Training

Reverse pyramid training for muscle strength and size

By July 7, 2011 31 Comments

What is Reverse Pyramid Training (RPT)?

Reverse Pyramid Training or RPT, is a style of training I’ve quickly grown to love. I’m now a 2 weeks or so in, and feeling pretty good about myself. My lifts have gone up in every area and I feel pretty strong.

Why RPT?

It largely goes against traditional body building methods – Normally, you might start with a weight you can do 10 reps with, then progressively ramp up your weight and reduce the number of reps as you go heavier.

This is where Reverse Pyramid Training is different and will see you starting your HEAVIEST weights on your first set (after a very light warmup).

If your goal is increased mass and strength, this might be THE technique you’ve been looking for. (I’ll be tracking my own results over coming months and reporting back on my own experiences).

Train hard, not long

The beauty of Reverse Pyramid Training, is that you’ll spend less time in the gym (about an hour), and more time focusing on the important sh*t like ‘intensity’, ‘recovery’, ‘sleeping 8 hours a night’ and learning how to shave your genitals with a cut-throat.

Reverse Pyramid Training not just for the advanced

You can attempt this style of training if you’re intermediate or just starting out (although I’d recommend a spotter wherever possible). Your recovery times will also differ depending on how long you’ve been training.

I’d also recommend you get your diet in check first.

This leads me to…

Eating properly

RPT is taxing on the Central Nervous System. For this very reason, you’ll need plenty of big, real whole foods.

Supplement with protein, oils, fiber and vitamins where necessary, but try and eat REAL food 90% of the time.

My current RPT workout

Ok, so the nitty gritty.

Below I’ll show you how I’m currently Reverse Pyramid Training. The number of days and exercises can change depending on your needs as my approach is more on the advanced side of things. This setup also caters for a session where you’ll train your entire body on the first training day as well as a ‘specialisation’ training day where you can hit lagging body parts.

RPT Training structure

Using bench press as an example exercise, below is how each of the sets will be structured.

Set Weight (example) Comments
1 (warmup) 60kg x 8 Make sure this weight is around 50% of your maximum. We don’t want to fatigue your muscles here.
2 (warmup) 70kg x 8 Second warmup set – Still light as per reasons above.
3 (MAX weight) 120kg x 3-5 This is your heaviest set. Add 10% to what you can normally lift. You’ll be surprised at your strength. Go to failure if you can but use a spotter.
4 (Ramp down) 107.5kg x 6-8 Shed 10% of the weight an bust out more reps than the last set. (Don’t go to failure – leave one in the tank).
5 (Ramp down) 95kg x 9-10 Shed 10% and bust out more reps than the previous set. Again, don’t go to failure.
6 (Ramp down) 85kg x 10-12 Shed 10% once more and bust out even more reps. No failure here either.

NOTE: As you can see, this is a lot of volume to do for just one exercise. This is why you’ll only be doing around 4 RPT exercises per 1 hour training session.

Day 1 (Monday) – Full body

Here we’ll work quads, back, chest, shoulders and abs.

Exercise Sets
Leg Press 4 + 2 warmup (RPT)
Lat Pull-downs 4 + 2 warmup (RPT)
Bench Press 4 + 2 warmup (RPT)
Barbell Curls 3 x 8 (Same weight)
French Press 3 x 8 (Same weight)
Weighted Lying Leg Raises 3 x 12 (Same weight)

Day 2 (Tuesday) – Chest/Shoulders

Today is all about targeting your chest and shoulders with a little bit of trap work.

Exercise Sets
Incline Chest Press 4 + 2 warmup (RPT)
Weighted Dips 4 (RPT)
Standing Military Press 4 (RPT)
Shrugs or Lateral Raises 2 x 12 (Same weight)
Ab-Wheel Roll-out + 2min Plank 3 x 12 (Same weight) (1 set for plank)

Day 3 (Thursday) – Legs/Back

This day will absolutely hammer you. Some big exercises here.

Exercise Sets
Squats/ Dead Lifts (Alternate each week) 4 + 2 warmup (RPT)
Calf raises (seated) 4 x 20 (Same weight)
Weighted Pull-ups 4 (RPT)
One-arm Dumb Bell Row 3 x 12 (Same weight)
Hanging Leg Raises (straight legs) 3 x 20

Day 4 (Friday) – Specialisation (in this case arms)

Choose a lagging muscle group or one that you want to give extra focus to.

