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Three Day Split RPT Routine

This article tells you how to train when the time comes to split your training into a three-day split. The primary focus is reverse pyramid training (RPT), but I have also included advice for other set-rep patterns (5×5 for example) to be used with a three-day split, as this is what I find myself using more and more often with clients rather than RPT nowadays.

Reverse Pyramid Training is a style of training where the trainee puts their heaviest set first, then ‘pyramids down’ to a lighter weight, usually with more reps for the latter sets. It is best suited to big compound training movements that work a lot of the body’s musculature, like a squat, deadlift, bench press, and chin-up.

What is Reverse Pyramid Training?

Routines are usually abbreviated (meaning a low relative training volume) but they require a very high intensity.

A few months of RPT training can be a solid cure for trainees who have been stagnant at the gym because they have not been pushing themselves hard enough. This is because when many people try RPT training for the first time, they find out that they are capable of far more than they thought. This is because it is the first time they have to consistently push close to failure.

However, this makes RPT unsuitable for rank novices who are new to the lifts and at greater risk of their form breaking down when pushing close to failure. If this is you I’d recommend a straight-set routine like The Big 3 Routine, or our Novice Bodybuilding Program or Novice Powerlifting Program instead.

It also makes it less suitable for more experienced trainees, who may find themselves stagnating because of the low overall training volume. That said, I think RPT is great and I encourage you to give it a try at least once.

A Guide To Performing RPT (Reverse Pyramid Training)

RPT in a Nutshell

  1. Do warm-up sets, gradually working up to around 80% of your ‘top set’ load.
  2. Put the heaviest working set (aka. the top set) first.
  3. Drop the weight, rest and do the second working set.
  4. Drop the weight, rest and do the third working set.
  5. Rest and move onto the next exercise.
  6. Push HARD. Do as many reps as you can without reaching failure.

‘Failure’ is defined as the point at which a rep can no longer be completed with good form. You never want to go to form failure with the compound movements because that is where injuries happen, though occasionally it may happen without your planning. – That is what the safety pins (or a spotter if you have one) are for when squatting and benching, or the bumper plates and padding on the floor, when deadlifting.

What Does it Look Like?

RPT is a set-rep pattern, not any specific workout. However, RPT does have popular routine incarnations. One such incarnation is this three-day split.

Sample 3-day RPT Split
Monday
ExerciseTop SetSet 2

 

 

Reduce load by 10-15%

Set 3

 

 

Reduce load by 10-15%

Deadlift4-6 Reps6-8 Reps8-10 Reps
Weighted Chin-ups6-8 Reps8-10 Reps10-12 Reps
Wednesday
ExerciseTop SetSet 2

 

 

Reduce load by 10-15%

Set 3

 

 

Reduce load by 10-15%

Bench Press6-8 Reps8-10 Reps10-12 Reps

Push-ups

Raise feet off the floor when too easy, add two-second cadence.

8-12 Reps8-12 RepsNA
Friday
ExerciseTop SetSet 2

 

 

Reduce load by 10-15%

Set 3

 

 

Reduce load by 10-15%

Squat6-8 Reps8-10 Reps10-12 Reps
Overhead Press6-8 Reps8-10 Reps10-12 Reps

How To Progress With Reverse Pyramid Training

RPT uses a double progression system. So that means the target is to increase either the weight or reps, if you can, at each session. There are rules for doing so.

  • For the first workout, you likely need to guess at how heavy you should load the bar so that your maximum effort is within the target rep range.
  • Let’s say that this week you get 7 reps with 100kg and your target rep range was 6-8 reps. The next week you’re going to stay with 100kg and try to hit 8 reps. If you do that then increase the weight slightly (102.5kg) and try to get 6 reps or more the following workout.
  • If you fail to get the minimum required number or reps at any point in time, reduce the weight.
  • For your second and third sets, your target rep rage will be a couple of reps higher. Because of this, and the cumulative fatigue of the previous set(s) you will need to reduce the weight on the bar. 10-15% is a ballpark figure for this.

