Unlocking Strength and Muscle Gains with the Power of ‘Reverse Pyramid Training’

Calling all workout enthusiasts! If you haven’t tried reverse pyramid training yet, it may be time to give your routine an invigorating twist. Reverse pyramid training involves switching up the weight and reps for all your sets to maximize gains and build muscle. That’s usually the ultimate goal of lifting at the gym, are we right? Read on to learn the specifics and what to expect.

“Reverse pyramid training is a style of training where you change up the weight used and number of reps performed in each of your working sets,” explains Domenic Angelino, CPT at Trainer Academy. “As you progress through sets of a single exercise, you would increase the number of reps you perform while reducing the amount of weight you lift.”

People on TikTok are totally here for reverse pyramid training and have great things to say about it. TikTok user @Kinobody dubs it “the best way to lift to gain muscle,” while TikToker @How2LiveFitness raved in a video, “Reverse pyramid training—one of the easiest ways to build muscle and strength.”

Now if you’re ready to jump into your own pyramid routine, let’s get into how you can get started.

Here’s how reverse pyramid training works:

To begin reverse pyramid training, you’ll map out your sets in an inversely proportional fashion. In this way, as you ramp up the number of reps, you’ll decrease the weight you’re lifting.

Angelino explains, “This makes sense because the heavier the weight you use is, the lower the number of reps you can lift it for. It also allows you to train with sets that are consistently near maximal effort, since you adjust the number of reps you perform to better match the weight you’re using.”

Mapping out a single exercise via reverse pyramid training will resemble a pyramid turned upside down. The reasoning is you begin by forming the pyramid’s foundation with a set of higher reps. As you proceed with your workout, you lower the amount of reps.

For instance, if you were to perform three sets of a barbell bench press exercise, here’s what your routine would look like:

  • Barbell Bench Press Set 1: 4 reps x 145 pounds
  • Barbell Bench Press Set 2: 6 reps x 130 pounds
  • Barbell Bench Press Set 3: 8 reps x 115 pounds

If you map this out to get a better picture, each set is listed by the number of reps like this:

  • Set 3: R R R R R R R R
  • Set 2: R R R R R R
  • Set 1: R R R R

“The above visual only really works if you think of it like you start with set one being the foundation of the pyramid and build up from there,” Angelino tells us. “The key difference between reverse pyramid training and regular pyramid training is that the order of sets is reversed. In regular pyramid training, you perform higher rep sets up front and finish off working in a lower rep range. Reverse pyramid training starts you off by working with heavier weight, which can neurologically prime you to get more out of your higher rep sets. It also lets you focus more on training your thicker type II muscle fibers because you will be less fatigued when you perform your heavy set.”

How to plan your reverse pyramid training:

In order to get the most benefit from reverse pyramid training, it’s important to customize your rep ranges to your specific needs. It’s not necessary to perform every exercise with the same rep structure. Certain exercises are a better match for sets of four, six, and eight reps, while others are best performed for sets of eight, 10, and 12 reps.

You should plan your heaviest work for the first part of your workout when you have more energy. This is also a good time to include your compound and complex exercises. As you continue on, work in exercises that engage fewer muscles and are not as complex. Increasing the rep range of your reverse pyramid sets should be a natural progression.

In addition, be mindful to coordinate your rest periods with your set demands. For example, take a longer rest break when performing a heavier set. According to Angelino, it’s perfectly okay to rest for two minutes after completing a heavy set of four reps and take a 60 to 90-second rest after a lighter set of eight reps.

Most importantly, be sure to implement best practices for progressive overload in order to benefit in the long term.

How can you maximize your gains by performing reverse pyramid training?

Because reverse pyramid training enables you to complete one exercise through several rep ranges, you’re able to activate muscle fibers that are typically “favored” in various rep ranges back to back.

Angelino points out, “Some muscle fibers are more prone to growing and improving when you work in a lower rep range and others when you work in a higher rep range. This can be helpful under certain circumstances since it can help make your training more effective under the appropriate conditions.”

Note that the effectiveness of reverse pyramid training is contingent on whether each set sufficiently provides your muscle with enough training stimulus. The fact that you’re not training in a more consistent rep range means you may not perform enough within each specific rep range.

“People who are very advanced will get less out of reverse pyramid training on average,” Angelino tells us. “This is because they need a higher volume of similar stimulus to drive growth than someone who isn’t as well trained. If you’ve been consistently lifting for between six months to a year or so, you’ll be well positioned to get the most out of this sort of training, given you’re more likely to have adequate training stimulus from this set-up. And, you’d be able to perform this sort of training effectively.”

If you’re ready to give reverse pyramid training a go to maximize your overall gains, you don’t have to jump in full force. You can be selective in choosing the parts of your routine that are best suited for this method. Angelino suggests planning constant rep sets when it will benefit you most and reverse pyramid sets when it makes more sense.

He also gives us a pro tip: “It’s best to pick exercises for this style of training that involve multiple muscle groups. You’ll find that this sort of training is most effective [in] exercises where you can lift heavy [weights] normally. This makes it a really solid fit for free weight exercises performed with barbells or dumbbells. You’ll find that you get more out of reverse pyramid training when you use it for an exercise like the barbell bench press, barbell back squat, or barbell conventional deadlift.”

Alexa Mellardo

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