An Upside Down Pyramid Routine for Weight Training

by Andrea Cespedes Google

About Andrea Cespedes

Andrea Cespedes is a professionally trained chef who has focused studies in nutrition. With more than 20 years of experience in the fitness industry, she coaches cycling and running and teaches Pilates and yoga. She is an American Council on Exercise-certified personal trainer, RYT-200 and has degrees from Princeton and Columbia University.


Pyramid training is a common weight-training method in which you begin with a light set of weights and a high number of repetitions. With each consecutive set, you increase the weight and decrease the number of reps. Turning this protocol upside down by starting with a low number of reps with a heavy load and progressively increasing the reps and decreasing the load is a way to shake up your routine.

Conventional Pyramid

A conventional pyramid training set has you start with light weights and complete 10 to 12 repetitions. For the second set, you add between 5 and 10 percent more weight and do only eight to 10 repetitions. You then add another 5 to 10 percent to your weight and complete a set of six to eight repetitions. If you choose to do a fourth set, make the weight so heavy you can only complete four to six reps with good form. Between each set, rest for 30 seconds to four minutes, depending on your goals. For an upside-down pyramid, start with the lowest number of reps and gradually decrease the weight by 5 to 10 percent with each progressive set and add two reps.

How Many Reps

A standard reverse pyramid rep system would include six reps in the first set, eight reps in the second and 10 in the third, with a 60-second rest between sets. This protocol helps you increase strength and gain lean body mass. If you are after a change in your body composition, such as in bodybuilding or figure competition, you might choose a rep range that involves eight reps, then 10, then 12 with 30 seconds of rest between sets. Power athletes should opt for a rep range of four, six and then eight repetitions, with heavy weight and three- to four-minute rests between sets. Beginners may do best starting with 10 repetitions and working up to 14 for the last set.


Doing an upside-down pyramid gets the heaviest part of your lift out of the way in the first set. This can help you psychologically get through your workout. You lift the heaviest load when muscles are the most refreshed, rather than pre-fatigued as they are with a conventional pyramid. A reverse pyramid provides a change of pace from standard weight-training regimens that call for three sets of an equal number of repetitions for each exercise. Changing up your routine can help you break through plateaus.


You can train almost every body part with a reverse pyramid. Exercises such as squats, dumbbell lunges, rows, barbell presses, bicep curls, triceps kickbacks and military presses lend themselves to the protocol. Even with a reverse, or upside-down pyramid, you need ample rest between workouts, at least 48 hours between working the same set of muscles. For example, if you trained legs with an upside-down pyramid on Monday, wait until Wednesday at the earliest to train them again.

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This article reflects the views of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of Jillian Michaels or