Is it Better to Do Drop Sets When Building Muscle?

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A man is doing pull downs in a gym. (Image: nd3000/iStock/Getty Images)

Forced repetitions, rest-pause sets and supersets are all effective ways to increase your training intensity when building muscle. Perhaps one of the most efficient ways to target your training more toward mass gain, however, is including drop sets in your routine. A drop set consists of performing a set until the point of muscular failure then reducing the weight and going to failure again. Drop sets are tough and can work, but they're not always the answer, especially for those who are new to training.

Drop Sets 101

Drop sets can take many forms and can be done with dumbbells, barbells, weight machines and even with bodyweight exercises with added resistance. Typically though, you perform a set using a heavy weight for six to 10 repetitions, then reduce your weight by around 20 to 30 percent and aim to hit failure again. Sometimes you may do more than one drop. This type of training is known as point of momentary muscular failure plus and is categorized as a high-intensity training method, notes sports science lecturer Jurgen Giessing of Western Washington University.

Getting the Benefits

Drop sets are designed for bodybuilders, according to bodybuilder and trainer Tom Venuto. They aren't particularly beneficial for building strength, power and speed, rather they are a useful tool for building muscle mass. When you reduce the weight, you're forcing your body to use more muscle fibers and target parts of the muscle that weren't worked during the heavier set, adds Venuto.

Switching by Stripping

As you strip weights off the barbell or move to lighter dumbbells, you're switching the type of muscle fibers you're working, says strength coach Nick Nilsson. When lifting heavy, you're hitting type 2b muscle fibers -- the ones responsible for heavy lifts and explosive contractions. As you get lighter, however, you switch over to 2a muscles. Get lighter still and you move on to working your type 1 fibers, thus hitting your full-potential, mass-building spectrum.

More Muscle?

Drop sets can definitely be helpful in cranking up your training intensity, breaking down muscle tissue and creating more growth. However, if you are a beginning trainer, you don't need these intensity techniques to get bigger -- you're better off focusing on getting stronger and lifting heavier from workout to workout. More advanced lifters can benefit more from drop sets, as they have often exhausted the potential gains that can be made from linear progression in the weight room and need high-intensity techniques to keep training challenging.

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