Improving Your Strength With Reverse Pyramid Training
“Reverse” pyramid training is a real thing.
Yep… you read that correctly.
In fact, it’s one of the most effective ways of improving your strength by training to:
- Break through plateaus; and
- Crush your current personal records (PRs)
But, before we get into reverse pyramid training, let’s take a look at standard pyramid training.
By understanding the traditional means of using this technique, it will better help with executing the reverse method.
What Is Standard Pyramid Training?
As the old saying goes:
Pyramid training is as old as the pyramids of Giza themselves.
Maybe that’s not a real saying, but the reference is still valid!
It’s one of the simplest forms of weight lifting because it’s so easy to understand, implement and build a routine around.
It also has something else going for it…
Simply put… a pyramid training routine consists of multiple sets, with the goal of starting with multiple reps per set and then working your way down to one rep in the final set.
This routine is intended to fatigue the muscles and can be employed as either:
- An upward sequence in weight or reps; or
- A downward sequence in weight or reps
Essentially, you’re performing the highest number of reps, with the lowest amount of weight.
With each set, these two factors move in opposite directions, with the number of reps decreasing, as the weight increases.
This inverse relationship creates a theoretical pyramid.
The first couple of sets (depending, of course, on how many you do) will allow your body to warm up as you move into your heavier, or… “working sets“.
This helps to make sure your joints and muscles are prepared to lift the heavy weight, which is crucial to maximizing muscle growth and avoiding injury.
Here’s an example of a pyramid training routine broken down in a 6-set example.
- Set 1: You perform the highest number of reps with the lowest weight
- Set 2: You perform the 2nd highest number of reps with the 2nd lowest weight
- Set 3: You perform the 3rd highest number of reps with the 3rd lowest weight
- Set 4: You perform the 3rd lowest number of reps with the 3rd highest weight
- Set 5: You perform the 2nd lowest number of reps with the 2nd highest weight
- Set 6: You perform the lowest number of reps with the highest weight
In a real world example, here is what pyramid training routine looks like for Bench Press:
- Set 1: 95 (weight) x 10 (reps)
- Set 2: 115 (weight) x 8 (reps)
- Set 3: 135 (weight) x 6 (reps)
- Set 4: 155 (weight) x 4 (reps)
- Set 5: 175 (weight) x 2 (reps)
- Set 6: 195 (weight) x 1 (rep)
Now, the weight or reps may not always come out that “clean”.
You may “fail” to hit your target number of reps and that’s okay.
Also, you can perform however many sets you wish.
Typically, 3-6 working sets is what you’ll find in an effective routine for each main exercise.
Why is Pyramid Training Effective?
Pyramid training is one of the most basic styles of workout routines available.
That’s not to say, though, that it’s “only for beginners”, but that it’s so easily created and understood, regardless of your level of fitness experience.
Below is a list of why pyramid training is effective:
- It can be done with any type of resistance training
- Workouts are often shorter (but also include warm up sets)
- Intensity increases throughout the duration of the exercise
- Helps to promote fat loss as well as increase strength and muscle gain
- Great for training with a lifting partner
- Increases muscle and cardio endurance throughout the workouts
Pyramid Training vs. Reverse Pyramid Training
In the beginning of this guide, we explained how reverse pyramid training can help you to:
- Break through plateaus; and
- Crush your current personal records (PRs)
With that in mind, it makes sense to understand the basic premise of pyramid training, before we dive into the concept of reverse pyramid training.
So… what is reverse pyramid training?
You guessed it…
It’s simply pyramid training, backward.
In this type of training, you do your heaviest-weighted sets first, with the lowest amount of reps.
Then, you perform your lightest-weighted sets, with higher reps in the following sets.
Here’s a real-world example, using the same one as above, applied to reverse pyramid training (we’ll use the bench press example again):
- Set 1: 195 (weight) x 1 (rep)
- Set 2: 175 (weight) x 2 (reps)
- Set 3: 155 (weight) x 4 (reps)
- Set 4: 135 (weight) x 6 (reps)
- Set 5: 115 (weight) x 8 (reps)
- Set 6: 95 (weight) x 10 (reps)
“But wait, that’s the same weight as the pyramid training routine earlier. So, why would I do this?”
Let’s cover that real quick…
When you perform this style of reverse pyramid training, you receive entirely different results than if you were to perform it with the regular pyramid style protocol.
Because you have the most available energy during the beginning of your workout, which is now your heaviest sets.
Have you ever noticed how you’re always burnt out, depleted of energy, powerful and endurance, by the time you reach your 1RM set?
That’s because, by the time you reach your 6th set, during a regular pyramid style routine, you’ve already performed 30 reps, ranging from 95 – 175 pounds.
That’s already 3,650 pounds worth of bench pressing energy used.
With this understanding, it starts to make more sense as to why you’re always burnt out when it comes time to put up your 1 rep max (1RM)/PR.
By your 6th set, you’ve already exhausted your muscles to the point that you’re unable to lift that heavy PR weight.
Keep in mind that your last (or first) set doesn’t always have to be a single 1RM set either.
