Posted by on Mar 8, 2013

BeginnersStarting GuidesStrength Training

Reverse Pyramid Training Overview

Required Skill Level: Intermediate

Training days per week: 3

Description: Reverse Pyramid Training (RPT) is a method that is credited to Swedish nutritionist and strength coach, Martin Berkhan.

The program revolves around a smaller number of intense sets (3-5) for each major muscle group. Each set must be performed with high intensity, taken just before failure, with the top sets being at the maximum of the trainee’s capability.

The RPT method of training provides several benefits:

  1. The low amount of volume yields an ROI on time that is unmatched. Just 40-50 minutes per workout, three times a week, allows you to stimulate growth as well as any other program. (However, the tradeoff is that each set is extremely taxing and training cannot occur very frequently with RPT.)
  2. RPT works extremely well with a caloric deficit. The combination of super low volume and very high intensity seems to allow trainees to maintain all strength during a “cut” as long as nutrition is adequate.

The combination of double progression (increase in weight, reps) and backoff sets (your lighter, subsequent sets) allows for multiple ways to improve on a week-to-week basis. When paired with Martin’s Leangains method, many practitioners report strength increases even while dieting.

The Program

Note: The programming below is a variation on Martin’s RPT that has worked extremely well. For Martin’s actual program, you may want to contact him for coaching services.

Training is split up into three different days. In these examples, we’re using Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, but they can be any day as long as some spacing rules apply:

1. Do not repeat the same workout sooner than a week.
2. There must be at least 4 days spacing between legs and back, so that squats and deadlifts do not interfere with each other.
3. Space at least one rest day in between training days (you may need to make occasional exceptions to this).

Back Day (Monday)

Barbell Deadlift –
Set 1: 4-6 reps
Set 2: Backoff Set

Military Press –
One set of 6-8 reps

Chin-up (weighted) –
Set 1: 4-6 reps
Set 2: Backoff Set

Pendlay Rows –
2 sets x 5 reps

Chest and Arms (Wednesday)

Barbell Bench Press –
Set 1: 6-10 reps
Set 2: Backoff Set
Set 3: Backoff Set

Barbell Incline Bench Press –
Set 1: 8-12 reps
Set 2: Backoff Set

Barbell Bicep Curls (Cambered Bar) –
One set of 8-12 reps

Legs (Friday)

Barbell Squats –
Set 1: 6-8 reps
Set 2: Backoff Set
Set 3: Backoff Set

Leg Curls –
Set 1: 8-12 reps
Set 2: Backoff Set

Weighted Ab Cable Crunches

One set of 10-20 reps

Top sets vs. backoff sets

Each set should be taken to maximum effort. That is, perform as many reps as possible until you know that attempting an additional rep would cause you to fail.

Just by the nature of strength training, your first set in each exercise (the top set) should be the hardest, most intense set.

On most exercises, you will have a “backoff set” as your second or third set. In these backoff sets, decrease the previous set’s weight by 10%. You should be able to hit one more rep than the previous set. Note that when decreasing the weight on a weighted exercise, such as weighted chin-ups, you should use the total weight (i.e. your body weight plus the added weight).

For example if your top set is 200 lb and you hit 8 reps, your second set will be 180 lb and you’re likely to hit 9 reps. Your third set will then be 160 lb and you’ll likely hit 10 reps.

Rest times

Because of the taxing nature of RPT, sets involving large muscle groups should have rest times of 4-5 minutes. While this is longer than many other training programs, a “lack” of rest time from a previous set should not interfere with subsequent sets.


Each week you should aim to increase your top set in reps or weight. Aim to increase the amount of reps until you perform the exercise at the top of the rep range (e.g. 12 reps for barbell bench), then increase the weight by the smallest possible increment.

If you fail at increasing the reps or weight on the top set, attempt to do the same on the subsequent sets, prioritizing them in the order that they’re listed. You’ll find that on some weeks your top set remains the same, but you’re able to improve your second or third backoff sets.

These micro improvements are part of the reason that RPT is a good fit for a cut, as you can still progressively overload through minute improvements.


RPT is quite straightforward and a great program for making improvements without much time commitment, even if you’re on a caloric deficit. Those running on a tight schedule can even opt to occasionally drop the accessory movements if they’re in a jam and still adhere to a good training protocol.

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