Drop Sets


By Alex Cromartie CPT

Looking to add a little spice to your workout? As you train, your body quickly adapts to the challenges you put before it. This is one reason why having a trainer to systematically adapt your workouts for you can be such an effective way to train. Drop sets are a great way to push your muscles beyond failure, while still having a relatively low risk of injury IF you keep proper form though out. This is because as your muscles fatigue, you lower the weight proportionally. This keeps the weight modest, but the burn is like no other! Let me explain.

I’ve seen drop sets done in a variety of ways, but they all have one common theme. The person performing the set continues to lift AFTER achieving muscle failure by immediately lowering the weight and continuing the set with the lighter one. Because weights have to be changed very quickly, plate loaded machines and barbells don’t work well with drop sets. Stick with dumbbells and selectable weight machines. When performed using correct form, drop sets allow you to push yourself far beyond the ever-so-important point of failure. Here are two of my favorite drop set techniques.

Progressive Drop Sets

Progressive drop sets are something you would do at the end of a workout. That’s because the completely drain your muscles of glycogen, their primary fuel. To perform them, do three sets the way you would normally perform them. Next, do a fourth set at the same weight you did in set 3. Perform as many reps as you can while maintaining proper form. Upon completing (or attempting) the last rep, immediately drop the weight down 20 – 30% and continue performing reps until your muscles fail again at that weight. Again, drop the weight down, and continue your reps. Work the weight down until you are barely lifting anything at all. It will feel like a thousand pounds though! Getting the weight right when dropping down might take a few tries. But with a little practice, you can get an extra four or five sets beyond your normal failure point. Don’t overdo these though. Any more than one or two of them per workout can be to taxing on your body’s energy systems.

Progressive Drop Sets work really well if you have one or two areas you want to give extra attention to. There’s nothing like ending a back day with a little extra “bicep blasting”. They work really well for getting a “pump”  in a specific muscle group too.

Cycling Drop Sets

I like to cycle drop sets if I decide to do a “drop set day” with a client as a means of changing things up. For every exercise we do, we will perform three sets that each consist of a “heavy set” at 8 to 10 reps, immediately followed by a “light” set at 12 to 15 reps (for a total of six sets). While not as intense as Progressive Drop Sets, Cycling Drop Sets are a great way to throw something completely different at your body.  Be warned though, the “light” part of the set can be nasty! Remember to keep your form and not curse in the gym 🙂


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