How To Do Drop Sets: A Beginner’s Guide

Barbell Curls Drop Sets

Table of Contents

 

Are you looking to break through your muscle growth plateau?

 

Would you be interested in experimenting with a workout technique that can get your blood pumping and help you build bigger muscles? 

 

If you answered yes to the above questions, you’re in the right place, my friend!

 

I have the perfect workout technique called Drop Sets to help you train your muscles till failure.

 

While it’s a familiar technique, only some dare to experiment.

 

I’ll tell you everything you need to know about drop sets, their types, benefits, the exercises to include how you can enjoy bigger muscles, and much more.

 

Without any further ado, let’s get right to it!

 

What Is A Drop Set?

A drop set is an intense training technique made famous in the 1980s by Joe Weider magazines and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding.

 

In this intensity technique, you work out for as many reps as possible, drop the weights a little, and repeat the exercise for as long as possible. This cycle repeats until you reach minimum weights or have entirely exhausted your muscles.

 

Many people perform one regular set, then drop the weights, continue to complete another 2-3 sets, and then hit muscle failure. Whereas others may continue to perform until they cannot repeat the exercise with proper form, even if it means doing 5 to 6 sets

 

When you train your muscles, two things happen: first, you tear the muscle fiber, and second, you pump more blood to your muscles.

 

When you perform drop sets, you’re ripping through every muscle fiber, which means you are doing the maximum muscle damage. Simultaneously, you’re pumping more nutrient-dense blood to the damaged area, helping it to recover. 

 

Drop sets are more of a training technique that is opted for by physique athletes interested in reshaping their bodies and building lean muscle mass since they compete on the body’s physical appearance and posing abilities.

 

They opt for it because drop sets are a great way to build bigger muscles and shape your body.

 

Types Of Drop Sets

Now that the basic definition and characteristics of a drop set are clear let’s get a bit technical and learn about the various types of drop sets: 

Traditional drop set

The traditional drop set is what we just discussed. After ending each set, you repeat the sets with minimal rest and drop the weights by 10-20 pounds each time. 

 

To clarify the concept further, here is how to do traditional drop sets for bicep curls:

 

Lift a pair of dumbbells weighing 40 pounds and start performing bicep curls. Once you’ve done your regular 8 reps, you stop and put the weights back.

 

Now, rest for a minute or two, lift 30-pound dumbbells, and start doing bicep curls again till you’ve hit your regular mark of 8 reps.

 

Take a minute, rest, put down the weights, and now pick up 20 pounds. Even though 20 pounds is a dumbbell weight that you consider doing your warm-up with, it will now feel equal to or more than 40-pound dumbbells.

 

This is because you are hitting your max, and your muscles are on fire. Perform 8 reps like before and put away the weights, marking an end to your drop set workout.

 

Even though you can still attempt to perform more in theory, if you’re unable to maintain the correct posture and movement, you’re feeling your muscles pumping and burning; you have hit your maximum for the day, and it’s time to stop because you have performed your regular three sets of 8 reps reasonably quickly.

 

Mechanical Drop Set

The second kind of drop set is the mechanical drop set. Here, you do not drop the weights; instead, you perform another exercise without taking a break. This switch between exercises gives you a mechanical advantage, allowing you to keep training with the same amount of weights.

 

Confused? Don’t worry; I’ll explain exactly how to do a mechanical drop set. 

 

For example, you’re performing lateral raises and training your shoulders. You’re doing it with 40-pound dumbbells and have reached your muscle fatigue point. Instead of stopping and dropping weights, you will start doing dumbbell upright rows. 

 

Switching between these exercises allowed you to change your hand movements slightly while still targeting your arms.

 

Since you shifted from lateral raises to upright rows, you got a mechanical advantage because you’ve shortened your arm movement while still being able to train your shoulders using the same weights.

 

This means you just performed drop sets for muscle growth because the more significant the muscle pump and the heavier the weights, the greater muscle growth will be.

