Advanced training methods for hypertrophy – drop sets
Drop sets are considered one of the best ways to build muscle mass – so it’s no surprise they are popular with bodybuilders.
Drop sets can be easily integrated into a weight training schedule and can be applied to a variety of different training methods to achieve hypertrophy (see our blogs on: Hypertrophy Training, Escalating density training and German volume training).
What is a drop set?
Drop sets are about performing a number of sets/ reps to failure or close to muscular exhaustion, so on the last rep of the last set you have to reduce the weight load by around 5% to 30% and continue with further reps. Further reductions can be used if required, to the point of finishing the exercise using bodyweight only.
Normally when you go to failure with standard sets, you have gone to failure at the weight you started with. When you lower the weight, you should be able to continue the exercise for further reps.
Reducing the weight by around 10%-25% is called a tight drop; by 30% is known as a wide drop. A larger reduction still of 50% can help with building endurance as well as muscle mass.
With drop sets speed is not of the essence. It’s all about increasing the overall workout weight, sets and reps.
It can be beneficial to recruit a partner to help with stripping the weight as required, whether a friend or a qualified personal trainer.
How do drop sets work?
Drop sets activate not only the top layer of muscle fibres but also the deeper layers. This means we recruit larger and more powerful motor units. Recruiting these reserve fibers encourages hypertrophy and drop sets also pump more blood into the muscles.
Reducing the weight allows you to continue exercising beyond what you might otherwise have managed, effectively increasing the total number of sets and reps you perform, and the total amount of weight you lift.
What are mechanical drop sets?
These are where you make the exercise easier instead of reducing the weight.
An example of this would be instead of carrying out straightforward bicep curls, gradually reducing the weight, you could execute three different kinds of bicep curls – reverse grip, regular grip and hammer curls – with the hardest first and the easiest last.
What sort of exercises can drop sets be applied to?
Drop sets can be used with most exercises, including but not restricted to:
- Push ups
- Chin ups
- Bent-over barbell rows
- Dumbbell curls
- Lat pull downs
- Bench press
- Leg curls
These can be carried out with weights or machines.
Drop sets and the risk of overtraining
While drop sets tend to be a fairly safe way of training as you reduce the weight as you become fatigued, overtraining can be counterproductive and lead to injury.
The best way to avoid the risks of overtraining is to mix one drop set with straight sets on each area of the body. Taking the advice of a personal trainer can help you follow the best workout to reach your specific goals.