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Bodybuilders are always looking for new ways to get more gains from their workouts. If this sounds like you, one tool you can add to your arsenal is drop sets. A way to get a lot of intense volume in a short amount of time, drop sets can not only stimulate new growth themselves, but shock your system overall. Here’s a quick guide on what they are and how to use them.
Simply put, drop sets are when you grab a weight, do 10-12 reps in a row, reduce the weight roughly 20%, rep out again, reduce the weight another 20%, and rep out one more time. If you really want to push your limits, you’d reduce the weight by 20% and rep out one last time. Rest 75-90 seconds, and repeat 3-4x total.
As long as bodybuilders have been looking for ways to hack their way to new muscle growth, they’ve been using drop sets. This is because they’re a near perfect way to increase your intensity, continue working the muscle while it’s fatigued, and finish off a workout.
For muscle-building purposes, as you progress through a set, your reps become more beneficial. This is because fatigue builds with each successive rep, and you force the muscle to contract harder to move the weight. The problem is once you hit failure, you have to end your set because you simply can’t lift the weight any longer. By reducing the weight by 20% and continuing on, you allow the muscle to keep working in a super-fatigued state, which can lead to quicker muscle growth.
While this is definitely a highly effective method for blasting your way to new size, it needs to be used in moderation. If not, you definitely run the risk of straining a muscle from extended work in an overly fatigued condition. And because you’re pushing the intensity so hard, you could unknowingly stress your nervous system too much.
Your best bet is to use them for 1-2 exercises to end your workout and really finish blasting a muscle group. You only need to pick one exercise per individual body part, so choose wisely. For example, if you were doing a chest and triceps workout, you could do heavy barbell bench and dumbbell incline press. Then follow it up with bench dips and skull crushers. Finish off your workout with drop sets on cable crossovers for the chest and pushdowns for the triceps.
Whatever exercises you choose, you need to ensure that the weight can be reduced quickly. This may mean having a training partner nearby to help you strip off plates. If you’re using dumbbells, make sure you have multiple sets ready and waiting so you can put one set down and immediately pick up the next. And when using barbells, load your bar will multiple smaller plates so you can just slide one or two off each side every time you rep out. You don’t have time to be switching plates.
At the same time, because you’ll end up under so much fatigue by the end, be sure you’re keeping your form in check. Compound movements can still work well, but if a small muscle group fatigues too early, it can limit your performance and leave you open to injury. For example, barbell rows may fatigue the lower back early, whereas supported single arm dumbbell rows would be a much better option.
Here’s a list of exercises that would work well as drop sets:
|Leg Presses||Dumbbell/Barbell Chest Presses*||Lat Pulldowns|
|Leg Extensions||Cable Crossovers||Low Pulley/Machine Rows|
|Hamstring Curls||Flyes||Dumbbell Rows*|
|Standing Calf Raises|
|Machine Presses||Barbell Curls*||Cable Pushdowns|
|Lateral Raises||Dumbbell Curls*||Assisted Dips|
*Use a variation different than any heavy work you did earlier in your workout.
The goal with reducing the weight every time you rep out is to make the exercise easier so you can keep working. An alternative you can use is what’s called “mechanical drop sets”. With these, you use the same weight, but make things easier by switching from a harder variation of an exercise to an easier one.
The example of this you’ve seen the most often is doing skull crushers to failure, then immediately repping out on close grip bench presses with the same EZ-curl bar. Some might consider this a “superset”, but because you’re repping out on one, then the other, it’s really a mechanical drop set.
Another example could be to do close grip bench press with a straight bar until failure, rack it, take a wider grip (which you’ll be stronger with), then rep out again. Any time you can transition from one exercise immediately into the other with the same implement and weight, it’ll work.
If you’re looking for a way to stimulate new muscle growth quickly, consider adding drop sets to your routine. They’re fast, simple, highly effective, and a great way to shock your system into putting on new size. They easily allow for completely new levels of intensity in your workouts, and all but force your muscles to get bigger.