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Switching from Reverse Pyramid to Normal Pyramid?

I’ve been training using a Reverse Pyramid (RPT) method for a while now, and have been making decent gains. For anybody unaware, RPT is basically the reverse of a typical pyramid method (You’d never have guessed right?), meaning you start with your heaviest weight for low reps, and then as the sets go on you reduce the weight but increase the reps. Anyway, as the saying usually goes when it comes to lifting, “everything works but nothing works forever”, therefore I’ve been trying to come up with a different, albeit fairly similar training method to switch to when I’m either burned out on RPT, or progress grinds to a halt.

I’ve had a lot of joy from RPT and really like the fact that it incorporates different rep ranges throughout the workout on each exercise, so I was looking for something similar but different enough to provide a different stimulus to my muscles. I then thought about the typical pyramid method where you start off with a light weight and higher reps, but increase the weight and reduce the reps in consecutive sets, which is the complete opposite of the RPT that I’ve been training recently.

This is where the reason for the thread comes in though… Would switching from Reverse Pyramid to Normal Pyramid training be enough of a difference to even warrant switching in the first place? I only ask as the two training methods ARE different, although I’d still be utilising the same rep ranges in both routines, albeit back to front of course. For example, 6>8>10>12 in Reverse Pyramid and 12>10>8>6 in Normal Pyramid.

Any help I can get with this would be appreciated, thank you.

I’m currently training using a Reverse Pyramid method.

I tend to train with 4 sets per exercise and reduce the weight by 10-15% for each subsequent set, whilst adding reps. For example: Set 1) 100x6 , Set 2) 90x8 , Set 3) 80x10 , Set 4) 70x12.

Basically, how should I progress with this? Should I focus on making sure I get 6/8/10/12 in all 4 sets and only then increasing weight by a small increment the next week?

Or would you suggest progressing each set independently of each other? For example, if I got something like 5/7/10/12 then the last 2 sets would be increased in weight as I reached the required rep range, although the first 2 sets would stay as they are due to only getting 5 and 7 reps.

Any help I can get with this would be massively appreciated, as I have asked the same question elsewhere and nobody seems to know the answer, most likely due to RPT being quite a rare type of training method.

Not sure if anybody was actually planning on responding, but I just did some research and think I’ve found my answer now, so if necessary this thread can be closed. For those who were curious, the answer I read was as follows, and it makes sense when I think about it:

You often hear the advice that if you hit a prescribed rep range in sets 2, 3, and 4, they should tailor upwards accordingly.

This makes zero sense.

Think about it: Your back off sets are calculated by taking a percentage of your max effort set. Once you move that weight upwards, but your max effort set stays the same, the percentages are no longer valid.

I’ve used this progression scheme before. And after a few months, my back off sets were at times 5 pounds less than my max effort set.

Too taxing, not enough recovery.

I’ve been using a reverse/descending pyramid set structure in my routine for a long time now. I do 4 sets per exercise as follows: 6/8/10/12. The weight reduces by 10% each set but the reps increase by 2. I originally moved to this structure as I felt that it would allow me to use heavier weights seeing as I dont have to stick with the same weight for all of the sets (as would be the case with straight sets). It almost felt as though I was lifting sub maximally with straight sets. Using Dumbbell bench press for example, with only having one true heavy set of 6 reps I’d be able to use at least 10 more pounds than I would when using straight sets, due to the fact that with straight sets I’m having to leave a couple of reps in the tank each set to make sure I manage to get them all on the following sets.

My issue recently though is that I’ve started wondering if straight sets ARE actually the better set/rep structure, and I hope you guys can provide some input to help me clear this up. Sure, straight sets have you lifting a sub maximal weight (I.e. lower than what you’re actually capable of), but perhaps they can help you to progress at the correct length of time. The problem I’ve sometimes had with RPT sets is that I manage to progress extremely quickly, almost to the point of being TOO fast before my form, joints, etc have been properly optimised. With straight sets I’d be using a specific weight for a longer period of time and 4 sets worth instead of just 1 set as would be the case with RPT.

