Staleness kills motivation.  

If you’re not excited for your workout then it’s going to become like foreplay, and you’re just going to skip it. 

Allow me to introduce you to your gym Viagra, Reverse Pyramid Training.

The cure for your motivation and gainz.

Different Pyramids For Different Folks

Pyramids come in two flavors, ascending and descending (reverse).  The difference is the progression of the weight as you do more sets.

In ascending pyramids the weight will increase as the reps go down, and reverse pyramids are the exact opposite.

Rever-pyramid-training

Picking the right one is all dependent on your goal.

If you’re trying to build pure strength, ascending pyramids would be a better option.  You have a warm up with the lighter sets, then you go all out on your last set. Think 5/3/1.

If you’re trying to build muscle, reverse pyramids would be the better choice.  When you lift heavy you prime or “turn on” your nervous system. That’s why set 2 of a heavy set of squats is easier than set 1.  Your nervous system is primed and ready to fire.  

This allows you to lift closer to your true rep maxes for the subsequent sets further fatiguing your muscles.

While we are on the topic of fatigue, with ascending sets the percent of your true rep maxes will be lower because you’re fatiguing the muscles with the high(er) rep sets in the beginning. Think of it like pre-gaming too hard then trying to not act like a drunk dick at a bar.

From a muscle building standpoint, reverse pyramids make more sense because you’re stronger throughout the sets so we’ll mainly focus on that from here on out.

Reverse Pyramid Training vs Straight Sets

90% of the game is half mental

~John Madden

Lifting is a very mental game. 

If you go into a lift thinking you can’t lift a certain weight or if you’re afraid of becoming a gym fail meme, odds are you aren’t going to lift as well. 

With straight sets you’re doing the same amount of work (reps x weight) each time.  

With reverse pyramid training, the drop in weight each set can seem like less “work”.  That little boost in motivation can help you lift better and in turn give you better results.   

Broad vs Narrow

Let’s talk about weight jumps.

And by jumps I mean are you going to do something like 4×6/8/10/12 or 4×6/7/8/9/10?

The former is called a broad jump (+2 reps) and the latter narrow jumps (+1 rep).

In the context of this article with reverse pyramid training for muscle, either is fine.  And that’s because fatigue isn’t an issue and we are “priming” the nervous system for better lifting.

If we were talking about ascending pyramids, a narrow jump would be better.  

The difference between rep maxes for 6 and 7 is smaller than the jump from 6 to 8.  No shit,right? If we were using the Brzycki scale or rep maxes the jump from 6 to 7 is 3% while the jump from 6 to 8 is 5%.  I know YUGE.

Let’s look at it in the context of weight. Let’s say you can do 225 for 10 reps on the bench press.  A jump from 7 to 6 would be 240->249 while a jump from 8 to 6 is 234->249.  

Big friggin’ difference.

When you’re getting to the top of your strength, those big jumps are going to seem so much heavier plus fatigue is going to be a real problem.  But that is a topic for an ascending pyramid article.  

If you’re looking for muscle growth, go with reverse pyramids and whatever jump your little heart desires.  

Picking the Right Weight

Weight selection is a huge part of gaining muscle and strength.  Go too heavy and you’ll risk injury, while going too light is not going to give you results.

With reverse pyramid training, you want to select a weight that is ~5% less than you can normally do for the reps on the first set, then drop the weight by another 5% on each set.

If math isn’t your game, for weights up to 200, drop the weight by 5 lbs on each set.  Above 200, drop the weight by 10 lbs.

If you like to nerd out like me, let’s dive into 1 rep max percentages.

If you’re looking at a 4×8/10/12/15, you’ll want to select a weight that is about 5% less than you can normally do for 8 reps or about 75% of your 1RM if you were using the Brzycki scale.  

