With a reverse pyramid, you attack your heaviest sets early, when your fatigue levels are low. With fewer sets to burn you out before you tackle your heaviest weights, you recruite the most muscle fibers on that heavy set, which translates into greater growth.
Burrows notes that descending pyramids are better suited for more advanced muscle-building. "I particularly like reverse-pyramid training because you're able to lift the most weight first, before fatigue sets in, " she says. "Today, I train in the descending manner with at least four different weights. I'm always the most sore when I train this way."Hypertrophy Hyperdrive
Reverse-pyramid training is ideal when training for muscle size because you reach muscle failure more often. When training for strength, you don't want to frequently train to muscle failure, but you do when training for size.
With this type of pyramid, you hit failure right off the bat, and you hit it often. Your first set to your last can be done to failure, an important element when it comes to stimulating the kinds of mechanisms responsible for building larger muscles.
"Training to failure is important when building muscle because you're tearing down more muscle fibers, " says Burrows. "Training in this way incurs more muscle breakdown."Volume and Intensity
"I try to train this way as often as possible, " adds Burrows.
Descending-pyramid training ensures a high volume of work, but it also lets you train with more intensity and weight. When you consider the entire volume of work—sets and reps—of a given movement, you can achieve a greater degree of intensity and stress on the target muscle with a reverse-pyramid approach.
"I try to train this way as often as possible, " adds Burrows "It depends how sore I am, but usually I'll take this approach with most upper-body muscle groups, especially shoulders. I love pyramid squats, but it's pretty difficult to walk the rest of the week!"
If you've been paying attention, you'll probably remember that pushing heavy weights requires an extensive warm-up. With a descending pyramid, it's clear there's no warm-up included in the program.
Even though the classic reverse pyramid does not list a warm-up, it would be a big mistake not to do one. And as with ascending pyramids, those warm-ups should never be taken to muscle failure.
After your warm-ups are completed, go right to your working weight, and then follow the reverse-pyramid scheme.
TRY ON A TRIANGLE
You might think it's cheating to add in warm-up sets but not list them. I can't argue with you. In that case, you can follow what's called the triangle method, which consists of both the ascending and descending aspects of the pyramid.
With triangles, you do a couple of warm-up sets, increasing the weight on each set but not taking those sets to muscle failure. After your heaviest weight, you then follow a descending-pyramid scheme using progressively lighter weights for more reps on the sets that follow, and all those are taken to muscle failure.
This method delivers the volume and intensity critical for building mass. After your first couple of exercises for a given muscle group, you might be able to abandon the warm-ups altogether and go right into a descending pyramid.
For those looking to build muscle, this kind of pyramid is one of the best ways to train.
PYRAMID TRAINING MADE EASY
Ready to tackle pyramid training, in all of its various forms, in your own lifting program? Check out the quick notes below, and then put them to practice in one of the following sample workouts!
- When following an ascending pyramid, never take warm-up sets to muscle failure. A warm-up set is any set in which you're still going up in weight, which means there's a lower rep target on the following set(s) in the workouts.
- Once you reach your heaviest weight—denoted as the lowest rep target for each exercise—go to muscle failure.
- Bodybuilders and individuals looking to maximize muscle size should take multiple sets to failure, which is why the descending pyramid and triangle method are the most popular.
- Note that the descending pyramid doesn't include warm-up sets; do as many as you need, but never take warm-up sets to muscle failure.
- 5 sets of 15, 12, 10, 8, 6 reps
- 4 sets of 12, 10, 8, 8 reps
- 3 sets of 12, 10, 8 reps
- 3 sets of 15, 12, 10 reps
- 4 sets of 6, 8, 8, 10 reps
- 3 sets of 8, 10, 10 reps
- 3 sets of 8, 10, 12 reps
- 3 sets of 10, 12, 15 reps
- 5 sets of 15, 10, 6, 8, 10 reps
- 5 sets of 12, 10, 8, 8, 10 reps
- 4 sets of 12, 8, 8, 12 reps
- 4 sets of 12, 8, 10, 12 reps