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Gain Muscle Fast With Reverse Pyramid Training

reverse pyramid training

TRANSFORM From Skinny-Fat To Lean & Muscular

Reverse pyramid training workouts will change the way you look at training, forever.

Did you hit a plateau and feel like your body hasn’t changed much despite your hard efforts in the gym? Maybe you’re new and ready to supercharge your muscle and strength gains?

I can easily attest that roughly 80% of my muscle and strength was built from reverse pyramid training alone.

Is it magic? No, of course not. But it’s a damn smart way to approach how you lift weights in the gym.

Let’s first cover the top weightlifting mistakes (maybe these have been holding you back) and then how Reverse Pyramid Training corrects them.


MISTAKE #1 – Not Having A Progression Model In Place

In the gym, we have one goal: To get stronger. Whether that’s one more rep or more weight to the bar/dumbbell.

It’s the surefire way to make sure you’re actually gaining strength and muscle.

Most either don’t have a progression model in place, to know when to add weight or reps, they don’t track their weights in the gym, or they just “go by feel” and add weight when it feels good.

Now, I’m one to listen to your body’s feedback, but most of the time, this keeps you looking the same year after year if you don’t have a solid progression model in place.

MISTAKE #2 – Using Standard Pyramid Sets For Strength

A very common lifting approach is standard pyramid training and it typically looks like this:

  • 135 lbs for 12 reps
  • 155 lbs for 10 reps
  • 175 lbs for 8 reps
  • 195 lbs for 6 reps
  • 205 lbs for 5 reps

And I’ve even done this with a couple of last heavy sets of 225 for maybe 2 or 3 reps.

The problem? The time you actually get to a heavy enough weight to stimulate muscle and strength gain (around the 195lbs mark) You’re already fatigued and trying to lift heavyweight in a suboptimal condition.

The first 3 sets or so are basically warm-up sets. This is a big reason most lifters hit strength plateaus.

I personally love using standard pyramid training for higher volume pump work AFTER lifting heavy. Where the weight stays the same for all sets, and the reps decrease as fatigue steps in.

MISTAKE #3 – Doing Multiple Heavy Sets To Failure

It’s no pain, no gain right?

You need to push yourself, but you must push yourself correctly.

Walk in your gym on a Monday during peak hours and you’ll probably see guys on the bench press with their spotters helping them grind out the last few reps because they can’t lift the damn weight anymore.

The mistake is trying to take every set to or past failure.

For example, and I’ve been here countless times, these folks will typically choose a weight they can do for roughly 4-6 reps.

They’ll grind out the first 6 reps, then probably 5 on the second set, 4 on the third, and finish off with a couple more sets of 3-4 reps and probably call the spotter in for help.

Heavy lifting, in general, is going to cause neural fatigue (drain your central nervous system, not just your muscles).

Lifting like this over time is the perfect recipe for overtraining and burnout.

All pain, no gain.

MISTAKE #4 – Pacing Yourself During Your Sets

I’ve been guilty of this one too. And I commonly see it when I enter the gym. Most guys pace themselves to ensure they complete all their sets and reps.

A common setup prescribed for muscle and strength is the standard 5 sets of 5 reps. Maybe you’ve heard about it or tried it before?

Think about this though for a second, if you were to lift at your maximum effort on your first set for 5 reps, there’s no way you could repeat that for another 4 sets of 5 reps.

The Reality Of Pacing Yourself

You’d probably hit maybe 4 on your second set, 3 on your third, 2 on your forth, and 1-2 on your fifth.

In other words, for one to be able to hit 5 sets of 5 reps total, they would have to use a weight they can handle for roughly 8-10 reps.

This means you’re lifting under your true potential.

That’s not going to transform your body.

Side Note: Now there IS a time and place for this, and we’ll touch on that in a moment. This method was popularised by Mark Rippetoe, author of Starting Strength. And hence the name, this works wonders for beginners new to weight training and I feel everyone should go through a period of training to build up your foundation.


You made it – this is the part you’ve been patiently waiting for during that (long) build-up to what Reverse Pyramid Training is and how you can use it to start supercharging your strength and muscle gains.

Again, the best way to describe RPT is that it’s a lifting protocol to build incredible strength, shatter through plateaus, and create your best body ever.

It’s such a simple concept, but no one ever does it, or rarely has even heard about it.

You’re going to be lifting your first working set with maximum intensity and your heaviest weight for that particular exercise.

