Take Your Workout to the Next Level with Reverse Pyramid Training

Take Your Workout to the Next Level with Reverse Pyramid Training

(Last Updated On: April 5, 2019)


Take Your Workout to the Next Level with Reverse Pyramid Training

Once you’ve mastered basic weight training and your muscles have adapted to doing 3 sets of 8 to 12 reps, they’ll likely need a different stimulus to keep them growing and becoming stronger. So, what’s next? Fortunately, there’s no shortage of weight training schemes or variables you can manipulate to adjust your workout and “wake up” your slumbering muscles.

You may have heard of the concept of pyramid training. Unlike straight weight training where you lift the same amount of weight for each of three sets, with pyramid training, you vary the load and the number of reps.  Pyramids can be ascending or descending.

The most common pyramid training scheme is ascending pyramids. With ascending pyramiding, you begin with a certain number of reps, usually 12, using a lighter weight. With each subsequent set, you decrease the number of reps as you increase the load. For example, an ascending weight training scheme might look like this:

·       1 x 12             10 pounds

·       1 x 10             15 pounds

·       1 x 8                20 pounds

·       1 x 6                25 pounds

·       1 x 4                30 pounds

As you can see, with each step, you scale back the number of reps and use a heavier load. During the first set, you’re mainly training for muscle endurance due to the high number of reps. As you move up the pyramid and the resistance increases, your muscles get a hypertrophy stimulus. Once you get to the top of the pyramid, you’re mostly targeting strength due to the high resistance and a low number of reps.

Descending, or reverse, pyramids take a different approach. This pyramid scheme moves in the opposite direction. With a reverse pyramid, you begin with the heaviest resistance and a low number of reps. Then, with each subsequent set you increase the number of reps and reduce the resistance until you’re using the lowest load and highest number of reps on the final set. A reverse pyramid scheme might look like this:

·       1 x 4               30 pounds

·       1 x 6               25 pounds

·       1 x 8               20 pounds

·       1 x 10             15 pounds

·       1 x 12             10 pounds


Reverse Pyramids versus Ascending Pyramids

Which form of pyramiding is most effective? The results of a 2010 study showed both ascending and descending (reverse) pyramids increased muscle strength but the reverse pyramid scheme led to a greater rise in creatine kinase, an enzyme marker for muscle injury. The more pronounced increase in creatine kinase suggests that reverse pyramids place greater mechanical stress on muscle fibers and lead to greater muscle damage. In theory, this would be more favorable for muscle growth.

Why might reverse pyramids have an advantage over ascending pyramids? When you use an ascending scheme, you use up energy on the lighter sets at the beginning of the pyramid. By the time you get to the heavy weights, lactate has built up, you’re fatigued, and can’t maximize your performance on the final set. You’ve already fatigued some of the fast-twitch muscle fibers on the earlier high-rep sets. Even though you recruit mostly slow-twitch fibers when you use lighter weights, if you take each set to near failure, the slow-twitch fibers call up the fast-twitchers for back-up. Some of the fast-twitch muscle fibers you need to move the heaviest weight at the top are exhausted.

In contrast, with reverse pyramids, you do the heaviest set when your fast-twitch fibers are “fresh” and not yet fatigued. With reverse pyramiding, you eliminate the problem of accumulated fatigue that can limit your strength performance.

Reverse Pyramid Training for Muscle Hypertrophy

Another approach to descending pyramid training is to change the resistance you use in a descending manner while keeping the number of reps the same. In this case, the descending pyramid would look something like this:

·       1 x 8      50 pounds

·       1 x 8      40 pounds

·       1 x 8      30 pounds

·       1 x 8      20 pounds

·       1 x 8      10 pounds

The advantage of this approach to descending pyramids is you’re adjusting the load as you maintain a certain number of reps. The fact that you’re doing a high volume of sets/reps, you’re primarily training for hypertrophy. If your main goal is to increase muscle size, this is an effective approach. In contrast, the previous descending pyramid scheme where you decrease the load and increase the number of reps with each set is best for strength gains.

Reverse Pyramid Schemes 

As you can see, reverse pyramids can be structured in different ways to meet different goals – strength versus hypertrophy. With both methods, you’re decreasing the force on your muscles in a stepwise fashion. Most importantly, you’re maximizing fast-twitch muscle fiber recruitment by lifting the heaviest load while your muscles are their least fatigued. That’s one of the problems with ascending pyramids, your muscles are nearly exhausted by the time you ask them to lift the heaviest load. Lifting heavy first also maximizes the interaction between your brain and muscles to build maximum strength.

What about rest between sets? Keep your rest period between sets around 2 to 3 minutes to give your muscles ample time to recover to get the most benefits from the subsequent set.

Getting the Most Out of Reverse Pyramid Training

Always warm up properly before doing the first set of a descending pyramid scheme. You’re starting with the most resistance, so your muscles should be warm to prevent injury. Also, don’t do pyramid training every time you work out or for every exercise. It works best for compound exercises like squats and rows and as a way to break through a strength or hypertrophy plateau.

Is reverse pyramid training for you? When your muscles need an additional stimulus for growth or when you’re bored and need a new approach to weight training, reverse pyramid training is a good alternative. If you’ve reached a plateau, scrutinize your nutrition as well. If you’re skimping on nutrition, that could be part of the problem. So, when you’re stuck in a plateau, try something new, like reverse pyramids, and make sure you’re eating right and eating enough.



Research Gate. “The Effects of Delorme and Oxford Techniques on Serum Cell Injury Indices and Growth Factor in Untrained Women” (2010)

On Fitness. September/October 2015. “Reverse Pyramiding”

Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism Volume 2012 (2012), Article ID 960363, 13 pages http://dx.doi.org/10.1155/2012/960363.


Related Articles By Cathe:

Building Strength with Reverse Pyramid Training

Pyramid Training: Are Straight Pyramids or Reverse Pyramids More Effective?

What Are the Benefits of Pyramid Strength Training?


Related Cathe Friedrich Workout DVDs:

LITE Pyramid Pump
Intensity Series Pyramid Lower & Upper Body

All of Cathe’s Strength & Toning Workout DVDs
Total Body Workouts
Lower Body Workouts
Upper Body Workouts


6 thoughts on “Take Your Workout to the Next Level with Reverse Pyramid Training

  1. I do reverse Pyramid when I do 4-Day Split…shoulders, triceps and biceps and start with my heaviest and work down in weight. I find it is more effective, plus I get clean reps with my heaviest weight to start with less risk to injury.

  2. I like the concept of reverse pyramids. Can anyone tell me which of Cathe’s workouts uses this format?

  3. Oh…the upper body pyramid, though and “oldie but goodie” is sure to leave you “done”.. the beauty of it… simple to add just one pair of heavier weight to completely change the balance of the workout!

  4. Pyramid training is cool. I like the reverse style because the explosive movement is easier to focus on as the weight gets lighter as opposed to heavier.
    Great for training the explosion in the sprawl, the shoot and the scramble.
    Thanks for the article! Will be following along!

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