Sample RPT Progression Scheme

Session NumberLifting RecordLoad Change Next Session?
1150×6, 135×9, 120×12Increase 3rd set
2150×8, 135×10, 125×10Increase 1st and 2nd sets
3155×6, 140×8, 125×11Same
4155×6, 140×10, 125×11Increase 2nd set
5155×8, 145×8, 125×12Increase 1st and 3rd sets
6160×6, 145×9, 130×10Same

Tips

Adjust all sets independently of each other. The ~10-15% reduction that I’ve suggested is just a guide for your first workout. (If you need to reduce it more or less that doesn’t mean there is anything wrong!) From that point onward you want to adjust your subsequent sets independently as you would for that top set.

Keep the other training circumstances the same, particularly time, and keep rest intervals strict.

For the chin-ups, always keep a full range, keep it slow and smooth. Chin-ups may be very tough at first, that’s fine. Band-assisted chin-ups are a good option until you have built up the strength to do full reps, as is jumping up and holding yourself in the top position and fighting gravity until it takes you down for as long as you can. – This way you will train both ends of the rep range. Eventually, you’ll want to add weight. See my Full Guide To Progressing Your Chin-ups.


The Pros and Cons of RPT Training

What I Like About RPT

  • Quick & effective.
  • Satisfies the need for intensity without allowing certain personality types from hammering themselves too hard.
  • Cuts through the crap & focuses on the exercises that will give the trainee the most bang for their buck.

The Drawbacks of RPT

  • It is not sustainable and will eventually cease to provide enough training stress to drive progression. Training close to failure at very high intensity is bad for recovery. This means that the workouts can only be performed with a low frequency. Volume is also low, as it’s not possible to train to failure for a high amount of volume. As volume is one of the key drivers of progress, eventually RPT will cease being effective.
  • Not suited to the beginner. Training too close to failure is bad for proper motor learning. Form needs to be very good to avoid injury when pushing close to technical failure for rep maxes.
  • Your ‘maximum‘ is highly influenced your gym atmosphere/surroundings. One of my best squat workouts ever was with six-time Mr. Olympia Dorian Yates sitting on the leg press machine six feet behind me, staring at me, waiting for his rack to become available. ‘Maximum’ is relative and variable, and it’s too easy for people to pussy out before they truly can’t do any more reps. Think about it this way – if I put a gun to your loved one’s head, you could probably do a couple more, right?
  • Mentally the workouts are very tough, and knowing you need to push to a max for every set, especially on squat day for example, can lead to people dreading their workouts. This extra mental drain can lead to unnecessary stress and sub-optimal performance. Fixed set-rep patterns (5 sets of 5 for example) without the requirement for failure can work better. And I find myself recommending these more and more, regardless of the level of trainee.

A Better Way To Do A 3-Day Split?

Due to the drawbacks mentioned above, I most often find myself using a fixed set-rep pattern without the use of failure instead of RPT with clients. As the cumulative fatigue will be lower, additional exercises can be added to each day and have been in the example below.

Example 3-day Split Using 5×5 and 3×8 Set-rep Patterns
Monday
ExerciseSetsRepsRep Total
Deadlift5525
Weighted Chin-ups5525

Additional Compound Movement

Front Squats, for example.

3824
Wednesday
ExerciseSetsRepsRep Total
Bench Press5525
Push-ups28-1216-24

Additional Compound Movement

Seated Cable Rows, for example.

3824
Friday
ExerciseSetsRepsRep Total
Squat5525
Overhead Press5525

Additional Compound Movement

Seated Cable Rows, for example.

3824

See here for a progression example for 5×5.

RPT-Specific FAQ

Do I have to stick to those exercises above?

No, that is just an example. Front Squats, Rack Pulls, Pull-ups, Row variations. Basically, multi-joint/compound exercises that lend themselves well to incremental loading are all fine.

Can I add in more exercises?

If it helps you progress quicker. If you’ve come to this page from a google search or forum recommendation, I’d highly recommend that you read my article, The Core Principles of Effective Training, so that you have the background knowledge to know when adjustments are appropriate.

What is a good warm-up?

You want to do the minimum that you can to get warm and ready for the top set, without tiring yourself for your main work sets. I’ve covered this in detail in the FAQ in the section, WARM-UP: What should I do?

