Todd Becker at gettingstronger.org writes:
“The inverted pyramid. I have found one additional useful refinement to slow cadence, high intensity training–a refinement which will allow you to get the most out of each training session. This is the so-called “inverted pyramid” technique described in Dr. Bernstein’s Diabetes Solution. Dr. Richard Bernstein, an M.D. and engineer who is also a Type I diabetic, was in poor health after years of following the conventional advice for a high carbohydrate diet with large insulin injections. He discovered that he could control and largely reverse his diabetes symptoms by following a strict low carbohydrate diet with much smaller insulin injections for “fine tuning”. For some of his patients, this even eliminated the need for injected insulin. Dr. Bernstein also found that insulin sensitivity could be largely restored by using high intensity anaerobic exercise such as weight training. In developing an exercise regimine, he invented the “inverted pyramid”:
Continuous anaerobic activity, as you can well imagine, is really impossible. The pain caused by lactic acid in the involved muscles becomes intolerable, and the weakness that develops with extreme exertion leaves you limp…The most productive way to perform an anaerobic exercise is to tire a particular group of muscles as quickly as possible, and keep them tired during the course of the exercise. This may sound a little strange, given that we’re all accustomed to the idea that athletes work in precisely the opposite manner–warming up slowly and building to a fast finish. That may be fine for a sprint, but we’re not talking about racing here, we’re talking about building muscle mass. By placing maximum demands on your muscles at first, you put yourself in the anaerobic (or oxygen-deprived) state right off. Then by slowly progressing to lighter weights, your force your muscles to work continuously in the anaerobic state and thereby build them…The idea is quality, not quantity, and it’s my belief that you can accomplish a more thorough and sensible workout in 15-30 minutes than you can in an hour and a half of conventional, less strenuous aerobic activity. (DS, pp. 181-184).
I have found that by using the inverted pyramid, I can triple the number of high intensity repetitions that I would normally be able to do, accelerating my progress in weight lifting. The best way to do this is to combine the slow cadence method with the inverted pyramid as follows:
- First, do one set of any given weight lifting exercise using the maximum weight that you can tolerable lift slowly (8-10 seconds per direction) for 4-8 reps. Your target muscle should be totally exhausted and unable to complete even one more rep. If you can last more than 8 reps, the weight was too light.
- Then, reduce the weight by 10-20%, and do another set of at least 4 reps – to muscle exhaustion
- Finally, reduce by another 10-20% and do a final set of 4 reps – to muscle exhaustion
By the end of this inverted pyramid your exercised muscles will be totally exhausted, but you will both reach the anaerobic state faster, and extend it for significantly longer, than almost any other possible training routine. You should be able to continue with a full course of additional exercises to exhaust different, complementary muscles. For those interested in a more intense version of the inverted pyramid, check out Martin Berkhans’ reverse pyramid protocol.
To summarize: slow cadence, high intensity training embodies four of the five principles of Hormetism: constraint, intensity, recovery and gradualism.”