Exercise Sets
Rope Tricep Pull-downs 4 + 2 warmup (RPT)
Close-Grip Bench Press 4 (RPT)
Preacher Barbell Curl 4 (RPT)
Alternating Dumb Bell Curls 3 x 10 (Same weight)
Renegade Rows + 2min plank 3 x 12 (1 set for plank)

Training Notes

1 Make sure you get at least 2 mins of rest after your first MAX set.
2 Less is more. There’s a tendency to want to add in more exercises and sets. Don’t.
3 I add in abdominal exercises on each training day that concentrate on core strength. These will serve you well on compound movements. You’ll be one strong-ass mother f*cker.
4 Like I’ve said – this style of training is TAXING. Get your sleep and eat properly.

The wrap up

Training heavy in the least amount of time whilst stimulating the most muscle fibers at once is what it’s all about.

You’ll really be surprised as to how much MORE you can lift on your max sets when you hit them up first thing.

If you’re looking to bust that plateau and increase your lifts, this might just be what you’re looking for.

Editor’s Note: Ever dabbled in Reverse Pyramid Training? Comment below.

Clint Nielsen

Author Clint Nielsen

Clint is a dad and husband trying to stay in shape. He's also a highly opinionated fitness enthusiast and author of Reveal The Steel. Follow him on: Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and Google+

More posts by Clint Nielsen

Join the discussion 31 Comments

  • Tyson says:

    I just got done with an eight week cycle of Reverse Pyramid Training and noticed huge gains in every exercise I did. Also noticed an increase in size. I work out just 2 days a week and mainly focus on upper body and core. I was going to switch up the next 8 weeks with some slow set lifts but I enjoyed RPT training so much that I am going to continue doing it but with different exercises.

    • Clint Nielsen says:

      Nice work mate. Great to see others finding success with it!
      I have a feeling I’ll be doing the same at the end of 8 weeks.

  • Jarrod says:

    Yet again Clint, another great post. Generally, I can only train 3 days per week and this is a great type of traning that I plan to start once I’m finished with my current program. What kind of tweaks would you make to your program if you only had 3 days to train? I work every muscle in my body through out each week and I don’t want to sacrifice that. I don’t want to try to cram in too much on one day just to make up for a lost day, and defeat the purpose of RPT. What would you do? Thanks Clint, and keep up the good work!

    • Clint Nielsen says:

      With 3 days to train, I’d remove the ‘specialisation’ day altogether.
      I would then ditch the full body workout too and change the format into something more along these lines:
      Mon: Chest / Shoulders
      Tues: off
      Wed: Legs / Back
      Thurs: off
      Fri: Triceps / Biceps / Forearms
      Sat: off
      Sun: off

      Another way to attack it (if you wanted to keep a specialisation day in the mix), would be to put biceps on ‘back’ day and triceps on ‘chest day’ thus freeing up a training day.

      • Jarrod says:

        Hey Clint,
        I’ve been doing RPT for only 3wks and I’m really inpressed with what it’s done for me. I can’t beleive I didn’t hear about RPT before you but better late than never I guess. Another example that mainstream fitness doesn’t give you a lot of actually useful info. Thanks again Clint and keep it up.

  • Ed Marriott says:

    On Day 1 doing bench and OHP and then on Day 2 ‘targetting the chest & shoulders’?

    Similar exercises, heavy weights, taken nearly to failure on successive days.

    You clearly don’t have clue.

    • Clint Nielsen says:

      Hey Ed,
      I actually have shoulders on day 1 in there by mistake, so thanks for pointing that out.
      However, I do think my results speak for themselves.
      I checked out the pics on your website too by the way – When you start going to the gym, I’ll be more than happy to help you out with your training.

  • Ed Marriott says:

    Ok, I apologise for the rudeness and will ignore the ad hominem comment.

    Perhaps one of us can learn something: why do you think- and i assume we’re talking about hypertrophy- working the same muscle group with the same intensity and similar movements on consecutive days is optimal?

    • Clint Nielsen says:

      Ed,
      We are talking both strength and hypertrophy.
      Similar movements in what sense?
      Day 1 is full body and the chest is hit only once with a flat bench.
      Day two, we hit it from other angles – Incline with dumbbells and then in a decline with weighted dips.
      Like I said, this method is taxing but is great for busting plateaus and increasing lifts.

