Most of the gym going population doesn’t want to deadlift 600 lbs: they want to feel better, look good nekkid, get a deadly set of “guns.” I get it.
Like any strength coach, I believe that unless you are a professional bodybuilder, you first need a solid base of functional strength and mobility before stepping into the realm of aesthetics.
For those of you who have overall goals of health, wellness, and building muscle, smart programming with the addition of some well-placed bodybuilding tricks like drop sets will go a long way. If that’s the place you’re in right now, adding drop sets to your workout might be just what you’re looking for.
What is A Drop Set?
A drop set, also known as a strip set or “running the rack,” is a clever bodybuilding technique that allows the lifter to continue an exercise set past fatigue by using lower weight, less reps, or a similar exercise. The sole goal of this type of method is muscular hypertrophy a.k.a. “getting swole” or obtaining a serious “pump”.
You can perform drop sets with almost any piece of equipment but done typically with barbells, dumbbells, or plate loaded machines (where it is easy to lower the pin). Ugh, yes I said machines but let me explain! Drop sets can be performed at different tempos ( i.e. you are adjusting the amount of rest periods) but to keep the muscle fatigued, it’s best to strip the weight at a fast pace. This is why using a machine for drop sets may be a viable option although, in my opinion, they are not the most efficient or healthiest exercise selection.
A small amount of controversy surrounds the efficacy of this technique as some state that they are no better than conventional sets. I did come across a few studies such as1 this one in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning that claim the use of specialized training techniques do in fact increase muscle hypertrophy. More studies need to be done, but for now utilizing this training can’t hurt!
Types of Drop Sets
Because no strict guideline to performing drop sets exists, many variations have been created. You’ll find below a number of common variations you can experiment with to keep your training from getting stale:
I’m sure that many of these definitions can be debated but I hope you get the general idea. Feel free to experiment try some variation of your own!
When and How To Use A Drop Set
No matter how cool it would be to run around like a maniac and use drop sets for every exercise, I recommend saving them for your accessory exercises or smaller muscle groups at the end of a workout. It is very important to train using the challenging exercises first while you are fresh.
After all, working out should be fun! Adding a little excitement and intensity to your workout is a fun way to keep you motivated!
An example would be to start an upper body workout with the bigger compound movements such as a bench press or overhead press for your normal sets and reps followed by smaller accessory exercises such as dumbbell rows, such as below:
Sample Upper Body Workout:
A) Bench Press 5×5
B1) Pullups 3×6-8
B2) Pushups 3×12
C) Dumbbell Row Drop Set 3×8 + drop
-drop 5lbs after each set and perform 6-8 reps with little to no rest
D1) External Rotation or other prehab work
D2) Plank or other core exercise
Other Drop Set Considerations
As I mentioned before, this type of training is aimed solely at muscular hypertrophy making it perfect for aesthetic training such as bodybuilding. However if you are an endurance athlete or regularly participate in other sports, additional hypertrophy can hinder performance.
Also, drop sets will definitely jack up the intensity of a workout, making it a surefire way to overtrain and/or cause an injury while training. I can’t stress enough how important it is to listen to your body, especially when using more intense exercise techniques.
Now go ahead and add a drop set or two to your routine and make sure to start with a lower weight to see how your body reacts. Let me know what you think and make sure to post questions and comments below!
- Schoenfeld, B. The Use of Specialized Training Techniques to Maximize Muscle Hypertrophy . Strength & Conditioning Journal:
August 2011 – Volume 33 – Issue 4 – pp 60-65. ↩