Can I do pull-downs instead of chin-ups?

You can, but they are not as effective. Do not use them if you have a chin-up bar available. In my experience, people work a lot harder when they have to do chin-ups rather than pull-downs, probably because their efforts (or lack of) are more public.

Is the omission of dips from Martin Berkhan’s original template purposeful?

Yes. Dips are a great chest and triceps developer, and it feels awesome to have a couple of plates clanging between your legs as you knock out a few sets of 8, but the risk-reward ratio is skewed in the wrong direction I feel. What I mean is, it’s very easy to cause yourself an injury with this exercise, especially as you start adding a lot of weight. (It puts the humeral head in a position far past neutral.)

When there are safer alternatives that are equally effective (pushups, the close-grip bench press), I see no point in taking the risk with dips. I no longer do them myself, and I no longer recommend them to clients.

Got any lifting videos/resources?

Yes, recommendations are covered made in my article, The Core Principles of Effective Training.

Is this routine for a cut or a bulk?

It can be effective in either a cut or a bulk, it all depends on how much training stimulus you personally can recover from. Just note that under caloric deficit circumstances our recovery capacity is lower, so training volume is best reduced to match the reduction in recovery capacity.

Why does this conflict with the advice of [coach X]?

You will find conflicting advice all over the internet because there are many different ways to reach the same end with training. Every routine has its pros and cons, suitability depends on context. RPT and the routine above is just one way of doing things. It’s not suitable for all people, at all times. Though different coaches have their own preferences and reasoning, the principles of effective training routines remain the same.

How do I know when I should use a full split routine like the one in the example above?

Great question, this is covered in the article, Which Routine Is For Me?

Got it, now how do I put together a nutrition plan to go with this?

That’s what I specialize in and do professionally, and you’ll find everything you need to do this on this site. This includes, How to Calculate Your Calories, Macros, Optimal Meal Timing, Calorie & Carb Cycling, Supplements (which I’m not a fan of), and How to Track your Progress.  The Complete Guide To Setting Up Your Diet 

Thanks for reading. Questions welcomed in the comments as always. – Andy.

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Please keep questions on topic, write clearly, concisely, and don't post diet calculations.

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Johnny
Johnny

Andy quick question. I’m running the male physique template from Renaissance Periodization for a cut. It basically ramps up the volume week to week and eventually gets me to overreach before a deload. Problem is the workouts are too long. Some days I’m going ~30ish sets and I just feel it’s a little pointless. I’m sort of lucky because I’m not working at the moment so I have time, but I will soon be and I cannot spend 2 hours in the gym.

So my question is, if I switch to a similar RPT routine like the one you have here am I possibly putting myself in a position to lose muscle mass as I cut?

Alexis
Alexis

Hi Andy

I’m really starting to appreciate your point regarding RPT.

But I’m a bit confused about your recommendations regarding routine selection: how do I pick between the 3 day, non-RPT, routine and the intermediate bodybuilding program?

(I’m about to cut)

Many thanks for your great work.

Alexis
Alexis

Thanks Andy.

So, if one can handle the volume of the 5 day intermediate bodybuilding split, would that routine be preferable to the three day split mentioned on this page?

Alexis
Alexis

Many thanks, Andy!

Andre
Andre

For muscle mass retention is the routine we do going to matter as long as strength is maintained? I don’t see the point of maintaining higher training volumes when my goal is drop a good chunk of body fat (20-25% down to 10-12%). I’m leaning towards starting RPT not just because of the recovery aspect, but because fasting works easily with it too and I can easily add cardio on rest days to burn additional calories. Thoughts?

Andre
Andre

Thanks for the reply, Andy. I see what you’re saying and it makes sense. My training has been all over the place…

Regarding the cardio are you a fan of LISS cardio by any chance? Something like 45-60 min walking? That’s what I plan to do on rest days and maybe some core work and call it a day.

Also, I appreciate the reply and taking the time to write that out. Thank you.

Andre

Anton
Anton

Hey Andy,

How long should this routine take per workout?

Cheers mate

Kierran Clarke
Kierran Clarke

Hi Andy,
Im not strong enough yet to do weighted chin ups 5×5, and I think not quite strong enough to do bodyweight 5×5 either.

