes reverse pyramids great for improving endurance and overall performance.

benefits of reverse pyramid training

Reverse Pyramid Training Drawbacks

Reverse pyramids may be a great method of training, but they’re not without their drawbacks.

Here’s a list of cons to reverse pyramid training. 

Time-Consuming

When we perform straight sets, we can typically get through a single exercise in between 3-5 minutes, assuming we are performing three sets.

When we perform RPT, on the other hand, we’re essentially tripling out sets for the exercises, which may also increase rest time.

Instead of one set being a set of 8-12, it is one set of 4-8, followed by a set of 8-12, with a finishing set of 15. 

This dramatically increases the time spent in the gym, even if it is just for one exercise.

Reduces Exercises During Session

The increase in single exercise sets and repetitions will require you to omit other movements from your workout.

As the RPT adds extra time to an exercise, we may need to remove other exercises to make fit a realistic time frame.

This may mean that you sacrifice your favorite arm exercises at the end of the session in favor of hitting your chest a bit harder.

This can be difficult for many, as we all have areas we want to hit during our session.

The compromise of added growth from RPT potentially leads to other areas taking a back seat.  

Not for Beginners

Reverse pyramid training is advanced and not suitable for beginners.

When we approach the gym as beginners, we require less stimulus to get our initial results.

Research indicates that 1-3 sets of 8-12 repetitions are sufficient for muscle hypertrophy.

Meanwhile, advanced lifters would benefit from an increased volume of 3-6 sets of 1-12 repetitions.

This can take a considerable toll on the body, and that’s where reverse pyramid training programs come in.

So while beginners can technically do RPT, it’s not recommended or necessary.

Can Result in Poor Technique

RPT is great for promoting strength, mass, and endurance. However, when we work to the level of fatigue toward the end of each set, our technique may suffer.

This may not always be the case for all lifters, but if you’re advanced and you want to be pushing your body to these limits, it’s likely that some reps will be performed poorly.

To reduce poor technique and forming bad habits, consider reducing the weight further if you cannot perform them correctly.

This will help you still get the most out of your training without creating bad habits or sustaining an injury.

reverse pyramid workout drawbacks

Reverse Pyramid Training Guidelines

Here is a list of guidelines to follow when you are undertaking RPT.

Outline

Reverse pyramid training is performed using three sets in succession, decreasing weight with each set while increasing repetitions.

SetRepetitions %RM
14 – 880%+ 
28 – 1260% – 80%
312 – 15+Below 60%

Categories

RPT can be categorized into two different styles, narrow pyramid and wide pyramid.

These dictate the rep ranges, you should perform for each set.

TypeRepetition Sequence
Narrow8, 10, 12 
Wide5, 10, 15

Warm-Up

RPT is an intense style of training, which means adequate warm-up is required prior to performing your first exercises.

Perform 1-2 sets of the first working set at a light resistance, combined with some dynamic to prepare.

This will prepare your nervous system and get blood flow to working muscles, leading to improved performance.

RPT Progression System – How to Progress in Reverse Pyramid Training?

To ensure you get the most out of your reverse pyramid training program, plan to progressively overload each week by incrementally increasing weight.

Here’s an example of a weekly weight increase bench press.

WeekSet 1 Set 2 Set 3 
Reps81012
Week 180kg70kg60kg
Week 282.5kg72.5kg62.5kg
Week 385kg75kg65kg
Week 487.5kg77.5kg67.5kg

9 Best Exercises To Include in Your Reverse Pyramid Training 

Here’s my list of exercises to put into your reverse pyramid training program.

1. Barbell Bench Press

The barbell bench press is considered one of the best ways to develop strength and size for the upper body.

The racked position also allows for quick weight changes between your reverse pyramid sets.

Equipment

  • Bench Press
  • Barbell
  • Weight Plates

How To Perform Bench Press

  • Lie on the bench, facing up, with your head resting at the top end of the bench.
  • Grasp bar just wider than shoulder-width apart and firmly plant feet on the floor.
  • Lift the barbell off the rack and position it over chest height.
  • Lower the barbell down to the middle of the chest.
  • Once the barbell makes contact with the chest, drive the bar back up to starting position. 
  • Reduce weight, perform two sets, and repeat for the third set.

Benefits

  • Increase upper body strength
  • Targets chest, shoulders, and triceps

Pro Tips

  • Before each set, be sure to have feet firmly planted. This will give you a solid base to press from. 
  • Focus on breathing, inhaling and bracing the core at the beginning of each movement and exhaling when pressing the bar up. 

