When you're a newbie to the iron, anything pretty much works. You don't have to get complex in your approach. Just lift more weight and do more reps. This is fine, until it doesn't work anymore.
As your training journey matures you've hopefully adapted and built some muscle in comparison to the first day you picked up a weight. But as your muscle gains slowdown, and if you're committed to continue keep making gains, then you inevitably start to explore different methods to stimulate your muscles to make them grow.
What is a Drop Set?Drop sets are a common pathway for the hungry lifter looking to put on some size.
Drop sets are a great way to pack on some muscle. And for those who love the pain of training, drop sets provide a relatively safe way to push past your limits because your load get lighter as you gradually approach muscle failure.
The most traditional way to utilize the drop set method is to rep out a load until you reach technical failure, drop the weight and keep repping out, and continuing this for a total of 2-4 total drops. "Running the rack" with dumbbell curls or lateral raises are two common movements used with drop sets.
But, there are two problems with traditional drop sets:
- You're forced to "keep dropping the weight" and eventually you end up using weight you're embarrassed to be seen struggling with
- It gets boring
A solid alternative is the mechanical drop set.
What is a Mechanical Drop Set?What is the difference between a traditional drop set and a mechanical drop set?
A drop set is when you perform a set of a movement until you reach fatigue, and then change a variable in a way that permits you to bang out more reps. The variable in a traditional drop set is the weight itself; your strip, or "drop" the weight once you can't do any more reps. This method can work, and should be utilized but not exclusively for one reason:
More weight equals more muscle recruited which can result in more muscle being built.Traditional drop sets suffer from the inevitable issue of using lighter weight. With each drop you decrease the load. While muscle failure is being achieved, you miss the boat on utilizing heavy weight. So how do we get around this issue? The obvious answer is to use heavier weight, but the obstacle is executing reps at heavy weight when you're fatigued or at failure.
This is where the mechanical drop set comes in.
A mechanical drop set is where the variable is not the weight, but the adjustment in execution of that weight. Essentially by manipulating the movement to make it "easier" you can continue to push through reps without having to drop the weight. This allows you to exhaust more muscle fibers, which help you build muscle faster.
The only drawback to mechanical drop sets is that if you do them too often, you may be compromising recovery. This won't be a problem if you use them sensibly. 2-4 sets of a mechanical drop set per body part is fine.
4 Example Drop Set WorkoutsHere are a few examples you can use in your training to keep the gains coming:
3 Grip Pull Drop SetThis is a three-part mechanical drop set that will have your lats, upper back, and biceps begging for mercy.
You'll want to find a pull bar that allows for all three grips; wide, pronated, underhand and parallel grip. This will allow you to transition quickly. The idea behind this mechanical drop set is to start with the weakest mechanical position in a pull up, then changing grips with each progressive set to leverage arm strength, allowing you to do more reps while keeping the weight constant.
- Wide overhand grip pull ups (as many reps)
- Underhand grip pull ups (as many reps)
- Parallel grip pull us (as many reps)
Deadlift Drop SetBecause we can't see our hamstrings, they get neglected. You often rarely hear, "bro, you hittin' hammies today?" The truth is that we don't train our backside as intensely as we do our front side. We'll pump our biceps, smash our pecs and destroy our quads like there's no tomorrow, but we'll settle for 3 sets of 10 on the leg curl and move on. We'll those days are over if you assault your hammies with this drop set. Be prepared for some pain.
Staying true to the mechanical drop set fashion, we'll start with the weakest mechanical position then progressively move into positions that are mechanically stronger allowing you to do more reps with each successive exercise change.
- Snatch grip deadlift (6-8 reps)
- Romanian deadlift (8-10 reps)
- Sumo Deadlift (10+ reps)
Incline Dumbbell Bench Press Drop SetMost of the fame goes to the flat bench. But when you're looking to develop a full chest, relying on the flat bench is a poor choice. You need to pay attention to your upper chest if your concerned with advanced chest development. Without going down the muscle anatomy rabbit hole, the anterior deltoid and the pectorals major make up the muscle of you upper chest.
Without targeted training to this area, you're at risk of an underdeveloped chest. And, you'll never be able to rock v-neck t-thirts.
In this mechanical drop set, you'll start pressing at a high incline and progressively drop the angle of the incline each set, allowing you to do more reps while keeping the weight the same.
You'll drop the angle 5 times in this drop set. Start at a high incline angle of ~80%, and drop the incline bench one notch after each set. Your last set will be performed at an angle of ~20%. At each angle perform as many reps as possible.
Single Leg Glute Bridge Drop SetGet ready for that booty pump. This glute bridge drop set is one of the best ways to directly hit your glutes.
You'll have to do some prep work before you get started. You'll want to place two flat benches about 3-4 feet away from each other. Be sure to have them propped against something so they dont' slide away from you as you perform your reps.
You'll start with a single leg glute bridge with your feet and shoulders elevated. Prop your shoulders across one bench and your foot that you'll be driving off of propped on the opposite bench. The barbell will lay across your lower midsection. To initiate, you'll drive your hips up with one leg and holding it at the top for max contraction in the glute.
Once you've reached failure in this position, you'll drop your driving foot (that was on the bench) and place it on the floor. From here you'll continue to bang out reps in the same manner, but just in a mechanically easier position allowing you to do more reps at the same weight. Perform 3 drop sets per leg.
To finish this drop set, I always like to take one set to failure on the traditional glute bridge where you use both of your feet to drive the barbell up. Don't be surprised if you're walking a little funny after hitting your glutes with this drop set.