Reverse pyramid training (RPT) is a system of performing exercises where we start from the heaviest weight first and decrease the load between sets finishing with the lightest.
This form of training is relatively new and quiet popular, especially by natural bodybuilders. The biggest benefit of reverse pyramiding is that we can lift the heaviest weight in a first set, when we are the freshest, have the most energy. It gives us the ability to lift heavier weight than working out in a usual way. As you probably know – lifting heavier weight causes bigger stimulation to the muscles. For this reason this method can be really effective. It’s often used during fat burning cycle (cutting) but is also great for building muscles (hypertrophy).
In standard pyramid training we start from the lightest weight first – let’s say it’s 60 kg – and do 10 repetitions. We add more weight in second set (to make it 70kg) and perform around 8 reps. We add weight again and do 6 reps with 80 kg in a last set.
In reverse pyramid training we start form the heaviest weight. Because we are fresh (not tired yet) we will be able to lift heavier weight than with previous method in a last set (80 kg). In a first set we should be able to lift easily 85kg for 6 times or more. Then we decrease the load and do 8 repetitions with 75kg. In last set decrease the load again and perform around 10 reps with 65 kg.
|set||Pyramid Training||Reverse Pyramid Training|
|1||60 kg x 10||85kg x 6|
|2||70kg x 8||75kg x 8|
|3||80kg x 6||65kg x 10|
When you try RPT for the first time you will notice that you can lift much heavier weight in a first set than you would use in a standard pyramiding as a last. In above example trainee could probably lift easily 85kg 8 times or even 90kg for 6 (of course in a reverse style).
Training with the heavier load stimulates our muscles more. That’s why we can notice growth nearly instantly.
How to use RPT
Below is an explanation how to use reverse pyramid training in your workout:
- Do warm-up sets.
- Use the heaviest weight in a first set aiming for 6 repetitions.
- Lower the load (around 10%), rest and do around 8 reps;
- Lower the weight again (~10%), rest and do as many repetitions as you can before reaching the failure (usually it is between 10 and 12).
On the next workout try do more repetitions in a first set. Once you are able to do 8 reps in a first set it is time to use heavier weight on a next training session.
This is how it looks in practice – on a chest muscle training example:
- Bench Press (Reverse Pyramid Training)
- Warm-up sets,
- 80kg x 6 reps, rest around 2 min.; (top set)
- 70kg x 8 reps, rest;
- 60kg x 10 reps.
- Incline Bench Press – standard pyramiding
- 60 kg x 10,
- 65 kg x 8,
- 70 kg x 6.
- Cable Crossovers – straight sets
- 25kg x 12-15,
- 25kg x 12-15.
RPT is quiet heavy method. We use it only with one exercise – the first. It is usually a compound movement like: squat, deadlift, bench press, OHP or chin-ups. Rest of exercises is really additional and we perform them in a normal way (either increasing the load each set or doing straight sets). Using reverse pyramiding throughout the whole workout would be far too much for the body and wouldn’t bring as good effects.
The progression with RPT
The progression with this system of training seems quite simple. You have to focus mostly on a top-set (first). On a first session you aim for the weight you can lift no more than 6 times. Next training try to do more reps with the same weight. Once you are able to lift this weight 8 times you can increase the load on the next time. Then work on for more reps again.
80kg x 6, 70kg x 8, 60kg x 10;
80kg x 8, 70kg x 10, 60kg x 12;
85kg x 6, 75kg x 7, 65kg x 9;
85kg x 8, 75kg x 10, 65 kg x 11;
90kg x 5, 80kg x 7, 70kg x 9;
90kg x 6, 80kg x 8, 70 kg x 10;
And so on…
Reverse pyramid training is great when we want to burn some fat. Usually we are getting much weaker during cutting cycle. When we eat below maintenance level, decreasing the amount of carbohydrates from our meals, we are slowly getting weaker. Week and week and moth by month the weight we train with is slowly going down. Along with weight our muscles are getting smaller as well. Lighter weight = smaller muscles. For this reason many amateur bodybuilders that train naturally lose loads of muscle mass that they’ve built before. Usually because of bad diet they are getting fat and bulky during hypertrophy cycle and then weak and small when they try to burn fat. Many guys that train naturally end up in this vicious circle and can’t get out from that.
RPT really solves this problem. Lifting heavy weight at the start of the training provides enough stimulation to spare our hard earned musculature. Usually we don’t see as much muscle losses during cutting cycle as with standard pyramid training. When we finish burning fat we actually look muscular.
This method is also great for building muscle. Heavier weight provides more stimulation. We can notice bigger and faster growth. It also makes progression much simpler and easier to follow.
To warm up for RPT we will do 3-4 sets with lighter weight for 5-2 repetitions. Start from 5 reps with around 30-40% of your first working set and ramp it up till you reach the top set. Below is an example where your first workings set will be 100kg:
- Warm-up set 1 – 40kg x 5
- Warm-up set 2 – 60kg x 4
- Warm-up set 3 – 80kg x 3
- Warm-up set 4 – 90kg x 2
- Working set 1 – 100kg x 6
If you train with the very heavy weight simply keep doing sets of 2 (doubles) while increasing the weight until you reach your top-set.
Reverse pyramid training is a great weapon in a modern natural bodybuilding. It’s extremely helpful when we are trying to burn fat. Using heavier weight during training helps us to spare more muscle during cutting cycle. It’s also great for building muscles. Easy way of progression with it can make our muscle grow for very long time.
I don’t recommend beginners to use this method. Make sure you have couple months of lifting experience before you try it. Your muscle, joints, tendons and connective tissue have to be prepared before applying RPT in your training schedule.