So that would look like:

Set 1: [email protected] 75% of 1RM

Set 2: [email protected] 70% of 1RM

Set 3: [email protected] 65% of 1RM

Set 4: [email protected] 60% of 1RM

So if you can normally do 225 lbs on the bench press for 8 reps, you’ll want to start with 210 lbs.  And that would look something like this:

Set 1: 8 x 210 lbs

Set 2: 10 x 195 lbs

Set 3: 12 x 180 lbs

Set 4: 15 x 165 lbs

This will allow you to fatigue the muscles without going too hard and risk overtraining.

Rest Periods

With Reverse Pyramid Training I like to keep the rest shorter than usual for a few reasons:

  1. You’re lifting less than you would normally for a set which means less you need to recover from
  2. You want to use the motivation boost of doing “less work” (the mental thing I was talking about earlier) to your advantage.

If I’m working in the strength rep range, like 3-5 reps, go with 90-120 secs between sets.  The longer time for the heavier weights So if I was starting my reverse pyramid at 3 reps, I would do a 120 sec rest period before set 2. If I was starting with 5 reps, I’d do 90 sec before set 2.

Once I cross into the hypertrophy rep range (6+) I use 30-60 sec.  Again same thing here, longer rest periods for heavier weights.

If I were doing a pyramid like this:

6,8,10,12 

My rest periods would look like this

6 (90 sec), 8 (60 sec), 10 (45 sec), 12 (45 sec)

These are just general guidelines, don’t take these as gospel.  

Hell, you could just do 60 sec across the board regardless of what the reps are.  I’ve done this too.  

The main goal is to almost fully recover between sets but not soo much time that you get caught in big butt rabbit hole on Instagram.  60 sec is a good starting point and adjust based on feel.

Progressive Overload

I found the double progression model works the best for progressive overload for Reverse Pyramid Training.  

If you need a quick refresher, the double progression model is when you increase reps then increase weight.  

Use a +2 rep range for sets 1 and 2.  Once you can hit +2 reps on sets 1 & 2, the following week increase the weight by 5% on all sets.  +2 is always to the top of the rep range, stop there even if you could do more.

Now you might be asking yourself…Why +2 on sets 1 & 2 and not after all the sets?  This comes down to the purpose of Reverse Pyramid Training.

Starting with heavy weights turn on the nervous system. The final couple of sets fatigue the muscle and push it to grow.  If your initial sets aren’t heavy enough to stimulate your nervous system then you’re training to get tired.  

Tired isn’t the goal, muscle growth is.

Let’s say your workout says this:

6 reps x 80 lbs

8 reps x 75 lbs

10 reps x 70 lbs

12 reps x 65 lbs

Week 1: 

6 reps x 80 lbs

8 reps x 75 lbs

10 reps x 70 lbs

10 reps x 65 lbs

You feel real good on sets 1 and 2.  But 3 and 4 you struggled. Perfectly normal.  Move on to the next exercise.

Week 2: 

8 reps x 80 lbs

8 reps x 75 lbs

12 reps x 70 lbs

10 reps x 65 lbs

You were able to muscle through and hit your +2 on set 1 but gassing as you progressed.  It’s cool because you’re getting stronger. Move on.

Week 3:

8 reps x 80 lbs

10 reps x 75 lbs

12 reps x 70 lbs

12 reps x 65 lbs

See the progress?  You’re getting stronger.  Since you hit your +2 on sets 1&2 the following week you’ll increase the weight by 5%.  And that would look like this:

Week 4:

6 reps x 85 lbs

8 reps x 80 lbs

10 reps x 75 lbs

12 reps x 70 lbs

NOTE: If figuring out how much to tip at a restaurant makes smoke come out of your ears, use this to figure out how much to increase: “Less than 200 lbs lifted, increase by 5 lbs.  More than 200, increase by 10 lbs.”

Like you saw in the example, you’re going to run into a situation where you aren’t going to be able to finish the higher reps, which is cool.  This gives you a place to improve as the weeks progress.

