What is a drop set?
There is a lot of ways to do this, but in general, drop sets are where you take a set to muscular failure and then immediately reduce the load by a pre-determined percentage or amount and pump out more reps until you hit failure again.
Where did Drop Sets come from?
The discovery of drop sets, then called the multi-poundage system, is attributed to Dr. Robert Atkins, better known as the founder of the famous high-protein Atkins diet.
Reigning king of bodybuilding Arnold Schwarzenegger was a huge proponent in popularizing drop sets. Arnold Schwarzenegger would say: “There are no shortcuts—everything is reps, reps, reps.”
Here is the theory how drop sets work
Drop sets stimulate so much hypertrophy (muscle growth) because they get the heart rate up, increase blood flow to muscles, and cause muscle tears which force your muscles to rebuild themselves bigger and stronger.
They require different muscle fibers to work as the weight reduces, meaning this muscle growth is more wide-ranging and effective. This is referred to as “greater total work” which has been proven to cause greater hypertrophy.
Hypertrophy is jump started when glycogen stores are exhausted, resulting in acidosis and damage to muscle fibers which requires rebuilding.
What does the research show?
But do drop sets truly work? Do they really maximize muscle growth? What does the research show?
Researchers found that doing a low-intensity set (50% of 1RM) right after doing 5 high-intensity sets (90% of 1RM) led to a big spike in growth hormone (GH). The trouble is that recent research on the value of post-exercise GH spurts has shown it to be a virtual non-factor.
In another study, participants did a normal strength training routine for 4 weeks, followed by an additional 4 weeks of either drop set training or “normal” training. The drop set group experienced a 2% increase in the cross sectional area of the thigh while the other group experienced a 0.5% decrease
Except for the previous study, all of the studies addressed showed minimal or non-existent benefits
Despite the disappointing findings about drop sets, they’re one of those training methods that just feels right. Deep down, you kinda-sorta know they work, regardless of what research shows. Here is a good way to do it:
- Drop Set Weight: The load is commonly reduced by 20-25% with each drop.
- Rest Intervals: Minimal. Just enough time to change the weight and get in position for the next set.
- Training Volume: One-Three drops in load.
- Tempo: 1-2 seconds on the concentric (lifting) and 2-4 seconds for eccentric (lowering).