‘Three Day Split RPT’ Routine

Martin Berkhan RPT

Squats, Deadlifts, Bench press, Chins – Think you can’t get big with just these four? Tell that to Martin Berkhan.

Reverse Pyramid Training Explained

What is it?

RPT is a style of set-rep pattern 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 the main compound movements (the squat, deadlift, bench press, etc.).

It’s a very time-efficient training style, but it requires very high intensity. It was made popular by Martin Berkhan of Leangains.com who you can see picture above.

Who is it for?

Very high intensity is required to get the desired training effect from the, usually, abbreviated routines. It is not suited to novices who are at greater risk of their form breaking down when pushing close to failure. A straight-set routine (where the weight is kept consistent across all sets) like 5×5 will me much more suitable and effective for these people. If this is you, my suggested routine is The Big 3 Routine or one of it’s variants.

When can it be used?

It can be effective in either a cut or a bulk. The low volume makes it more suited to a cut. The theory on that is as follows:

The goal of the experienced trainee when cutting is merely to maintain muscle mass while they are burning the fat off. -> Under calorie deficit circumstances recovery capacity is lower. -> Training volume is best reduced to match the reduction in recovery capacity. This helps avoid the negative systemic stress effects of too high a workload, which prevents you from experiencing undue soreness and regressing in your training. Yes, I’m talking about getting weaker and potentially losing muscle.

Unnecessary accessory work is therefore not used/removed.


Reverse Pyramid Training, How-To Guide

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. Occasionally it may occasionally happen without your planning – that is what the safety pins (or a spotter) are for when squatting and benching, or the bumper plates and padding on the floor for, 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.

Example 3-day Split

Monday

1. Deadlift

  • Warm-up sets
  • Top Set 4-6reps – 3mins rest
  • Set 2 (-~10-15%) 6-8reps – 2mins rest
  • Set 3 (-~10-15%) 8-10reps
  • 3mins rest (or however long it takes you to warm-up and be ready for the next exercise)

2. Weighted Chin-ups

  • Warm-up set(s)
  • Top Set 6-8reps – 3mins rest / Set 2 (-~10-15%) 8-10reps – 2mins rest / Set 3 (-~10-15%) 10-12reps
  • Cool-down: 5-10mins cardio, foam rolling, stretch out any tight places.

Wednesday

1. Bench

  • Warm-up sets
  • Top Set 6-8reps – 3mins rest / Set 2 (-~10-15%) 8-10reps – 2mins rest / Set 3 (-~10-15%) 10-12reps
  • 3mins rest (or however long it takes you to warm-up and be ready for the next exercise)

2. Push-ups

  • 2 sets, 3 mins rest. Raise feet off floor when too easy, add two second cadence. 8-12reps
  • Cool-down: 5-10mins cardio, foam rolling, stretch out any tight places.

 Friday

1. Squat

  • Warm-up sets
  • Top Set 6-8reps – 3mins rest / Set 2 (-~10-15%) 8-10reps – 2mins rest / Set 3 (-~10-15%) 10-12reps
  • 3mins rest (or however long it takes you to warm-up and be ready for the next exercise)

2. Overhead Press

  • Warm-up sets
  • Top Set 6-8reps – 3mins rest / Set 2 (-~10-15%) 8-10reps – 2mins rest /Set 3 (-~10-15%) 10-12reps
  • Cool-down: 5-10mins cardio, foam rolling, stretch out any tight places.

.

How To Progress

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.
Example Progression

Target rep ranges 6-8, 8-10, 10-12:

  • Week 1: 150 x 6, 135 x 9, 120 x 12 – increase weight of 3rd set next session
  • Week 2: 150 x 8, 135 x 10, 125 x 10 – increase weight of 1st and 2nd sets next session
  • Week 3: 155 x 6, 140 x 8, 125 x 11
  • Week 4: 155 x 6, 140 x 10, 125 x 11 – increase weight of 3rd set next session
  • Week 5: 155 x 8, 145 x 8, 125 x 12 – increase weight of 1st and 2nd sets next session
  • Week 6: 160 x 6, 145 x 9, 130 x 10

Note that some weeks the weight went up for the back-off sets but not in the “top-set” and vice versa. This is normal.

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.


Pros, Cons and FAQs 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.

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 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.
  • 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.

 

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.

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?

Please feel free to confirm your thoughts on what a suitable warm-up is by reading that link. However if you have no idea at all then it’s likely you don’t have enough lifting experience for RPT to be suited to you at the moment.

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 chinning-bar available. In my experience people work a lot harder when then 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’s original template purposeful?

Yes. Dips are a great chest and tricep 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 by 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?

Best Book: Starting Strength 3rd Edition’ by Mark Rippetoe. It will teach you all about form.

Best Videos: Rippetoe’s are here: Main Barbell Movements Other Lifts & Tips.

Other Videos: Type any exercise you’re looking for into Youtube along with any of the following names and you can be sure it’ll be good: Mark Rippetoe / Eric Cressey / Tony Gentilcore / Bret Contreras / Jordan Syatt

Martin Berkhan has an excellent article on RPT. It can be found on Leangains.com, ‘Reverse Pyramid Training Revisted‘.

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. A big one is, The Principle Of Progressive Overload, which is a guest article by my colleague and friend, Strength and Conditioning coach Naoki Kawamori.

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?

RippedBody Results CollageThat’s what I specialise in and do professionally, and you’ll find everything you need to do this on this site.