This also is going to shift your mindset and unleash your true power, knowing that all you have to do is give it all you got on one heavy set.


You’re Lifting At Your Strongest Potential

The main goal in the gym is to be getting stronger and lifting heavier weights over time.

Without that, your body will fail to change and look strong and muscular.

Since the weights on your second and third set are going to be getting about 10% lighter, this allows you to give it your very all and focus all your physical and mental energy to push yourself with as much intensity as possible to stimulate the most muscle growth.

A winning mindset for both in an out of the gym (recovery is just as important as well).

Maximum Effort + Maximum Muscle Gain

Another huge benefit of reverse pyramid training is this is going to create less central nervous system fatigue from heavyweights – since reverse pyramid training is best paired with training only 3 days per week.

This is going to allow you to hit each workout feeling fresh, recharged and powerful…

Leading to optimal workouts each session. Ultimately leading to greater results in a shorter amount of time.

And you actually enjoying and looking forward to workouts.

More Muscle Fiber Recruitment With RPT

When you lift with reverse pyramid training your body will literally light up (your central nervous system).

That said, muscle growth isn’t always about lifting heavy weight. It’s also about stimulating the most muscle fibers. Your nervous system is directly involved with that.

After your first heavy set with RPT your muscle fibers and nervous system will be primed for more muscle growth with your following sets with higher reps.

You see, lifting a heavy weight requires near maximal muscle fiber stimulation from the very first rep. This is unlike light weights, which you only recruit all of your muscle fibers on those last few really tough reps.

Another awesome benefit of reverse pyramid training is that after your first heavy set, weights that used to feel heavy to you in the past will now be a breeze to lift.

Which in turn will allow you to lift heavy in higher rep ranges for more volume and muscle gain.

Consistent Predictable Strength Gains

As we briefly touched on the mistake of not having a goal or progression model in place, reverse pyramid training solves that issue…

If you want to add muscle and strength, you must be getting stronger on your key exercises in your workout routine.

That said, if you do things right, you can milk out about 10-15lbs on your main exercises each month. Advanced lifters will see a bit less.

But imagine 3 months and 45lbs later – your body will have a night and day difference!

Here’s an old 3-month transformation when I started to implement RPT:

kinobody trent reverse pyramid training

Reverse pyramid training allows you to have predictable strength gains and workouts. Even if it’s just one more rep or 5 more pounds, that’s progress. And before you know it, those mini wins will add up over the months to come. If you’re liking this article so far, don’t forget to check out my most popular one here: How To Get Rid of Skinny Fat


This is how a reverse pyramid training routine is set up:

1) You are performing your heaviest work set first.

2) As fatigue sets in, the weight becomes lighter by 10%.

3) This allows for maximum lifting intensity on each and every set.

Reverse Pyramid Training Workout Routine Outline

In between each RPT set, you’ll be resting 2-3 minutes to allow for proper muscle and nervous system recovery.

If you don’t treat your rest times seriously (I always use the timer on my phone) you’re probably going to be leaving strength gains on the table.

Then it’s ideal to rest 3 to 5 minutes before moving onto your next exercise. Which is about the approximate time that it takes for you to actually get the weights or barbell or machine, etc. set up and ready as you move through your workout.

How To Warm Up For Reverse Pyramid Training Workouts

As we discussed above, the goal with a proper warm-up for reverse pyramid training is to NOT create unnecessary fatigue, which will hinder your strength gains.

The solution is to warm up with light enough weight that primes your muscles and central nervous system for your heavy first set.

We’ll be using the 5/3/1 technique.

Side note: you will need to take a workout or two to get comfortable with your starting weights. You’ll need to know what weight you can lift for your first set. Again, guess and checking (always aiming on the lighter side first) is pretty much the best way to do it. Be smart and be safe.

Here’s what it looks like…

Warm Up For Reverse Pyramid Training Set #1:

50% of your working FIRST set for 5 reps.

Rest 2 minutes –

Set #2 of your Warm Up:

70% of your working FIRST set for 3 reps.

Rest 2 minutes –

And finally for your 3rd warm up set:

90% of your working FIRST set for 1 rep.

Rest 2 to 3 minutes –

After your final rest period, you’re now warmed up and ready to get after your first exercise!

Don’t Forget To Warm Up Your Entire Body First

We always need to be smart with our training. Hopping straight into heavy weight is a recipe for injury if you don’t warm up properly for reverse pyramid training.