If you find yourself in this predicament and not sure what to do, ask yourself “What’s my goal?”

Is it to check the box that I finish the set or is it to build muscle and get stronger?  

It’s always muscle and strength.  No one gives a shit if you finish the set, and neither should you.  No need to blow your load in Week 1.  Let your body build up over time. Building muscle is a long term project, not a one night stand.

A rep range is a benchmark, not law.  With rep ranges you are giving a hypothetical number which has been shown to put enough fatigue and stress on the muscle to make it grow.

If you can do that in less reps than your workout says to; congrats bruh, you won.

When it comes to muscle growth, weight plays a big role.  So dropping the weight to finish a set is not an option. At that point you’re trying to check that box.

If you can’t finish your set, rack it and move on because you just accomplished what you wanted to in less time.  Next week push for 1 more rep.

Warming Up 

Warming up for Reverse Pyramid Training is an exercise in fatigue management.  The goal is to not show your vinegar strokes before you hit showtime.

Keeping that in mind, keep all warm up sets to 1-2 leading up to Working Set 1 and use explosive movements.  This helps prime the nervous system for heavy lifting while not getting full on before the entree comes out. 

So let’s say you want to start your Reverse Pyramid with 225 for 6 on back squats.

Warming up would look like this:

2 x 135

2 x 185

1 x 215

Showtime 6 x 225

I would instruct my online coaching client to control the weight on the downward portion (aka not drop it like it’s hot) then explode up.  The explosion part helps prime the nervous system.  

This is just an example and there’s more than one way to increase weight.  

Just make sure to treat it as a warm up and save your best stuff for the actual working sets, you’ll be fine. No need to over complicate this.

Different Reverse Pyramid Training Schemes

Here’s a few examples of some different Reverse Pyramid Sets:

Below you see the Rep @ % of 1 rep max.

If you don’t know your 1RM, you can either use a calculator like this or use a weight that is +2 of the reps listed.

So if it says 4 reps, you’d use a weight you can lift for ~6 reps, then scale the weight down on each set from there.

Goal: Hypertrophy 

Reverse Broad

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[email protected] 70%

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Reverse Narrow

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Goal Strength 

Reverse Narrow

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[email protected] 90%

[email protected] 85%

[email protected] 80%

[email protected] 75%

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When programming for Reverse Pyramids use 4-5 sets per exercise.  

Since you’re working with weight less than you can do normally, sets 1 and 2 fatigue your muscles and so the most effective muscle building reps happen after that.  This is why I always program 4 sets instead of 3.  

If you’re feeling frisky, add a 5th at the end.  Just make sure that 5th set doesn’t hinder your recovery for your next workout.  If it does, scrap it, it’s not serving your goal.

Sample Workout

Here’s a 3 day Full Body/ Upper / Lower split.  Keep a rest day between the Full Body and Upper/Lower days and a rest day between the Lower and Full Body days so you can recover and get the most out of your workout.

Day 1 Full Body

Medicine Ball Squat and Throw 3×5

Standing Overhead Press 4×6/5/4/3

RDL 4×6/8/10/12

Close Grip Pulldown 4×8/10/12/15

Dumbbell Bench Press 4×8/10/12/15

One Sided Farmers Walk 5×20 steps

Day 2 Upper

Clapping Pushup 3×5

Barbell Bench Press 4×6/5/4/3

Barbell Bent Over Row 4×6/8/10/12

Lat Raise 4×10/12/15/20

3 Position Skullcrushers 3×21 (7 overhead, 7 forehead, 7 nose)

EZ Bar Bicep Curls 3×21 (7 Full, 7 halfway to top, 7 bottom to halfway)

Hanging Leg Raise 3×10-12

Day 3 Lower

Box Jump 3×5

Deadlift 4×5/4/3/2

Front Squat 4×6/8/10/12

Lying Leg Curl 4×8/10/12/15

Leg Extension 4×8/10/12/15

Deadbug 3×12-15