The Reverse Pyramid System For Maximum Muscle Growth

The Reverse Pyramid System For Maximum Muscle Growth

Since my introduction to weight lifting over 20 years ago, most of the articles, books and courses I’ve read advocated “pyramiding” your weights on the basic exercises.

If you don’t know what “pyramiding” is, here’s an example using the bench press…

Set 1: 12 reps with 135 lbs.
Set 2: 10 reps with 185 lbs.
Set 3: 8 reps with 225 lbs.
Set 4: 6 reps with 250 lbs.
Set 5: 4 reps with 265 lbs.
Set 6: 2 reps with 285 lbs.

Even as a novice bodybuilder, after a few weeks of pyramiding I thought that it was kinda stupid.

After all, if the goal of doing all this work in the gym is to get stronger and bigger… and we’re supposed to constantly strive for pushing more and more weight in the basic exercises… then all this pyramiding stuff seemed to me to be a lot of wasted energy on lighter unproductive sets.

Plus it seemed like I would be able to do more weight on the heavier sets if I hadn’t have burned up so much energy on the lighter sets.

Now I agree that warming up is important… but geez… how “warm” do you wanna get?

So I’ve discovered a better way. Well, it’s been better for me. But who knows? It could work for you, too.

The Reverse Pyramid System For Maximum Strength & Muscle Mass Gains

So instead of the pyramid thing let’s try training on the bench press like this:

Warm-up Set 1: 20 reps with the empty bar

Get a little blood flowing and work on your technique. Do these slowly like you really have weight on there. Just don’t ask someone to spot you on this set lest you look like a wuss.

Warm-up Set 2: 12 reps

Select a weight in which you can EASILY complete 12 reps without even being remotely close to temporary muscular failure. This is an easy set just to get you warmed up. Do NOT select a weight which will tax the muscles.

Warm-up Set 3 (if needed): Same as set 2

Set 4 “Weight Acclimation” Set: 4 reps

For this set use a weight that you could do about 10 to 12 reps with if you went to temporary muscular failure. You’re not trying to tax the muscles, just getting used to the feel of the heavier weights.

Set 5 – Your 2nd “Weight Acclimation” set: 1 to 2 reps

Use a weight that you could do about 6 to 8 reps with if you went to temporary muscular failure. Again, you’re not trying to tax the muscles, just getting used to the feel of the heavier weights.

Set 6 – Your first actual work set: 6 to 8 reps

Use a weight that allows you to do at least 6 reps but no more than 8 reps to temporary muscular failure. If you can’t do 6 reps, the weight is too heavy. If you can do 8 or more reps, the weight is not heavy enough.

Set 7 – Your second work set: 6 to 8 reps

Due to fatigue from the first work set you might not be able to get 6 reps. If you only get 4 or less, lighten the weight a little for the final set.

Set 8 – Your third work set: 6 to 8 reps

When you start your actual work sets, rest 2 to 4 minutes in between sets. You want plenty of recuperation time. We’re trying to hoist big iron here.

(You might notice a difference here between the rest periods in this article vs the rest periods in this previous article.  The difference is in this case we’re going for strength gains, trying to move as heavy a weight as possible.  In the previous article we were working more towards hypertrophy or muscle size gains so we were only resting for 60 seconds in order to completely fatigue the muscles quicker for total exhaustion.  We’re resting longer here to be able to recuperate enough to continue lifting the heavy weights.)

If you’re relatively new to lifting, stick with the 6 to 8 rep range on the work sets.

If you’ve been training a while and consider yourself an intermediate or advanced bodybuilder, you might want to try the 4 to 6 rep range for the work sets (meaning going with higher weights).  I’ve made some really good size and strength gains within the past 3 months by working in the 4 to 6 rep range on the basic exercises.

If you have good recuperation-ability and are intermediate to advanced, you could add a 4th work set. But for most folks I think 3 is plenty.

Now go try it on your next bench, deadlift, or squat workout. I’ll bet if you’ve been pyramiding you’ll be amazed at how strong and fresh you are on the work sets while following my reverse pyramid system.

I added 25 pounds to my incline press the first time I tried this system. Maybe you’ll do the same!

Train Hard,



Leave A Reply (21 comments so far)

  1. Rich Lane
    6 years ago

    I work out at home I have a total 1 that I work my chest then I have a heavy duty rubber band to work my arms and shoulders then I work my triceps with my dum bells I have a 25 35 45 pair and only one 50 and one 55 I also do my arms with the dum. What can I do to get bigger with what I have.

    • Rick Gray
      6 years ago

      Hi Rich. I guess the thing I see missing is working your legs. With what you have you can do dumbbell squats, split squats, and lunges with the 45s and probably be quite smoked when you were done. At some point though you'll outgrow the 45s and need to go heavier. You could also add shoulder presses with the dumbbells that will probably work you a little harder than the rubber band. If you have a bench or a chair to lean over you can do bent-over rows for your back, and you could always finish up with 5 sets of 20 pushups just to really get a crazy good pump and burn in your chest/shoulders/triceps to finish off.

      Without knowing anything else about your situation, those are some things off the top of my head. Hope they help.

      PS: You can always add Hyper Gain to your supplement lineup – I know that'll help you get bigger!

  2. George Voirol
    6 years ago

    Your described method seems more like the Bulgarian Method with warm-up sets. Therefore, wouldn't you do more like a system of 4-5 sets in reverse manner to the typical pyramid method of wt. training? For example:
    Set 1 – 1 to 2 reps, Set 2 – 2 to 4 reps, Set 3 – 4 to 6 reps, Set 4 – 6 to 8 reps, Set 5 – 8 to 10 reps.
    George Voirol

    • Rick Gray
      6 years ago

      Hi George. Yes, what you've described would be the literal "reverse" of the regular pyramiding technique. And if you did it this way, you'd have a HUGE impact on hypertrophy and probably the biggest pump of your life! (Never a bad thing) The thing is though with the volume increasing as you went up, you'd most likely be bringing the weight down quite a bit, so this wouldn't be something you'd use for strength gains, but it would most certainly have an impact on size.

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