I’ve churned through over 150,000 emails, social media comments and messages, and blog comments in the last 6 years.
And that means I’ve fielded a ton of questions.
As you can imagine, some questions pop up more often than others, and I thought it might be helpful to take a little time every month to choose a few and record and share my answers.
So, in this round, I answer the following question:
- Is reverse pyramid training a good way to train?
If you have a question you’d like me to answer, leave a comment below or if you want a faster response, send an email to [email protected].
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3:24 – What is reverse pyramid training (RPT)?
10:56 – Is reverse pyramid training effective?
14:02 – What are the advantages of reverse pyramid training?
18:23 – What are the downsides of reverse pyramid training?
Mentioned on the Show:
What did you think of this episode? Have anything else to share? Let me know in the comments below!
Hey there, and welcome to another episode of Muscle for Life. I am your host, Mike Matthews. Thank you for joining me today. And if you are not new here, if you have listened to episodes before and you’re back for more, go ahead and subscribe to the show in whatever app you are using for two reasons. One, it’ll make sure you don’t miss future episodes because by subscribing the app will then queue up new episodes that get posted.
and two, it’ll help me because it will boost the rankings of the show on the various charts, which of course makes the show easier to find for other people. Okey Doki. So in this episode, I am going to be answering a question that I was asked, and I get asked a lot of good questions every day via social media and email.
And this time around I’m gonna be talking about reverse pyramid training. Is that a good way to train? And if you want to ask me questions, you can reach out to me on Instagram at Muscle Life Fitness. Just DM me or you can send me an email, which is the better way to reach me. It’s the way that I prefer to be honest, because I can manage my email a little bit better than I can manage my dms.
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Head over to bi legion.com/mike. That’s B Y L E G I n.com/mike. And just to show you how much I appreciate my podcast peeps, use the coupon code MFL checkout and you will save 20% on your entire first. All right, so the question that I will be answering today is what are my thoughts on reverse pyramid training?
First let’s talk about what reverse pyramid training is. It is basically the opposite of the more traditional. Pyramid style of training where you start an exercise with let’s say 10 reps and then you add weight and on the next set you do, let’s say eight reps. Usually you are reducing your reps by two, so you’re adding five to 10 pounds to the exercise and doing two fewer reps with each successive set.
But with reverse pyramid training, it’s the other way around. You start with your, he. Set and fewest number of reps, and then you take weight off of the bar or you reduce the weight on the machine, or you drop down to the lighter dumbbells. Usually you’re going down by 10 pounds in all cases. So with dumbbells you might.
Go from, let’s say 80 pounds for four reps to 75 pounds for six reps in the next set and so on and so forth. And again, you are usually dropping 10 pounds off of the exercise, which then gives you an extra two reps. That’s normally how it goes. So again, the opposite of the traditional body building pyramid style of training, and both of those pyramided styles of training are different than straight sets, which is also a very traditional way to lift weights where you are doing the same number of reps in each set with.
The same amount of weight unless you have to reduce weight on the exercise to continue doing the number of reps that you’re supposed to be doing. For example, my own training in my beyond bigger, leaner, stronger program, which is what I’m following these days, and I’ve been following it for about two years now, maybe even a little bit more than two years now.
Each training block starts. Doing sets of 10 on your primary exercises, on your big compound lifts, and you’re doing four sets of each exercise in each workout. And what happens to me in almost every training block is on the third and fourth sets, I can’t get 10 reps with the same weight. My first set will be.
Smooth, solid 10 reps, one to two, maybe even three good reps left and then set two. I usually lose one to two good reps left, so I can still get 10 reps, but it is significantly harder. Maybe I can get the 10 on three with zero or one good reps left, but then usually on set four, if I don’t reduce the weight, I’m only gonna get probably seven.
Eight reps. So I often have to take five or 10 pounds off of the bar to get 10 reps in that final set as opposed to seven or eight. And if you are following beyond bigger, leaner, stronger, and you are running into the same issue, a note I’ve made for a future update to the book, into the program. It’s a minor thing, but I think it would be.
Adding into the book and into the programming is when you calculate your one rms from your rep max testing that you do at the end of a training block, and then you go to program your next training block with those one rms. Reduce them to 95% of what you have calculated and then calculate your 10 rep weight with that number.
