How to Use Reverse Pyramid Training to Maximize Gains

Mo Saleem
Written By: Mo Saleem
January 2nd, 2018
Updated: June 13th, 2020
150.4K Reads
How to Use Reverse Pyramid Training to Maximize Gains
Burst through your plateau and start making gains with reverse pyramid training. Learn all about reverse pyramid training and give the sample workout a try!

Set personal records in the gym with this Reverse Pyramid Training workout.

The sample RPT MASS 3 day split is perfect for intermediate lifters looking to bust through a plateau!

Reverse Pyramid Training (RPT) is a training style in which the first set of a given exercise is performed with the heaviest weight. Each subsequent set is performed with a lighter weight but for higher reps.

Here’s an example of Reverse Pyramid Training in action:

First working set: 4 reps x 225 lbs
Second working set: 6 reps x 205 lbs
Third working set: 8 reps x 185 lbs

Typically, each subsequent set is 8-10% lighter than the previous one.

The Benefits of Reverse Pyramid Training

According to a study published in the Journal of Sports Science and Medicine, training in a moderate rep range (8-12 reps) allows for better muscle gains while training in the heavy rep range (2-4 reps) allows for better strength gains1. With Reverse Pyramid Training, you’ll be training in both of these rep ranges and will therefore get the best of both worlds.

Another benefit of Reverse Pyramid Training is that it allows you to lift near your true strength potential, i.e. the point where gains are maximized. The first set of a given exercise is performed with the heaviest weight when your muscles are fresh and not impacted by fatigue. (This doesn’t mean not warming up. Below, I show you how to warm up in a way that doesn’t let fatigue enter the equation).

And finally, due to the high intensity of Reverse Pyramid Training, it is able to provide a powerful training stimulus with relatively low training volume. This makes it suitable for those of us that are busy and on the go. 45-minutes is all you need to get in an effective Reverse Pyramid Training workout.

Reverse Pyramid Training vs Traditional Pyramid Training

With traditional pyramid training, the first set of an exercise is performed with a relatively light weight, after which subsequent sets are loaded with heavier weights as the reps are decreased.

Related: Crazy 5 Method - Rep Scheme For Making Solid Gains

The problem with Traditional Pyramid Training is that by the time you reach your heaviest set, your muscles are already semi fatigued. Your performance on the final set is not an expression of your true strength potential. Therefore, it is not maximizing your ability to gain muscle and strength.

Reverse Pyramid Training vs Straight Sets

Straight sets are when the number of reps and the amount of weight used for each set remain consistent. 3 sets of 10, 5 sets of 5, and 4 sets of 8 are all examples of straight sets.

Although Reverse Pyramid Training is superior for making strength gains, straight sets can allow for the accumulation of more volume. More training volume = more muscle growth.

The training plan laid out below combines both Reverse Pyramid Training and straight sets. Reverse Pyramid Training is used for the big compound exercises while straight sets are used for isolation exercises to overload the target muscle.

Research has shown big compound exercises to be the most effective at stimulating the anabolic response from training. Implementing Reverse Pyramid Training with these exercises will further enhance this response and increase the amount of testosterone, IGF-1, and growth hormone in your blood stream. Welcome to the land of Gains Galore!

Reverse Pyramid Training Squat

Warming Up With Reverse Pyramid Training

Before getting started on your heaviest set, it is essential that you warm up the particular movement pattern first. Without warming up, you are setting yourself up for an increased chance of injury.

The goal of the warm up is to prepare your muscle fibers and your mind for what lies ahead.

We will minimize fatigue by doing very low reps (1-5) for 2-3 sets with gradually increasing load. Rest 1 minute between warm up sets, and 2 minutes before your first working set.

Example warm-up for 225 lbs bench press x 5 reps:

135lbs x 5 reps (60% of 225 lbs)
Rest 1 minute
170lbs x 3 (75% of 225 lbs)
Rest 1 minute
205 lbs x 1 (90% of 225 lbs)
Rest 2 minutes
225 lbs x 5

In this way, all the applicable muscle fibers are fired up and ready to go. Also, the fact that you’re performing such low reps will minimize fatigue once you get into your first working set.

You only need to warm up once for each movement pattern.

The Reverse Pyramid Training Program

For Reverse Pyramid Training, the first set of an exercise should be performed for 4-6 reps. Make sure that you can complete the given number of reps with a full range of motion and without getting help from a spotter. The final rep should be performed with maximum effort, but not taken to failure.

After completing the first set, rest for a minimum of 90 seconds and a maximum of 3 minutes. The rest period should be enough so that it allows you to complete the required number of reps for the next set.

For the second set, aim to complete 6-8 reps with about 90% of the weight you used in the first set. So if in my first set I completed 4 reps with 225lbs, my aim in the second set would be to complete 6 reps with 205lbs. Again, the final few reps should be with high effort but not taken to failure.