Can i have your advice here please on how best to incorporate 5×5 Chin ups?

Kierran Clarke
Kierran Clarke

Lovely, thanks Andy.

I did 5×5 chin ups after 5×5 100kg Deadlifts yesterday, and I managed 4 sets of 5 full reps, and the 5th set I only managed 4 reps, failing halfway through the 5th rep.

After reading through your article, I think my next action should be too see if I can get 8 or more full reps. If I can, then I’ll move onto RPT system.

That sound about right to you?

Chris
Chris

THanks for all the Info. I was wondering I do HIT training several days per week In the morning and lift a few days a week in the afternoon. Do you think doing intermittent fasting and HIt training like sprints or insanity will eat any muscle in trying to gain lifting?

Alan Agnew
Alan Agnew

Apologies if I’ve missed it but what is the recommended rest period between sets using the RPT method?
Thanks
Alan

Alex
Alex

Hi Andy,
I’m an intermediate lifter. For a cut, would you recommend I adhere to RPT, or the 5×5 ‘better way’ method you mention in the article?

Thanks for the all the great material you produce!

Alex
Alex

Cheers, Andy.

Just to clarify: you recommend your intermediate bodybuilding program for an intermediate (like myself) who is cutting?

That seems like a huge jump in volume from the RPT variants on this page. However, I trust your advice — been following your output for a while (and purchased the excellent ‘last shred’).

-Alex

Emanuel Ferm
Emanuel Ferm

Hi Andy,

What is your recommendation for when you progress significantly faster on your 1st set, relative the 2nd and 3rd?

Specifically, for my shoulder press, my 2nd set is -25% relative my top set, and my 3rd set is another -25%.

This is because whenever I hit 8 reps for my 1st set, and consequently increase the weight, I end up with less strength available for my 2nd and 3rd set — increasing the discrepancies.

Is this fine, or should I slow down my 1st set progression in favor of letting my 2nd/3rd sets “catch up”?

Danny D.
Danny D.

How is RPT for bodybuilding? I know you have an intermediate bodybuilding and intermediate powerlifting program; I am not sure where RPT fits on the spectrum (e.g. 60% bb, 40% pl).

Carlos
Carlos

Hi,

Can RPT used in a 5 day split? Or would this be considered too much volume?

Chris
Chris

Sorry, Andy. I should have define “Big”. I meant something like these:

https://forum.bodybuilding.com/attachment.php?attachmentid=8394323&d=1470097329

https://yt3.ggpht.com/-27Al9z3xip8/AAAAAAAAAAI/AAAAAAAAAAA/uJ-iLqEpR3g/s900-c-k-no-mo-rj-c0xffffff/photo.jpg

That’s Greg O’Gallagher and the Aesthetic Professional, fitness Youtubers. Both say that you can achieve their bodies with very minimalistic training, about 3-6 sets per muscle per week, as long as you apply progressive overload each week. I’ve always thought that you needed an insane amount of volume just to get these guys’ bodies, but they say, “no, no, no, you don’t need mush volume and you dont need to be at the gym for more than 30 minutes and 3 days per week”.

So, Andy, can you get big as these guys as they say?

Chris
Chris

Andy, I hear that you can get big with low volume training. So can you get a big chest, say, with only 5 sets of bench press once per week? Or can you get big arms with, say, only 3 sets of bicep curl and tricep extension twice per week?

Robert
Robert

Hello Andy,
Hi Andy, great article! Your pieces of advice are so simple and effective.
I’d had one question that niggels me for ages.
I love Leangains and I love Aikido too.
I’d like to excercise the both sports. I worry about that I would have too much muscle mass or I would be too stiff for aikido.

You have mentioned you have trained also aikido.

I think the mass, that I gain thanks to that workout schouldn’t be too big for aikido.
How does it look like with the compilation of other sports and leangains? I think they are not mutually exclusive as far as mobility and nimbleness is concerned.

I’d like to train twice a week aikido and three times a week leangains.