2. Barbell Back Squat

The barbell back squat is one of the most effective ways to train the muscles of the lower body.

Its ability to work the legs, hips, and back muscles are nearly unmatched, which makes it a great exercise for your RPT program.

Equipment

  • Squat Rack
  • Barbell
  • Weight Plates

How To Perform Barbell Back Squat

  • Standing in the squat rack, step under the bar and position the bar on the belly of your trapezius.
  • Push legs up, lift the bar off the rack, and walk back into your squat position.
  • Leading with hips backward, begin to lower hips until they are parallel with the floor.
  • Once you reach the bottom, push through the legs and drive through the hips until you reach the upright position. 
  • Remove the weight, perform two sets, and reduce weight for the third set.

Benefits

  • Increase lower body strength and size
  • Targets quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, and core

Pro Tips

  • When performing the back squat using the RPT, start with a lighter weight for your heavy set. This will allow your body to adjust to the stimulus. Following this set, you can begin to push.
  • Inhale and brace the core on the way down and exhale on the way up.

3. Barbell Deadlift

Related: A Detailed Guide To Hook Grip Deadlift

One of the cornerstones of weight training, the deadlift is an excellent exercise for developing size and strength. 

It’s a no-brainer for your reverse pyramid training routine.

Equipment

  • Barbell
  • Weight Plates

How To Perform Barbell Deadlift

  • Stand in front of the barbell with a bar over the top of your shoelaces.
  • Bend forward, drop the hips, and grab the barbell with hands shoulder-width apart.
  • Gently pull the bar to create a proud chest and squeeze shoulder blades back toward the hips to increase tension through the body.
  • Begin by lifting the bar upward to the knees.
  • Once the bar gets beyond the knees, begin to push forward with the hips until you reach the upright position.
  • Gradually lower by leaning forward until the bar is just below the knees.
  • Then, bend the knees and lower them until the weight makes contact with the floor. 
  • Once you have completed your heavy set, reduce weight for the second and third sets.  

Benefits

  • Increase strength and muscle mass
  • Targets quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, core, and upper back

Pro Tips

  • For your first set, start with a lighter weight. This will allow you to get used to the movement and understand how the working sets feel.
  • When setting up, be sure to gently pull the bar and create tension through the body. This will reduce injury and improve the quality of your lift.

4. Lat Pulldown

The lat pulldown has the ability to help us pack on serious size. Its pin-based system allows for smooth transitions between sets, making it an excellent exercise for an RPT program. 

Equipment

  • Lat Pulldown

How To Perform Lat Pulldown

  • Sit on the lat pulldown with knees tucked under support pads.
  • Reach overhead and grab the bar just wider than shoulder-width apart.
  • To begin, lean back slightly and engage the shoulder blades back and down.
  • Leading with elbows, pull the bar down to your collarbone, focusing on the contraction of your lat.
  • Gradually release until your arms are stretched overhead.
  • Once the first set is complete, reduce weight and perform for the remaining two sets.

Benefits

  • Builds upper back and arms
  • Pin-based system perfect for weight changes

Pro Tips

  • When performing the lat pulldown, keep the chest up and focus on depressing the shoulder blades. This will ensure you hit your target muscles.
  • Exhale as you pull the bar down and inhale as you release.

5. Machine Hack Squat

The hack squat machine is known for its torturous muscle-building capabilities. It guides lifters through a squat path using a set of tracks.

These tracks remove the need for balance and stability and help you focus on muscular contractions and pumping out reps.

Equipment

  • Hack Squat Machine
  • Weight Plates

How To Perform Machine Hack Squat 

  • Step into the hack squat machine and place feet in the middle of the platform, shoulder-width apart. 
  • Rest your back on the carriage with shoulders under the shoulder pads.
  • To begin, push legs up, take the weight off the carriage, and unlock the safety mechanism.
  • Lower your hips down toward the platform, aiming to finish at a 90-degree bend at knees and hips.
  • Once you reach the bottom, push through your legs until you return to the starting position.
  • Perform your first set, and remove weight. Repeat for the remaining two sets. 

Benefits

  • Great for changing weights for RPT
  • Builds legs and hips
  • Carriage removes the need to stabilize which allows you to focus on lifting heavy

Pro Tips

  • For foot positioning, place your feet shoulder-width apart in the middle of the platform. This will allow you to push through your foot evenly.
  • At the top of each rep, tense your glutes, inhale, and active abs. This will help increase core stability and glute focus.

