Crushing Plateaus with Reverse Pyramid Training + Example RPT Workout Routine

Those who are keen to see advanced results, big lifts and new personal results should definitely try reverse pyramid training as it will help stimulate hypertrophy as well as to program your body for high loads.

Many of us are used to the traditional style of pyramid training. That is, starting at a low weight, and gradually increasing the total resistance as you get further through the workout and sets of each exercise.

The only issue with this style of training is that you can hit training plateaus very frequently.

Pushing through a training plateau requires a new view of strength training – a style of exercise called reverse pyramid training.

Reverse Pyramid Training has come to popularity as of late – especially in the strength training world. Among guys and girls who are focussed on setting new personal results, chasing competitive lifts and bettering their body, reverse pyramid training is one of the best ways to grow stronger in a specific and progressive way.

In this article, we are going to detail the most effective ways you can use reverse pyramid training to better your strength and body composition.

The Problem with Traditional Weight Lifting

If you are like me, you probably value your lifts more than anything else. Personally, I am not overly concerned with what I look like (in terms of physique) but rather, the amount of weight I can lift with clean form.

The problem with traditional weight lifting, especially programs that are not completely built for new personal results, is that they are built for aesthetics.

This means you will hit training plateaus, constantly be training at the wrong intensity and, in most cases, are not using proven methods for growing stronger over the long term.

In our eyes, the biggest problems with basic weight programs are that they do not follow strength methods that have been proven to work. Here are the biggest issues with normal weight training programs.

Low Intensity

Most physique programs, especially bodybuilding programs will use a low intensity. In this way, you can condition the muscle and build an aesthetic physique, but this does not help you hit new personal bests as a reverse pyramid training program would.

Results Are Rarely Being Tracked

The biggest problem with more training programs is that they simply do not have methods for tracking results. This generally means that the average person who is weight lifting will be training at a variable intensity and with infrequent weekly weight results.

In the grand scheme of your success as a strength athlete, you need to have results and progress markers. Without them, you are simply lifting weights for the sake of lifting weights.

Progressive Overload

This is a kinesiology term that means you should be tracking your weights and ensuring that on a weekly basis you are overloading the muscle, with periods of scheduled rest.

Reverse pyramid training is a method of training that uses progressive overload in reverse to ensure variability in your training and allows for longer periods of rest – perfect for pushing through a training plateau.

What is Reverse Pyramid Training?

Now that you understand some of the main issues that arise with reverse pyramid training it’s time to explain exactly what this method is.

Traditional weight lifting would look like this…

  • Set 1: 50% of max
  • Set 2/3: 70% of max
  • Set 4: 60% of max

Although there is some flexibility in this schedule, most weight training will follow a similar structure. Above you can see that you start the weight relatively low, increase the weight for the middle sets, and then decrease the weight for your last “quality” sets.

Reverse pyramid training works in a somewhat backward method. Here is what a typical set would look like…

  • Set 1: 90% of max
  • Set 2: 80% of max
  • Set 3/4: 50% of max
NOTE: It is important to ensure there is a complete warm-up that occurs before these near-max efforts. Although they appear early in your program it is important to understand the injury rates should not raise due to the high load.

The reverse pyramid training method allows you to train at a higher load on a more frequent basis. This is because you are using the majority of your “energy” very early in the workout. You will also notice that the intensity is much lower towards the end of the sets. In some cases, individuals may only choose to complete 3 sets of each exercise.

Reverse Pyramid Training Workout Example

We know that this workout method can help you to push training plateaus and boost some of your biggest lifts, but how does this actually look in a true program?

Check out the example reverse pyramid training workout below as a 3-day RPT Split.

RPT – Workout 1Set #1Set #2Set #3Set #4
High Bar Back Squat80% max70% max50% max50% max
Flat Bench Press90% max75% max60% max 
Bent Over Row70% max70% max60% max50% max
RPT – Workout 2Set #1Set #2Set #3Set #4
Bulgarian Lunge70% max70% max60% max50% max
Incline DB Press90% max90% max50% max 
Supinated Chin Up90% max60% max60% max30% max
RPT – Workout 3Set #1Set #2Set #3Set #4
Overhead Press80% max70% max50% max 
Deadlift90% max75% max60% max 
Cable Face Pull70% max70% max60% max50% max
TOP TIP: in this program, we are using a percentage of your max in each lift. This does not have to be completely exact, but the closer to your true percentage max the better.

