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How to build strength and mass with reverse pyramid training Part 2

Wie Du Kraft und Masse mit reversem Pyramidentraining aufbauen kannst Teil 2

After looking at what reverse pyramid training is and how it can be used to build strength in the first part of this article, in this second part we will take a look at how reverse pyramid training can be used to build muscle mass and then discuss the advantages and disadvantages of this training approach.

Reverse pyramid training for hypertrophy

So far we have seen that reverse pyramid training works quite well for strength gains. But how well does it work for hypertrophy training?

It is well documented that two factors play an essential role in muscle growth - effort and training volume (4). Even if you give it your all, you can't expect to build a lot of muscle mass if you only do a few sets per training session.

On the other hand, if you perform many sets, many exercises and dozens upon dozens of repetitions, you will still need to put effort into your training to stimulate muscle growth. Some scientists speculate that we need to move weights that are at least 50-60% of our 1RM weight (the maximum weight for one repetition) to stimulate new muscle growth (5).

Quick note: Scientists also speculate that superior muscle growth can also be stimulated with lighter weights (<= 50% of 1RM weight) if blood flow restriction is used during exercise. Of course, this is another topic for another day.

So we need some balance between effort and volume to optimize muscle growth. But how does this fit in with the overall structure and principles of reverse pyramid training?

An important principle when training with weights

Reverse pyramid training is very appealing to many people due to its simplicity and minimalist structures. However, in addition to this simplicity and relatively low-volume approach, it delivers excellent results for many people. Why is this the case?

With exercise - and this is especially true for natural exercisers - there is an essential concept of doing the minimum amount of work necessary. In other words, it's about doing as little work as possible while still getting good results in the gym.

This helps to control fatigue and also gives us room to increase our training volume later if our current training no longer stimulates muscle growth.

How does typical reverse pyramid training fit into this growth principle?

It is precisely because of this training principle that reverse pyramid training is excellent for strength and muscle gains for many exercisers from beginner to advanced levels. This training principle covers all the necessary criteria:

  • It gives a high enough effort on some sets (i.e. training to near the point of muscle failure), which stimulates strength gains and helps us build muscle mass with less training volume (6, 7).
  • This type of training is an excellent minimalist training approach that does not require many training days, but still allows beginners and somewhat advanced athletes to make significant progress.
  • Reverse pyramid training focuses on progressive overload, which is a crucial factor for long-term progress and is overlooked in many training approaches (8). Thanks to the double progression scheme, you are always pushing yourself to improve - be it more reps or more weight on the bar. Building strength allows you to use heavier weights on the volume sets (6+ reps), helping you to stimulate greater muscle growth.

A modified approach for more advanced exercisers

Scientific research and anecdotal reports both suggest that reverse pyramid training works when it comes to beginners or slightly more advanced exercisers. If we keep the basics, there is a way to modify reverse pyramid training so that it works for stronger and more muscular athletes.

Keep the basics, but increase the training volume

I'm always in favor of effort in the gym. Too many people today shy away from working hard. "Training to muscle failure? No, definitely not. That will lead to overtraining."

At the same time, however, the importance of volume - the total amount of work we do in the gym - should not be overlooked. It would be great if we could do 5 or 6 sets a week, giving it our all, and see significant progress. However, this will not be the case, especially for those who are long past the beginner stage.

Greg Nuckols, one of the brightest minds in the fitness industry, has repeatedly emphasized that volume is a crucial factor in muscle growth and scientific research seems to back up his claims (9).

In order to effectively utilize reverse pyramid training as an experienced exerciser, you need to add some extra volume (preferably not to the point of muscle failure) to your workout. This means additional sets, more exercises and - if necessary - more training days.

For an example, let's assume that the following fairly basic reverse pyramid-style training split forms the basis:

  • Monday: deadlift and overhead press: 3 reverse pyramid training style sets per exercise (following the guidelines from above) + pull-ups (straight sets).
  • Wednesday: Bench press and incline bench press: 3 reverse pyramid style sets per exercise + some arm and shoulder training (straight sets)
  • Friday: Squats: 3 sets of reverse pyramid training per exercise + pull-ups (straight sets or reverse pyramid training) and some additional leg training.

On Monday you can add two more back exercises (straight sets with fixed weight), an isolation exercise for the legs and face pulls for your rear shoulder muscles.

On Wednesday you can add additional work sets for your biceps, triceps and shoulders and a variation of the shoulder lift.

On Friday you can add more sets for your legs and maybe even an additional exercise.

