Look to maximize growth by putting drop sets into your next workout.
Given all your hard work in the gym, plus that strict nutrition plan you follow, you may be seeing very little movement when it comes to your gains. You may be hitting what is called a training plateau, an unfortunate stage in your training where you stop seeing results despite how hard you work inside and out of the gym. While this can be incredibly frustrating, not all hope is lost. There is one great way to break this plateau and start that upward incline of gains once again.
The solution is drop sets. As a great way to increase muscle mass by ensuring healthy muscle fatigue and increased blood flow, drop sets will promote hypertrophy and get you out of that unfortunate fitness funk. Drop sets work by performing an exercise at a desired weight and then reducing that weight once muscle failure has been achieved with each previous weight. Without heading to rest, you continue down until ultimate failure has been achieved and whatever muscle you chose to target is completely dead.
Drop sets are great because to start, you only recruit a certain amount of muscle fibers, but once you start declining in weight, you start to recruit other muscles which will help with ultimate muscle growth (1). Bodybuilders will also use drop sets as a way to create symmetry in their physique. Straight sets will only really hit the first layer of muscle fibers, which can build muscle initially, but eventually lead to that dreaded plateau. Drop sets work to get deep in the muscle fibers for massive gains of strength and power.
Why Drop Sets Are Effective
Drop sets are the ultimate plateau breaker because it forces your body to adapt to various loads. Your body can get used to one type of exercise where it reaches the point of zero to minimal growth. That is why it is so important to constantly change your workouts and add diversity to the exercises you implement. Drop sets will boost your intensity and volume and surprise your muscles forcing them to do one thing, which is grow (2). As the initial fatigue settles in, your larger muscles rely on those deeper in for help working the entire muscle, as well as the smaller ones around it to promote hypertrophy and overall strength.
Drop Set Cautions
While this seems like a fast way to see gains, it is important to not perform drop sets on every single exercise. Excessive fatigue can lead to overtraining which will not only put you out of the gym, but can have the opposite effects for muscle growth. Signs of overtraining include increased heart rate, fatigue, a decrease in appetite which can lead to weight loss, increased effort on workouts that used to be manageable, and poor sleep (3).
Drop sets can result in large muscle tears, which are great for muscle growth, but without the proper rest and recovery can lead to adverse effects. Focus on one muscle group with isolation exercises to increase your chances for growth without needing to take so much time off in between. Proper rest and supplementation are also key in recovery and muscle hypertrophy.
With all this said, drop sets are there for your benefit. Compared to traditional sets, your chances for growth increase exponentially when done the right way. They also allow for a better workout in less time since your output level is so high. Since your body does adapt to exercises, drop sets work the same way so placing them in your workout strategically and efficiently is key for continued growth.
Types Of Drop Set
Plate stripping is a drop set option when using a barbell. Starting with the desired amount of weight in plates, work to continue the exercise by taking plates off and decreasing weight as you go. Working with a partner for this is more beneficial than being alone to ensure you do not get a lot of rest in between by having to stop to take the plates off. This is very effective if you go until there is no weight left on the bar. Plate stripping works great for a number of exercises including squats, barbell lunges, or the bench press.
Run The Rack
Running the rack is a great drop set exercise and works exactly how it sounds. Start with a higher weight with the dumbbells and continue your exercise until failure. Start moving down the rack getting lighter each time and perform as many reps until failure with as much of the rack as you can. These are great for bicep curls, triceps kickbacks, dumbbell chest presses, lunges, and Bulgarian split squats. Keeping good form is key to avoid injury since the load will be increased.
Up The Stack
Up the stack is great for machine exercises and can be done solo, which is an added benefit. By performing the exercise at the starting weight, you don’t have to take too much time resting to pull the pin and change weights. A safe alternative to plate stripping since you have the assistance of the machine, up the stack is a solid choice for your drop set workouts. These are great for incline machine chest press, seated leg curls, or anything to do with cables, like triceps pulldowns or cable raises.
If you have started to reach the unfortunate plateau and are looking to change up your workouts, drops sets are a great way to do so. By safely performing these exercises, you will enhance muscle hypertrophy and start seeing those gains flow again. By forcing your muscles into a state of fatigue, you work to get deep within to really promote growth and muscular endurance. Try out drop sets using the techniques of running the rack, plate stripping, or upping the stack to really get the benefits and enjoy the pain of knowing you are working hard for those gains to start showing again.
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- Bentes, Claudio M.; Simao, Roberto; Bunker, Travis; Rhea, Matthew R.; Miranda, Humberto; Gomes, Thiago M.; Da Silva Novaes, Jefferson (2012). “Acute Effects of Dropsets Among Different Resistance Training Methods in Upper Body Performance”. (source)
- Schoenfeld, Brad; Grgic, Jozo (2018). “Can Drop Set Training Enhance Muscle Growth?”. (source)
- Roy, Brad A. (2015). “Overreaching/Overtraining”. (source)