Drop sets: use them to reach your fitness goals
Drop sets are an intensity technique for weight training that can be used with almost any exercise. They’re simple to use but can bring massive results for your fitness goals, especially if you’re looking to gain muscle.
What is a drop set?
A drop set is when you perform a set of a given exercise to muscular failure (or just before failure), then lower the weight and keep going. The aim is to try to repeat this process until you’re barely lifting any weight.
The idea behind drop sets is that when you do a set, you’re only using a certain number of muscle fibres. By taking your muscles to their failure point, dropping the weight and continuing, you are tapping into different, deeper muscle fibres, recruiting them to help with the extra load.
For example, if you were doing biceps dumbbell curls, you’d pick a challenging weight — but one that you could get 10–12 reps with. At the tenth rep, you’re struggling, at the 11th you form starts to slip. So you pick up a slightly lighter dumbbell and keep going. You might only get eight reps this time. Drop the weight, keep going. And so on.
You can either do this once at the end of each exercise or take a long rest in between rounds and go again once you’ve recovered.
Best ways to perform a drop set
Performing drop sets with plate-loaded equipment is efficient, because you can load the machine up, do your set and strip the plates right off. It’s good to have a training partner for these, so they can take the weights off quickly for you. That way, you won’t have to get up out of the, say, leg press to drop the weight. (Just remember to return the favour when it’s your gym buddy’s turn!)
The benefit of using pin-loaded machines for drop sets is that you can do it by yourself quickly, so your rest time is minimal, and it’s as simple as putting the pin in the next weight stack. As you get more advanced, challenge yourself to see if you can do a set on every stack in the rack.
• Free weights
As in the dumbbell curls example above, free weight drop sets require you to have access to a lot of equipment or sets of barbells and dumbbells. This style of drop set, when you have a lot of dumbbells lined up ready for use, is sometimes called ‘running the rack’.
Benefits of the drop set
Primarily a technique for hypertrophy — increasing muscle size — rather than strength, drop sets are loved by bodybuilders. Trainees will often put a drop set at the end of a session to pump the muscles full of blood to spur more growth when their strength has been drained from a big workout. So if you’re after muscle growth, drop sets are a great technique to add to your workout plan.
Additionally, when there are a lot of people in the gym and you can’t access all the equipment you want, drop sets are a nice way to put some intensity into your workout while staying at one station. Plus, if you’re pressed for time, they squeeze a lot of volume into a small period.
And, as mentioned above, they’re also a great finisher to cap off your workout and end strong.
Why not add drop sets to your next workout and let us know how you go?