So 75% of 95% of your estimated one rep max instead of 70%. Of 100% of your one rep max or your calculated one rep max on that exercise. Unless you don’t run into the same problem as I do, if you can work with 100% of that estimated one RM and you can, let’s say load 70% of it on the bar and get four sets of 10, you don’t miss any sets, then nevermind.
You can just keep on doing it exactly as it’s outlined in the book. But if you are having the same issue, A simple fix is again, working with 95% of that calculated one rep max. And the reason why it doesn’t work as it should on paper is of course these are estimated one rep max and rep max numbers, and unfortunately with the different evidence based methods that are out there, they are most accurate at let’s.
Six to seven reps and down and they become less accurate at 8, 9, 10 plus reps. So while your one rep max, your actual one RM may be quite accurate, it may be estimated quite accurately based on your rep max testing that you did at the end of the last training block, because that was heavy weight. You probably got four to six reps.
And again, the one RMM calculation methodologies, they work well with those types of numbers, but they don’t extrapolate all that well out to sets of eight, nine, and 10 reps. So it gets a little bit hazy. You’re gonna be in the ballpark, but you may need to adjust usually a little bit down. I’ve yet to hear from people who say, Hey.
I calculate my one RMS at the end of the training block, and then I put 70% of that calculated onem after my deload week. So this is only two weeks later. These are fresh onem calculations. These are heavy weights. I rarely, eh, I don’t think, I’ve actually don’t think I have heard from somebody who says that they do that and then find that it’s too easy that they’re getting their four sets of 10 with three or four reps in reserve and they need to.
Add weight to the bar. I’ve only heard from people who have had the same issue as I have had. So if you are one of those people, again, just reduce that calculated one RM to 95%, and then use that number for your 10 rep calculation, your eight rep if necessary. And then by the time you get to your six reps, you may not need to anymore.
You may be able to work with that 100% of. Estimated one RM because again, the estimation methods work better with heavier weights and fewer reps, and you probably will have gained at least a little bit of strength in that first meso cycle. If you’re not sure what I’m talking about, because you haven’t read my book Beyond Bigger, Leaner, Stronger, but if you are interested, if what I just said sounds interesting to you from a programming perspective, just check out my book Beyond Bigger, Leaner, Stronger, and it will break it all down.
Of course, it has the. How, which is what I just explained, as well as the why. You’re gonna learn more about the mechanics of muscle building the grammar of gains. And it is particularly, this book is particularly for intermediate and advanced weightlifters. Obviously given the title, it is written.
For men or It’s at least written toward men, but women can learn a lot from it. They will probably just want to tweak the programming to reduce the upper body volume and increase the lower body volume. At least most women will probably want to do that, and the book gives you all the tools that you need to do that.
But if you are a woman and you read it and you are not sure what to do, just shoot me an. [email protected] and I will be happy to help you. Okay, so now let’s get back to R pt. So you know what it is, Reverse pyramid training. You know how it works and let’s talk about it’s efficacy. So it is a viable.
Training method. It is definitely a viable way to program your training. In fact, the first edition of Beyond Bigger Leaders, Stronger, which I published years ago, 4, 5, 6 years ago, was an R P T style of training. In your first set, you would do, if I remember correctly, you would do, you’d warm up and then on, on your primary exercises, on your compound lift.
You would do sets of two. You would do one or two sets of two reps with a weight that was heavy enough to allow for just one or two good reps left. So for most people, that’s 90 or 95% of one rep max. But instead of calculating one rep maxes, I was just working with the good reps, left the reps in reserve, so you had to make sure that the weight was heavy.
That you weren’t pushing to absolute failure or even one rep shy of failure where you don’t have any good reps left. You were still leaving a couple of good reps in the tank, and then you would move on to one or two sets of four reps, and then one or two sets of six reps, if I remember correctly. And then with the secondary, with the accessory exercises, the weights weren’t quite heavy.
You were doing sixes, eights 10. And many people got great results with that program. I got great results with that program. I hit all time prs on that program. I got 365 on the back squat for two or three. I got 2 95 on the bench press for I think it was two, maybe three. I’d have to look in my training logs, but two or three, I got 2 25 on the seated military press.
