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How To Add Drop Set Training To Your Workout

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:

  • Conventional Drop Set – this is the traditional way of starting with an exercise set and stripping or dropping the weight and continuing to “rep out” on the exercise.
  • Strict Drop Set – these are done by following your initial set by stripping the weight and performing each of the following sets with a determined amount of reps.
  • Post Fatigue Partials – instead of stripping the weight, you start with a generally lighter weight for a full set and once you start to feel fatigued, finish with partial or half reps. (remember: no bouncing!)
  • Rest-Pause – this is done by completing your set, taking a short rest and continuing with the same weight. This works great with heavy weight and low reps for strength training. Also known as “clusters”.
  • Mechanical Drop Set (a.k.a. Super Drop Set) – these are also done by continuing the set after fatigue but instead of stripping weight you just switch the exercise variation. E.G. bicep curls, reverse curls, hammer curls, etc.
  • The 6-20 Method – this is done using a heavier weight for six reps then cutting the weight in half and performing 20 more reps.
    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!

    Show 1 References

    1. Schoenfeld, B. The Use of Specialized Training Techniques to Maximize Muscle Hypertrophy . Strength & Conditioning Journal:
      August 2011 – Volume 33 – Issue 4 – pp 60-65.


    • Marc Perry, CSCS, CPT says:

      This is a solid article, Steve. I didn't know there were so many different types of drop set techniques. My favorite types of drop sets are running the rack when I'm pressed for time with exercises like DB Rows, or dropping the the weight 40% after a set of bench (DB, or barbell) and pushing out another 5-10 reps. Great way to get solid muscle stimulation and increase intensity in less time.

      • Steve says:

        Thanks Marc, sometimes you just gotta get your pump on ;)

      • Priscilla L. Martin says:

        Hello Marc. Thank you for sharing the article. I go with small changes and keeping a journal.

    • Peter says:

      Thank you for the article. It is an eye opener. But why is that drop sets are "aimed solely at muscular hypertrophy"?

      • Steve says:

        Hi Peter,

        Drop sets are typically done as a way to increase volume in a short period of time before fatigue sets in.

        If your goal is maximum strength you should lift heavy weights in the 3-5 rep range and take longer rests.

        Drop sets will beat your muscles into oblivion and will provide a better stimulus for muscular endurance and hypertrophy.

    • Zalaba says:

      Some guys were already doing a drop set without even knowing that:at the last set of 10 reps,last 4 reps u swing a bit to help yourself:)
      Great article anyway

    • Will says:

      I see that drop sets are shown here as mainly a hypertrophy tool, but what about using it for fat loss as in Lactic Acid Training?

      • Steve says:

        Any exercise can be debated to help lose fat (even though there are always better options than some) so yes, dropsets are included.

        Remember though, fatloss is made in the kitchen. Strength and fitness is made in the gym!

    • Steven says:

      Thanks for posting. My two issues with drop sets are : its tough to monitor progress when you are reducing weights and they are tough to perform in a crowded gym. I do like the intensity of running the rack and they seem to provide an amazing pump. Steven

      • Steve says:

        Don't worry about tracking progress on dropsets and use them sparingly in your training as something fun to do every once in a while.

    • August says:

      I kind of stumbled upon this technique on my own in an attempt to get my muscles to burn while lifting. Glad to see it's actually recognized as a useful technique!

    • john aouad says:

      wonderfull ..one of the best training strategy i have read..i am john,54 years old issa certified fitness trainer from beirut-lebanon. ..i advise everybody to try it...my body is used to react for the same exercises & programs all over the years so by marc drop set you surprise your body metabolism,your muscle fibers etc.i like this drop set program & i will repeat it once per week for a full muscles group program the next week another selected muscles group..etc.. using each week a different type of drop set..very interresting marc.a.great trainer

      • Steve says:

        Glad you liked the post John!