So before you warm up for your exercise it’s important you’re beginning your workouts with a full body warm up, regardless of what body part you’re working out for that day.

Here’s a simple routine to get the blood flowing!

  • Bodyweight Squats – 1 set of 10 reps
  • Arm Circles – 1 set of 10 reps per arm
  • Seated Wall Slides – 1 set of 12 reps
  • Thoracic Twists – 1 set of 8 reps
  • Supine Leg Hamstring Stretch – 1 set of 8 reps per leg
  • Cat-Cow Stretch – 1 set of 5 reps
  • Glute Bridges – 1 set of 10 reps
  • Wrist Stretch hold – 3 holds for 10 seconds each

If you’re feeling cold and tight, hop on a piece of cardio equipment for 3 to 5 minutes before doing the 8 exercises above.

Reverse Pyramid Training Workout Example

By this point, you have your understanding of what reverse pyramid training is, the mistakes to avoid, along with how to properly warm-up. Now let’s take a look at how reverse pyramid training would look while performing the bench press exercise.

We’ll use 200lbs for our RPT outline here…

And we’ll also be using what I like to call a dual progression model.

This is where you are adding reps and then weight when you reach the top end of the rep range.

It looks something like this:

(4-6) – set #1
(6-8) – set #2
(8-10) – set #3

Do you see the power of this? Each workout you have a goal to strive for. Whether that’s one more rep on a given set or adding 5 pounds to the bar when you reach the top end of the rep ranges for a given set.

Bench Press Example For Reverse Pyramid Training

Now tying in the dual progression model for RPT, here’s how your working sets will look:

200lbs for set #1 in the (4-6) rep range

Rest 3 minutes –

180lbs for set #2 in the (6-8) rep range

Rest 3 minutes –

160 lbs for set #3 in the (8-10) rep range

Rest 3 minutes –

…Move to the next exercise in your routine.

Notice how each set, the weight is decreased by about 10% as fatigue begins to happen. That is, you’re giving it your very all on each and every rep.


I know by now you’re probably super eager to get to the gym and try RPT.

Let’s go over a couple of helpful guidelines to make sure it’s the right fit for you at the moment.

Are You New Or Inexperienced?

Beginners can sure as heck get a lot of results from RPT but if you’re inexperienced with proper exercise form, then it will be hard to push yourself without compromising form – possibly leading to injury.

In this case, my recommendation is to keep the same weight for all your sets (straight sets / SS) and focus on building up your foundation and technique first. THEN RPT will give you the most bang for your buck.

How Long Can You Use Reverse Pyramid Training

Always keep in mind Reverse Pyramid Training is another tool in your box that you can use to push results further.

I love to rotate RPT in with other lifting protocols to maximize my progress. It’s also beneficial to do so to ensure you aren’t burning yourself out or if you experience strength fluctuations.

In other words, one workout you lifted a weight for say 6 reps but then you get only 4 reps the next workout. Sure, many factors play into this, but if this keeps happening for more than 2 weeks, it may be a good time to take a break from reverse pyramid training.

My Personal 1 on 1 Client Results From RPT

I also wanted to share the power of RPT that got dozens and dozens of my client’s amazing results:

reverse pyramid training results
reverse pyramid training progress

It works wonders, but of course, everything else needs to be in place to see the best fitness results such as your nutrition, sleep, stress, and so on.

If you’re still having trouble finding the right plan to get you to your goals, click here to learn more about my 1 on 1 coaching.


Whoo! That was a meaty article. With all of this said and done, I’d like to finish up with saying that yes, I’m a huge proponent of reverse pyramid training and also using it with my clients as well.

It’s the perfect lifting protocol to have in your back pocket to use to really supercharge your muscle and strength gains.

Again, no lifting protocol will get you results if you don’t show up and put in the work.

RPT, in my opinion, sets you up in the best way to really push yourself strategically. It gives you a game plan (which most people lack in their training) to know exactly what you need to accomplish each and every workout for consistent results.

Have you ever used RPT? Let me know in the comments if you’re going to try it out…

And share this article with someone who needs the extra push in the gym!

To your new body,

– Trent

TRANSFORM From Skinny-Fat To Lean & Muscular

TRANSFORM From Skinny-Fat To Lean & Muscular

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About Trent McCloskey

I'm Trent, the creator of Train. Eat. Live. My mission is to empower people around the world to take control of their bodies and change their entire life’s course through fitness.

Interested in working with me 1 on 1? Click here.

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