Mein Workout:

Day 1

1. Deadlift – 3 sets
2. Weighted Chin-ups – 3 sets

Day 2

1. Squat- 3 sets
2. Overhead Press- 3 sets

Day 3
1. Bench – 3 sets
2. Dips – 2 sets

Thank you in advance for the answer!

Robert
Robert

Thanks a lot Andy!
I will do it.

Karolis
Karolis

Hi Andy,
“2 sets, 3 mins rest. Raise feet off floor when too easy, add two second cadence. 8-12reps”
That’s just looks like nothing. Is that BW push-ups? Am I missing smth? Total 24 reps in 2 sets? That’s it? Why do I need 2min rest if I’m performing only 12 reps?

Karolis
Karolis

Thanks for your answer, looking forward for updated article.
Is there any difference between push-ups with resistance band and putting a plate on your back?

Rocky
Rocky

Hey Andy,

I don’t totally understand why RPT is worse for recoverability. Couldn’t you do RPT without pushing yourself to failure on each set? In other words, just use it as an efficient way to get more reps in?

I figure the top set would help you train more for strength and the next set or two would be for accumulating more volume in a time efficient manner — but the sets could be done with pretty much the same RPE that you’d use when doing 5×5.

Is the point that your RPE is inherently going to be less for the first few sets when doing 5×5? Or is it that 5×5 is simply easier for beginners to manage fatigue?

Thanks!

Zaheer
Zaheer

Hi Andy, trust you’re well. Could I please bother you for feedback on my training routine which is as follows. Objective: strength, and significant reduction in body fat% ( 12-13%) – Current BF (18-20%)
Training routine: 4 days, 7 days IF (16-8). Weight: 77.6 Kgs / Deadlift 1 RM: 167.5kg (x2.15)/Bench 1RM: 117.5kg (x1.5)/ Squat 1RM: 131.5kg (x1.7)
Day 1
Bench, 3 reps RPT, (3-4, 4-5, 6-8), starting at roughly 93%, reducing 10%
Deadlift, 3 reps RPT, (3-4, 4-5, 5-6), starting at roughly 93%, reducing 10%
OH shoulder press 3 reps RPT
Day 2
Bench, 3 reps RPT, (3-4, 4-5, 6-8), starting at roughly 93%, reducing 10%
Squat, 3 reps RPT, (4,5,6), starting at roughly 93%, reducing 10%
Day 3
Bench, 3 reps RPT, (3-4, 4-5, 6-8), starting at roughly 93%, reducing 10%
Deadlift, 3 reps RPT, (3-4, 4-5, 5-6), starting at roughly 93%, reducing 10%
OH shoulder press 3 reps RPT
Day 4
Bench, 3 reps RPT, (3-4, 4-5, 6-8), starting at roughly 93%, reducing 10%
Squat, 3 reps RPT, (4,5,6), starting at roughly 93%, reducing 10%

Each training day, I also do 3 sets of pull/chin-ups, 3 sets of chest/triceps dips, 3 sets of push-ups
Some days I am able to manage 5-7 minutes of HIIT
Using this program have noted gains in lifting, and size, increase in weight, unable to cut body fat (have not been disciplined in always eating clean in the 8 hour window)

Alex Brown
Alex Brown

Hello

After getting a little bored of upper/ lower/ Upper/ Lower i have been doing a full body routine 4 x week spreading the volume across those 4 days using a template from the shredded by science boys. With 2 years of proper lifting under my belt can I still progress optimally using this format. I am only able to give 4 days to training a week at the minute.

Matt Bringas
Matt Bringas

Andy,

I’ve wrapped up my 4th week utilizing this routine while cutting. Greatfully, I’m on track with losing .5lb/week. I plan on dieting for another 8 weeks, but wanted to know if you suggested keeping this workout the same for the rest of the time frame?

Shall I make any modifications?

Ian
Ian

I think there’s a mistake in week 4 of the RPT example
It says to increase weight of 3rd set for next week (125lbs)
But the second set was increased for week 5

Ian
Ian

No problem!

I take it the additional movements for your recommended 3-day split are not optional?
Would the volume be too low?

I’m hoping to increase or at least keep my strenght while losing some fat, and this looks like a great, time efficient program.

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