Drop Sets, Pick Up Gains

A drop set is a great way to increase muscle mass as it’s a quick and easy way to increase blood flow into the muscles, get the heart pumping and most importantly of all fatiguing the muscles to ensure muscle hypertrophy.

Photo: Kurt Stenberg/Flickr

Photo: Kurt Stenberg/Flickr

Originally named ‘the multi poundage system’ by their inventor Henry Atkins in 1947, it is easy to see why drop sets caught on and equally easy to see why the name did not!

A fantastic way to increase muscle mass, drop sets are utilised by some of the top bodybuilders in the world. They are the perfect exercise to fatigue the muscle, increase blood flow and get a fascia-bursting pump. Hypertrophy seekers swear by the drop set, but what exactly are they and how do you perform them?

What is a drop set?

Simply, a drop set is a weightlifting technique whereby you perform an exercise to failure, then drop the weight or resistance, and continue for more repetitions.

Sounds exhausting right? It is! That is because they are geared towards building muscles size, and hypertrophy is not easy! There are various forms of drop set, including; supersets, giant sets, negatives and partials. There are also wide drops, tight drops, the 6-20method and much more. It is a case of shocking the muscle into growth and keeping these muscles on their toes, so to speak.

Who does drop sets?

As already mentioned, drop sets are a favourite amongst bodybuilders because they are purely focussed on aesthetics and cosmetic improvements. This type of athlete will be concerned with adding muscle to certain parts of their body to grow and perfect their symmetry.

You will be hard pressed to find an athlete, or somebody who is focused on strength and athletic performance, performing drop sets because they are not functional. These athletes will look to increase strength and speed rather than pure mass.

Drop sets should come with a disclaimer or a warning – they are not for the faint-hearted. In order to use such an intense lifting technique and train past failure, there is a pain threshold you must break through. In order to break this pain barrier you must be mentally prepared. This is why drop sets are sometimes avoided – they are not for everyone. The term ‘feel the burn’ comes to mind. But as legendary bodybuilder Arnold Schwarzenegger said in Pumping Iron: “there is no feeling like the pump.”

Drop Sets Explained

With such a variety of drop sets available, it is a good idea to familiarise yourself with a few different variations. You must vary your training in order to avoid hitting a plateau and having a number of drop sets in your arsenal is a great way to do that.

Some great drop set variations are:

  • The 6-20 method – lift heavy for 6 reps, then slash the weight in half and perform 20 additional reps.

  • Wide drop – this is where you use a 30% weight reduction every drop and multiple drops can be included.

  • Tight drop – this is the same as a wide drop but with a 10-25% drop in weight

  • Power drop sets – this is effectively a drop set where the rep range for each set stays extremely low, never over 6.

  • Descending drop set – this is where 12-8-4-2 reps are performed respectively.

  • Superset – a superset is a drop set including two exercises. For example, EZ-bar bicep curls to failure, then a drop set of dumbbell preacher curls. Alternatively, this method can be used to target antagonistic muscle pairs. For example, leg curls to failure (targeting the hamstrings), then a drop set of leg extensions (targeting the quads).

As mentioned, drop sets aren’t for everybody. However, they are ideal for those with the determination and strength of mind to push past the pain.

About the author: 

This article was written by Joe Hurley, a senior writer at HFE, the personal trainer course specialists. 

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