      Day 4 is also a ‘specialisation’ day for lagging body parts. If you don’t have anything lagging, maybe do some walking or reduce your training down to 3 days. You might not need it.
      As I’ve written in previous articles, 4 days isn’t optimal for everyone, but works for a high percentage of people, hence why I’ve written about it here.

      Give it a go yourself, tweak it if it doesn’t work, then write about it here and tell us all what you’ve changed to make it work for you.

  • Ryan says:

    Clint,
    Great work, I was just wondering earlier in the year you suggested high volume low rest periods while trying to cut and maintain strength, which one would you recommend RPT or the former?

    Thanks

    • Clint Nielsen says:

      I’m not sure i mentioned ‘maintain strength’ with the shorter rest/higher volume strategy.
      However, I do think there’s a time and place for both. Training for 6-8 weeks with one method, then switch over to another.
      In terms of a pure ‘strength’ strategy whilst trying to lose a bit of BF – I’d say RPT is my preferred technique.

  • Per Eppers says:

    Hi
    Really likes your program – I do have a question though.
    Did you do all exercises as RPT or only the big 3?

    If I was to only work out 3 days a week I suppose i could just remove the specialization day and then split some of the arm-exercises over on the other days?

    Thanks

    • Clint says:

      Thanks Pereppers,

      I think you can limit the RPT to the ‘major’ exercises, and then do standard sets for the remaining ancillary.

      You definitely can remove the specialisation day if you’re down to 3 days per week – it’s only really there to help build up ‘lagging’ body parts.

  • Per Eppers says:

    Thanks for your reply. In your opinion what should the weekly progression look like – 2.5 – 5 % or just whenever you feel stronger do one more rep?

  • Tim says:

    Hee Clint,

    Do you recommend using a 3-5 rep range on all the big exercises?
    – Squat, Deadlift, Bench Press, Overhead Press, Weighted Chin-Ups, Weighted Dips…

    Saying trying to hit the 5 rep mark and then then moving up the weight the next workout…
    I’m currently on a cut and using RPT style of training to keep or even improve my muscle mass!

    So thanks in advance,

    Ciaoo Tim

  • Richard says:

    Hey Clint,

    Are all exercises RPT or are some of them just normal pyramid?
    Hanging leg raises aren’t done with weights I guess, so how do I interpret that exercise; as RPT or normal PT?
    And Barbell Curls and French Press (3×8) is that also normal PT?

    Sorry for my misunderstanding but I really want to give it a go and want to execute well.

    Thanks a lot.
    Richard

  • hey clint a question whats your take on doing cardio with this rotune??

    • Will work fine if you add it at the end of each routine in small amounts. Preference would be to isolate the cardio to it’s own day.

      • thanks for your reply i am currently doing your routine and it really working for me… i was wondering if my diet is right… and of you can help out with it… currently i am consuming 1800 calories (cutting) and macro are 180g carbs 180g protein 40g fat… i currently weight 185 lb and i am 6 ft tall with 15% body fat… my goal is to go down to 10% bf

        i was wondering if cardio is a good idea since i am consuming not alot of calories

        • If losing fat is the goal, then adding in small amounts of cardio will only benefit. As always, total calories required for ‘deficit’ can be calculated by a number of equations. Having said that, required caloric totals for fat loss are never absolute, and will vary from person to person relying on a lot of trial and error.

  • Alex says:

    Hey Clint, really happy to have found your webpage.
    The RPT workout-example mentioned above, i think that’s advisable for a slow bulk / bulk.What about a cut? Would you suggest dropping the 4th day and reducing maybe the volume of exercises done?
    Thoughts on that?
    Thank you

    • Cheers Alex :)

      For a cut I’d be more inclined to lower the rep ranges and reduce some of the volume as you’ve pointed out.

      Dropping the 4th day is personal preference but If you were to do that, personally I’d introduce a cardio session (to maximise fat loss potential).

  • Neil Walton says:

    Hey quick question, You have 4+2 (RPT) on most exercises, but what do you mean when you just have the RPT next to the exercise… Is this where you should just gauge it…

  • Jon Smith says:

    I can’t even read this page because of all the pop up ads on mobile

  • Krease21 says:

    Could I throw in a extra day of arms on Wednesday or is that a bad idea?

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