For example, if your bench press is 200 pounds, your 80% max would be (200 x 0.8 = 160) 160 pounds.

Reverse Pyramid Training: Tips for Success

Reverse pyramid training is a style of training that can be used to push training markers and build strength you didn’t think you were capable of. Be sure to keep these tips for success embedded in your training.

1. Track Your Progress

This cannot be stressed enough. In every program, you should be tracking all of your progress. Everything from the weight that you lifted to how long it took for you to recover. Make your training life easy and grab a little journal. Write down your workouts and be sure to stay consistent every day.

2. Keep Your Nutrition in Check

High-intensity weight lifting, like that found in reverse pyramid training, will require a clean, whole-food diet. This means you are not eating a bag of chips and a burger for recovery food. Be smart, eat clean, cook your own foods and watch as you grow stronger and improve your body composition.

3. Maintain Consistency

Weight training is a game of consistency. Although your weights should gradually increase week by week, you should maintain consistency in your approach to rest time and overall work ethic. It is very common for beginners to see fast results and start to slack off. Every result you see should be followed by an increased work-load.

4. Always Complete a Warm-up and Cool-down

This style of training has a high potential for injury, especially for beginners who do not have a complete warm-up and cool-down routine. In order for you to be successful on a program that starts with a near-max effort, you should be thorough in your warm up, mobilize your joints and ensure you are properly fed and hydrated.

Considerations Before Starting RPT

Before you just on this program as the be all and end all of your weight training there are some simple considerations you should take into account.

RPT is NOT Easy

reverse pyramid training is not an easy style of training. Those who are new to training will find that this program will cause them to be sore for multiple days after a session – even if you are only doing 3-4 exercises per workout. Be patient and respect the program – there is no need to lift with ego.

Reverse Pyramid Training is not a Long-term Training Program

This style of training is not sustainable. You will not be able to use this programming for any longer than 2-3 weeks (or at least, we wouldn’t suggest it). Instead, we recommend you use this style of training every couple of months to test out your max lifts and break through training plateaus.

RPT Is Physically and Mentally Exhausting

Reverse pyramid training, when completed correctly are physically and mentally exhausting. Lifting heavy requires attention to detail and focus. You cannot slack off when you have your near-max lift on your back during a squat. Take your time and stay focussed in every workout.

Breaking Down Reverse Pyramid Training

Those who are keen to see advanced results, big lifts and new personal results should try reverse pyramid training.

Not only can it help to stimulate hypertrophy (through the high resistance/intensity) but it can also help you to program your body for high loads – which is essential for any competitive weight lifter.

If you have any questions about how to best accommodate this program into your current workout program or are looking for some extra guidance feel free to contact us by leaving a comment below.

FAQ Section

Can I change some exercises?

Yes, 100% you can. The format of this workout program is to use exercises that have lower injury rates and can have a high load attached to them. If you are swapping exercises in just be sure to test your max first, after a complete warm-up.

Can I do more workouts each week?

It’s not recommended. Although this program may seem easy at first glance, if you are not used to training at a high intensity (near-max), increasing your frequency can lead to injury or just a perpetual state of fatigue – which is no fun. Try to keep your training frequency to a maximum of 4 workouts per week.

NOTE: This doesn’t mean you can’t get into the gym for a light cardio session and a stretch – just be sure you are not pushing yourself hard enough that you are creating additional stress.

Is this program for cutting or bulking?

Most weight lifting programs will cater to a bulking cycle. Since the load is high, we would suggest you are also increasing your caloric intake (eating more food) which is generally the opposite of cutting. If you are looking for a complete cutting program be sure to check out our Anabolic Bodies cutting workout plan.