When it comes to muscle growth, we often need to get creative with our training to maximize the results. Variety of the training variables is used not just because we are constantly searching for better ways to train, but also because it’s enjoyable.
Let’s face it: after doing the same thing for a while, it gets boring. Because of that, we lose motivation and enthusiasm and our training suffers.
Drop sets are a famous technique used by many to counter this issue. Because you can implement them in lots of different ways, they always feel new and challenging.
What are Drop Sets?
In short, drop setting is the act of performing a set with a given weight (to or almost near failure) and immediately dropping the load to continue doing repetitions. The idea is to increase the pump, strategically add more training volume and complete your workouts quicker.
According to some sources, drop sets were first introduced back in the 40s by Henry Atkins who referred to them as the “multi-poundage system.” Since then, this intensity technique has been known with many different names and has been expanded on.
How do Drop Sets Work?
The mechanics of drop sets work closely together with muscular failure. You see, when you lift a certain amount of weight for as many repetitions as you can, you reach muscular failure, but that’s not the whole story. The muscles at work reach relative failure, meaning they cannot produce enough force to lift that specific weight anymore. But, these same muscles may be able to lift less weight at that point.
For example, let’s say that you’re doing bench press with 225 pounds for a set of 6-10 repetitions. The 8th rep is difficult, the 9th is even tougher to get (almost to failure), and for the 10th rep, you might even need assistance from a spotter. You couldn’t get the 11th repetition (well, you could try but it would just be your spotter doing the work) and you’ve hit muscular failure.
That’s it for this set, right? No. This is where drop setting comes in. Since you’ve reached relative failure, you can still produce enough force to lift less weight for additional repetitions. You can then drop the weight to 205 or 185 pounds and crank out a few extra reps.
You see, in a single straight set to (or near) failure, you recruit a certain amount of muscle fibers. But, by stripping away some weight and continuing to perform extra reps, you recruit additional muscle fibers, cause more muscle damage and metabolic stress.
This, in turn, helps you add more training volume to your workouts, do it time-efficiently, build more muscle and strength in the process.
There are many ways to perform drop sets with the most popular one being the classic style. Very simple to follow and if you’ve never performed any type of drop sets before, this is where you should start.
Do a set of an exercise, then immediately strip between 10 and 50% of the load and continue until you reach muscle failure. You can do this with a barbell (strip sets), dumbbells or, most conveniently, with machines.