Does it make sense to start your workout at a light weight and gradually build up to your maximum lift?
I say it doesn’t. I think it’s incorrect and counter-productive for the following reason…
The only time that you have 100% of your strength intact is at the very start of a workout.
We can logically say then that you should begin each workout with the heaviest weight you can lift.
Some people have thought it best to “work up to” their heaviest lift.
But if you do a number sets before this max lift, it WON’T actually be your heaviest lift.
With each successive set you make further INROADS into your strength. By the time you get to that last set, the weight you lift won’t be the heaviest weight you can handle in that exercise.
Perhaps by this stage you’ll only have 88% of your max strength intact.
So you’ll be fooled into thinking that this is your top weight when it isn’t, and by quite a large margin. It should be obvious then that this is a very ineffective way to train, whether your goal is strength and/or hypertrophy orientated.
Reverse Pyramid Training
If this is how you’re approaching your workouts at the moment, you need to FLIP it on its head i.e. from pyramid-style training, to a REVERSE-pyramid – THT-style.
So how do we train?
- You get in the gym
- You warm up
- You then hit a particular body part with the heaviest weight you can handle to positive failure (in your given rep range).
- Take a 2-3 minute break, reduce the weight a little, and do the same again.
Each successive set of the same exercise will be a little lighter.
How much lighter? Well it depends on the amount of load used. If you’re bicep curling 20kg, you’ll only need to drop by 1-2 Kg’s between sets. If you’re benching 100kg, you’ll need to knock off anywhere from 5 to 15 kgs between sets.
There’ll be a little trial and error when you first start THT training. But it won’t be long until you intuitively know how much weight to drop to keep reaching positive failure in your given rep range.
So you start with 100% of your strength intact and make progressively bigger inroads into your strength as the workout progresses.
And this is for good reason. Creating these inroads triggers the body to adapt and bring your strength not just back to 100%, but > 100%. This is OVERcompensating.
So by the time you perform this same workout again, you’ll notice that your max strength has now increased i.e. you’ve gotten stronger and can handle more weight and/or reps.
Now all you have to do, my friends, is keep doing it! Keep progressing. Adding more weight to the bar and/or performing more reps in successive workouts is the 1 fundamental that guarantees muscle growth.
Combine progressive overload with reverse pyramid training and succeed once and for all!
Train With Intensity!
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Interesting… the MAXOT uses the opposite with warm up sets going up steep in weight (but less reps)… they claim it actually gives you more strength in the heavy set, but their rep sets are 4-6, not 8-12… I always had a hard time believing their methodology and putting it to use. The only thing with going really heavy (maxot) that I experienced was increased injury, even if I warmed up. For me, 4-6 reps almost always led to aching joints, which I NEVER got from THT. Ever.
Great article again, Mark. I like your logic. Looking forward to THT update too!
@Paul. Thanks. It’s coming soon.
@Andrew. No, Max-OT is exactly the same, man. You start at the heaviest to failure and work your way down to stay in the 4-6 rep range.
What you’re referring to is only their warm-up routine or weight-acclimation sets. A lighter warm-up is absolutely necessary though. But 5 warm-up sets (as in Max-OT) is not needed IMO.
@Mark – Yea, that’s what I’m referring to, those warm up sets.
Excellent logic, Mark. I spent 2 yrs in my early 20’s doing pyramid training with minuscule gains, and finally quit believing I just couldn’t do it correctly (the strategy just had to be right if so many “experts” recommended it). I’m 33 now and using THT for the last 6 months I’ve exceeded 2 yrs worth of “pyramid” gains several times over. Thanks for all the help.
Reverse Pyramid makes intuitive sense to me. You’re going to be strongest on your first set and lose strength each successive set as the muscle gets fatigued. I don’t always drop weight though, just reps (12 on the first set, 10 on the second, etc).
Doing THT for 2 months now and I’m happy with the results. Weight/reps are progressing every week. [TSPA for 1 month and very happy with fat loss results, as well. 😉 ]
Charles Poloquin disproved this theory. After your initial set, you can still beat your best record…try his workout.
And as for HIT, a 2nd set is 100% inroad into you recovery ability, so to lower the weight by 5% and do another set is absurd.
This definitely works. I use this technique like you’ve recommended before and my strength has been going up significantly from month to month!
