I’ve been using a wide variety of training strategies over the years, but the one training style I was most successful with was low volume, high intensity training employed in a reverse pyramid fashion.

A google search on “reverse pyramid training” (RPT) brings you to an article by someone called Randy Herring. You can check out the article here.

I was unaware that this training style even had a name for it, as I started to train like this intuitiveley.

The greater amount of force you’ll be able to generate with your muscles will be when you are freshest in your workout, e.x., the first set of each exercise performed. If a set counts, it is the first one, which is most important.

From the article. It always made sense to me to start working sets with the heaviest weight possible and then lower weights as strength decreased.

Besides the basic gist of the system, there isn’t much I agree with Randy on; some of the guidelines given in the chart in that article are flat out ridiculous. My main beef here is with the frequency, volume and rest period guidelines given for the various categories (beginner, intermediate, advanced).

Either way, let me take you through a back workout and show you how I might use RPT in practise.

  • Deadlift, 2 x 3-5
  • 600 x 3 (max effort)

The first set is what I call the “top set” and the one you should strive to increase on a regular basis. This is a max effort set, which means you stop when you’re sure you don’t have another rep in you.

Rest at least 3 mins, lower weight by 10% for next set; in this set, do not go max effort rather stop when and if you hit the same reps as first set +1 rep.

  • 540 x 4

That’s it, 2 sets and done with deads. Now rest 3-5 mins depending on how winded you feel (your heart should be pumping hard).

Time for some chins. Recall that palms are supposed to be facing you, not the other way around (that’s pullups). I recommend a medium grip, about shoulder width spacing. Not a very wide grip, as this limits the range of movement.

  • Chins, 3 x 4-6 (alternatively, two heavy sets in the 4-6 rep interval and one set in the 10-12 rep interval)
  • Body weight + 100 x 4 = 300 x 4 (max effort)
  • Rest 2-3 mins, 10% off (remember to count total weight, not only the weight added in the belt) and we do
  • Body weight + 70 x 5 = 270 x 5 (no problem)
  • Third set, 7.5%-10% off and we should get 6 reps.
  • Body weight + 50 = 265 x 6 (easy)

Alternatively on the third set, ditch the weight belt and do body weight only.

Body weight x 12-15; treat this as a finisher to get some extra volume in, don’t go to failure.

Ok, done with chins and time for some Pendlay Rows; here, do not use the RPT set structure, rather take your 7 RM and do sets of 5 using the Starting Strength principles. At this point you should be fairly fatigued, so no more RPT.

250 x 5 x 3 – up weight next workout (the SS principles dictates that you up weight when you can get 3 sets of 5)

Done with back.

Another example for chest, done in higher and wider rep ranges.

Bench Press, 3 x 8-12

  • 250 x 8
  • 225 x 10
  • 200 x 12

Incline Bench, 2 x 6-10

  • 225 x 6
  • 190 x 10

How to progress with RPT

The top set should be your main focus and the one you should continually strive to increase with 2,5% or add another rep to. Add weight when you hit the upper range of the rep interval you wan’t to work in; for example, deads in the above example would call for upping weight when you hit 5 reps. If you only got 3 reps, you’d be better off trying to stay with the current weight for next workout and try to add another rep.

In the chins example, you’d wait until you got 6 reps in the first set before upping weight.

The other 1-2 sets which are done with a lower weight, should be increased independently. For example, progressing in the chins example might look like this

Week 1, chins

  • Body weight + 100 x 4
  • Body weight + 70 x 5
  • Body weight + 50 x 6 (the last two sets weren’t that hard so let’s increase them for next week)

Week 2, chins

  • Body weight + 100 x 4
  • Body weight + 75 x 5
  • Body weight + 55 x 6

Week 3, chins

  • Body weight + 100 x 5
  • Body weight + 75 x 6
  • Body weight + 60 x 6

Week 4, chins

  • Body weight + 100 x 5
  • Body weight + 80 x 5
  • Body weight + 65 x 5

Something like that.

Random notes

  • Remember, the first set should be max effort; but try doing all sets like this and you risk a burnout.
  • You can work in a tight range (i.e 3-5 reps) or a wider range (i.e 6-12 reps) and it’s all a question of how much you drop the weight in between sets. If you went all out in the first set, lowering the weight by 5% will get you about the same reps as the first set, lowering the weight with 10% and you get about +1-2 reps, by 15% you get +3-4 reps and so forth. Some individual factors play into this, which calls for some experimentation.
  • Rest at least 2-3 mins in between movemenst and sets; this is especially important after the top set.
  • Mix it up, there is no need to do all movements RPT style. RPT can be quite draining on your nervous system, assuming you go all out on the top set.

Probably going to include something on this in the book, since I think it’s a very productive training system.