Men across the globe have become lazy lifters. I get it, you want to get bigger and stronger. And that sometimes requires you to lift heavy-ass weights with moderate to plenty of rest.
The trouble is that when it comes to building muscle your training volume is key. To get the volume you need, you either end up spending way too long in the gym or stopping short of the volume you need before you jack up your cortisol levels.
Lifting heavy and taking long rest periods have their place for sure, but when building muscle size is your goal you need to GET IN, STIMULATE, then GET OUT. That’s where using specific intensity techniques can help.
As a rule, I find that most (natural) lifters have a volume ‘sweet-spot’ of around 24-36 total sets completed in under an hour for strength-hypertrophy training. Or 36-50 sets for maximal hypertrophy but with minimal strength gain.
Drop sets are a great way to get in extra training volume within a short period of time, as well as further stimulate some of the mechanisms involved in muscle hypertrophy.
Some important crap about a glass…
Before we get in to the nooks and crannies a brief word of warning. Drop sets should be used sparingly. Say, with just one or two exercises in each workout. Some can handle a little more whilst others less, but always remember that you’re there to stimulate muscle growth rather than annihilate!
Drop-sets can stimulate new muscle growth in a powerful way, but they’re easy to get carried away with. This’ll cause you to make one of the biggest mistakes I see natural lifters make, and that’s trash their muscular and nervous systems beyond the point of recovery and adaptation.
Let me put it in another way. Here’s a piece from a recent article I wrote on two-a-day training for T-Nation:
Think of your body systems as a drinking glass. Stress from training fills it up. Your natural recovery processes, helped along by some recovery methods, will empty the glass. You should never let the glass overflow, exceeding your capacity….
…The rules of good programming are universal: select the best exercises for the job. You should however be aware that some exercises, although massively beneficial, will “fill the glass” a little quicker. Using a mix of exercises is best.
- Heavy compounds will fill the glass faster
- Machines will fill the glass slower
- Isolation will fill the glass slower
- Heavy isometrics will fill the glass very fast
- Compression exercises (back squats) will fill the glass faster than traction exercises (belt squats).
Read the full article at T-Nation: Two-a-Day Training: The Smart Lifters Guide
Key point: Drop sets can fill up that glass very fast, so use sparingly!
Mechanisms of Muscle Growth
Drop sets simply work by further stimulating one or multiple mechanisms that trigger muscle growth: Mechanical tension, tissue breakdown, metabolic stress.
Most drop set techniques tend to emphasise tissue breakdown and metabolic stress the most.
We’ll skip over talking about these further so we can get to the practical stuff. Although if you want to read more about the science of muscle growth, then I’ve covered this previously.
Read the full article at Muscle & Strength: Real and Basic Muscle Growth Science Broken Down for Bros
5 Drop Set Techniques to Try
Here are 5 different drop-set intensity techniques for you to try and sample. You’ll feel like a kid in a candy shop with these initially, but as I said; use but don’t abuse them!
Basic Drop Sets
If you don’t know what a drop set is or have never used one, then where have you been? It’s a classic, and a favourite among many coaches, fitness professionals and pro bodybuilders.
Simply perform your normal set, then immediately drop the weight by around 10-20% then go again. You’ll do best by picking exercises where the weight is easy to strip off, or where you can get a partner to do it for you.
For example, cables and machines are less hassle than dumbbells and sometimes barbell movements. Really you can employ this technique with most exercises though. Including abs exercises.
Looks like: Perform X reps – strip 10-20% off the bar – 0-10’s rest – go again. That’s one set.
Double Drop Sets
A double drop set is a way to further extend the drop, by adding in another one. As if a single drop wasn’t enough, on a double-drop you’ll perform your first set, strip 10-20% and perform again, then strip another 10-20% then perform again.
Looks like: Perform X reps – strip 10-20% off the bar – 0-10’s rest – go again – strip a further 10-20% off the bar – 0-10’s rest – go again. That’s one set.
Perform your main working sets (say 3 x 6 reps), rest 1-2 minutes (or long as you have been), then perform a single-set of as many reps as you can with 10-20% less weight. If you do this correctly you should experience a muscle potentiating effect, where the lighter set will feel WAY lighter than it normally would. If for example you would normally get 10 reps with that weight, you might get 14 or more.
A back-off set might seem like a drop-set, but there are a few key differences. First off, a back-off set is just a single set. Whereas a drop-set can be performed for either a single- or multiple-sets, a back off set is just a single set done after you’ve done all your main sets. For example, 3 sets x 6 reps, then 1 x 20 reps back-off set.
Secondly whereas a drop-set is an immediate drop in weight of 10-40%, a back-off set uses the same rest period as your previous sets, with the same 10-40% drop.
Back-off sets have some research evidence to support them too, showing increases in various anabolic hormones using just a single-set of them.
Looks like: Perform X sets with a heavier weight – strip 10-40% off the bar – 1-2 minutes rest – perform a single lighter set of as many as you can. That’s the one and only set.
Mechanical Drop-Sets (MDS) or Mechanical Advantage Drop Sets (MADS) whatever you like to call them, are a form of drop-set where instead of dropping the resistance via an external load (reducing the weight on the bar, say) you manipulate the mechanics of the movement and leverage factors to allow you to extend the set and muscle time under tension.
MDS sets consist of doing 3-4 variations of the same exercise, or ones similar, with the same weight and without any rest.
70-82.5% of your 1RM is a good place to start for your first exercise, completing 6-10 reps. Next change to an ‘easier’ version of the same movement and do as many as you can, say 4-7 reps. Next change to an even ‘easier’ version and go again, maybe 3-5 reps this time.
Designing a MDS is simple, select 3-4 variation of the same exercise and place them in order of hardest to easiest. This is how your set will look:
Exercise 1: Hardest
Exercise 2: Easier
Exercise 3: Easiest
Looks like: Perform X reps with the hardest exercise – 0-10’s rest – perform as many reps as you can with an easier exercise – 0-10’s rest – perform as many reps as you can with the easiest exercise. That’s one set.
Here are some good examples:
Jettison Technique Drop-Set
A person who has done drop-sets is aware of pain and glory. Jettison Technique Drop Sets are next level though, and one of the best drop-set techniques you may never have even heard of.
The Jettison Technique can be incorporated in to many exercises, although some work better than others. The most common is a barbell curl, although as you’ll see from the videos below there are other options that are equally as sadistic.
Simply perform your exercise with the weight (barbell, dumbbell, kettlebell, cable) AND a resistance band combined. Finding the right weight and band combination is key, and it’s important that your band resistance is great enough. If you’re getting say 25 reps at the end, then it was probably the band that needs to be stronger next time.
Next drop the band and keep going with just the weight. That’s your first drop. Next once you’re approaching failure again drop the weight and pick the band back up. That’s your second drop. Do as many quality reps as you can with the band to finish.
So, each set no matter the exercise will look like this:
Looks like: Start with 6-10 reps with the Weight + Band – 0-10’s rest – Perform as many as you can with just the Weight – 0-10’s rest – perform as many as you can with just the band. That would be one set.
The next time you feel like adding some intensity in to your muscle-building workouts, try adding in one or a few of these intensity techniques.
I build Olympians, Cover Models and those who want to look like them. Author or “Ultimate Abs” available in all good book stores.