Reverse Pyramid Training (RPT)>

Posted Sun 17th Feb 2013 9:45 PM by Dan Britchford in Fitness

Hello and welcome to the first installment of my favourite training mechanisms/routines/activities. This one is about Reverse Pyramid Training (or RPT for a nickname that absolutely no-one uses). It’s not only my favourite and currently employed style of lifting, but recently there has been some murmurs on the scientific side that it may also be superiorly-beneficial (it’s a word) to other styles of weight training for hypertrophy/strength gains. Read on for not so much advice, but a fond tale of a man and his best friend…

The more fitness-orientated among you, ie. the people that have been weight training or reading around the subject for a while may have heard of Pyramid training before. Simply put, it’s starting your initial set with a lower weight and higher reps – and then increasing the weight while lowering the reps for each set afterwards. Hence, the weight used behaves like a pyramid – smaller at the top and getting bigger as you continue down.

Having read this definition, you can probably guess what Reverse Pyramid Training involves..
But if you can’t (no-ones judging you here), it’s basically the opposite of pyramid training – starting with a heavy weight and lower reps, and then decreasing weight while increasing reps as you go from set to set.

For a pleasant example of RPT in use for the bench-press exercise, see below:

Set 1: 100 (kg) x 6 (reps)
Set 2: 90 x 8
Set 3: 80 x 10

This is pretty basic, but you get the idea!

A few closer guidelines

For optimal use of this training style, there’s a few things to take into consideration.

  • for the first set (lowest reps) you’re going to want to go maximum effort – and I mean 100%
  • decrease weights by percentage of initial weight, rather than decrements of say 2.5kg/5kg each time
  • the weight you want to be increasing most often, is the initial set
  • rest periods should be around 2-3 mins between sets
  • RPT is best employed on major lifts, ie. bench, squat, deadlift
  • use different rep ranges for different goals

For the first set you should be giving absolutely everything, this is the weight that you will strive to increase constantly. If you can get 1-2 reps more than you initially aimed for with that weight, up it by say 5-10%. For the remaining sets, keep a little in the tank – if you go to failure with every set you risk burnout.

Different rep ranges should be used for different goals, as is always the case;

For mainly strength improvements, try something like: 3-4-5 (first set reps-second set-third set)
Strength and hypertrophy should be: 6-8-10
Maximum hypertrophy (muscle size): 8-10-12

By general convention; lowering the weight by 5% will get you about the same reps as the set before, 10% and you should expect 1-2 more reps, and a weight decrease of about 15% should allow 3-4 more reps.

What’s so great?

To me, it just makes sense.

When you first walk into the gym, that is when you are at your freshest – and that means you’re also at your strongest. By the time you’ve cranked out a few sets, you’ll be fatiguing your muscles and won’t be capable of lifting the same amount of weight for a while*. So why not go all out in your first set? We all know that lifting more weight makes you stronger and builds up muscle, and making sure you’re lifting maximal when you have maximal strength is only going to aid that cause! Then, as your strength decreases, the weight lifted decreases accordingly.

*warm up sets of anything lower than 8 reps at up to about 65% of your first set weight won’t count towards fatigue, and are encouraged before lifting heavy

Another reason that I love this style of lifting, is that it just feels great. The first set can, and will, be horrendous on occasion – but the sets after that will feel amazing. After you’ve used maximum effort lifting a maximum weight, your muscles are going to be fully stimulated and the weights you’re lifting will feel lighter. In fact, you may even feel for some sets you aren’t using any effort at all.

This type of training is also said (although not proven as far as I can tell) to be less intensive on your CNS (Central Nervous System), meaning your potential recovery time could be faster. That means less risk of over-training and that you can be hitting your next workout 100% recovered, and in the best possible state for lifting.

There is also a research review (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16026172) which supports ideas that a heavy first set can cause myosin heavy chain kinase to be released into muscle cells, and become more sensitive to released Ca(2+). It also suggests that a heavy first set prepares the CNS to fire all motor units efficiently and quickly (obviously beneficial to training with weights). The overall effect leading to the idea that a heavy first set, followed by a lighter set could allow for a higher rep count than usual. The heavy first set, and lighter sets thereafter is the training style RPT follows, and so those potential benefits would apply to someone training under RPT techniques.

I hope you give it a try!

– Dan

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About the author

Dan Britchford

Dan is the Editor/Designer/Developer, and Main Author of liftingthebar.com. His knowledge is gained through forum haunting and an active intrigue into all things fitness and nutrition based with a scientific grounding. When he isn't working on passion projects, or in the gym - he's selling himself trying to make it as a freelance web developer.

Dan has posted 30 times since 2013-01-31 15:06:30

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