 

Running The Rack

Running the rack drop sets means that you’re going to keep training without any rests, and either you’re going to keep increasing the weights after every set or keep decreasing. Usually, this drop set is ideal for exercises that target a single muscle, but you can also do a drop set for compound movements.

 

Here is how to do a drop set targeting a single muscle while following the increasing variant of running the rack.

 

You are at the gym, ready to perform a drop set, and have decided to perform bicep curls. It is a simple workout that targets your biceps solely. 

 

You start lifting lightweight dumbbells that are comfortable to exercise and do a single set of 10 reps. Once done, you immediately go for dumbbells heavier than the previous ones and start doing a set of 10 reps again. 

 

You keep repeating the cycle until you can no longer lift heavier weights or perform the bicep curl without cheating on the posture or the number of reps. 

 

After this, you have two options: stop the workout and mark your finish line, or continue performing bicep curls and start decreasing the weights. 

 

Another variation of running the rack drop set is to perform each set with a dumbbell until you fail to lift the weights anymore, and instead of stopping, you lift even heavier weights but reduce the number of reps. 

 

For example, you will lift the heaviest pair and perform your 8 reps. Pick even more heavier weights, hit 6 reps, and continue the cycle until you reach the failure point for every set.

 

Rear Back Drop Sets

Recommended Read: >>> Arnold Back Workout: How to Make Your Back Huge! <<<

How Do Drop Sets Work For Muscle Hypertrophy?

Looking at the various types of drop sets, you must wonder how exhausting and tearing up muscle fibers end up helping you build bigger muscles or muscle hypertrophy.

 

Well, here is a detailed answer to clear up all your confusion.

 

When you exercise and lift heavy weights, you are exhausting your muscles and using their energy, which marks small tears in your muscle fibers.

 

These are the good kinds of tears that get repaired once the body pumps the nutrient-dense blood into them. This is how your muscles and body prepare to lift even heavier weights and get stronger.

 

The drop sets exhausts the muscles in two ways: 

 

  1. Mechanical fatigue

  2. Metabolic fatigue.

     

Mechanical Fatigue

Mechanical fatigue occurs when the muscle fibers get exhausted and torn because you are training with heavy weights. The cells repair the damaged muscle protein, resulting in a unique reaction where the muscle fibers grow more robust and thicker than before. 

 

Isn’t that precisely what you wanted from your training?

 

Metabolic Fatigue 

Metabolic fatigue occurs when you train your muscles with the mechanical drop set technique. This extremely demanding technique takes away all the energy from the muscles, leaving them exhausted and burnt out, unable to perform even one more rep. 

 

The lactic acid damages the muscle fibers, but the stored glycogen helps you build bigger and thicker muscles.

 

Benefits Of Drop Sets 

Looking at all the above information, it may seem that all drop sets do is help you build bigger muscles, but here is a twist. Drop sets come with more benefits than just helping you build muscles.

Increased Muscle Fiber Activation

Compared to regular sets, when you perform the drop sets, your body increases the muscle fiber activation, and you can push your muscles to fatigue even with lighter weights. 

 

To understand the concept of increased muscle fiber activation, let’s divide the muscle fibers into two categories: type I muscle fibers are the resistant and tough fibers, and type II muscle fibers are the stronger ones.

 

The Type I muscles generate greater force when used and sustain activity for longer durations. Whereas the type II muscle fibers are the strong ones, can create a lot of energy when need be, and are excellent at performing activities that require a burst of power, such as lifting heavy weights.

 

When you perform drop sets, which require lifting heavy weights, you are first exhausting your type II muscle fibers. Unfortunately, type II muscle fibers cannot produce the same energy and force for long durations; therefore, they get exhausted. 

 

Since the drop sets require you to keep training, the type I muscle fibers come to action and start performing the exercise and help you finish out your reps as they can sustain for longer durations.

 

Less Time Consuming 

One drop set benefit is saving up on time spent at the gym. If you practice drop sets correctly, you will understand the intensity they bring to your gym routine and how quickly they can exhaust your muscles. 

 

You will train harder for short durations but achieve more significant muscle growth. 

