Reverse Pyramid Training

Reverse Pyramid TrainingReverse Pyramid Training (also called RPT Training) is when you use pyramid sets and reps during weight training but with the opposite (reverse) set-up used in standard pyramid training.

In a reverse pyramid workout the weights you use during your sets will be heaviest on the first set and lightest on the last set.

As the weights get lighter, the reps you do on each set will go up so that the reps used are lowest on the first set and highest on the last set.

Reverse Pyramid Training is also called descending sets or a descending pyramid since you go down (descend) in weight on each set.

An example reverse pyramid workout would be:

Descending Sets Reps Weight
1 6 100
2 8 90
3 10 80
4 12 70

The number of reverse pyramid sets and reps you use are not specifically defined.

The reverse pyramid sets could be say 2 sets or 20 sets (if you’re Arnold). Typically 3-5 sets are used during Pyramid Training.

The reverse pyramid reps can also go from very low to very high (say 1 rep on the first set to 20 reps on the last set) or be much smaller jumps like 6 to 8 to 10 to 12 reps. You can also use a target rep range on each set such as 12-15 or 4-6 instead of a single rep number.

The weights used on each reverse pyramid set may be calculated (a percentage of your 1 rep max) or just whatever weight is takes to make sure you can get the target reps (if the sets are taken to muscular failure).

The GOAL during Reverse Pyramid Training is to simply increase the reps on each set while decreasing the weight.

Benefits of Reverse Pyramid Training

The biggest benefit to Reverse Pyramid Training (descending sets) is that you lift the heaviest weights when you’re strongest and the lightest weights when you’re fatigued. This was the major downfall of standard pyramid training.

Valuable energy (glycogen and ATP) will be gradually depleted as the workout continues rather than in just the first few sets. This will delay muscle fatigue and allow the heaviest weights to be used on each set in a reverse pyramid workout.

Reverse Pyramid Training maximizes the amount of weight used and work done (total weight lifted).

Using the heavier weights and lower reps in the first sets while you’re strongest also helps target the Type II muscle fibers which have the most potential for growth.

The lighter weights and higher reps on the last sets help fatigue more muscle fibers similar to a post-exhaust superset. This post-fatigue can force more Type I muscle fibers to be used since the Type II muscle fibers were already fatigued on the first sets with the heavier weights.

By using a wider variety of reps in a single workout, you reduce the chance of a plateau which is common when using the same reps on every set. The mind expects to fail at the same reps if you don’t change them.

Reverse Pyramid Training is simple and is gaining in popularity because it can be very effective for strength and muscle growth of all muscle fibers. Many bodybuilders use it for that reason.


Lean Gains founder Martin Berkhan uses RPT Training.

Downfalls of Reverse Pyramid Training

The biggest negative to Reverse Pyramid Training (descending sets) is that your workout time might be longer since you will be starting with the heaviest weights first. This requires additional warm-up sets.

To avoid injury and also activate the central nervous system, it’s important to spend time on warm-up sets. How many warm-up sets you will need to do depends on the reps used on that first heaviest set. Your current strength levels also need to be considered.

A general rule would be to do more warm-up sets the stronger you are and/or the lower the reps used on the first set.

You don’t want to use up too much energy by doing a lot of reps during each warm-up set, otherwise your performance in the actual reverse pyramid workout will be less than it could be. Multiple sets of just 1-3 reps should be enough.

Reverse Pyramid Training for Mass Gains

The biggest benefit of Reverse Pyramid Training is that by using the heaviest weights possible, it can really stress and fatigue a muscle which many see as the keys to muscle growth and strength.

Time under tension also shows that the 6-12 rep range is probably the best one to use if you’re looking to build muscle (it’s arguably the most commonly used range as well).

In this case you could do 4 pyramid sets starting at 6 reps and finishing with 12 reps (6-8-10-12). Rest 1-3 minutes between sets.

Descending Sets Reps (decrease weight)
1 6
2 8
3 10
4 12


Another popular reverse pyramid workout for mass gains is the 6-12-25 set-up. The reps are done at the extreme ends of the general hypertrophy range (6 and 12 reps) with an added endurance set (25 reps) at the end to further fatigue the Type I endurance muscle fibers. All sets are taken to muscular failure.

Descending Sets Reps (decrease weight)
1 6 max
2 12 max
3 25 max


Triangle Reverse Pyramid Training (Descending/Ascending Pyramid)

One less popular way to do a reverse pyramid workout is to follow-up Reverse Pyramid Training (descending sets) with standard pyramid training (ascending sets). This method is best used as a temporary overload method rather than all the time.

With this set-up you decrease the weights while increasing the reps during the first sets down the pyramid (descend). Then you will come back up the pyramid (ascend) by increasing the weights (or trying to) while decreasing the reps on the last sets.

Triangle- Reverse-Pyramid-Training

Like the problem seen with standard pyramid training, the muscle will be fatigued from the first sets (descending) so it may be difficult to actually increase the weights during the last sets (ascending).

An example triangle reverse pyramid workout would be:

Descending Sets Reps (decrease weight) Ascending Sets Reps (increase weight)
1 6 5 10
2 8 6 8
3 10 7 6
4 12

Reverse Pyramid Strength Training

If you’re interested in strength gains, the general recommendation is to keep your training around 5 reps or less.

Reverse Pyramid Training can be used in that case by completing 5 sets starting at 1 rep and finishing at 5 reps (1-2-3-4-5). Rest 2-4 minutes between sets.

Descending Sets Reps (decrease weight)
1 1
2 2
3 3
4 4
5 5

Make sure to warm-up well before the 1 rep set to maximize performance and avoid injury.

If you want to do even more volume, you can use the descending/ascending triangle pyramid strategy above (1-2-3-4-5-4-3-2-1) but your performance will likely be less on the ascending sets.

Descending Sets Reps (decrease weight) Ascending Sets Reps (increase weight)
1 1 6 4
2 2 7 3
3 3 8 2
4 4 9 1
5 5