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As you just learned, traditional pyramiding is doing high reps at the beginning of the workout (base of pyramid) and, as you build your way up the pyramid, decreasing reps and increasing weight. Reverse pyramiding is the opposite:

The base is the heavy weight, and you increase reps and decrease weight as you work your way up the pyramid. If you’re burning yourself out on light weights and not giving yourself a chance to make strength gains, you’re shortchanging yourself.

I don’t want to say traditional pyramiding is flawed, but if you need to build your base and you use this approach, you need to make sure you save enough energy for your heavier sets.

One reason some people have such effective results with traditional pyramid training is that their lighter sets are essentially warm-up sets.

They are not burning themselves out; they are simply warming up. Many college strength coaches purposely assign lighter sets that are not fatiguing prior to the heavy sets being performed because these coaches know the athletes will not properly warm up. With reverse pyramid training, a proper warm-up is essential.

Reverse pyramiding will allow you to build strength very effectively because the most important strength-building set is the first set in this rep scheme.

Therefore, the athlete is 100% fresh. Post-activation potentiation (PAP) refers to the enhancement of muscle function following a high-force activity.

Legendary Russian sports scientist Yuri Verkhoshansky explained PAP in layman’s terms: “When you perform a 3–5 Rep Max followed by a light explosive set to your nervous system it’s like lifting a half can of water when you think it’s full.”

The weight feels lighter and moves faster. When training heavy on a core lift, we are generally lifting the weight, if it is a work set, with maximal force.

Most studies on PAP are generally conducted on things like heavy squats followed by an explosive activity like a vertical jump.

Many studies demonstrate the effectiveness of PAP, but the same holds true when moving from a maximal weight to a submaximal weight. I have used this strategy with people performing a bench press for maximum reps at a football combine.

If the weight is 225 for maximum reps, prior to performing a set of maximum repetitions at 225 pounds, the athlete will do a single repetition with a weight in the 275–315 range, rest for five to seven minutes, and then perform as many repetitions as that can at 225 pounds.

Athletes can always do more reps this way—as opposed to warming up and making 225 the heaviest set. No studies have investigated this particular method; however, anecdotal evidence suggests that you can generally perform a greater number of maximum repetitions if you lift heavier weight first.

Of course, this is assuming you don’t overdo it. Simply put, 300 pounds feels lighter if you have just lifted 400 pounds. Reverse pyramiding can be used year-round.

However, it would not be a good idea to do heavy singles, doubles, and triples year-round. There will need to be some variation in the intensity, sets, and reps schemes.

That said, the concept can be used as long the variables that dictate intensity are properly manipulated.

Here is an example of a legs-oriented reverse-pyramid workout:



My name is Steven Goldstein

With over 10 years of experience in the fitness industry, I have worked with clients of all ages and fitness levels. From professional athletes to individuals aiming to lose weight, I have helped countless people achieve their goals and improve their overall health through customized training and nutrition plans.

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Hundreds of clients of all ages, backgrounds, and abilities have put their health in our hands over the years and achieved truly remarkable results. 

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