Reverse pyramid training as a technique is actually a sound approach to build both strength and improve muscle size, while being metabolically demanding enough to potentially stimulate loss of body fat.
This type of training brings you on a journey of strength focused sets, all the way towards rep ranges that would often be considered strength-endurance focused.
If you're in need of time efficiency, strength building, muscle building, fatigue resistance and the ability to workout only a few times per week, then reverse pyramid training is for you. Without beating the horse anymore than it already has, lets get into reverse pyramid training and discuss what it is, why you'd consider using it, and finally, how you can use it.
What is Reverse Pyramid Training?
Reverse pyramid training (RPT) is a style of training that is essentially the opposite of traditional approaches.
Normal training typically begins with lighter weight, lifted for many repetitions and then eventually moves towards heavier weight and lower repetitions. This is typically observed both on the scale of individual workouts and even periodized, month-to-month programs.
However, with reverse pyramid trianing, we take that logic and flip it on its head, beginning workouts with heavier weight and lower repetitions, while decreasing weight and increasing reps with every succeeding set. Here's a visual explanation of RPT:
As you can see, the general premise behind this technique of training is quite simple: Start with heavy, low rep, strength focused sets first and then move towards lighter weight, higher rep work as sets continue.
Why Use Reverse Pyramid Training?
Realistically, there are a few situations in which RPT would be beneficial.
1. Time Constraints
Time constraint is easily one of the number one reasons why you would want to use reverse pyramid training. Much like rest-pause, RPT allows you to have a very large stimulus for growth, yet within only a few sets, as opposed to many. This also holds true for only having a few days per week to exercise.
Since you are focusing on compound movements, and touching on strength, strength endurance and hypertrophy rep and weight ranges, you're essentially covering all of your bases.
I like to think of RPT as similar to daily undulating periodization just, you're completing a full cycle, within a single workout.
2. You're dieting
One of the biggest mistakes made when dieting is avoidance of heavy weight, with an emphasis on higher-rep training. Surely you need to expend calories but you should also focus on training within a strength and hypertrophy range as well.
RPT is perfect for this situation because it allows for stimulus to maintain muscle and strength, while being metabolically demanding (this style of training is quite difficult). Further, it allows you to have overall less volume, which is likely beneficial when restricting calories (as you have less energy available for recovery and growth).
Overall, this method of training allows you to present the body with both strength and muscle building stimuli. Further, by placing your heaviest sets first, it's likely you'll feel stronger and thus attain greater benefit than if you placed your heavier, strength based sets later in the workout. This will be individual based but the logic is sound.
How To Use Reverse Pyramid Training
As you can see, the premise is quite simple. When you begin working sets, you want to make sure you are using the heaviest weight of the day during your first sets. Then, as you complete sets, reduce weight and increase repetitions.
Keep in mind however that it's easy to... make this easy on yourself. Don't let that happen. You should have the intent of getting very close to failure on each succeeding set (not absolute failure as this will hamper your ability). If you find yourself with much more in the tank after each set, consider using a heavier weight.
Lastly, this method works particularly well with compound movements, as this is the optimal route for both time efficiency and when you are attempting to maintain muscle during a calorie deficit. Surely you can use this method with isolation movements, but you may find you need to adjust the format slightly (doing 2 repetition bicep curls may prove to be strange or worthless).
Can RPT Replace Other Training?
If you're specifically interested in time efficiency and just looking for general fitness and strength improvement, then this style of training is certainly acceptable and perhaps even optimal.
By using this technique, you hit on many different rep ranges and weight amounts. This can put you in a great position to cover all bases by improving strength, muscle, endurance and efficiency of movement (balance, stability, coordination, etc. Further, this style is likely optimal for use during a calorically restrictive diet.
If, however you have specific goals such as bodybuilding, powerlifting or endurance events, then this style may not be specific enough.
For instance, as a powerlifter, it makes more sense to use heavier weight more often and for more sets per training session. This may prove difficult while using RPT (rendering this technique fairly useless for that specific goal).
If you have a specific goal or performance or physique definition, it may prove more beneficial to palce a primary emphasis on those goals, rather than simply using RPT.
How Often Can I Use RPT?
The answer to this will largely depend on your athletic ability and rate of recovery.
Considering that you're using compound movements and lifting them for a wide range of weight's and reps, it may make sense to increase rest time in between training sessions. Depending on the movement and how you feel, a good starting point is to use RPT every other day, allowing for a full recovery day in between.
Otherwise, consider making sure that you are structuring your weekly workouts smartly. If you are hoping to exercise multiple days in a row, it may be in your best interest to not place a squat RPT session directly next to a deadlift RPT.
Use common sense and guage use or disuse of this technique based on soreness and ability.