If you train to maximize your muscle size or get ripped, you will soon find out that a lot of methods work but nothing works forever. The basic approach 3 sets x 10 repetitions or 4 sets x 8 repetitions you are doing since you were a student probably stopped giving results since you graduated high school. This is the reason why professional bodybuilders start modifying every part of the training puzzle – increase weigh, training volume, change of exercises – at one point you will surely find out what works for you. Thus workouts become more difficult but much more beneficial. There are multiple principles and methods, which can be combined in different ways in order to avoid adaptation and after proper recovery, improve the shape and the results.
One of these methods is the so called “drop set workouts”. In a typical weightlifting workout, you lift until your muscles can no longer handle the load, which is called muscle failure. However, once you hit muscle failure in a drop set, you continue to do some more sets of the same exercise with a lighter weight despite your weakness. This method is for advanced fitness athletes who are aware of their abilities and know which exercises they can count on.
What is the effect from doing drop sets?
Doing drop sets is a simple process of reducing the working weight when you get tired. For example, if you have done biceps curls with dumbbells 20 kg and your maximum is 8 reps, immediately after continue with reps with dumbbells 15 kg and do as many as possible, then reduce weight to 12 kg and do reps to failure. This is a double drop set as weight has been reduced twice. You can reduce weight, as many times as you want but two – three drop sets is normal.
Which exercises are suitable for drop sets?
Not every exercise is good for a drop set. As reduction of weight should be done quickly, in the ideal situation with a pause of not more than 5 secs, it is extremely important to pick up the right exercises. Exercises on machines and with dumbbells are more suitable as the exercises with barbell need more time to remove the weight. Mechanics is the other key factor, which makes an exercise easy or difficult. Fitness expert John Romaniello introduces MADS – Mechanical Advantage Drop Sets or drop sets with mechanical advantage. Here what you change is not the work load but the positional adjustments of increasing or decreasing leverage. As an example, you probably notice that it is easier for you to perform a bench press with a lower incline and harder to perform it with a higher incline. As you increase the incline, muscular leverage changes unfavorably, as does recruitment (more shoulders, less chest in this case) and so the exercise becomes harder. To set this up into a MA drop set, you would start the chest press at a high incline, work to failure/fatigue and then drop the incline a bit. With each successive set, you wind up being able to perform despite being fatigue because you are stronger in that position than you were in the previous one. This principle can be applied to every body part and almost all exercises. For example, mechanical advantage drop set of pull-ups by changing hand and arm positioning from the weakest (wide spacing, overhand grip) to ones that are more mechanically advantageous, ending with the strongest (moderate spacing, neutral grip) – you will be able to perform more reps with each change, even though it is obvious that you have gone to failure on the previous set.
What are the benefits from drop sets?
Drop sets are excellent for de-adaptation and increase of intensity. When standard program does not work and you want progress, it is time to turn to this technique.
When is it better to use drop sets – for bulking or cutting?
What is interesting for this method is that it can be used for both periods. To my clients who are bulking but reached plateau, I recommend to include DS to the last set of every exercise in their workout.
For example if the set is: 12-10-8-6+DS3-4
This is two warming sets of 12 and 10 reps and after that two working sets, 8 reps at 85%. Load and 6 reps to total failure and after that without any rest remove 20% of the load and reach another failure within 3-4 reps. Thus you do two failures during anaerobic/alactic energy, which is necessary for muscle hypertrophy.
If your aim is to clean, get ripped, achieve better muscle separation and depth your DS technique will look like this: 15-12-10-8+DS15-20. This means that after 8 reps to failure, you reduce load with 50%, continue the exercise and within 15-20 reps you include glucose as an energy source.
Can we combine drop sets with other methods and principles?
Drop sets are quite exhausting and in no case should be underestimated. If they are done properly and with total mobilization, they make the muscle fail. Advanced athletes and those with perfect recovery can combine them with other methods; for example super sets with included drop sets. They can be combined also with methods with slow negative part, force reps, partial reps, etc. But this is for people with high pain threshold and enormous focus.
DS is one of my favourite methods. In the next articles, I will pay attention to other methods, which I prefer, use and recommend to those who want to avoid adaptation and achieve better results.