Reverse Pyramid Training


By Josh Bryant ProSource


Turn the Popular Workout Strategy on Its Head to Trigger Renewed Growth


Pyramid Training today is as popular at your local chain gym as spandex and mullets were in the 1980s. Pyramiding involves performing sets consisting of high reps at the beginning of the workout (base of pyramid), working towards the top of the pyramid by decreasing reps and increasing weight.


Because you start with lighter weights, it gives your muscles and connective tissues a chance to warm up for the heavier weight later in the workout. As you increase weight, you overload your muscle fibers, and that induces muscle hypertrophy.


Pyramid training has the advantage of many variables that can be manipulated to increase intensity; and, after all, increased intensity will increase muscle mass.

Let’s look at this example of a pyramid squat workout.


Set 1: 225×12, rest interval 3 minutes


Set 2: 245×9, rest interval 3 minutes


Set 3: 260×7, rest interval 3 minutes


Set 4: 275×5, rest interval 3 minutes


Set 5: 290×3


With all of these different sets for a different number of repetitions, there are countless possible ways to increase intensity.


If we reduce the rest interval by just 10 seconds, we have increased intensity.


If we add just one repetition to one of the sets, we have increased intensity.


If we add an extra set, we have an increased intensity, and of course we could just pile more pig iron on the bar.


Pyramids offer a variety of ways to increase intensity, our ultimate goal, and this is something many training bodybuilders fail to track.


Reverse Pyramid Training

As we have just learned, traditional pyramiding is high reps at the beginning of the workout (base of pyramid) and, as you build your way up the pyramid, you decrease reps and increase weight.


Reverse pyramiding is the opposite; the base is the heavy weight and you increase reps and decrease weight as you work your way up the pyramid.


If you’re burning yourself out on light weights and not giving yourself a chance to make strength gains, you’re shortchanging yourself. I don’t want to say traditional pyramiding is flawed, but if you need to build your base and you use this approach, you need to make sure you save enough energy for your heavier sets.


One reason some people have such effective results with traditional pyramid training is that their lighter sets are essentially warm-up sets. They are not burning themselves out; they are simply warming up.


Many college strength coaches purposely assign lighter sets that are not fatiguing prior to the heavy sets because they know the athletes will not properly warm up.

With reverse pyramid training, a proper warm-up is essential. Warming up is an art, not a science; it will ultimately come down to your personal preference.


Here is a generic warm-up that would work well for reverse pyramid training if your top set is 250 on the bench press.


General warm-up: 8–10 minutes walking on the treadmill or on the bike, just to get some blood flow; then do 5–10 minutes of dynamic stretching, followed by bench press.


Set 1 bar: 2×10


Set 2 bar: 95×6


Set 3 bar: 135×6


Set 4 bar: 185×4


Set 5 bar: 225×1


Reverse pyramiding will allow you to build strength very effectively because the most important strength-building set is the first set in this rep scheme. Therefore, the athlete is 100% fresh.


Post Activation Potentiation (PAP) refers to the enhancement of muscle function following a high force activity. Legendary Russian Sports Scientist, Yuri Verhoshansky, explained PAP in layman’s terms: “When you perform a 3–5 rep max followed by a light explosive set . . . to your nervous system it’s like lifting a half can of water when you think it’s full.” The weight feels lighter and moves faster.


When training heavy on a core lift, we are generally lifting the weight, if it is a work set, with maximal force. Most studies on PAP are generally done on exercises like heavy squats followed by an explosive activity like a vertical jump. Many studies show the effectiveness of PAP, but the same holds true when moving from a maximal weight to a submaximal weight.


I have used this strategy with people performing a bench press for maximum reps at a football combine. If the weight is 225 for maximum reps, they will do a single with a weight in the 275–315 range. They can always do more reps this way, as opposed to warming up and making 225 the heaviest set.


Although I do not have studies to back this up, I have found you can always do more on a rep max if you lift heavier weight first. Of course, this is assuming you don’t overdo it. Simply put, 300 pounds feels lighter if you have just lifted 400 pounds.


Reverse Pyramiding can be used year round. However, it would not be a good idea to do heavy singles, doubles and triples year round. There will need to be some variation in the intensity, sets, and reps schemes. However, the concept can be used as long the variables that dictate intensity are properly manipulated.


Here is an example of a legs-oriented reverse-pyramid workout:


Legs, Bodybuilding Oriented

Squats: 3 (90%), 5 (85%), 8 (78 %), 12 (70%)


Squats: 10 (bottom half), 10 (top half), 10 (full range of motion)


Walking Lunges (per side): 6, 8, 10


Dumbbell Bulgarian Split Squats (Tempo–5-0-3-0): 5, 6, 8


Leg Press: 20, 30, 40, 50


Leg Ext (Tempo 3-0-2-0): 10, 12, 14


Leg Curl/Stiff Leg Deadlift superset (decrease weight both movements each superset as reps increase): 6/8, 9/11, 12/15, 15/20


Abs: 8 sets


Final Thoughts

Exercise sequence is just as important as exercise selection. To maximize results, you must prioritize; heavy weight is the most important aspect of a strength or muscle-building regimen. The most important aspect needs to be done first in the workout.


Give reverse pyramiding a shot!


Do you incorporate Pyramid Training into your workout? What kind of results have you gotten from it? Let us know in the comments field below!




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