The One-Drop Method

Let me introduce myself. My name is Frank, and I'm 24 years old with five years of competitive unequipped lifting under my belt. I'm six feet tall and weigh 215 lbs, and I like beer, pizza, and lifting. And squatting. And women who deadlift. To keep this relevant (and PG), I'll stop there. Anyways, this all seems like standard lifter fare—and it is—namely because I'm a lifter and I love lifting. In fact, I love it so much that I left biochemistry and made it my job. Recognizing that this isn’t a luxury most have, I feel it has become my duty to share my experiences since devoting myself to the iron game full-time.

In this article, I'll share my training method, my baby. Conceived from the union of my frustration and stagnation, she has grown into a powerful ally. When nursed correctly, she provides consistent and sustainable PRs day after day and week after week. This is her story.

In October 2011, I went 500/314/590/1404 at a body weight of 181.8 lbs in the 100 percent raw division. Watching the game tape from the meet, it was very clear that my form at the top end was shaky. Actually, it was embarrassingly shaky. I was literally falling into the hole on my third attempt squat, which was mustered up with a heinous knee cave. My breathing was miss timed on my opening bench, which turned an easy opener into a terrifying grinder. As for the deadlift, well, I pulled it with my man bits and it looked bush league.

Nothing looked smooth. Nothing looked easy. Sure, I had dropped over twenty pounds to make weight for the 16-hour weigh-in (not an easy feat while traveling), but it was something I had done many times before. No, my top-end tech was just garbage. Give me 80 percent and I could execute textbook triples, but I was mentally and physically unprepared for anything above that.

I was tired. I had been dancing around these numbers for years. Up until this point, my training was comprised of intermittent bouts of Smolov, Sheiko, and conjugate method training, leaning heavily on the Russian side of the equation. Leading up to this competition, I was running a Sheiko CMS split, which meant squatting and pulling twice a week each and benching basically every day. For those of you unacquainted with these programs, that translates to a minimum of 30 triples at 80–85 percent per week and per lift plus accessory work. Suffice it to say that the volume was high.

But that’s how I’ve always liked it. Ever since my early days in lifting, I've subscribed to the mantra "to squat a lot you have to squat a lot." It made sense to me and, having pumped my squat up to over five plates using Smolov mesocycles, I had no reason to doubt it.

That being said, I didn’t snub my nose at the conjugate method. Every so often I would run a max effort/dynamic effort split when I felt I was losing speed—and it was great—but I always assumed that low volume max effort work was irrelevant to unequipped and drug-tested lifters and couldn’t be sustained.

Or so I thought. On the plane ride home from that disappointing meet, I decided to try something completely different, something totally foreign. Something so crazy that it just might work. I hashed it out on the plane and adhered to it for four months.

In March 2012, I went 562/336/644/1543 at a body weight of 198 lbs (100 percent raw). And so the one-drop method was born.

The solution

After weighing everything out, I decided on this split:

  • Monday, squat
  • Tuesday, bench
  • Thursday, deadlift
  • Friday, bench/presses

While this may seem like an obvious choice for most North American lifters, this was a big shift for me. I was used to squatting two to four times a week, and I was worried about the drop in volume. It seemed sacrilegious, and my legs were beginning to atrophy just thinking about it. I knew to combat this I would have to seriously punish myself during every session and give myself a reason to rest a whole week.

After much deliberation, I decided on this breakdown:

  • A, 3 attempts at the competition lift of the day
  • B, 1-drop*
  • C1, accessory
  • C2, accessory

It was simple and it was sport-specific. Every training session was like a meet, taking out three attempts and gunning for a new PR in the competition lift.Yes, you read that correctly—no variation. Just pure, unadulterated competition form. No boxes or blocks or bands or whatever. Nothing. This is unequipped lifting, which means that those are accessory or unnecessary. The only caveat is that unlike a competition, you must never fail. OK, well it will happen eventually, but it is always a mistake. Don’t let your ego load the bar. Work with what you’ve got that day, and if 90 percent is feeling slow, go 92 percent and 94 percent for the second and third attempts instead of topping out.

Now, I was confident that hitting heavy singles every day would take care of most of my ailments with shaky top end tech, but it really wasn’t enough volume. I needed to stimulate some serious growth. Thinking fondly of my favorite brain hemorrhaging Smolov sets and the growth one can literally feel, I chose to include one single drop set in this spirit.

The one-drop

Over time, I've settled down with three types of drop sets that can be used according to the lift, the weakness under attack, and the day's energy levels.

Classic one-drop: The classic is the simplest and most effective method. It's most often employed when energy levels are high, joints are healthy, and imbalances are in check. With a classic one-drop, you simply strip off 10–25 percent of your final, heavy single weight and hit as many reps as humanly possible. Actually, as inhumanly possible because people need to think you’re possessed. This is rest/pause. Picture your family dying territory.

