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August 03, 2021
Sometimes we get stuck in a training rut and can’t seem to break through, if that’s the case then you might want to give reverse pyramid training a shot. Reverse pyramid training sometimes referred to as RPT can help to build strength and muscle and if done right can have you in and out of the gym faster than many strength training protocols. If you haven’t tried reverse pyramid training before then this post could be a good starting point. We will break down RPT, how to execute it while providing a sample reverse pyramid training workout program and spreadsheet to follow.
Also known as the Oxford Method, reverse pyramid training is a protocol where the first set has the smallest number of reps and heaviest weight. Then you add reps and lower the weight as you move through sets. The decrease in the weight is generally 5-15 percent of the max weight. In scientific papers someone by the name Zinovieff may have first discovered the benefits of reverse pyramid training but it was popularized by Martin Berkhan of LeanGains.
Looking at bench press for an example. First complete 3 warm up sets of 3-6 reps of 40, 50 and 60% percent of your working weight before proceeding to the reverse pyramid training. Reps don’t have to be exactly as follows but they should include a range where both strength and muscle gains are possible. Our working weight or first set will be done at 200lbs then we reduce 10% for the subsequent sets.
There isn’t a defined number of sets in reverse pyramid training but you’ll find most people work with a range of 3-5 sets. The first set should be very difficult to finish the last rep. Reverse pyramid training is built around the concept that you should start lifting the heaviest weight when you’re fresh and have enough gas in the tank.
So, in theory reverse pyramid training makes much more sense than pyramid training because it matches the body’s capacity of producing force to lift weight. As you progress through reverse pyramid training the goal is to add either weight or reps to your workout.
Reverse pyramid training is superior to pyramid training because heavy sets are done at the beginning of the workout when the muscles are fresh. Strength gains come from these heavy sets in the beginning. The moderate rep range sets can still result in muscle growth whether we’re tired or not, according to this study.
Let’s take a deeper look below:
Good for Strength & Muscle Gain: RPT has a great mix of set and rep ranges that can promote both strength gain and muscle gain. The first set you will be lifting heavy at a lower rep range, this is where you can gain strength. By the last set of an exercise, you will be in rep ranges that are great for hypertrophy or muscle gain.
Matches Energy Levels: Reverse pyramid training is no joke as each set should push yourself to limits. Having the heaviest load in the first set makes the rest of the workout feel like you’re moving downhill as the weight decreases.
Saves Time: RPT is hard but you will be able to get a grueling workout done in a reasonable amount of time as the set ranges can be 3 per exercise and between 3-6 exercises total. One the low end if you were to do 4 exercises of 3 sets of 6-8-10 reps at 3 seconds per rep with an average of 2.5 minutes of rest between sets, your workout would be roughly if you’re already properly warmed up:
(4 exercises*(24 reps*3 seconds)) + (2.5mins*12) = (288secs + 1,800secs)/60 = 34.8 minutes
Reverse pyramid training is usually used for the compound lifts at the beginning of a workout session where you will tackle the hardest and most taxing exercises such as deadlifts or squats. Some general guidelines to follow when completing a reverse pyramid training program are:
As mentioned above the first set of the main lifts should be the heaviest load for lower rep range of 6-8 reps. These sets should be done close to AMRAP. Make sure to get 2-5 minutes of rest between each set, we usually aim for 2.5 minutes but in either case make sure your rest is long enough so that you can complete the next set’s required reps. We also designed this RPT routine for the end goal of adding muscle rather than power. If you’re looking for more power or strength gains then opt for lower rep scheme than we used.
First Set: Aim for a weight that you come close to failure on for 6-8 reps.
Second Set: Shoot for 90% of the weight you used in the first set for 8-10 reps.
Third Set: Drop weight another 10% of the starting weight for 10-12 reps
All of the first two exercises in each workout should be done in RPT style
This reverse pyramid training workout can be customized to your personal preferences. We just set a rough outline of what you can expect with this training method. The key points are to make sure you have at least 2 major lifts in each workout session that will follow RPT methodology. If you want to switch up regular squats for front squats or bench press for incline bench press, that’s your prerogative. The isolation or accessory lifts give you complete freedom to work on the muscle groups that you want to target.
The goal of progression is to increase the weight and/or number of reps each week. You can run the above reverse pyramid training routine for up to 8 weeks then reassess your progress. Let’s have a look at how double progression can come into play with RPT:
Yes, reverse pyramid training works. However, studies have shown that it’s no more effective than traditional hypertrophy training in stimulating muscle growth. In essence reverse pyramid training is just another way of stimulating muscle growth but we can’t say that it’s better than traditional hypertrophy resistance training. If we combine the reps from 3 sets of reverse pyramid training of 6, 8 and 10 repetitions the total number of reps would be similar to 3 sets of 8 reps for hypertrophy training. Studies like this have shown similar muscle growth in both powerlifting rep range and bodybuilding rep range. The common thread in gaining muscle mass centers around progressive overload through the right rep and set range combined with a challenging level of intensity.
Is Reverse Pyramid Training Better Than Straight Sets?
Reverse pyramid training doesn’t seem to be better or worse than straight sets when comparing the ability to build muscle according to multiple studies that have looked at the two methodologies. Reverse pyramid training might have a slight psychological edge as it might seem like you’re doing less reps as the weight you lift decreases as the reps increase.
Overall, both straight sets and reverse pyramid training will only yield results if you put in the hard work pushing yourself while also making sure to consume enough clean calories and protein to gain muscle and strength.
Related: How To Build Muscle Without Fail
How Long Should You Rest Between Pyramid Sets?
Reverse pyramid training requires you to push yourself to the max. Therefore, you should take adequate rest between sets to settle your heart rate and recoup your strength. For the larger compound lifts such as deadlifts, squats, overhead press or bench press then this resting time could be from 2-5 minutes depending on the individual factors. For the smaller isolation lifts, resting times can range from 1.5-3 minutes.
Now that you’re familiar with reverse pyramid training you can try to put it to work next time you change up your training routine. At the end of the day, RPT is a logical way of training to put on some muscle and gain strength. However, reverse pyramid training isn’t necessarily better than traditional straight sets of hypertrophy training as they are almost neck and neck when it comes to muscle building. If you’re short on time to get in the gym and feel like you’ve hit a plateau in your training then a reverse pyramid training routine could be exactly what you need.
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