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Trainer Q&A: What Is 'Reverse Pyramid' Training?

Our experts explore the benefits and applications for this popular training method.
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Q:  What is 'reverse pyramid' training?

Of all the training programs out there that promise big jumps in strength and size, few can hold a match to reverse pyramid training (RPT). Made popular by trainer and nutritional consultant Martin Berkhan, this method predicts a decrease in force production throughout the workout and modifies the intensity of each set to maximize results.

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The central theme behind reverse pyramid training is that as you progress through your workout, you will naturally produce less force due to fatigue. According to Rob Sulaver, creator of Bandana Training, “RPT is designed around the idea that your workout matches your bodies ability to produce force.” As a result, the first set of your session (often referred to as the top set) is usually the heaviest and most intense. Each subsequent set has a drop in load and therefore intensity. These drop sets allow you to continue to target muscle fibers despite fatigue.

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Reverse pyramid training can provide a necessary boost to almost any workout, but Sulaver advises this type of training mostly for “lifters looking to develop/maintain strength.” To get started with reverse pyramid training, begin your working sets with a max effort or top set. Then, drop subsequent sets while increasing volume. A sample session would look like this:

Back Squat 

285lbs x 4 reps
275lbs x 5 reps
265lbs x 6 reps
255lbs x 7 reps

Keep in mind that although this rep scheme is effective in terms of increasing intensity, you shouldn’t use it for every lift during your workout. Sulaver advises lifters to use this method for main exercises but switch to a more traditional rep scheme for secondary moves. Also, avoid skipping out on the warm-up. The first working set should require maximal effort, but lifters should include an extensive warm-up prior to getting started with the protocol to avoid injury.

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