For example, making sure you get all 4 sets of 6 reps with a certain weight (straight sets) seems like it’d be a better indicator that you’re ready to progress as opposed to just 1 set of 6 reps (RPT).

If you guys could provide some insight as to which you feel is the better method it’d be much appreciated. Something is telling me that straight sets may be the better option but for some reason I just cant get over the fact that you’re using sub maximal weights only to “keep a couple of reps in the tank” as opposed to pushing yourself as much as possible.

I know you’ve been working on this type of issue for a while (hence the multiple threads merged into one), but it really boils down to different ways to skin the cat. Neither is hands-down “better”.

Straight sets allow more total volume, with a trade-off in heaviest load and per-set intensity. Pyramids let you use progressively heavier loads and higher intensity on the max set, but it requires lower total “working set” volume.

Both ways can work depending on variables like your experience and ability (how much weight you’re moving), your actual goal, pre-existing injuries (when pyramids could be more appropriate), your overall program design, etc.

Yes and no. Straight sets gives you more “chances” to progress (4x5 one week; 1x6, 3x5 next week, 2x6, 2x5 next week, etc.). When pyramiding to one top set, your sole goal is to add 5 pounds or one rep on that one work set. Again, it’s a trade off, not really a which-is-better thing.

Thanks for the reply Chris. I keep reading that a benefit of straight sets is increased volume, which is (as far as I’m aware) sets x reps x weight, but it doesn’t seem to play out that way. Let’s say I was doing the reverse pyramid method…

Set 1: 100 x 6 reps = 600
Set 2: 90 x 8 reps = 720
Set 3: 80 x 10 reps = 800
Set 4: 70 x 12 reps = 840
Total volume = 2960

Straight sets would be the following:

Set 1: 95 x 6 reps = 570
Set 2: 95 x 6 reps = 570
Set 3: 95 x 6 reps = 570
Set 4: 95 x 6 reps = 570
Total Volume = 2280

So you can see the issue here. Everybody claims that straight sets provide more volume, but I’m actually getting more volume with the reverse pyramid method. I just don’t know if I’m sending “mixed signals” to my body with reverse pyramid, changing the weight and reps every set, as opposed to straight sets which keep the weight and reps the same each set. Just trying to get my head around all of the conflicting info I’m reading online. I’ve tried searching for the benefits of straight sets, and most of the things I’ve read list “increased volume” as one of the main benefits, although as you can see above it doesn’t actually seem to be that way, at least when using 6 reps. May not be the case with other rep ranges.

I should also just clear up that I’m talking about REVERSE pyramid sets, which is starting with your heaviest weight first and then reducing weight set by set, as opposed to traditional pyramid which have you working up to your max weight. With traditional pyramids, there is really only ONE true working set, but with reverse pyramids I tend to count all sets as work sets.

Not really because you’re comparing apples to oranges, with a workout of 4x6 vs 4x6-12. 4x6 generally isn’t optimal for building muscle. Compare 4x10 to your reverse pyramid example and straight sets “win” with 3,200 pounds of total tonnage.

Yep. Which is why training in a goal-specific rep range is a fundamental part of program design.

Then stop reading online and just put stuff into practice in the gym. Spend 8 weeks training one way. Document progress. Train a different way for 8 weeks. Compare.

Like this has been on your mind for at least three weeks. How’ve you been actually training in that time, how has it felt during/after the session, and what kind of results have you seen (in strength and in the mirror)?

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Don’t forget that not all volume is the same. The benefit of doing a bunch or reps with 95 is that you can blast that weight forcefully and with good technique on every rep. In your first example some of the reps at 100 could be slow and sloppy while some of the reps at 80 and 70 could be “rushed” out with sloppy bounce form. The benefit of the cluster is the volume of “perfect” reps.

It’s almost like more performance oriented than muscle size oriented. But by manipulating the rest periods (keeping them short) you keep the “pressure” on the muscles and get growth also.

Another benefit is how easy it is to plan. Use 95 week 1, 100 week 2, 105 week three, wave back to 100 week 4…

I agree with Colucci, try it out! But follow advices of good couches.

This science guy loves multiple sets with the same weight and timed rest periods.

More info on how to use the same weight for multiple sets for a science and gym based coach.