 

Isn’t that amazing? 

 

Increased Muscle Growth

When you do drop sets to train your muscles, you engage them in more challenging workouts and longer durations, causing damage to the muscle fibers. The muscle fibers grow thicker and more robust to repair muscle fiber damage and prepare for heavier lifting, resulting in muscle hypertrophy.

Helps Break Through Muscle Growth Plateau 

Encountering a muscle growth plateau is nothing new, especially in bodybuilding. If you are also in the same boat, practicing drop sets can help you break through these plateaus to grow bigger muscles.

 

Drop sets challenge your workout routine, forcing your muscles to train harder for longer. The extra effort your muscles are forced to put in helps you break through the growth plateaus and wake them up to start preparing for the coming challenges. 

 

Are Drop Sets Good For Strength Training? 

Drop sets are for hypertrophy, not for strength training. When building strength, you must give rests to your muscles for precisely longer than 2 minutes. Unfortunately, drop sets do the opposite.

 

When training with drop sets, your goal is mainly to build bigger muscles and shape your body. This is because you are exhausting your muscles until they fail to perform further.

 

While these little breaks may get you bigger and powering up for future challenges, they are not gaining any strength. You might even risk injuries because exhausted muscles do not let you concentrate on your posture.

 

On the other hand, when you are strength training and resting for more than 2 minutes, you use only your type II muscle fibers with short bursts of energy to help you train for small periods.

 

When you give them time to recover from the workout, you allow time for your muscles to regain their power and enable you to lift heavier weights in a controlled manner without risking posture or injuries.

 

Therefore, you need strength training if your goal is to build strength. While drop sets will help you with muscle hypertrophy, they will not help you gain strength.

 

Drop Set Physique

Strategies For Adding Drop Sets To Your Workout 

Drop sets are a very demanding technique to build hypertrophy, and while it may be one of the most rewarding ways to gain muscle quickly, it can lead to overtraining and halting your growth in just a few reps.

 

So, when should you use drop sets, and how many drop sets should be done per workout to help you build muscles while preventing you from halting your progress?

 

A few strategies will help you answer all your questions.

 

Selecting Exercises

Drop sets are excellent for hypertrophy, and while they are great for isolation exercises, you can also try and use the drop set technique for compound exercises.

 

Drop sets are considered more appropriate for workouts that can be done using dumbbells or kettlebells, such as dumbbell bicep curls, lateral raises, dumbbell flies, etc. You can easily switch weights without giving your muscles much time to rest and keep them under pressure.

 

If you use the drop set technique for barbell exercises, you must get off the bench, change the weight plates, lay back down on the bench, and resume the workout session.

 

This switching will take longer, give your muscles too much rest for a proper drop set technique, and ruin all the metabolic stress you put on them.

 

Number of Drops

Now that you have the answer to your question of when to use the drop sets, here is the answer to your second part: how many drop sets per workout?

 

While the drop set numbers usually are one, two, and three drops, you can continue going beyond three sets, depending on the weight you start the training with and your ability to keep training, but it’s recommended to stay within three sets. 

 

This is because going beyond three sets does not have any evidence of generating more benefits for the individual, and you will end up tiring out your muscles and compromising their recovery time.

 

Reducing Weights

The third point when it comes to using drop sets in your workouts is the reduction of weights as you go along your drop set training session. Even though there is no specific number of weight reduction you must follow in your training, many studies have suggested a decrease of 20% of the weight each time.

 

If you perform compound workouts, you must reduce the weights by more than 5%; otherwise, the reduction would be meaningless. 

 

Resting Time

The resting period when using the drop set technique is supposed to be minimal. We keep the rest time low because it allows you to keep the muscles under metabolic pressure, efficiently engaging type I and type II fibers and tiring out your muscles. 

 

The rest time you need in the drop set technique is only when switching weights to maintain metabolic pressure, which cannot be two minutes or more.

 

Bicep Drop Set Muscles

Drop Set Workout Examples

If you still need clarification about what a drop set workout would look like, here is a drop set example that you can follow.