For example:

  • Squat, 135 X 10, 225 X 5, 315 X 3, 405 X 1, 495 X 1, 525 X 1, 535 X 1, 440 X 8

That would be a perfect squat day. You hit your heavy singles, you worked near, at, or above your previous one rep max, and you hit a badass drop set. All the real work is done. Just clean up with a couple accessory movements and get to the nearest pizza shop.

Supermax drop: A supermax drop is exactly what it sounds like. Go over your one rep max (by limiting your range of motion) and crush some reps. There are several reasons to use a supermax, but the main reason is to build stability. Nothing has improved my stability under the bar more than face exploding high box squats. Walking out 110–120 percent of your one rep max will give a new meaning to ‘feels heavy’ and translates well to composure under a big free squat. The same goes for board presses and pulls from blocks. My favorite schemes are taking out my highest competition single of the day for as many reps as possible or working up to a heavy one to three rep max.

Dynamic drop: The dynamic drop isn't a one set all-out effort but simply dynamic effort training that follows your heavy singles. While I hope that I don’t have to use it that often (a classic one drop is my ideal), sometimes when you feel yourself slowing down or you're just having a low energy day, it's the best option. If you're experienced with dynamic work, you may use any protocol you like that you know will make you faster.

This is how I employ them:

  • 5–8 X 3 at 75–80% with 90–120 seconds of rest and straight bar weight or
  • 6–8 X 1 at 65–70% with 45–90 seconds of rest and chains/bands

I prefer to use a full range of motion. Sometimes I use an extended range of motion (deficit pulls or close grip bench). Different stances, bars, and grips are OK if you have a reason to use them.

It should be noted that I never do dynamic work with my squats. I don't like messing with my squat groove. I have a good rebound out of the hole and I don’t want to practice pausing in the bottom. Those with a more traditional powerlifting squat (wider stance to parallel without rebound) may find them more useful. This isn't an issue with the bench or deadlift though, as they're driving a stationary bar. I just feel that dynamic effort work is effective for everyone regardless of style.

A note on load selection—the one drop is the source of periodization for this method, and weight selection should follow your basic peaking pattern (i.e. 12–16 weeks out, select a load that you can hit 8–10 reps with). Over the next eight weeks, increase the load to the four- to seven-rep range. As you approach a contest, I believe it's best to remove full range drop sets and focus on dynamic and supermax training. I haven't included a specific ‘how to’ because this is inherently user based for best results. You need to learn how to feel it out. What I can say is mix it up. Use a different load for your drop sets every week (generally 10 lbs over the last week) and watch yourself grow.

Finally, if your body tells you not to do a drop set/dynamic work that day, listen to it. Painful joints are the most common cause here and you shouldn't try to fight through them. This is counterproductive. Instead, redirect your aggression with pain-free accessory work. If that doesn’t sound palatable, you’re preaching to the choir. I know that backing off is an act of will and a sign of great discipline. It can be damn hard to follow when all you want to do is smash something. In this circumstance, I find it best to punish myself with other tortures, namely rows. Why rows? Because they're brutal and effective and I hate doing them because they’re so damn hard. On top of that, they're joint friendly even when going all ape shit masochist. So if your knees or elbows or lumbar are telling you to stop, go grab the biggest dumbbell you can find and crank out reps like a madman until you're satisfied with the substitution. Or collapse. Then move on to your accessory work.

The accessory

So the important work is done. It's time to tie up loose ends. The purpose of accessory work here is to keep the joints happy, avoid muscle imbalances, get some conditioning in, and get the blood pumping in the muscles that need recovering. It's best to think of this work as a pre-recovery period and of lowest importance. Don’t get me wrong—lunges are awesome and chin-ups are mandatory, but the idea is to use this time to help improve the recovery from your real lifting. So avoid any movements that hurt your shoulders, elbows, knees, hips, or whatever ails you. You should fix your problems, so superset with some mobility work or go very light on a lift that traditionally causes joint pain when you train it heavy.

Here are some guidelines for focusing on your accessory work. Obviously, this isn't for everyone, but it’s pretty close. Basically, all I care about are lunges and heavy abdominal work. The rest is essentially vanity and recovery as far as I’m concerned.

  • Squat day: Always include single leg work (lunges, Bulgarians split squats, or step-ups) and light to medium abdominal work.
  • Bench day (1): Hit the triceps hard and make sure you used your chest (flies usually).
  • Deadlift day: Work the hamstrings and do some seriously heavy abdominal work.
  • Bench day (2): Go hard on the overhead press and lats.