Two, that’s quite strong. And I got into the low 400 s, four twenties, I believe, on my deadlift for three or four, but then I hurt my SI joint and couldn’t progress any further. I could have. Gotten stronger. I think on that if I wouldn’t have gotten hurt, wasn’t a major injury, but it did set me back and at that point I had already been lean gaining for four or five months and I was sick of it.
I was sick of eating 4,000 plus calories per day. I was at the point where I really just felt like I was force feeding myself every. Meal every day. And so I called it quits on the lean bulking. And then I switched to cutting to get into really good shape for a photo shoot. And of course, I didn’t gain any more strength to speak of from that point forward.
I lost strength throughout that cut, not a. But just as you would expect because I went from about 2 0 5 is where my weight peaked at that time, down to 180 2 was my low point. I got quite lean. And so you simply can’t maintain all of your strength naturally when you lose 20 plus pounds. So as to the advantages of reverse pyramid training, one is it has you do your hardest work first in your workouts when you have the most energy and the most focus, and that is generally the best way to train.
There are exceptions, but for most people, they’re going to get the best results if they start their lower body workouts with let’s say, Barbell squat, a back squat, front squatter, some similar type of squat versus starting with squad extensions or hamstring curls. And with R P T, you would start with your barbell squat, and you would start with your heaviest.
Weight, which is in some ways your most difficult work. Even though the higher rep stuff I would say feels more difficult, it’s more fatiguing, it’s more exhausting. The lower rep, higher weight work though, is more demanding. It demands more of your concentration, it demands better technique. On the whole, I would say it is harder.
It’s just when you’re doing sets of eight or 10, those last few reps. Grueling because of the cardiovascular demands and the general fatigue that you experience. What’s more, a major reason to do higher weight lower rep work is to maximize strength gain, and you are going to be able to use maximally heavy weights, and you are going to handle them maximally well.
In the beginning of your workouts when you’re freshest, as opposed to the more traditional body building pyramid where you would start with your lower weight, higher rep work, and by the time you get to the heavy weights, you are significantly more fatigued, both mentally and physically than when you started the workout or the exercise.
Let’s. It’s your first exercise in the workout. It is a barbell back squat, and you are going to use a traditional body building pyramid. You’re gonna do a set of 10, and then you’re gonna go down to eight, and then six, and then four. When you get to that fourth set of four, you are going to perform significantly worse in terms of how much weight you can put on the bar.
And handle for four reps and end with, let’s say one or two good reps in reserve, good reps left, which is generally a good idea. That set is going to be significantly worse than if you flipped your pyramid scheme around and started with the heaviest started with the four reps. So again, that is a significant benefit of reverse pyramid training versus the more traditional body building pyramid style of training.
With R P T, you can also use your higher rep sets to squeeze in extra volume and that can help with muscle growth. So your starting the exercise with your strength building sets that require maximum muscle contraction, maximally heavy weights, and then you are. Lowering the weights and doing higher reps and racking up some extra volume for the muscle group that you are training people who like reverse pyramid style training also like that it adds variability.
They find that it makes their training more interesting as opposed to straight sets, for example, where you would only do tens or eights or sixes or fours or whatever. And lastly, R P T can be useful, especially for inter. And advanced weightlifters who have to do a fair amount of volume per major muscle group per week to continue gaining muscle and strength because it allows them to do some heavy work as well as some lighter work, which is easier on your joints and on your body.
It is very hard to do, let’s say 15 to 20 hard sets per major muscle group per week, exclusively in the range of, let’s say, six reps or fewer. It’s. On your joints. It’s just hard, on your body. It’s not very feasible. What does work though is to, let’s say split up those sets half half of them at six reps or fewer, and the other half of those sets at let’s say seven reps or higher, that you can do without beating yourself up too much.
Now R P T does have its downsides though many R P T programs, for example, will tell you to train to failure or just shy with zero good reps left, meaning that if you were to go for that next rep, you will fail, and that is not necessary. It’s certainly not necessary to train to absolute failure. Really ever.
It’s okay if you do it here and there on accessory exercises. You know a set of biceps curls and you take it to absolute failure where you can’t move the weight anymore. You are stuck in the middle of the rep and you have to put the dumbbells down or put the barbell down. Okay, fine. Or same thing with side raises or rear raises for your shoulders, but I would.
