Normally when you perform an exercise you’ll do it for straight sets (or “sets across”). This simply means that you do multiple sets with the same weight for the same number of reps (after warm-ups). So you might do 3 X 8 or 4 X 5 or whatever. However this is not the only way that you can structure your workouts; and another method that’s at least as popular as straight sets is pyramid sets. With pyramid sets you increase the weight you are using from one set to the next, whilst decreasing the number of reps.
But with reverse pyramid training you do just the opposite of that, i.e. you decrease the weight from one set to the next whilst increasing the number of reps. And despite the fact that you don’t see this method being used very often, it is in fact much more effective than the traditional pyramid.
So in this article I’ll explain why the reverse pyramid is such a great method of training, and I’ll also show you how you can best use it to get the results you want.
Pyramid vs. Reverse Pyramid Training
As I said, pyramid training involves increasing the weight you are using from set to set, whilst reducing the number of reps you are performing.
So you might do 10, 8, 6 or 8, 6, 4, or even a long pyramid like 12, 10, 8, 6, 4, 2.
But there’s a problem with training in this way. And that is you are lifting your lightest weight at the start, when you are at your freshest and strongest. And by the time you get to your heaviest weight your muscles and nervous system are already fatigued. So you’re lifting your heaviest weight when you are at your weakest. And this is backwards from the way it should be if you want to make the best progress.
I’m not saying pyramid training doesn’t work. It does to a degree. In fact it’s quite a decent method for increasing size, but it’s not much use at all for increasing strength.
So why not flip it around and do it in reverse?
With reverse pyramid training you decrease the weight you are using from set to set whilst increasing the number of reps you are performing.
So you might do 6, 8, 10 or 4, 6, 8 – or whatever.
This means you are now lifting your heaviest weight at the start, when you are at your freshest and strongest. And then you do a couple of back-off sets with lighter weights for more reps.
This has a number of advantages. Firstly, your first work set is your most important set, so it makes sense to use your heaviest weight for this set. And as you are only doing one set at this weight you can put maximum effort into it without worrying that you are going to have to repeat the performance for another two or more sets.
Then by reducing the weight and increasing the reps a little, you can add additional growth promoting volume without creating an undue amount of neural fatigue.
How To Do Reverse Pyramid Training
First decide on the rep range you want to work within; in this case we’ll assume its 4 – 8.
Do your warm-up sets first and then choose a weight that you can do 4 reps with. This should be a maximum effort set, so you stop when you feel you can’t do another rep.
Reduce the weight by about 10%, rest 2 – 3 minutes (more if you need to) and then do a set of 6 reps. Then reduce the weight by a further 10% and do a set of 8 reps. These last two sets are not maximum effort sets – you just stop when you hit the required number of reps. And ideally you should feel like you still had at least one more rep left in you (so if you think your last rep will be a struggle, stop the set after just one additional rep instead of two).
So assuming you hit your target reps it will look something like this…
200 X 4
180 X 6
160 X 8
To progress with reverse pyramid training you simply increase the weight a little (ideally about 2.5%) if you achieve your target reps. But if you don’t achieve them you stay on the same weight until you do.
You don’t need to use the reverse pyramid method for all your exercises; you can just use it for your main compound exercises and use straight sets for your smaller movements if you wish. But if you do decide to use it for everything I suggest you use a higher rep range (and shorter rest periods) for your assistance exercises than for your compound exercises. So you might want to do 4, 6, 8 for your main compound movements and 6, 8, 10, or even 8, 10, 12 for your smaller assistance exercises.
Either way reverse pyramid training is a particularly effective training method. And in fact some people say it has given them the best gains of their life – perhaps it could do the same for you.