There isn't much else to say here. I don’t want this to be the focus. Keep the volume in the 3–5 X 10 realm for most lifts. Remember, you don’t want to steal any recovery away from your main lift/drop set.

Putting it all together

Here’s how one week will look:

Monday, squat day

  • A: Squat up to 94%, 98%, and 100%
  • B: Hit the one drop set best suited for the day
  • C1: Dumbbell lunges, 4 X 10
  • C2: Hamstring curls/Romanian deadlifts, 4 X 10
  • D: Abdominal mat for a few minutes of maximum tension, cycling through variations (no weight)

Tuesday, bench day 1

  • A: Bench up to 94%, 98%, and 100%
  • B: Hit the one drop set best suited for the day
  • C1: Dumbbell flies, 5 X 10
  • C2: Skull crushers, 5 X 10
  • D: Burnout on band/rope push-downs

Thursday, deadlift day

  • A: Deadlift up to 94%, 98%, and 100%
  • B: Hit the one drop set best suited for the day
  • C1: Hamstring work, 3 X 10
  • C2: Quad work (go light unless feeling BOSS), 3 X 10
  • D1: Rope crunches, 1–2 X failure
  • D2: Weighted glute ham raise sit-ups (deep), 1–2 X failure
  • D3: Abdominal mat to finish the job/die

Friday, bench/bonus day

  • A: Bench up to an easy 90 or 95%; don't push it (unless you’re really feeling it)
  • B: Overhead press, 4 X 10
  • C: T-bar rows, 5 X 10
  • D1: Dumbbell laterals/raises
  • D2: Triceps

Week after week, the goal is to push the one rep max up to improve technique and imbalances and prepare you for a competition. Observing this style of training will yield steady gains in all of the above but only if you're eating enough to support this kind of growth. This brings me to perhaps the most important part of the article...

Nutritional considerations

Now I can (and will) write more detailed articles expanding on the nutritional side of powerlifting, but let me outline it here. If you've been experiencing lackluster results while following a reputable training progression, the problem is your diet. It needs to be fixed end of story.

If you're a novice lifter, you can get away with a novice meal plan—some standard protein and vegetables and healthy this and healthy that and omega whatever and blah, blah, blah. I'm not knocking it. For the purposes of health and wellbeing, bodybuilding, cutting, or whatever, that's a great approach. But for a natural lifter, becoming seriously large requires a completely different game plan. Luckily, you don’t need a prescription to get your hands on world class anabolics. They serve it up hot and fresh at your local fast food joint of choice.

Processed foods are the most anabolic foods on the planet. Don’t be fooled by those who claim that meat and nuts are the holy grail. They're wrong and weak. No, the most powerful anabolic agents are in the food court, killing your average sedentary human and empowering the above average power athlete.

A couple slices of pizza and a milkshake post-workout will give you the insulin tsunami you need to get better. But you have to be smart about it unless you want to develop your very own fat guy wheeze. The key is to eat as much as you can during the hours that follow your workout. The number of hours depends on your training and your goals.

Just to give you an idea of what I mean, here's an average day of eating for a 215-lb guy with an early afternoon lift:

  • Breakfast—6 eggs scrambled in olive oil, 2 slices of toast with nutty peanut butter
  • Snack—50 grams whey, some almonds, and a large coffee
  • Workout—a sip of 50 grams whey while training; a snack of 10 Timbits (equivalent to 3–4 donuts) while lifting
  • Post-workout—50 grams of whey with creatine, something really sweet (dates or candy or baked goods)
  • 30–60 minutes post-workout—2 slices of pizza drenched in olive oil and parmesan with a can of Coke or a chocolate milk
  • 2–3 hours post-workout—50 grams of whey and a couple muffins or protein bars
  • Dinner—a lot of meat and starchy carbohydrates
  • Pre-bedtime—yogurt and whey, eggs, or whatever else is available

The idea is to eat a ton of insulin spiking foods while providing a massive influx of nutrients in the time that immediately follows your lift, whatever time of day that may be. Outside of a four- to eight-hour window, it's probably best to eat less crap. It will have limited usefulness and probably just make you softer. However, within that timeframe, anything goes. Box of Oreos? Yes. Extra large Blizzard and a pretzel? Yes. An entire pizza? Hell, yes (ideal).

You get the idea. Eat big not because you want to but because you have to.

The wrap up

Hopefully, I’ve peaked your interest. This type of training definitely isn’t for everyone. If you have glaring deficiencies or horrible joints or don’t like pizza, this may not be a great idea. However, if you enjoy maxing, pushing the limit, and eating, this may become your new BFF. Be smart with this. Never miss a rep and within no time you’ll be crushing PRs day after day.