DROP SET DESTRUCTION TRAINING TO DECIMATE PLATEAUS
If you’re stuck in the rut of doing the same workouts over and over again, the cookie-cutter “3 sets of 8-12 reps, 3-4 exercises per muscle group with 1-2 minutes of rest between sets” day in and day out, you may find that your body is no longer challenged and changing the way you want it to. While this style of training is fine if you’re a beginner, you will soon discover that you quickly hit a plateau in performance and physical change. Why? Because, your body is smart and adapts fairly quickly to something new, becomes more efficient at doing it, and in a short period of time can, in a sense, go on autopilot to get through your workouts. This adaptation can occur in as little as 4-6 weeks, so to keep the fire in your training progress, I’m going to show you a very effective variation on training. Next time you visit your local iron palace, I challenge you to decimate your plateaus with Drop Sets.
Drop setting was founded in 1947 by Henry Atkins, editor of Body Culture magazine. Atkins called it the “multi-poundage system”. (“Arnold’s Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding”, p. 194, Schwarzenegger). It has many names in the gym including burnouts, strip sets, breakdowns. Drop setting is a style that will allow you to surpass your threshold of failure by doing a maximum load then stripping weight to allow you to do more repetitions. This, in turn, pushes your muscle beyond its limits and ultimately builds more muscle and endurance.
Let’s dig deeper to see why the drop set is effective. When you do a single set movement to failure you do not engage all the muscle fibers in that muscle. You will only use the number of muscle fibers required to push a certain weight a certain amount of times. When you go beyond failure by using the drop setting technique you go deeper into the core of the muscle to recruit the reserve muscle fibers. These fibers are not engaged during a normal set; the only way to tap into them is by pushing beyond fatigue and failure, which is what drop setting allows you to do. When you blast past that point, you will ignite growth through muscle shock and tearing down these reserve muscle fibers.
WHEN YOU DO A SINGLE SET MOVEMENT TO FAILURE YOU DO NOT ENGAGE ALL THE MUSCLE FIBERS IN THAT MUSCLE.
While most mainstream workouts only focus on improving either (a) muscular endurance (the ability of a muscle to perform multiple repetitions of an exercise) or ( b) muscular strength (the maximum amount of force a muscle can exert), drop set training allows you to enhance both. This intense training style allows you to push to levels where you engage both aerobic and anaerobic energy; all in all, you get a lot of bang for your buck with this variation of training.
Let’s take a look at some examples. It is leg day, and you have chosen five different movements for your workout. You decide to tackle the leg press first since you are partner training. For your first three sets, go as heavy as possible with a pyramid style set of 8 reps, 6 reps, 4 reps, follow each set by rest. On your last set you will start with the same weight as what you used for your heaviest set, but instead of locking out and resting when you’ve hit your max, you have your partner start stripping a plate from each side of the leg press with little to no rest. Continue this stripping down process for 2-6 sets, doing each set for as many reps as you can push out. By the end of your drop set you may have as little as one plate, or even no plates left on the press, but your legs will be on fire. Close your eyes and visualize it. Is it feeling intense yet? Congratulations, you’ve just completed your first leg press drop set. You will love and hate me for teaching you this. Love me for helping you surpass your plateau, hating me for not being able to walk.
INSTEAD OF LOCKING OUT AND RESTING WHEN YOU’VE HIT YOUR MAX, YOU HAVE YOUR PARTNER START STRIPPING A PLATE FROM EACH SIDE OF THE LEG PRESS WITH LITTLE TO NO REST.
Drop setting isn’t just for the leg press – you can try this technique with any number of exercises. Some of my favorites are lat pull downs, bench press, shoulder press, lateral raise, bicep curls, triceps press downs, and my favorite, seated calf press. The possibilities are endless, just follow the same protocol, start off with regular sets, and on your last set prepare to blast your muscle to its limit.
In a sport such as bodybuilding, drop set training is used solely for the benefit of building more muscle and for aesthetic purposes but in sports such as cycling, it is used to build more endurance and power, enabling the athlete to get to the finish line first. In this case, the cyclist would start at the highest resistance gear then at failure drop a level of resistance and so on, making them capable of continuing on and pushing past that point of muscle failure.
10 TIPS TO INTENSIFY YOUR DROP SET
- To identify where to start weight-wise for your drop set, choose the weight that you can do for 4-6 reps.
- Drop the weight by 20% each set.
- Have a partner or spotter there to strip the weights off as needed.
- Take as little rest in between drops to hit maximum failure.
- Keep your rest minimal during the drop, no longer than 10 seconds.
- Make your drop set your last set – do only one drop set for each muscle group to avoid overtraining.
- Be prepared for your set. If you are using dumbbells, set up your area where you can perform the drop without people getting in the way.
- For each drop perform as many repetitions as possible without losing form.
- If you are a beginner hold off on drop set training until you have reached an intermediate level.
- Cycle drop sets into your training routine every 4-6 weeks.
Stay focused. The gym is a place of work, not a social hour. Reach your top training potential by limiting rest time and chatting with friends. Keep your mind in tune with your training, keep your music pumping, blood flowing and muscles growing.