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.

Note:

Click these to see some additional comments on exercises and rep ranges→1.

Sample 3-day RPT Split
Monday
Exercise Top Set Set 22 Set 33
Deadlift 4-6 Reps 6-8 Reps 8-10 Reps
Weighted Chin-ups 6-8 Reps 8-10 Reps 10-12 Reps
Wednesday
Exercise Top Set Set 24 Set 35
Bench Press 6-8 Reps 8-10 Reps 10-12 Reps
Push-ups6 8-12 Reps 8-12 Reps NA
Friday
Exercise Top Set Set 27 Set 38
Squat 6-8 Reps 8-10 Reps 10-12 Reps
Overhead Press 6-8 Reps 8-10 Reps 10-12 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 Number Lifting Record Load Change Next Session?
1 150×6, 135×9, 120×12 Increase 3rd set
2 150×8, 135×10, 125×10 Increase 1st and 2nd sets
3 155×6, 140×8, 125×11 Same
4 155×6, 140×10, 125×11 Increase 2nd set
5 155×8, 145×8, 125×12 Increase 1st and 3rd sets
6 160×6, 145×9, 130×10 Same

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
Exercise Sets Reps Rep Total
Deadlift 5 5 25
Weighted Chin-ups 5 5 25
Additional Compound Movement9 3 8 24
Wednesday
Exercise Sets Reps Rep Total
Bench Press 5 5 25
Push-ups 2 8-12 16-24
Additional Compound Movement10 3 8 24
Friday
Exercise Sets Reps Rep Total
Squat 5 5 25
Overhead Press 5 5 25
Additional Compound Movement11 3 8 24

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.

Next: What To Do When You’re Done With Your Linear Progression Strength Training Program →

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  1. Good job!

  2. Reduce load by 10-15%

  3. Reduce load by 10-15%

  4. Reduce load by 10-15%

  5. Reduce load by 10-15%

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

  7. Reduce load by 10-15%

  8. Reduce load by 10-15%

  9. Front Squats, for example.

  10. Seated Cable Rows, for example.

  11. Seated Cable Rows, for example.

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949 Comments

  1. Alex says:

    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!

    1. Andy Morgan says:

      One of the intermediate programs I have listed here.

      1. Alex says:

        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

        1. Andy Morgan says:

          In general, yes. However, if you have been doing a very low volume like this up until now, then you wouldn’t want to jump it up so far, but you can probably handle more, as long as you keep stay shy of failure to manage the fatigue.

  2. Emanuel Ferm says:

    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”?

    1. Andy Morgan says:

      Hi Emanual, thank you for your patience with my response. (Been doing website edits on a staging site which prevented me from doing so earlier.) I could argue this is not a bad thing in the short term.

      However, if you dial back the intensity so that you have one more rep left in the tank for that first set unperformed, you’ll be less fatigued for the subsequent sets, which will allow you to do more and progress faster in those.

      Now, considering that overall volume is the key driver of hypertrophy and this would enable you to do more volume, this could be more optimal. That’s kind of what I was referring to in the drawbacks of RPT section, but this is a way to partially hack it. 😉

  3. Danny D. says:

    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).

    1. Andy Morgan says:

      Hi Danny, thank you for the comment and sorry for the delay in replying. (I had been unable to do so while the website went through a big update over August.)

      Well, you’ll see at the end I have pointed out the limitations of the routine. This applies to both strength and size goals. Assuming you’ve read that, don’t worry about it. If you’re training, you’re enjoying it, and you are progressing then the job is being done.

  4. Carlos says:

    Hi,

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

    1. Andy Morgan says:

      Hi Carlos, thanks for the question.

      With different muscle groups, yes. But with the inevitable overlap, you’ll probably find that training to failure as with RPT will cause too much soreness for you to be able to train effectively and you’d be better not using it with a 5-day routine. I have some very detailed progression guidelines in this article: A Detailed Guide To Training Progression.

  5. Chris says:

    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?

    1. Andy Morgan says:

      “No, no, no, you don’t need mush volume and you don’t need to be at the gym for more than 30 minutes and 3 days per week.”

      Everyone has their own genetic differences and responses to training. Some people will make half the gains from the same amount of work; some people will do double the work and never achieve the same physique.

      This is just ‘The law of tough shit™’.

      You can only work to be the best you. At some point, more will be needed to get more results. The only question is whether you are happy with your physique at that point in time. Clearly the gentlemen you follow on Youtube are happy with theirs, but to say that nobody needs to ever do more than that, to achieve the same results, is complete nonsense.

  6. Chris says:

    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?

    1. Andy Morgan says:

      Hi Chris, depends entirewly on how you define ‘big.’ At some point, it will fail to be enough to drive growth. Have a read of this for more background on how volume fits in to the big picture:

      The Core Principles of Effective Strength Training

  7. Robert says:

    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!

    1. Andy Morgan says:

      Hi Robert, thanks for the question.

      I worry about that I would have too much muscle mass or I would be too stiff for aikido.
      – It is a myth that muscle gain causes stiffness. It comes from the 70s and 80s but still lingers in Japan, especially in traditional dojos.

      Now, you don’t want to set your training up so that you are so sore from workouts that you get stiff, but this is just a case of avoiding excessive volume and training to failure, generally speaking, There is no need to modify the training plans you see on the site in my opinion.

      If you’re new to training you’ll feel sore as shit for a week or two as your body gets used to it, as with any new training stimulus. Just suck it up.

      Just so you know, this isn’t a random unqualified opinion: I’m writing this as a man that trained 6-7 sessions a week of aikido concurrently with strength training for a couple of years (Shodokan, at the headquarters in Tennouji, south Osaka, Japan).

      1. Robert says:

        Thanks a lot Andy!
        I will do it.

        1. Andy Morgan says:

          Most welcome, Robert.

  8. Karolis says:

    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?

    1. Andy Morgan says:

      Hi Karolis, thanks for the question. Raise your feet off the ground and do band resisted versions. Will add that to the article for clarity.

      1. Karolis says:

        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?

        1. Andy Morgan says:

          Most welcome, Karolis.

          A plate on the back will provide a constant resistance but is hard to place and balance. The bands will work the lock out portion of the push up more, with more of a focus on the triceps.

  9. Rocky says:

    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!

    1. Andy Morgan says:

      Hi Rocky, thanks for the questions.

      Couldn’t you do RPT without pushing yourself to failure on each set?
      – Certainly.

      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?
      – The point is that volume is the key driver of adaptations long term. Training to failure will compromise the total recoverable volume that can be performed, so as a trainee advances they may find better results by using failure sparingly, instead of every workout and exercise. A beginner trainee shouldn’t be training to failure, they want to work on their form.

      Two articles you may find useful, the first for the former and the latter for the latter.
      The Core Principles of Effective Training
      A Guide to Exercise Selection When You Don’t Have Access to a Coach

  10. Zaheer says:

    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)

    1. Andy Morgan says:

      Sorry Zaheer, this is specifically what I said I can’t offer in the comments. See the third bullet point of the comment rules. If you have a specific question, please feel free, but, “This is what I am doing, what do you think?” type questions require context and are beyond the scope of the comments function.

Questions welcomed. (Over 16,000 answered)

For the sake of other readers, please:
  • Keep questions on topic,
  • Write clearly, concisely, and click reply when responding,
  • Don't post diet calculations or full training plans asking me to critique them as it depends too heavily on context.


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