DeFranco on using the cluster to avoid fatigue and bad reps and maximize powerful reps.

So you been doing it for six years?
What progress have you made on it?

Run through a couple programs off this site, anything by Paul Carter, Wendler, Thib etc and then go back to reverse pyramids in 6 months if feel like it

Something has been playing on my mind recently about pyramid training, and it’s the fact that the majority of articles I’ve read online about it say that whilst you may be pyramiding, it is only the LAST set which is a true work set, and one that you should go to failure on. The articles I’ve read about pyramiding claim that the sets before the last are basically just built in warmups getting your body primed to lift the heaviest last set, therefore you shouldn’t take any of the preceding sets to failure as you’ll be too fatigued to lift your optimal weight.

The way I’ve been using pyramids though is by taking every set to failure or at least close to failure. Granted, doing this may cause me to have to use lower weight for my heaviest set, but from a volume point of view I get a lot more volume doing it this way than I would if I treated the first several sets as warmups. I tend to keep my warmups separate from my work sets, and don’t like the idea of having them built into the exercise itself, and only having ONE true work set right at the very end.

So even though I’m already in a fatigued state by the time I reach my last set, and having to use lower weight than usual, does that mean it’s just not going to produce results? It was my assumption that when training for hypertrophy it doesn’t matter how much weight you use, just that you create enough volume for growth. Yes, intensity IS important where hypertrophy is concerned, although it was my belief that it’s not AS important as when training purely for strength. Obviously if I wanted to lift as much weight as I possibly could on the very last set and were training purely for strength then I wouldn’t take the sets before that to failure, but as hypertrophy is my goal does it really matter?

No.

Almost. Failure or near failure like you described should do the trick.

When I use pyramids, I do 10, 8, 6, 4, 2+. The weights are really determined by that last set because I like to use the same increments as I go.

For example, my single arm DB incline work has looked like this:

50 x 10
55 x 8
60 x 6
65 x 4
70 x 4

Hitting 4 reps on my final set twice in a row tells me to add weight. The trick is that some of those early sets were also close to failure.

The first time I used those weights I only hit 5 on my set of 6. That’s part of my progression, too. Even if I hit all my reps on every other set, I wouldn’t call it a success because I missed that middle set.

I don’t like to do a lot of sets that aren’t challenging.

Wouldn’t not going to failure make it ramping, rather than a pyramid?

I like ramping more, but they both work. Even for gaining strength, you don’t need to always lift the heaviest poundages possible. There’s a lot to be said about strength built under fatigue.

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Most tried and true is hold back so you can go all out on top set (or two) then pyramid down for a couple sets, say a 12 rep set then 20

Personally really loving Paul Carter;s ‘over-warmup’ at the moment…

This is the way it’s most commonly used.

There’s no such thing as a “real” pyramid method, and you will not find an accurate description of it online.

It is a product of meatheads in the gym simply working up to a top set or 2 with increasing weights and decreasing reps, which eventually became common practice. You can look at the training videos of Dorian Yates, Ronnie Coleman, Kevin Levrone etc to get an idea of how it’s done.

If I have a good spotter, as in someone who can spot you while knowing how much to assist you for a couple of reps once you reach failure, I will do one top set. If not, I will do 2 top sets @RPE 9-10.

And while it’s called a “pyramid” method, there are no real rules on weight increments and reps. It is an individual thing.

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You are vastly overthinking this shit. I don’t normally have a fixed plan on what exercises I have to do when I go to the gym. If I use a cable exercise that I’ve not done in a long time, I’ll start at a light weight with higher reps to see how the weight feels. Then I gradually add a couple of plates each set until I reach a weight which is challenging. Then I may do another set or 2 with the same weight, or add weight in smaller increments than previous sets depending on how I feel. If I reach failure during the next set, then it’s over. If not, I will do another set.

It’s this simple. I don’t count the number of sets. My reps can range from 6-15 for the top sets depending on how I feel that day. I may just work up in sets of 10 reps because I sometimes forget what number comes after 10, decide the next set will be my final set, and get 12 reps for my top set. When I know I’m done, I’m done.

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