The whole thing would then look like this:


  • Deadlift:

o Set 1: As many repetitions as possible
o Set 2: 10% less weight, more repetitions
o Set 3: 10% less weight, more repetitions

  • Overhead press - same structure as deadlift
  • Pull-ups: 3 sets, until close to muscle failure
  • Dumbbell rows: 3 sets, until close to muscle failure
  • Lat pulldowns (wide grip): 3 sets, until close to muscle failure
  • Leg extensions: 3 sets, 12-15 repetitions
  • Face pulls: 3 sets, 15-20 repetitions


  • Flat bench press - same structure as Monday's deadlift; 3 sets
  • Incline bench press - same structure
  • SZ curls: 3 sets, until close to muscle failure
  • Horizontal tricep presses with a SZ bar (skull crushers): 3 sets, until near muscle failure
  • Dumbbell shoulder raises: 3 sets, until close to muscle failure
  • Tricep presses on the cable pulley: 3 sets, until close to muscle failure
  • Dumbbell side raises: 3 sets, 12-15 repetitions


  • High-bar squats - same structure; 3 sets
  • Pull-ups: 4 sets, to near muscle failure
  • Leg presses: 3 sets, until near muscle failure
  • Lying leg curls: 4 sets, until close to muscle failure
  • Leg extensions: 3 sets, 12-15 repetitions
  • Calf raises: 4 sets, to near muscle failure

This is a good balance between volume and effort to start with when it comes to hypertrophy. Over time, you can continue to increase the volume, but you will probably also need to add another training day or two per week. Otherwise, you would risk having to train for 1.5 to 2 hours each time, which would exhaust you too much.

What do I like about reverse pyramid training?

It's the perfect way to increase strength and maintain and increase existing muscle mass during a fat loss phase.

I have tried many different training methods myself and with clients during fat loss and I have found that reverse pyramid training is the most effective way to get stronger and maintain existing muscle mass. This is because it is a low-volume, high-intensity training style that is perfect for periods of calorie restriction.

It's easy to follow and involves very little math.

In terms of simplicity, you can't go far wrong with reverse pyramid training. It takes effort and fundamentals to get the results you want. Okay, a little math too.

You can make good gains with fewer training days and less training volume.

Since reverse pyramid training is quite intense, you can't (and shouldn't) train at a very high volume or frequency. But you can make amazing gains in strength and muscle mass with just three training sessions a week.

It satisfies your ego and your craving for heavy weights.

Let's be honest: we all like to move heavy weights because it flatters the ego like nothing else. With reverse pyramid training, your focus is on moving heavy weights to near muscle failure - but in a safe and intelligent way.

What I don't like about reverse pyramid training

It can get boring after a while

Yes, despite the (mostly) predictable progress, reverse pyramid training can get boring after a while. Also, some exercisers tend to turn to higher frequency and volume and feel like lazy wimps during reverse pyramid training.

Linear progression is not always predictable, which can be frustrating

Yes, progressive overload tends to come in waves. Some days you feel great and the weights almost move themselves. Other times you feel like you're spinning your wheels and you may even have to use lighter weights to stay within the prescribed repetition range.

It can be mentally draining for some

I know what you're thinking: "3 heavy sets are mentally exhausting? How is that supposed to work?"

Yes, but you should also consider that those 3 sets (or more if you're doing reverse pyramid training with multiple exercises) are hard. And when I say hard, I mean it. After the heaviest set of deadlifts or squats, you will be completely exhausted and need at least 4 to 5 minutes to recover.

Some exercisers are absorbed in this training approach and virtually explode. For others, however, training at a moderate intensity is better.

However, you need to do this type of training yourself before you can draw any conclusions. (Unless, of course, you are already exhausted and overwhelmed after reading this article. In that case, reverse pyramid training is not for you).

It is not suitable for beginners.

Beginners need to spend their time learning good technique within the limits of their physical abilities. Having a trainee with only a few weeks of training experience perform reverse pyramid training is simply dangerous, as such a trainee has not yet internalized the correct motor movement patterns and does not know if their form will deteriorate over the course of the set.

People can get too caught up in progression and neglect common sense and technique

This of course fits in with the disadvantage just mentioned, but even more advanced exercisers can get too focused on progression and forget about their once perfect deadlift technique, which now resembles a frightened cat.

For this reason, it is important to always pay attention to correct exercise form and a full range of motion. Only then can you safely put more weight on the bar.


Reverse pyramid training is a very effective and simplistic approach to getting stronger. This type of training can be used during growth phases as well as during fat loss.

Reverse pyramid training is goal-oriented and you are forced to think about your progression every week thanks to the goals you set yourself.

Of course, this training approach has its drawbacks, but as long as you keep these in mind and don't do anything stupid, you can make some excellent progress with reverse pyramid training.




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