Not recommend you do that on a barbell squat or a deadlift or a bench press or an overhead press, not because it is dangerous, although it does increase the chances of your form breaking down. So if you are not an experienced weightlifter who knows how to maintain proper form all the way up to failure, you are increasing your chances of getting hurt, but it’s just not necessary.
Research shows that training to failure is actually. Not more effective than training close to failure. So that is a downside of R P T, not with the underlying principles, but just with how it’s often prescribed. Another downside for some people who are not experienced enough as weightlifters is they find it hard to calculate their proper working weights.
So when they’re supposed to be doing tens, they’re putting weight on the bar that actually allows for 12, or maybe they can. Eight. And then when they’re supposed to go down to eight, maybe if they got eight the first time, okay, now they’re getting eight again, but they were supposed to do tens on the first, or if they got 12 on the first, they now do eight on the second set.
But they have four good reps left, so really that should have been their 10 rep. Wait and it can get messy. If you don’t have good training logs in a good sense of your abilities, a good sense of how many reps you will be able to get with a given weight, and approximately how many good reps you are going to have left in that set.
Another caveat with reverse pyramid training is I don’t think it is suitable to newer weightlifters who are learning proper form, who are building their foundation of strength and muscle because it is an unnecessary. Complexity to add to the programming. They could just do straight sets. They could be doing straight fours, they could be doing straight sixes, eights, tens, depending on who they are and where they’re at and what they’re trying to do.
But there’s no good reason to mix up the rep ranges, at least for the first year or two. Another reason I wouldn’t recommend many R P T programs to newbies in particular is, as I mentioned earlier, a lot of them call for training to failure, and this not only increases your chances of getting hurt, but it also increases your chances of learning incorrect.
Form because research shows that our skill acquisition machinery works a lot better when we are not mentally or physically fatigued, and training beyond that point of fatigue, mental or physical fatigue can be detrimental to skill acquisition, to learning the proper t. So when you are new to weightlifting, one of your primary goals is to learn the exercises properly, especially the big compound lifts.
And if you start training to failure or very close, let’s say, one rep, shy of failure, if you start training that intensely on those exercises right away, chances are you are not going to learn. Perfect technique, you are going to be ingraining. Maybe not bad technique, but imperfect technique, and those technique flaws eventually can get in the way of your progress later, or even increase the risk of injury later when the weights are a lot heavier.
Now if you’re wondering what the scientific literature has to say on reverse pyramid training, unfortunately, I don’t know of any studies that have looked at R P T specifically, but several studies have shown that the traditional pyramid style of training, the 12 10 86 method is no more effective than traditional straight.
Training. And while the regular body building pyramid is of course different than the reverse pyramid, they are similar insofar as they vary the rep ranges and the intensities set to set in the same workout. And of course, The studies that I just referenced are not great evidence that R P T is less effective than standard training, but it does suggest that varying rep ranges and intensities on a single exercise in a single workout is not as great in reality as it may sound in theory.
That said, R P T is an effective way to gain. Muscle and strength it is probably not more effective than straight sets. But it is also probably not less effective. So if you are not new to weight lifting, if you are a guy who has gained his first, let’s say, 15 to 25 pounds of muscle, or if you’re a woman who has gained about half of.
Amount of muscle, which means you have at least one year of good training behind you, and you have good form on the big exercises. And if you wanna mix up your training, just try something new that is not going to get in the way. It’s not going to set you back. Then you can give reverse pyramid training a go.
But I would recommend a different style of periodizing, your training, which would be changing your rep ranges, changing your intensities, at least in the context of weightlifting. Periodization is focusing a period of your training on something specific, like gaining muscle or gaining strength, or improving some aspect of your technique.
And in weightlifting, when we talk about periodization, we are talking about varying wrap range. Varying intensities and the methodology that I would recommend is in my book, Beyond Bigger Than Your Stronger, which I will just plug again because I would recommend that program over R p t, But you could try both and just see which you like more and which your body responds best to.
I hope you liked this episode. I hope you found it helpful, and if you did subscribe to the show because it makes sure that you don’t miss new episodes. And it also helps me because it increases the rankings of the show a little bit, which of course then makes it a little bit more easily found by other people who may like it just as much as you.
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