 

If you’re training your biceps and opt for bicep curls exercise using your dumbbell, you will lift weights you are comfortable with and can perform 8-10 reps. Once you have completed the first set, you drop the weights by 20% and immediately lift the next dumbbells until failure. 

 

Now that you are down by two sets, you will drop the weights by another 20% and immediately lift the third pair until failure again. You will repeat this drop and lift cycle for 3-5 sets.

 

Similarly, you can perform hammer curls, tricep extensions, or even lateral raises using dumbbells or kettlebells and follow the same cycle of dropping weights by 20% each time. If you want to avoid the hassle of calculating 20% each time, the easiest way is to go for the run-the-rack drop set technique.

 

Here, all you have to do is start with the heavy weight you can perform 8-10 reps with and keep going a pair lighter each time you complete a set and lift till failure. 

 

Tips For A Safe Drop Set Workout routine

While performing workouts using the drop set technique is very simple, there are a few tips you need to be aware of to train your muscles to hypertrophy safely. 

Warm-up Properly

Performing a warm-up is crucial before training. Warm-ups help you get your joints moving and blood pumping so you don’t risk getting injured.

 

If you’re performing the drop set workout at the start of the training session, you need to warm up your body for the intense workout it will perform ahead. 

 

Unless you do the drop sets at the end of the workout, your body is already warmed up, and you don’t need to do a separate warm-up session.

Perform Drop Sets At The End Of Workouts

One major tip when doing drop sets for mass building is to save the drop set workout for the end. When you perform a drop set at the end, your muscles are already pumped up enough that you can quickly start doing the drop set without having to perform a warm-up.

 

Moreover, since it’s your last workout for the day, you can easily give in to the workout’s demands and burn out your muscles without worrying about performing another exercise.

 

Train With A Partner

Drop sets training requires you to exhaust your muscles to failure and give as few gaps between sets as possible. Exercising with a partner who can help you grab on to the next pair of weights quickly can instantly reduce the rest time, so you can keep your muscles pumping and under metabolic stress at all times.

Don’t Lift Too Fast

One thing that is common for all training is to lift slowly. Lifting too fast means giving in the momentum and not performing controlled workouts, which will not help build muscles. 

 

Drop sets require you to do as many reps as possible, not as fast as possible. You can even exhaust your muscles by performing just 6-7 reps of a particular workout, and if you’re propelling your movements with momentums, you are not exhausting them the way you should.

 

Limiting Drop Sets Everyday

Should I do drop sets for every exercise? Is this question tingling your mind? Well, the answer is no. You should not do drop sets for every workout or every day. 

 

Performing drop sets for every workout and every day will quickly get you to overtraining and not giving your muscles sufficient rest to recover, which will lead to halting your muscle growth.

 

If you’re a beginner, doing drop sets once or twice a week is sufficient, and you will see the desired results.

 

Closing thoughts

Drop sets are a muscle-building technique that can help you build muscle hypertrophy. In the drop set technique, you train your muscles till failure and use metabolic and mechanical fatigue to pressurize your muscles and build greater muscle fiber.

 

Like everyone has different fitness goals and approaches, drop sets are only for some. Try and experiment with the different drop-set technique variants and adapt to the one that suits you best.

 

While drop sets are excellent for muscle hypertrophy, they are not made for gaining strength and are adapted to break through your muscle growth plateaus or by physical athletes.

 

If you choose to practice drop sets, it is essential to take safety measures of warming up saving drop sets for the last, especially not practicing drop sets every day in every workout, to prevent overtraining and halting your muscle growth. 

 

FAQs

What is drop set resistance training?

Drop set resistance training is an advanced training technique where, after performing a set of a resistance exercise to failure, the weight is reduced to allow for more reps until failure is reached again.

Which muscle group benefits the most from drop sets?

All muscle groups can benefit from drop sets, but larger muscle groups like the legs or back might see superior muscle gains due to the increased training volume.

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How do I properly drop the weight during a drop set?

