• Gain Muscle with Drop Sets

First devised in 1947 by Henry Atkins; drop sets are a technique when you exercise with a high weight until muscle exhaustion, then you continue to exercise with a lower weight without taking a rest until muscle failure occurs again, then you drop down to an even lower weight and continue the exercise again.

Drop sets can be performed with free weights or weight machines, and is best used when the gym isn't busy. You will need to have at least four different sets of dumbbells or plates to yourself to workout effectively, so you don't want to be seen as a weight hog.

Benefits of drop sets

By training at high intensity using drop sets, you will achieve a deeper muscle workout than by training with your regular sets and reps. Using more of your muscle fibres during drop sets will improve your muscle stamina and also hypertrophy (growing larger muscles). That's why bodybuilders prefer drop sets - because they're decidedly geared towards increasing muscle size.

Using drop sets to shake up your normal workout programme will increase the intensity of your workout and make your muscles work harder than normal. This will result in more muscle soreness than you would normally have after a workout, therefore you must use drop set training sparingly, and allow your muscles to fully recover from the deeper workout before using the technique again. You want to stimulate the muscles to grow larger and not to over-train them.

When going through your regular exercise programme you may perform a set of reps and reach muscle failure. But in actual fact you have not reached total muscle failure, only failure to lift that particular weight any longer. You will only use a certain number of muscle fibres necessary to lift that weight, so by dropping down to a lower weight and continuing to perform repetitions, you will recruit even more muscle fibres to continue the work.

Use drop sets to stimulate those deep muscle fibres that rarely get used during a single set of reps, and you will encourage more muscle growth.

Drop set examples

There are a number of ways to perform drop sets, and this intense training technique need not be limited to dumbbells and barbells only. Put simply, you perform a set of any exercise until you cannot squeeze out another rep, drop some weight and carry on pushing out more repetitions with the reduced weight.

Biceps curls: You do your curls with 40 kilograms for one set of 10-12 repetitions. You find the last two or three reps are really difficult to perform, and it takes all your effort to squeeze out that last one. Immediately remove some weight from the bar, about twenty percent (ish) and keep pumping out those biceps curls until you can do no more. Remove more weight, and repeat until muscle failure.

Weight machines can be easier – especially if you are not training with a partner who can help strip weights from your barbell and dumbbells. You can easily drop down the weight stack by moving the pin to a lighter weight, usually while you are still in position, for example when using a leg press machine. This will make weight changes much quicker for you and help to increase the intensity of your drop sets because there will be less time taken between performing the sets.

Changing your grip or foot position during drop sets can also help to hit muscles from different angles and isolate muscle groups in a different way. For example, perform the first set of leg presses with your feet positioned in the middle of the foot plate, drop the weight and perform the next set with your feet positioned wider, drop the weight and move your feet higher up the foot plate for the next set.

Give drop sets a try when you're experienced enough to use them, use them sparingly and you will be sure to benefit from this simple high-intensity boost to your workout.

Boring disclaimer warning

This article was written by a Muscle Mayhem staff member. The information on this site is provided in good faith. Consult with your doctor before starting any exercise program. All opinions expressed on this site are our own. Always seek professional advice before engaging in any physical activity or diet.