How Back Off Sets Help You Maximize Muscle Growth

back off sets

Back off sets allow lifters to perform an exercise with more volume. 

Have you reached a muscle growth or strength gain plateau? Altering how you perform your sets can help you hit new personal records. Lifters meticulously organize their exercise repetitions into sets. Consider an athlete aiming to complete 40 squats. They can efficiently accomplish this by dividing the task into four sets of 10 repetitions each.

Numerous strategies exist to adapt your sets and enhance your workout efficacy. These strategies include employing giant sets, pyramid sets, drop sets, supersets, and back off sets. The common thread among these methods is using multiple sets, a proven way to build strength, increase power, or stimulate muscle growth in athletes (1).

This article focuses specifically on back off sets, exploring their advantages and offering insights into leveraging them for maximum training benefits. Additionally, it provides practical examples of integrating this variation into your exercise routine for those seeking to optimize their workouts.

What Are Back Off Sets?

back off sets

They’re variations of standard sets of the same exercise but with reduced weights. They usually start with heavy-loaded sets, followed by a rest period, and then end with reduced weights. They can help you increase your max load or even push your muscles to failure. A study shows how training to failure can maximize muscle hypertrophy (2).

Benefits Of Back Off Sets

drop sets

They can help increase your strength and power. Adding them to your strength training plan is essential. You can perform them on any exercise to target any muscle group. This makes them an effective set variation for bodybuilders, fitness enthusiasts, and lifters looking for total body development. Below are the benefits of implementing them. 

Builds Better Workout Technique

They repeat the same exercises but with lighter loads. Lesser loads help ground your techniques and improve your form when exercising. Despite the lighter weight, you can still build strength while performing these set variations using a higher volume intensity.

Reduced Fatigue & Better Recovery

Lifting heavy sets takes a lot of willpower, both physically and mentally. It can be exhausting, especially in a short time frame. Incorporating them into your workouts lets you focus on less weight, so you can train longer, make more gains, and recover better

Increases Training Volume

Increasing strength by maxing out hefty weights is an effective training method. However, this approach has disadvantages, including potential injury risks and taking longer to recover. They allow you to train with proper form and gain strength safely.

Improves Your Stamina & Endurance

Incorporating them into your training increases your stamina and endurance. Improving your stamina and endurance isn’t about how many heavy weights you lift but how long you can go with your training volume. This is where they come in handy.

Increases Muscle Gains

They’re effective for developing, building, and gaining muscle (3). That’s because they allow you to recover better between workouts to help you push harder next time. In addition, they will enable you to use more volume by doing more reps. 

Shock Your Body 

Performing them allows you to experiment with other exercises. This is an excellent way to add variety to your other programs and give your body different stimuli to respond to. 

Good Calorie Burner

They can be practical calorie burners when done consistently. When you have a caloric deficit, the extra effort to perform this set burns fat, leading to weight loss.

How to Incorporate Back Off Sets Into Your Workout

They involve performing the same exercises with reduced weights — after a set with a heavier load — to maximize your workouts. They can lead to improvements, whether you’re training for muscle hypertrophy, muscle strength, or power. Below is a way you can incorporate back off sets into your workouts using the barbell back squat, power clean, and bench press.

For Hypertrophy Using the Barbell Back Squat

  • Top set: 2-3 reps at 85% of your one-rep max
  • 1st back off set: 8-10 reps at 75% of your one-rep max
  • 2nd: 8-10 reps at 75% of your one-rep max
  • 3rd: 8-10 reps at 75% of your one-rep max

For Power Using the Power Clean

  • Top set: 1 rep at 94% of your one-rep max
  • 1st back off set: 2 reps at 86% of your one-rep max
  • 2nd: 2 reps at 86% of your one-rep max

For Strength Using the Bench Press

  • Top set: 2-3 reps at 85% of your one-rep max
  • 1st back off set: 6-8 reps at 80% of your one-rep max
  • 2nd: 6-8 reps at 80% of your one-rep max
  • 3rd: 6-8 reps at 80% of your one-rep max

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  1. Krieger J. W. (2010). Single vs. multiple sets of resistance exercise for muscle hypertrophy: a meta-analysis. Journal of strength and conditioning research, 24(4), 1150–1159.
  2. Nóbrega, S. R., & Libardi, C. A. (2016). Is Resistance Training to Muscular Failure Necessary?. Frontiers in physiology, 7, 10.
  3. Androulakis-Korakakis, P., Michalopoulos, N., Fisher, J. P., Keogh, J., Loenneke, J. P., Helms, E., Wolf, M., Nuckols, G., & Steele, J. (2021). The Minimum Effective Training Dose Required for 1RM Strength in Powerlifters. Frontiers in sports and active living, 3, 713655.
Terry Ramos
As a personal trainer and writer, Terry loves changing lives through coaching and the written word. Terry has a B.S. in Kinesiology and is an ACSM Certified Personal Trainer and ISSA Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist. He enjoys playing music, reading, and watching films when he's not writing or training.