Reverse Pyramid workouts and Progressive Overload

For all of you who are embarking on or continuing a weight-training regimen: Progressive overload is important. Progressive overload means continually doing MORE work than you previously did. I’ve been guilty myself of neglecting progressive overload — sometimes for months or even years — and find myself still lifting the same weights I was lifting a long time before. It’s too easy to get caught up in “feeling the burn” or focusing on making yourself sore, but if you aren’t increasing the amount of weights you are lifting you are not getting that much out of your workouts.

After this summer’s cut (I dropped about 4 lbs in a month, to finish just under 170) and another month off from any heavy lifting, I’m back on a strength cycle, looking to reach my goal of a 4-plate deadlift (405lbs) by the end of the year. My lifting structure is a reverse pyramid as Martin Berkhan has recommend in the past. I am doing a bit more volume since I seem to recover well. I am also focusing a lot on calf and hamstring strength and development, putting those lifts at the beginning of my workouts. Here are my past two workouts:

Workout 1:
Seated Leg Curl (uni-lateral): 3x10x60lbs
Seated calf raise: 6×135, 8×115, 10×90
Dips (weighted): 6xBW+75lbs, 8xBW+50lbs, 10xBW+25lbs (BW is body weight, which is about 170-175)
Full clean and press: 6×135, 7×115,8x95lbs.

For full clean and press, I started with the weight on the ground for each rep. I did a full clean into a deep front squat, then exploded out of the squat and finished with an overhead press.

Because I got 6 reps of weighted dips at +75lbs of added weight, I will increase to 80lbs next time I do this workout. I will likely get 4-5 reps using the 80lbs. Once I can do 6×80, I will increase weight to 85. Each workout I will add either sets or reps to each lift. This is progressive overload and it should be your goal.

Workout 2:
Calf jumps: 3x20x65lbs
Deadlift (warm-up): 8×135,5×225, 3x315lbs
Deadlift: 5×365, 6×335, 7x275lbs.
Russian Leg Curls: 2×10 (bodyweight)
Chins (warm-up): 5x BW
Chins (weighted): 4xBW+45lbs, 5xBW+25lbs, 6xBW+10lbs, 8xBW
Superset of Flyes and Reverse Flyes: 3x8x45’s (flyes) superset with 3x12x20’s (reverse flyes)

I can’t believe that I am pulling 5 reps of a weight I could barely max 3 months ago — I’m really excited about that. Because I’m working deadlifts in the 3-5 rep range and I got 5 reps on my first set, I will increase my weight to 370 for my next workout. Once I can do 5 reps of 370, I will increase the weight again. For my second set I reduce the weight by approximately 10% and try to do one more rep than my first set, as per Martin’s recommendations. Once I can pull 390 for a triple, I should have no problem pulling a 405 max. My current max is 385, and I’ve got 10 deadlift days between now and the new year, so increasing my deadlift an average of 2.5lbs per workout gets me to my goal with room to spare. This is the essence of progressive overload: slow, continual progress with increasingly heavy weights.

It’s important to realize that this type of linear progression should be possible for a very long time. I will likely be able to use linear progression well into the 400’s on my deadlift. If you are a guy deadlifting less than 2x-3x your body weight and benching less than 2x your body weight, you probably haven’t finished your “newbie gains” and you should continue doing a linear progression workout program such as Mark Rippetoe’s Starting Strength, Cressey’s Maximum Strength, or Stronglifts 5×5. Keep it simple, and make sure you’re always getting stronger. That’s why you’re lifting, after all. Right?

4 Responses to “Reverse Pyramid workouts and Progressive Overload”

  1. Noel says:

    Hey keenan, what’s up?

    I’ve been banned by SL because I wasn’t gold. I really want to follow your footsteps.

    I did, 330lbs x 2 x 1, 300lbs x 2 x 3 and 270lbs x 2 x 5 for squats.. am i doing it all wrong?

  2. Keenan says:


    Sorry to hear that. Any chance you’ll join up as a gold member?

    Ok, for squats you did 330x2x1 — is that two sets of singles at 330? If so, then that would be the correct progression and you’re doing the double RPs exactly right.

    Also, good job on going 1,3,5 because you started with singles. 1,2,3 isn’t enough reps and usually singles burn you out anyway, so I typically go 1,3,5 on max day or even add an extra drop set of 8-12 reps at the very end.

    Did you superset your squats with anything? A press or chins or something? It’s not necessary, but I personally enjoy supersetting.

    That’s some great squatting, man. You’re catching up to me fast!

  3. Noel says:

    No chance in hell! Hahaha not yet for now.

    Yes, they are singles.

    For today I did, 345lbs x 2 x 1, 335lbs x 2 x 2.. and a rough 320lbs x 1

    I realized that if I go max every workout I get burned out quickly. The intensity is certainly there but the volume isn’t.. Should I do a max day once per week only?

    Do you also do a squat w/ super set day and a deadlift w/ super set day?

    Oh yeah, after squats, I did 175lbs x 2 x 2 push press, 165lbs x 2 x 3, 150lbs x 5, 130lbs x 5 strict press..

    Thanks Keenan! Hope you won’t let me pay for this blog lol!

  4. Keenan says:


    The trick is to vary the rep ranges from workout to workout so that you don’t overload any particular rep range. Doing singles all the time could make CNS recovery tough and doing high-volume all the time can make you sore and such. The idea is to mix it up so that you work all pathways at separate times – it’s sort of a superset on a grander scale.

    I typically superset squat with a pull (rows, chins) and DL with a push (OHP, dips, bench). So I do one set of DL, one set of press, then back to DL, then back to press. So it’s always done as a superset.

    Definitely no fee for reading my blog! A lot of the SL guys went to so check that out if you haven’t gone yet.

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