WATCH: Drop Sets 101

TAGS: Barbell Drop Set, Henry Atkins, Multi-Poundage System, muscular hypertrophy, make gains, gain strength, extended set, Josh Bryant


The majority of the time, I tend to bring you information on bare bones, basic exercises that just require your body weight to execute. However, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t worthwhile exercises out there that do involve specific parameters and some minimal equipment. In fact, one of the most effective movements for muscular hypertrophy is the drop set. That’s exactly what I want to break down for you here – welcome to “Drop Sets 101”.

The History and Philosophy

Ever admired the physique of Branch Warren or Arnold Schwarzenegger? Ever been inspired by the great Larry Scott, or the immortal Steve Reeves? One thing that all of these legends have in common is their use of drop sets to sculpt their bodies, build strength, and make gains. With drop sets, you can achieve muscular hypertrophy – and better yet, you can do so without elaborate equipment. You just have to be willing to put in the work.

You may already be familiar with drop sets, as they are part of the well-known Weider System. However, what you might not know is that the true origins of drop sets date back even further. They were originally called the Multi-Poundage System by their creator, Henry Atkins. Nonetheless, drop sets have been nicknamed and renamed time and time again. Whether you refer to them as descending sets, strip sets, the stripping method, triple drops, down the rack, or running the rack, you’re talking about drop sets.

A drop set is technically defined as a containing exercise with a lower weight, once muscular failure has been achieved at a higher weight. Out of convenience, drop sets are often performed on machines because reducing the weight just requires moving the pin. However, keep in mind that drop sets can be performed with dumbbells and other free weights, as long as you have the guidance you need to correctly perform the exercise. As such, I want to provide you with four recommendations that will help you get the most out of your drop sets:

  1. Set up your equipment in advance: If you’re training at a popular gym, crowds may make it difficult to jump directly into drop sets. Setting up your equipment in advance will help you to execute your workout quickly and seamlessly.
  2. Avoid technically complex movements: When you’re doing drop sets, I would advise you to stay away from more complex exercises, such as snatches.
  3. Avoid movements that could put your back at risk: I would recommend avoiding exercises like good mornings, deadlifts, power cleans, etc. that could cause potential injury to your back when executed in a drop set form. You may have seen some Strongman competitors do drop sets with these movements, but keep in mind that they didn’t progress through to muscle failure. Plus, they’ve mastered the movement.
  4. Train when the gym is least crowded: Because drop sets require equipment and weight reductions, it’s easier to execute them when you’re not battling other athletes for valuable gym space. Try to train in an off-hour, especially if your gym is typically very crowded.

Barbell Drop Set

As an example, I want to talk through one particular method for drop sets: barbells. This method is very simple and you can expand on this as you get acclimated with the movement. If you’re just starting out with drop sets, I would recommend doing 6-12 reps with two drops (or reductions in weight). Start off with your first set, do repetitions until you reach muscle failure, and then reduce the weight by 10-30% as quickly as possible. Continue your reps until you reach muscle failure again, and then reduce the weight by 10-30%. Finish with this last, mini set – which means that you have three total mini sets that equate to one drop set. I would recommend doing one set per exercise, with a couple sets total per workout. Over time, as you become more comfortable with the movement, then you can potentially increase the frequency.

Drop sets are effective because they extend your time under tension and recruit both fast-twitch and slow-twitch muscle fibers during the exercise. Fast-twitch muscle fibers are those that are worked from the initial heavy weight; slow-twitch fibers are those that are worked as you finish off the extended set. When executed correctly, you’ll experience an amazing pump, filling your body with oxygenated, protein-rich blood.  Add drop sets to your workout today and set the stage for muscle hypertrophy!

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