Do You Do This at the Gym? Use Reverse Pyramiding To Fix This Common Gain Killing Mistake

How many times have you seen this in your gym:

  • Guy walks up to bench
  • Adds 45lbs per side
  • Does 10-15 reps
  • Adds 25lbs per side
  • Does 8-12 reps, and only has 2-3 in the tank at this weight
  • Removes 25lb plate and adds 45lb plate, now at 225lbs
  • Does a glorified seizure on the bench and then racks the bar in frustration
  • Complains that he can never break the 225lb barrier

His real problem? The way he warmed up; it’s called traditional pyramiding, and in my opinion, it sucks. Enter reverse pyramiding to the rescue. The biggest problem was that our reference person induced way too much fatigue in the warm ups to 225 and told his nervous system to be conservative with its output, because it needed to perform multiple low intensity contractions. Keep in mind your nervous system is kind of like Usain Bolt, it has a HUGE amount of potential to kick ass, but it’s lazy, and doesn’t want to work unless you force it to. If you have the strength to do 185×12 then you have the strength to bench 225, but not if you fatigue yourself first and fail to prime the nervous system for what you want it to do. Below I’m going to explain how to warm up to actually getting a real rep or more at 225 if you already have the strength to do so. Please keep in mind this can be scaled to any number you want 315, 405, 495 etc. and applies to all other lifts as well.

  • Bar 2 sets of 5 reps, 30s rest, first set is slow and controlled grooving the perfect rep 5 times. The second set takes that pattern and adds velocity, telling your brain that it will need the fast twitch fibers activated in the coming sets
  • 95 x 5 reps, regular rep speed, re-groove the pattern
  • 135 x 5 reps, fast rep speed, stimulate the central nervous system
  • 185 x 3 reps,  regular rep speed, prime the nervous system for heavier weight
  • 205×1 whether it moves quickly or slowly, you must intend to move it quickly – the intention is just as important as the actual bar speed for recruiting fast twitch muscle fibers
  • 225x however many reps you can/want to do, if you want to use other methods afterwards, leave a rep or two in the tank
  • Do a sweet victory dance.

Now that you’ve hit the weight that you’ve always dreamed of, you have options. You can take advantage of the post activation potentiation effect – or PAP in most journal entries, which is like a fancy way of saying you’ve revved your internal engine and now it’s ready to kick more ass than if you started it cold. So now you can go back down the pyramid in a bunch of creative ways. Here are just a couple options:

Muscle Building:

  • 185 for 1-3 sets of max reps, rest 60-90s per set, use the same grip or change it each set (wide, narrow, close)
  • 135 for 1 set of max reps, use your weakest grip

Option 2

  • 205 with the rest pause method (3 sets to failure with 30s rest between sets) rest 2mins
  • 185 with the rest pause method (3 sets to failure with 30s rest between sets)

Option 3

  • Cluster 5×5 at 200-210 finished in as little time as possible


  • Calculate your new 1 rep max

Each bullet is an option, all with full rest

  •  4-6 singles between 93-97%
  • 3×3 at 88-91%
  • 5×2 at 90-95%
  • Wait until next week and do 3,2,1 waves starting at 85% for 3 reps and add 5lbs do 2 reps, add 5lbs and do 1 rep, then add add 5lbs to your 3 rep set and restart the wave. Do 3-4 waves depending on feel. Note: if you’re above 300lbs in any lift, use 10lb jumps.

Athleticism and Rate of Force Development:

  • Calculate your new 1 rep max

Each Bullet is an option

  • 6×3 at 55-65%
  • 5×2 at 75% contrasted with an explosive lift under 40% or medicine ball throw
  • 3-5 sets of Bench press throws in the smith machine with 30-35% (don’t count the bar in the smith machine)
  • 4-6 sets of plyometric pushup variations 1-3 reps per set

This is just the tip of the iceberg, there are honestly 30-50 more options for each category that I could have listed, but the point is you can use the PAP effect to improve output in any of those categories, just be sure not to burn yourself out and work up to a 1 rep max every week. As a very general rule, don’t train at or over 90% of a 1 rep max for more than 3 weeks in a row, more advanced athletes should stick to 2 weeks (by advanced I mean you bench press at least 1.7x your own bodyweight) and the extremely advanced athletes can break the rules in very specific scenarios, but if you’re there you already know that.





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