6. Romanian Deadlifts

Romanian deadlifts are a compound movement that helps develop our posterior chain (glutes, hamstrings, and erectors).

Targeting this area using reverse pyramid training is a great way to improve hips hinge strength and mechanics, which is essential to our long-term physical health.

Equipment

  • Barbell
  • Weight Plates

How To Perform Romanian Deadlift

  • Standing upright, hold a barbell using an overhand grip, shoulder-width apart.
  • Gently engage the shoulder blades back and down.
  • With knees unhinged and fixed in position, lead back with the hips and gradually lower the barbell down the front of the legs.
  • Lower until the barbell is just below knee height.
  • To return, pull upward, pushing through with the hips until you reach the starting position.
  • After completing the first set, reduce weight and repeat for the next two sets.

Benefits

  • Functional movement, improve posterior chain mechanics
  • Strengthens glutes, hamstrings, erector spinae

Pro Tips

  • When performing the Romanian deadlift, unhinge the knees but do not let them bend throughout the movement. This will help to target the hamstrings.
  • At the top of each rep, focus on tensing glutes and resetting posture. This will help you start fresh for the next rep.

7. 45-Degree Leg Press

Related: Leg Press Foot Placement

Like the hack squat, this exercise is an excellent way to challenge the muscles of the lower body.

As the carriage guides the weight for you, there’s no need to focus on stabilizing, so you can focus on pumping out those reps.

Equipment

  • 45-Degree Leg Press
  • Weight Plates

How To Perform 45 Degree Leg Press

  • Take a seat on the leg press and place feet in the middle of the platform, shoulder-width apart.
  • Push legs up to take the weight off the safety guards.
  • Unlock the safety guards.
  • Bend the knees and lower the carriage down toward your body until your knees are bent at 90 degrees.
  • Once they reach the bottom of the movement, push through the legs until they’re at the beginning position.
  • Once you have completed your first set, remove weight plates and repeat for your last two sets.

Benefits

  • Carriage removes need to stabilize, allowing you to focus on pushing weight 
  • Strengthens glutes, hamstrings, quadriceps

Pro Tips

  • Place feet in the middle of the platform. This will allow you to push evenly through your feet.
  • Focus on breathing, inhaling when lowering and exhaling when pressing the movement up. 

8. Bent Over Barbell Row

The bent-over barbell row targets the muscles of the back while engaging the core and lower body.

This compound movement has long been used to increase muscle mass and improve strength.

Equipment

  • Barbell
  • Weight Plates

How To Perform Bent Over Barbell Row

  • Standing upright with the barbell in hands, grips shoulder-width apart.
  • Lean forward at the hips until you reach 70 degrees.
  • To begin, engage the shoulder blade and pull the barbell toward the bottom of the chest.
  • As you pull, bring the shoulder blades together until the bar reaches the body.
  • Gradually lower the barbell to the starting position.
  • Complete the first set and decrease the weights for each subsequent set. Repeat.

Benefits

  • Full-body exercise
  • Great for building strength and mass for the upper back

Pro Tips

  • The bent-over position can be difficult to maintain, especially with heavier weights. Consider reducing the weight and increasing reps, or allowing the barbell to rest on the floor between reps. This will help you pull more weight.

9. Seated V-Bar Cable Row

The seated V-bar cable row’s pin-based setup makes it a great row alternative to add to your reverse pyramid programming.

This will allow you to target the muscles of the upper back and transition smoothly between sets.

Equipment

  • Cable Row Machine 

How To Perform Seated V-Bar Cable Row

  • Take a seat on the cable row and place your feet on the platform.
  • Grab the handle, straighten your legs, and brace yourself, sitting upright.
  • To begin, activate the shoulder blades back and down, with the row bar toward the belly button.
  • Once the bar meets the body, gradually release it until arms are outstretched. 
  • Complete the first set, drop the weight, and repeat the process for the remaining two sets.

Benefits

  • Pin weight system is great for changing weights
  • Great for building strength and mass for the upper back

Pro Tips

  • Before each rep, pull shoulder blades together. This will draw focus to the muscles of the upper back, ensuring you’re hitting your target muscles.
  • When performing, focus on inhaling when releasing and exhaling while rowing.
reverse pyramid training workouts

The Best Reverse Pyramid Training Program 

Interested in trying it for yourself? Here’s a sample reverse pyramid training workout plan.

Each day will contain two large compound movements. The following two exercises are for smaller groups to be performed in straight sets.  

