Why Drop Sets? – Alex Issa

Alex Issa – @AlexIssaFitness

Drop-sets are an exercise technique where the lifter performs a set of a specific exercise until failure (or close to failure) then immediately “drops” the weight. After dropping the weight, the lifter then begins another set of reps until failure again.  This is a common technique in most hypertrophy strength training program. 

Drop sets are mostly programmed into training after a straight set or solely by itself. There are different ways to perform a drop-set:

  1. Run the Rack: selecting a pair of dumbbells to perform an exercise and decreasing the weight after the given amount of reps.  This way is most ideal if you are lifting alone.
  2. Stripping of Plates: selecting a weight on a barbell to perform an exercise and decreasing the weight by removing a plate from each side.  This way can be done more efficiently if you have a training partner. That way, you are not getting a rest period while trying to take off plates.  
  3. Up the Stack: this variation is done on the cable machines by selecting a weight to perform an exercise and decreasing the weight by placing the pin in a different weight stack.  This way is most ideal if you are lifting alone.

We have different ways to doing drop-sets, but the question is why drop-sets? The answer is intensity. Intensity is a training variable that we can control throughout our workout. 

Intensity is the most important variable to stimulate muscle growth. If you’ve ever done a drop set, you know that they are pretty intense.  The intensity comes from reaching failure with a weight several times in a set.  Even though we reach failure, we only reached failure with that certain amount of weight.  With a straight set, we don’t activate all the fibers; we only activate the fibers needed to lift the weight.  The more times we go into failure, the more muscle fibers we are able to recruit.  The more muscle fibers we can recruit, the greater the muscle growth because of the spike in growth hormone (GH).  

Things to consider when doing performing drop-sets are:

  1. Keep rest to a minimum: I touched on this earlier in the article, but you do not want the weight change to take so long that your muscle is getting rest and the stress is gone.  The general rest/weight switch time is 1-10 seconds.
  2. Set up equipment in advance: I will speak in regard to the “stripping of plates” method.  If you are performing barbell curls and you have a drop-set for 3 different weights at 10 reps each, you wouldn’t put a 25 lb. plate on. Instead, you would put on smaller plates that would add to the same weight you can do.  Once you hit the first set of 10, all you have to do take off a smaller plate then you’re right back into it! When “running the rack,” leave the dumbbells on the rack.  Have gym courtesy and leave them available for the other gym members while you rest in between drop-sets.
  3. Use 2-3 Weight Drops:  anything more than 3 drops of weights may be too much and you’ll be over training the muscle.
  4. Use Sparingly: if you use them all the time, you will burn out and damage the muscle.  A good way to avoid that is a 3:1 ratio.  What that means is you should perform 3 straight sets of an exercise followed by a drop-set to finish it off.

If you see this programmed into your training, you now know the reasoning behind it rather than your trainer trying to kill you! Be smart with your weight selection and make sure each rep is high quality.

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