For the third set, drop the weight by another 10%. Leading on from the previous example, this would mean that I now aim to complete 8 reps with 185lbs. Again, the set is not taken to failure but the exertion should be high.

Monday: Reverse Pyramid Training Chest & Biceps
Exercise Sets Reps
1. Incline Bench Press 3 4, 6, 8
2. Flat Bench Press 3 4, 6, 8
3. Incline Dumbbell Curls 3 4, 6, 8
4. Cable Curls 3 10
5. Cable Flys 3 10
Wednesday: Reverse Pyramid Training Legs
Exercise Sets Reps
1. Squat 3 4, 6, 8
2. Deadlift 2 3, 5
3. Lying Leg Curl 3 10
4. Leg Press 3 6, 8, 10
5. Seated Calf Raise 3 10
FRIDAY: Reverse Pyramid Training Back, Shoulders, Triceps
Exercise Sets Reps
1. Weighted Pull Ups 3 4, 6, 8
2. Standing Military Press 3 4, 6, 8
3. Barbell Row 3 4, 6, 8
4. Lying Triceps Extension 3 6, 8, 10
5. Lateral Raises 3 10
6. Tricep Pushdown 3 10

How To Make Progress With Reverse Pyramid Training

To keep getting bigger and stronger you need to keep increasing the training stimulus. This is the essence of progressive overload.

Whether it’s in the form of increasing reps, increasing weight, or decreasing rest periods, each set of Reverse Pyramid Training provides us with an opportunity to apply progressive overload.

The most important aspect of making progress with Reverse Pyramid Training is keeping a workout journal. In your workout journal, keep track of the amount of reps you completed with how much weight for each exercise.

In every workout, the amount of weight that you lift will be based on what you lifted in the last workout. No more going by “feel”, 100% going by data.

Reverse Pyramid Training Bench Press

The Incremental Progression Model

With the Incremental Progression Model, you only increase the weight once you hit the upper rep range for a given set. The concept can better be demonstrated with an example:

The rep ranges for each set are as follows; Set 1: 4-6 reps, Set 2: 6-8 reps, Set 3: 8-10 reps.

Workout 1

225 lbs x 4
205 lbs x 6
185 lbs x 8

This is the starting point. In week 2 we will aim to reach a higher rep in one or, ideally, all three sets.

Workout 2

225 lbs x 5
205 lbs x 7
185 lbs x 9

So in the second week we were able to progress by 1 rep in each of the 3 sets. That sets us up to increase reps again for the next week.

Related: 4 Ways to Achieve Progressive Overload & Build Muscle

Workout 3

225 lbs x 6
205 lbs x 8
185 lbs x 10

Once again, we were able to get an extra rep for each one of the sets and are now in the higher rep range for each set. In next week’s workout, we will increase the weight by 5 lbs and fall back to the lower rep range for each set.

Workout 4

230 lbs x 4
210 lbs x 6
190 lbs x 8

So we were able to complete each of our objectives and from this point forward the progression starts again. Ideally, this is how it would turn out. The key, though, is in making progress, no matter how little.

Remember that the rate of your progress is dependent on the amount of experience you have under your belt. If you’ve already gained 15-20 lbs of lean muscle from training, it’ll be harder for you to progress compared to someone who has only gained 5-10 lbs.

By keeping a workout journal and having specific targets to shoot for in every workout, you will make faster progress than you’ve ever made before!

  1. Schoenfeld, B., et al. (2016). Differential Effects of Heavy Versus Moderate Loads on Measures of Strength and Hypertrophy in Resistance-Trained Men. International Journal of Sports Science and Medicine, 15(4):715-722.
Posted on: Thu, 02/20/2020 - 11:52

How many weeks should I be doing this workout program? Thanks.

Posted on: Sat, 02/23/2019 - 18:56

Is alternating a set with an antagonist set, like Arnold did, beneficial ?
Set 1- bench press 6 reps
Set 2- barbell row 6 reps
Set 3- bench press 8 reps
And so on....

M&S Team Badge
Posted on: Mon, 02/25/2019 - 09:20

Hi Akhil,

Sure, it can help you pack in more work during your workouts. But beneficial is relative to what your ultimate goal is.

Posted on: Mon, 01/28/2019 - 14:51

What is the tempo used for the reps?

Niman Shrestha
Posted on: Mon, 12/17/2018 - 00:21

So in this 3 day split, is it enough for muscles to grow since we hit one muscle group once a week?

Joalexis Valentin
Posted on: Wed, 12/19/2018 - 12:19

its better to hit each muscle twice a week, it promotes way more muscle growth. However you can get away with hitting legs once a week if you dont want to have tree trunk legs.
I follow a three day split
Monday=Upper body
Wednesday=Lower body
Friday= Upper body again
I use reverse pyramid training btw

Mike Daily
Posted on: Sun, 12/22/2019 - 17:32

I do a similar thing.
Monday = Upper Body and leg press
Wednesday = Lower Body & Abs
Friday = Upper Body and Dumb bell Split Squats
Works great.