To drop the weight effectively, reduce the weight load by a certain percentage (e.g., 20%) after reaching muscle failure, then immediately continue with the same exercise for more reps.

Can I use the same weight for different drop sets?

While it’s common to reduce the weight for each subsequent drop set, some techniques, like the tight drop sets, involve performing with the same weight but adjusting other variables like reps or rest intervals.

How do drop sets compare to conventional resistance training exercises?

Drop sets focus on maximizing muscle hypertrophy by increasing training volume and inducing greater motor unit fatigue. In contrast, conventional resistance training exercises might prioritize strength or muscular endurance.

Are drop sets suitable for beginners?

Drop sets are an advanced resistance training technique. Beginners should first establish a solid foundation with traditional straight sets before incorporating drop sets into their training program.

How many reps should I aim for in a drop set?

The number of reps in a drop set can vary, but a common approach is to perform as many reps as possible until you reach muscle failure. Then, after reducing the weight, continue for more reps.

Can drop sets promote long term muscle hypertrophy?

Yes, when incorporated correctly into a training program, drop sets can promote long term muscle hypertrophy by increasing acute stress indicators and maximizing muscle damage for growth.

How often should I incorporate drop sets into my workouts?

It’s essential to balance intensity with recovery. You might incorporate drop sets for one muscle group in a workout, ensuring adequate rest before targeting the same muscle group again.

Are drop sets more effective than pyramid training for muscle growth?

Both drop sets and pyramid training are advanced resistance training techniques that can promote muscle growth. The effectiveness can vary based on individual goals, but drop sets specifically focus on muscle hypertrophy by inducing muscle failure multiple times in a set.

How does drop set resistance training differ from rest pause training?

While both are advanced training techniques, drop set resistance training involves reducing the weight and performing more reps after reaching failure. In contrast, rest pause training involves taking a short break (e.g., 0/1–2 seconds) and then continuing with the same weight until failure is reached again.

Can I use drop sets for leg press exercise leading to more muscle growth?

Absolutely! Incorporating drop sets into exercises like the leg press can lead to more muscle growth by increasing the training volume and intensity for the targeted muscle group.

Is it essential to maintain good form during drop sets?

Yes, maintaining good form is crucial during drop sets. As fatigue sets in, there’s a temptation to compromise form, but it’s vital to ensure safety and effectiveness.

How do drop sets compare to straight sets in terms of muscle gains?

Drop sets can lead to superior muscle gains compared to traditional straight sets due to the increased training volume and intensity. However, straight sets are foundational and essential for building strength and endurance.

Can I utilize drop sets for bicep workouts at home?

Yes, you can utilize drop sets for bicep workouts at home using dumbbells or resistance bands. The key is to adjust the resistance or weight load appropriately to ensure muscle failure is reached.

How do drop sets impact muscular endurance compared to other strength training techniques?

Drop sets primarily focus on muscle hypertrophy. While they can improve muscular endurance due to the high training volume, other strength training techniques might be more effective for purely targeting endurance.

Is it beneficial to perform drop sets for both larger and different muscle groups in the same workout?

While it’s possible, it’s essential to ensure adequate recovery. Targeting larger muscle groups like the chest or back with drop sets in the same workout as different muscle groups can be taxing, so listen to your body and adjust accordingly.

How does the drop set method compare to other weight training techniques in terms of maximizing muscle hypertrophy?

The drop set method is specifically designed to maximize muscle hypertrophy by inducing muscle failure multiple times within a set. While other weight training techniques can also promote growth, drop sets offer a unique intensity that can lead to superior muscle gains.

Can I combine drop sets with other advanced resistance training techniques for a full body workout?

Yes, combining drop sets with other advanced resistance training techniques can provide a comprehensive full body workout. However, it’s essential to balance intensity with recovery to prevent overtraining.

How do tight drop sets differ from traditional drop sets?

Tight drop sets involve using the same weight or a lighter load with minimal rest between sets. In contrast, traditional drop sets typically involve reducing the weight significantly after each set to continue performing more reps.

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