Looking to take your training up a notch?
You can strategically employ various resistance training techniques, including rest-pause training and pyramid training, to intensify your workouts and deliver better results.
One popular approach in the bodybuilding circuit is called a drop set, and you may want to consider it if muscle gain is your goal.
What is a drop set?
A drop set is an advanced resistance training technique in which you focus on completing a set until failure — or the inability to do another repetition.
Then, you lighten the load by 10–30%, and repeat, with little to no rest in between sets. The goal is to maximize potential muscle gain.
It would look something like this:
If you’re completing a bicep curl drop set, you’d follow this setup:
- Set 1. Do 6–8 reps.
- Set 2. Drop weight by 10–30%, do 10–12 reps.
- Set 3. Drop weight again by 10–30%, do 12–15 reps.
You’d start with a heavy load, one in which you can only complete 6–8 reps. Let’s say that’s 20-pound (9-kg) dumbbells.
You’d do 8 reps of bicep curls with 20-pound dumbbells, then 10–12 reps with 15-pound (about 7-kg) dumbbells, then 12–15 reps with 12-pound (about 5.5-kg) dumbbells. You’d take little to no rest between sets.
Paying attention to your form during each rep is always important, but it’s especially key during a drop set when you’re working to fatigue. This can help prevent injuries.
Benefits of performing drop sets
Drop sets are an effective way to promote muscle hypertrophy, or gains in muscle size, and muscular endurance. They also help if you’re working out under a time crunch.
Promote muscle growth
A 2018 study compared two groups of participants during a 6-week resistance training protocol. One group completed three sets of conventional resistance training exercises, and the other group completed a single drop set.
Researchers found that the group that completed drop set training showed superior muscle gains, most likely due to higher stress on the muscles (1Trusted Source).
Drop sets promote muscle gain by fully fatiguing all muscle fibers in a specific muscle. When you train a set to failure, you’re fatiguing all of your smaller muscle fibers.
By then dropping the load and immediately asking your body to perform another set, it’s forced to recruit your larger fast-twitch muscle fibers as well. This can promote more muscle growth than a conventional set could.
Build muscular endurance
Muscular endurance is defined as your muscles’ ability to exert force over and over again. In simpler terms, it’s how many reps you can complete.
One study in 9 untrained young men found that single drop set training, which was measured by maximum repetitions at 30% one rep max (1RM), increased muscular endurance. This held true even with less training time than typical resistance exercise protocols (2Trusted Source).
That means that even with less training time, drop sets can help increase your muscular endurance.
Be efficient with time
Because there’s minimal rest involved in a drop set, you’ll be able to complete the sets of each exercise in less time than if you were to do the same number of conventional sets.
And although there are proven benefits to drop sets, they should not be incorporated into every set, or too frequently in your overall training regimen.
When done correctly, this training approach is very demanding on the body. Training to failure has been shown to elevate levels of the nucleotide adenosine monophosphate (AMP), compared with training to non-failure.
Elevated levels of AMP indicate that a cell’s energy level has been compromised, which causes protein synthesis — or muscle growth — to decrease (3Trusted Source).
How to use drop sets to build muscle
If you want to utilize drop sets to build muscle, there are a few things to keep in mind to maximize your training:
- Prepare for your set by lining up your dumbbells (or a barbell and plates) within reach. This will minimize downtime and thus maximize time under tension, or the amount of time your muscles are continuously working. This will optimize potential muscle gain.
- Be strategic about when you incorporate drop sets into your workout. Choose one exercise per workout, one time per week, to prevent overtraining.
- Only consider this approach if you’ve been lifting weights for a while. Drop setting is a more advanced technique that’s normally used to break through plateaus or supercharge results. It isn’t necessary for beginners.
The bottom line
For an experienced lifter, drop sets can provide a way to break through a plateau while doing more work in less time and challenging your muscles in a more strenuous and different way.
Consider this technique if your routine needs a shakeup or you’re looking to maximize your results. Still, take care not to overtrain in the process — recovery is just as important as the workout itself.