Sometimes you have to approach exercise like a puzzle. If your goal is to increase strength or size (aka muscle hypertrophy), you need to constantly find new methods to challenge your muscles. Enter: drop sets.
Drop sets are one method you can use in your training to promote muscle growth and definition. Read on to learn more about drop sets and how to incorporate them into your workout routine for maximum results.
What Is a Drop Set?
Like supersets (when you perform two exercises back-to-back), drop sets are one of the many ways you can structure your workout to get more muscle-building benefit from the exercises you're doing, especially if your gains have plateaued.
A drop set involves performing an exercise with a specific amount of weight for as many reps as you can with good form, according to the American Council on Exercise (ACE). Then, you'll rest as long as it takes before you can do the same exercise but with a lighter weight before repeating the exercise for as many reps as you can until you reach muscle fatigue.
Let's say you're performing a biceps curl with 20-pound dumbbells. First, you'll perform as many reps as you can with your chose weight. You'll drop those weights and swap for, say, 10-pound weights. Then, you'll repeat the exercise until you can't perform one more rep.
How Drop Sets Help Build Muscle
Drop sets are one strategy you can use to promote muscle growth, according to the ACE. When you do an exercise to fatigue, your muscle glycogen (your muscles' energy source) is depleted, which creates damage to the muscle fibers. As a result, your body repairs these damaged fibers, leaving you with larger, stronger muscles.
Drop sets are also a way to increase your total training volume, Henry Halse, New York-based certified strength and conditioning specialist, tells LIVESTRONG.com. The volume of your workout is the number of reps you do, multiplied by the weight you use, multiplied by the number of sets you perform.
By adding more volume to your training regimen, you'll increase muscle growth. It's true; science says so: Muscular hypertrophy increases as you increase your overall training volume, according to a January 2019 study published in Medicine and Science in Sports Exercise.
Incorporating drop sets may also be able to help improve muscle definition, per the ACE. Technically, muscle "tone" is actually a muscle permanently in a semi-contracted state. Drop sets can help increase the motor activity of your muscles, causing them to stay partially contracted even after your workout is complete.
How to Incorporate Drop Sets Into Your Workout
The beauty of drop sets is that you can do them with just about any exercise, whether you're using machines, dumbbells or barbells. However, they're definitely most easily done with machines, Halse says. Ideally, your rest should be as short as possible, so you'll want to keep your lighter set of weights close at hand.
When you're programming drop sets into your workout, you'll want to reserve them for the last set of a given exercise, Halse says. Remember, the goal is to use them to bring the muscle to total fatigue, so technically, you shouldn't be able to perform drop sets one after the other.
"Ideally you should use them only once per muscle group per workout, because they exhaust the muscles," he says. "Drop sets are used later on in a workout because they're truly exhausting and can sap your energy for the rest of the workout."
Although drop sets aren't dangerous per se, you do want to keep a close eye on your form. Doing a drop set with poor posture or relying on momentum completely defeats the purpose and won't give you the results you're seeking. Plus, your risk of injury increases as your muscles fatigue and your form breaks down.
Try This Biceps Curl Drop Set
During your next upper-body workout, give this biceps drop set a try. First, you'll perform biceps curl with a moderate weight. Then, swap for lighter dumbbells and rep out as many hammer curls as you can.
Move 1: Dumbbell Curl
- Start standing with your feet hip-width apart, arms at your sides with a dumbbell in each hand.
- Brace your core and on an exhale, curl the dumbbells up to your shoulder, keeping the elbows close to your side.
- Lower the dumbbells back down to your side with control.
Move 2: Hammer Curl
- Stand with feet hip-width apart, core braced.
- Hold a dumbbell in each hand, palms facing in, arms at your sides.
- Keeping your elbows close to your sides, curl your hands up to shoulder height.
- Slowly lower the weights down with control.
Use one drop set per muscle group and keep them at the end of your workout to prevent excess mid-workout fatigue and poor form.