MonTuesWedThursFriSatSun
TrainRestTrainRestTrainRestRest

RPT Program

Day 1 (30 – 35 mins)

ExerciseSetsRepetitionsRest Time
Barbell Back Squat38, 10, 1260-90 secs
45-Degree Leg Press310,12,1560-90 secs
Dumbbell Walking Lunge3860 secs
Calf Raises32060 secs

Day 2 (30 – 35 mins)

ExerciseSetsRepetitionsRest Time
Barbell Deadlift36, 8, 1060 – 90 secs
Lat Pulldown38, 12, 1560 – 90 secs
Seated Cable Row 38-1260
Dumbbell Bicep Curls38-1260

Day 3 (30 – 35 mins)

ExerciseSetsRepetitionsRest Time
Barbell Bench Press38, 10, 1260 – 90 secs
Romanian Deadlift38, 10, 1260 – 90 secs
Dumbbell Overhead Press38-1245 – 60 secs
Dips38-10 45 – 60 secs

Need some tips for building the perfect program? Check out How Many Exercises Per Workout? Muscle Grouping, Sets, and Reps Guidelines 

Pro Tips for an Effective Reverse Pyramid Training

Here is a list of tips to get the most out of your RPT program.

Progressive Overload

Reverse pyramid training is a great way to increase your strength and mass.

When you perform your reverse pyramids sets, be sure to incrementally increase weight every week.

This will help you improve each week, resulting in big gains months down the track.

Reduce Weight When Form Breaks

If the weight you are lifting begins to alter your technique, consider decreasing the weight.

While this may be a hit to the ego, it will help you perform the reps correctly and focus on contracting the target muscle.

This will still help you obtain those results while reducing the risk of injury.

Program Limited Reverse Pyramids

RPT can be time-consuming and make your programming feel too long and repetitive.

When programming RPT, consider implementing no more than two exercises.

This will allow you to get the benefits of RPT without the risk of becoming burnt out from the repetitiveness and lack of variety.     

Warm-Up

Before you head into your RPT, be sure to warm up. This style of training can be demanding on the entire body.

Warming up the muscles, increasing blood flow, and preparing your nervous system will improve your lifting capacity, resulting in better gains.

Focus On Compound Movements

When programming reverse pyramids into your training, be sure to use them on compound movements.

By using RPT on exercises such as squats, deadlifts, and chest press, you will be targeting multiple muscle groups at once.

Strength training has been identified to induce growth hormone and testosterone when performing movements with major muscle groups.

When we double down on this and perform RPT on our compound lifts, we target multiple muscle groups and promote hormone release. 

Does reverse pyramid training work?

Reverse pyramid training has been scientifically shown to promote muscle hypertrophy and increase strength.

RPT increases the volume of repetitions, which has been indicated as a key factor in increasing muscle mass.

While the range of repetitions, with heavier sets performed at 1-5 repetitions is beneficial for strength gains.

Is pyramid or reverse pyramid training better?

Both pyramid training and reverse pyramid training are effective. 

Research conducted on both PT and RPT indicated that the difference between the two methods was negligible.

Ultimately, both methods are effective ways of training for muscle hypertrophy and strength. 

What is reverse pyramid strength training?

Reverse pyramid strength training is when your working sets are completed at lower repetitions ranges with a heavier weight.

An example of this is a narrow pyramid, with sets of 1, 3, and 5 repetitions.

Performing these repetitions will require you to perform at 85%-100% of your 1RM, which is beneficial for increasing strength.

Is reverse pyramid training better than straight sets?

In terms of increasing mass and strength, reverse pyramids training can be better than straight sets.

This can be due to the increased volume and loading that RPT offers.

However, RPT should not be implemented solely based on this.

As RPT is so challenging for the body, watch out for burnout and overtraining. 

Can I use reverse pyramid training for fat loss?

Reverse pyramid sets can be used for fat loss. RPT takes our bodies through a spectrum of repetitions.

This challenges our muscles and cardiovascular system to adapt.

When pursuing fat loss goals, a calorie deficit, and the implementation of a high protein nutrition plan have been scientifically indicated to yield the best reverse pyramid training results.

This helps to maintain lean body mass while decreasing body fat. 

Final Thoughts

Reverse pyramid training is an incredible way to build muscle and strengthen your body.

The combinations of sets and repetitions with application to different exercises are near endless.

However, when programming RPT, we need to consider the toll it will take on our bodies. We need to program RPT to get the most out of the body, without overtraining and burning out.

This will allow us to take the benefits without the drawbacks and stay consistent for the long haul.

Have you tried RPT or are you thinking of implementing reverse pyramid sets into your program?

Let me know in the comments below.