I’ve put all the diet guides in one place. This includes, How to Calculate Your Calories, How to Calculate Your Macros, Optimal Meal Timing, Calorie & Carb Cycling, Supplements (which I’m not a fan of), and How to Track your Progress. Basically, everything you need.

 How To Set Up Your Diet: The Nutritional Hierarchy of Importance 


*******

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 →

841 Comments on “‘Three Day Split RPT’ Routine”

  1. Kierran Clarke

    Hi Andy,

    I have recently switched to an RPT A/B Split. Is it possible if i comment with a few statistics you could advise if i am on the right track?

    Thanks, Kierran

    1. Andy Morgan

      Hi Kierran. Are you in a calorie deficit and if so, are you progressing? – If yes to both then keep doing it.
      If there’s something more specific then please feel free to fire away.

  2. Oscar Herrera

    Hi Andy great article, I would like to know what activity level I should use for my macro and calories calculation using this routine,

    1. Andy Morgan

      Hi Oscar. The activity level multiplier used for calorie calculations is a function of your overall activity for the week. So, if you’re just doing this, routine three days a week, then that would put you in the ~1.375x category. This is all covered in this guide:
      How To Set Up Your Diet: #1 Calories
      All good? Feel free to hit me up in the comments there if anything isn’t clear.

  3. Sunny

    Hey Andy, there’s an alternative setup for RPT. It’s posted on Anyman Fitness and states that 2 sets are superior to 3 per exercise. For example, bench press x 2, dips x 2, skulls x 2. He suggests adding an exercise and dropping the third set and that it should be more effective. Currently, I’m doing the setup posted here…it’s definitely been working. How do you feel about doing 2 sets instead of 3 sets per exercise? More effective? Or do you feel it’s a useless modification with no real benefits?

  4. Steve

    How often do you recommend taking time off from the 3 day split RPT? Maybe 1 week off every 12 weeks? Also, I do single-leg leg presses instead of squats because of an old knee injury. I’m assuming the RPT set up for the leg press should be the same as squats explained in your example above?

    1. Andy Morgan

      Hi Steve. Only when people feel they need it, or their stress/sleep/recovery factors, or lack of progress indicates they should. This is highly individual. I’d never arbitrarily recommend that people have a break every x weeks. Though I know full well why some programs will suggest it in this way – it’s because people simply don’t know when to give themselves a break.

  5. ramon

    hey andy! how are you?
    I am a medical doctor by profession and have been following your blog in a while. (I was a fan of berkhan’s rpt and am still a follower of bojan).
    During the past few months ive done bojan’s program LIZA. Considering I was process-oriented then (I loved working out and wasnt after body recomp and thus, no diet regimen was followed), I could say the results were great! Then, as I moved to another clinic with busier sked, I did your diet suggestions and did RPT based on your program, this time with a stricter regimen in terms of weekly weight/rep progression. Again, i got great results!
    Now, i am still doing RPT with your diet suggestions (currently on aweek long break though). Soon,ill be going into another training program. At best I can work out for 1hour, 2x/week. More realistically though, I can workout once a week for an hour at most. What do you think is the best program for me? is it an RPT of DL, bench, and squat? is it a 5×5 of those exercises? Should my gym time be focused on other exercises? what do you think?
    Hope to hear from you. More power! Thanks!

    Ramon

    1. Andy Morgan

      Hi Ramon, thanks for the question. Your work volume is going to be the primary driver (and limiter) of progress. We can only lift so much weight in one session. One session a week will only be enough to drive adaptations and progression in a novice, and may be enough to maintain adaptations in an advanced novice or intermediate. This will need to be a full body workout.
      Twice a week will be enough to drive adaptations in a novice and advanced novice, and probably enough to stop the regression of training adaptations in an intermediate trainee. More on this here:
      Stress: In The Gym, Out of The Gym, and How it Affects Your Program and Progress

      How you split the training with two training days depends on your recovery capacity – if you can do two full body sessions and still progress then do so. If you have to split things in order to recover then do it. From there adjust the variables (volume in terms of sets and reps) to see whether you get a better response. I’d forget about RPT for now and go with the straight set model as you will be able to get more volume in. More on the key principles here:
      Training Effectively – Core Principles

      1. ramon

        Hi andy! Appreciate the reply. Then I guess I will be focusing on muscle/strength maintenance now more than size/strength progression/development. Alright. Thanks for this. Will continue visiting your website when I have time as your articles have been very helpful. Thanks!

  6. manuel

    hey is it possible to do the rpt with fewer reps?
    I train mainly for strenght and I have very limited time during this times of the year so I want to keep workouts short.
    Maybe rpt with 4-6 6-8 8-10 will keep it a bit more powerlifting oriented?

  7. Patrick Hendriksen

    I’m at 229 in weight and I want to cut my fat. I have the typical belly nothing too big but enough to not go shirtless. I read your article and I’m just curious, what if I do 3 lift sessions a week and do a 6by 6 lift is that okay. I like lifting heavy. Also since cardio isn’t that important how do I warm up for a lift. Dumb question but I am curious. Your clients look great that’s my goal.

  8. Kierran Clarke

    Hi Andy,

    I feel I am ready now for a switch to RPT to keep progressing,

    Would you be able to offer advise as to whether you think i am based on what you have seen?

      1. Kierran Clarke

        Thanks Andy, i think i will stick with my A/B split for now then, and try it with the RPT pattern and see how that goes. Don’t think i’m ready for a full 3 day split yet after reading that.

Got a question? Fire away...