To build muscle size, we first need to break down our muscle fibres from high amounts of stress which is placed upon them during resistance training.
After a few weeks training in the gym, it is easy for progress to slow down, or halt completely. These 'plateaus' can be overcome by using new techniques which shock our muscles into adapting stronger and bigger. Drop sets are an advanced training technique which may be the very thing you need to take your training to the next level and increase hypertrophy.
Drop sets have been used by bodybuilders for over 60 years and there’s a reason why; they stimulate massive amounts of muscle growth.
So what is a Drop set?
This is when you perform an exercise to failure and then quickly reduce the weight so as to achieve more repetitions than you would have achieved using the starting weight. You can even reduce the load by switching to a resistance band variation of the same exercise.
Repping out a normal set to failure pushes your body hard to achieving the desired repetitions and in turn breaks down muscle fibres so they can repair and grow bigger. The beauty about using drop sets in your training is that you can keep working the target muscle for longer which ultimately recruits more muscle fibres to break down and more growth!
For example, when doing seated dumbbell presses for 12 reps, you may struggle to get the last few reps up, but to achieve a 13th rep, your body just isn’t able to. This is known as true failure where you push your body to its absolute limit...or did you? Here is where the drop set comes in; by reducing the dumbbells by around 15-20% and continuing to rep until another failure point, you’ll be breaking down untouched muscle fibres and making huge gains.
How to use Drop sets for muscle growth.
Drop sets can be applied to any body part to promote muscle gain such as; glutes, legs, back, shoulders or chest. The method can be used in many different ways, including the use of machines and bodyweight methods to ‘finish off’ the target muscle.
Here are our tried and tested, top 5 ways to use drop sets in your workouts:
- Zero rest drop sets
Changing weight between sets is time consuming and allows your muscles to rest. By picking a selection of drop set weights before you start the exercise you’ll be able to pick up the next immediately thus keeping the stress on your muscles. Aim to reduce the weight by around 25% after each set. Once you have completed two drop sets, try switching a barbell or dumbbell for a resistance band to get the last out of the working muscle group.
Zero rest kick back drop set for glutes:
- Complete cable kick backs for 12 reps until failure using ankle straps.
- Reduce weight and complete 10 reps until failure
- Switch the cable machine for a glute band and complete reps until failure, as shown below. We recommend a L1 or Large size for the best range of motion.
- Machine drop sets
Frowned upon by much of the fitness world, weights machines are awesome when used in conjunction with drop sets. Let’s say you’re performing a bench press and fail at the 10th rep, reduce the weight and fail on the 8th rep, jumping on a chest press machine for the third stage of the set will ensure your pectorals are still being pushed to the limit but without risking using bad form.
- Drop sets with rest pauses
After each failure point, aim to rest for 10 seconds before reducing the poundage instead of immediately picking up the next. You’ll find you can manage a heavier weight when dropping set which will really push your muscles to cope with a very small weight reduction.
- Ascending drop sets
Pick three rep failure points and three different weights for this one. For example with barbell squats aim to increase the repetitions each time you drop the weight (e.g. 8 reps on 100kg, 16 reps on 75kg, 24 reps on 50 kg). A brutal method, don’t be put off if you cannot achieve your desired rep range for the 2nd and 3rd stages - you are simply aiming to ‘fail’ at a higher rep range than the previous stage.
- Final set drop sets / Last exercise drop sets
Performing drop sets for every part / set in your session would arguably be overtraining. This is why it is important to use the method at the right time in each workout. Using a drop set on the 4th and final set of sumo deadlifts for example would be a great way of finishing off the exercise pushing your glutes and legs to their limit. Similarly saving the drop set method for the last exercise in the workout (for all of the sets for this exercise) would be upping the ante whilst being smart not to over train.
Try adding drop sets at some stage in each of your weekly weights sessions over the next 4 weeks. Check out our accessories including; olympic barbell pads, durable ankle straps and heavy resistance bands to support your fitness journey.