Great atricle again Mark, i’ve found that with compound exercises doing 2 warm up sets, first for 1/3 weight of working set, second for 2/3 weight but both with nowhere near enough reps to achieve any sort of failure really helps. I still stick with the 1/2 weight for 1 set warm up method you’ve recommended before for my isolation exercises. Do you approach warm up differently for days with compund exercises vs isolation only days? Cheers.
Mark First I would like to say that I enjoy reading your posts and agree with many of your theory’s on training and nutrition.That said at the ripe old age of 50 I have to do a little more warm up than you young guys.I will give you an example of my bench workout.The bar 20 reps narrow and wide grip and close to the neck,145×6,185×5,225×5,275×4 now I’m warming up.I then go heavy 345×4,315×6,305×8,275×10 and finish with 250×10 -12 reps to failure.I know it seems like a lot of sets but for me I need the warm up sets to prep my body for the heavy stuff.If I went right to 345 it would not be able to lift it.It’s similar to your reverse pyramid training with a little more of a build up.A year ago my max was 335, and I could only do 315 three times.I change my routine every few weeks and mix in some heavy triples and some volume training.I augment this with some db press and weighted dips and triceps work.I have yet to really reach plateau that lasts. I train hard but only 3 days per week M/W/F. Stay strong!
Think this is a quality thread, just this week I’ve started THT training and am following your mon-fri low carb diet then 36 hours carb up period. Loving the food and really looking forward to the results!
Where do u get low carb tortillas from? I’m in Scotland and bought them online but were pretty expensive! Also I made the low carb protein bar with peanut butter etc but it always seems to go really wet/moist, u any ideas where I’m going wrong?
Mark, good call, it works! would recommend just one or two moderate weight reps as part of warm-up if your hitting chest or shoulders. Gets the rotators ready to handle the load.
I have been using this method for awhile now, simply because of the exact reasons you stated. You are stronger when you start so it makes more sense to hit the heaviest weight first then lower it and focus as much as you can on strict form.
I noticed someone said they are more prone to injury on high weight, which I have the same problem with. To counter this I have been doing stricter form and doing my high weight exercises for shorter periods of time compared to my hypertrophy training. Also, wraps seem to help, as most of my pains from high weight have been joint related.
The key thing people have to get their heads around is “warm up sets” vs. “working sets”. As an sample, a regular pyramid is fine if you are not approaching anything close to failure on the way up the pyramid and are considering those warm-ups. Then when you are ready to work, you use the heaviest load you can handle for the rep scheme your routine calls for. Then either keep the weight constant for the remaining sets [recognizing your rep # will decline] or drop the weight on the next working set a little bit and keep your reps constant.
If on the other hand, you are going to failure on lighter sets (we can leave the definition of failure to another post) and then increasing the weight on each subsequent set, then you are not likely to see long-term strength gains. That said, it’s not like it’s a useless strategy. Some people swear they make progress on that, but I personally never have. Just not the best use of time for most people. I favor the reverse pyramid most of the time or else straight sets.
“The only time that you have 100% of your strength in tact is at the very start of a workout.”
Yup … makes sense to me !!!
Except for the “tact” part 🙂
Warmup, swarmup. I put nothing on the bar and run through 5-10 perfect reps just to remind myself about perfect form and then bang! BREAK THE MUSCLE!!! CODE RED!!! MUSCLE BREAKING!!! TURN UP THE METALLICA!!!!
It’s the perfect form that keeps injuries away for me at least.
But I do stretch my ass off before bed every night. Yoga type stuff for long counts. That time of day the spiritual side comes out.
@Jimmy. I do one set at 50% of the first working set load as my warm-up set (not to failure). The only exercise where I do anything different is deadlifts. I do 2 or 3 warm-up sets, just progressively adding weight, but only 2 reps or so, so that my first working set doesn’t suffer.
@Chris. I’m on the GLAD diet at the moment but when I was on MANS I got my tortillas from Avidlite. I used to buy them in bulk and freeze a few packets. Regarding the protein bar, try half the amount of cream.
@Darrin. Correct. Warm-up sets are of course going to be lighter. The first working set is where you start with your heaviest weight with 100% of your strength still available.
@Scott. “Tact”. Ah! Ok, I changed it.
@John. I would definitely do a light set first. 50% of your first working set for around 10 reps. It’ll actually help you lift more during your working sets.
Thanks for the article. That’s the kind of simple and logical advice I’ve been looking for. Please keep up the great work!