The pyramid/reverse pyramid routine is simply about the inverse relationships between weight and sets.
Your sets could very easily look like this, where you’re performing your heaviest weight (clearly, this isn’t done with 100% of your 1RM weight) by 4 reps (instead of 1):
- Set 1: 185 x 4
- Set 2: 155 x 6
- Set 3: 135 x 8
- Set 4: 115 x 10
- Set 5: 95 x 12
Then your next chest day, you can switch it up to look something more like this:
- Set 1: 195 x 2
- Set 2: 185 x 4
- Set 3: 155 x 6
- Set 4: 135 x 10
- Set 5: 115 x 15
As you start to build out your reverse pyramid routine and start to put up more weight, you’ll find that you’re able to:
- Increase your weight
- Increase your reps
- Increase your strength
- Increase overall power output
- Increase your endurance
The weight during the last few sets will feel much lighter, giving you the confidence to rep the weight out until you truly reach failure a few reps later.
Warming Up – Don’t Forget to Stretch!
This is considered to be the most important section of this entire reverse pyramid training guide.
Warming up properly before reverse pyramid training is essential.
If you try to go ahead and hit a PR right when you walk in the gym… without getting loose…
…there’s a good chance you’re going down for the count.
Injuring yourself is a sure-fire way to absolutely diminish your gains and your fitness related goals, altogether.
Being out of the gym because you were too [insert any excuse here] to warm up, stretch, and get loose isn’t worth it.
Find a happy medium of warm up sets, cardio, or anything to get the blood moving to the muscles you’re about to hit.
Reverse pyramid training doesn’t include those warm-up sets that regular pyramid training includes.
So, before you take your pre-workout and get all jazzed up to squat three or four bills without any warm-up, stop.
Do all the regular stretching, foam rolling or other pre-lift routines you always do.
Then hit some very light, high-rep warm up sets.
Do not go to failure on these, though, because that will deplete you of very important initial energy.
Instead, focus on performing 3-4 sets to get your body prepared for whatever motion you’re about to hit.
But Wait… What About Supplements?
More often than not, the most frequent questions we receive from our readers is related to supplements.
- Should I be taking supplements?
- Which supplements should I be taking?
- Should I take supplements every day?
- Should I take supplements before or after my workouts?
As you can see, it’s quite a popular topic.
Here’s the important thing to take note of:
Workout supplements aren’t used as progress starters.
But rather, they’re most useful as progress enhancers.
If you’ve ever worked with a personal trainer who’s told you that supplements are the only way to make progress towards your fitness goals, run the other way.
In reality, supplements are most effective when combined with a proper nutritional and training regimen.
And typically, we start to recommend supplements to those who have been training for at least a year.
Because it helps to have the experience of a full year of consistent and progressive strength training to get your body accustomed to the level of physical fitness that supplements start to play a more proactive role in helping to reach your fitness goals.
Once your training and nutrition are fully in line with your goals, supplements are the next step to take.
Here are some of the best supplements to help you with your new training regimen:
Krill Oil: An incredible source of inflammation-fighting Omega-3 fatty acids that helps to improve heart and joint health. Here’s our list of our favorite krill oil supplements.
Protein Powder: As one of the three primary macronutrients, protein powder is convenient for helping to reach your daily targets, aiding in recovery, and supporting overall muscle growth, strength, and performance. We’ve provided a list of what we believe to be some of the best protein powder on the market in this guide here.
Pre-Workout: Need a bit more energy and endurance in the gym? Pre-workout is one of the most popular supplements to take roughly 30-45 minutes prior to your workout to get the blood flowing, muscles pumping, and heavy weight moving! We love pre-workouts here at Supplement Demand and have provided our list of the top ten pre-workouts for you here.
At the end of the day, having a consistent training and nutrition regimen will always outperform any supplement regimen, but when you’re ready to take your training to the next level, supplements are great for helping you to bust through plateaus and reach new PRs!
Reverse Pyramid Training Round-Up
Now that you know what pyramid training is, we encourage you to get in the gym to start racking some weight and knocking out some sets. and probably already used it before without knowing what it was called. But now that you are hitting your plateaus in your later sets of this training, flip it around!
Believe it or not, you’ve probably already used pyramid/reverse pyramid training before, without knowing what it was called. But now that you are hitting your plateaus in your later sets of this training, flip it around!
But now that you are hitting your plateaus in your later sets of this training, flip it around and look for some of these benefits:
- Building more muscle mass
- Breaking PRs and increasing strength
- Quicker and more efficient workouts
- Maximum energy focused on most important sets
Warm up first, then hit your heaviest sets first!
You’ll be crushing your PRs faster than ever simply because you’re putting your most viable self towards them first.
This is crucial.
Changing up your routine is extremely important so that your muscle is always learning and growing in evert way it can.
As always, we love to hear from our readers, especially when it comes to new workout routines!
Feel free to stop by soon to let us know what you’ve learned, how your new workouts are going, and as always… what type of PRs and 1RM’s you’ve hit withreverse pyramid training!