Reverse Pyramid Training For Strength And Hypertrophy

Every muscle building enthusiast needs to know about a loading scheme called the reverse pyramid.

This may very well be the answer that you’ve been looking for if you’re been stuck in a rut as far as hypertrophy.

Some people respond very nicely to reverse pyramiding.

Though this technique isn’t for everybody, anyone who’s looking for a new challenge or struggling to get past a training plateau should give this a try.

Reverse pyramiding can be particularly effective for experienced exercisers, since beginners tend to make rapid gains due to the initial shock to the body of training.

If you’re a beginner, the standard 3 x 10 approach will work quite well—up to a point, and then the progress line on the graph will begin leveling off—and then what?

Often, trainees in this boat become frustrated and toss in more sets, training longer and longer, figuring this is the solution. They end up overtraining and getting inadequate rest. The result? No further hypertrophy.

Reverse pyramid training can be very useful to those who:

  • Are past the “honeymoon period” of the initial, rapid gains of the first six months of training, and are now experiencing stubborn muscle growth
  • Are short on time and need to get as much of a bang for their buck as possible during the limited time they have in the gym

How To Do Reverse Pyramid Training For Strength And Hypertrophy

You’ve probably heard of “pyramid sets.”

Most people know this to be that of performing sets beginning with the lightest weight in the set-group (and therefore highest reps to reflect that, perhaps 10 or 12), and then each subsequent set gets heavier, with a correspondingly reduced number of reps, so that the final set in the set cluster may be only a 4-rep max.

Thus, the scheme might be, for a bench press:

  • 1 x 10, 200 lbs.
  • 1 x 8, 220 lbs.
  • 1 x 6, 250 lbs.
  • 1 x 4, 270 lbs.
  • 1 x 3, 280 lbs.

This scheme is also sometimes called ascending pyramid. Though this technique can be very effective, it has a few problems.

Tired WorkoutBy the time, for example, one finishes the 1 x 6 set, they’ll be pretty tired if they were pushing hard for all three sets.

This will compromise their ability to really attack the much heavier sets that follow, especially if their set cluster consists of six sets.

On the other hand, if they start off with the 1 x 6 load, skipping the lighter, higher rep sets, this will preserve more strength to fully work the very heavy sets for the 1 x 4 and 1 x 3 loads.

This preservation of strength, however, does come with a caveat: It cheats the person of full hypertrophy training, since maximal hypertrophy comes from longer (and therefore more exhausting) sets that trigger volume growth in the innards of the muscle cell.

You can experience muscle growth with a 1 x 6, 1 x 4 and 1 x 3; it just won’t be maximal (there are 13 total reps here).

Reverse Pyramiding Solves This Issue

Pyramid WeightsThe issue is that the type II muscle fibers, which are responsible for maximal power output, can get fatigued from high volume sets that go to failure.

Thus, these fibers can get fatigued from a 1 x 10 failure set, even though these fibers are specifically designed for pushing ultra-heavy loads for short duration. By the time one gets to the 1 x 6 set, these fibers are spent so much that one will not be able to lift as much as truly possible.

For heavy weights and their accommodating low reps, you need all the muscle fibers possible to fire, to maximize recruitment and coordination of the lift.

This is where the reverse pyramid comes in, also called a descending pyramid. It’s the reverse of what’s been previously described, and the reverse pyramid workout routine might look like this:

1 x 4, 1 x 6, 1 x 8, 1 x 10

The load decreases as the reps increase. A fifth set at the beginning (1 x 3) is optional. The scheme may also be just three sets: 1 x 6, 1 x 8 and 1 x 10. A warm-up should be done before starting the heaviest (or first) set of the reverse pyramid.

With the reverse pyramid workout routine, the muscle fibers are fresh, untainted by fatigue.

By the time the 10-rep set is carried out, there’s plenty of fatigue built up, but the emphasis by this point has shifted from brief periods of shear strength, to a more fatigue based set (because it’s longer), which lends itself to more hypertrophy.

You can see how this approach hits up strength, but in the same routine, also calls for fatigue training, which leads to the hypertrophy one wants: strength gains and size gains in one workout.

QuestionAre You Wondering If This Is Like A Drop-Set?

The difference between the reverse pyramid and the drop-set is that with drop-sets, there is no rest between load reductions, and sometimes the trainee is able to go up to 20 reps if the drop in load is big enough.

One drop-set cycle of three sets is actually more like one giant set than three distinct sets, where as a pyramid routine of three sets are three distinct sets with recovery time in between.

Reverse pyramid training for strength and hypertrophy is a great way to have your cake and eat it too—figuratively speaking, of course, when it comes to optimal strength and size gains.

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