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The Deal on Drop Sets

Posted Dec 17 2010 8:42am

Happy Friday All! :)

How are you doing today? I don’t know about you, but this week has absolutely flown by for me. Work and after-work activities were pretty crazy and I can’t wait to chill out and relax tomorrow. What have you got planned for this weekend?

This morning’s lower bod workout with Mr Trainer was grueling and gruesome as usual, and I’m sure my hamstrings will be singing by tomorrow morning. One of Mr. T’s favourite “fun” things to do in our workouts is drop sets. Not sure what these are? Well today I shall explain so you can get in on the fun too! Mwahahahaha ;)

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First things first: What are they?

Drop sets refer to a method of weight training. In a drop set, an exercise is performed with a relatively heavy weight until muscle failure – the point where you can’t possibly squeeze out another rep. For example, you might do 10 squats with 130lbs on the squat rack, then reduce the load by a little – say, down to 125 lbs. Again, you complete as many reps as you can until failure. Then the weight is reduced again, and reps are completed until failure. You get the idea, right? You could keep on reducing for as long as you want to, but 2 weight reductions is quite common (meaning you’d be using 3 different weights).

These sets are usually done at the end of your regular sets. Again using squats as an example, your plan might look something like this:

  • 3x 12 sets of barbell squats – same weight, with 1 min rest in between
  • Drop set: Barbell squat using 130 lbs until failure, then decrease quickly to 125lbs until failure, then decrease again to 120lbs until failure.

What does this training method achieve?

Everyone has their own fitness goals, and there are training methods that are more suitable for each. For example, to build strength endurance, programs typically focus on relatively lighter weights and higher repetition ranges. By contrast, in hypertrophy (or muscle-building) phases, training programs tend to involve lifting heavier weights for fewer reps. Drop sets are commonly used by body builders as a way to add lean muscle mass. If you’ve noticed that you’ve hit a plateau in strength training and are looking for ways to shake things up, this method can help to kick-start new progress.

Is there anything else I should know?

Drop sets are a fairly intense way of training, so it’s important to be careful and listen to your body. You might have already guessed that they’re not very appropriate for beginners, and you’re correct. However, even experienced lifters need to be careful. Overtraining muscles by doing too many exercises that target the same group in too short of a time period can lead to injury, so don’t do it!! From personal experience, I usually only incorporate drop sets in the last exercise of my workouts, once each week (maybe twice, if I’m feeling unusually hardcore).

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What sort of exercises are good for drop sets?

Almost any weighted exercise could be performed using this method, but good ones to choose are those where the weight can be decreased quickly. This is where weight machines are particularly useful because you can just move the pin up the weights in the stack as you progress through the drop set. Dumbells can also be used (for example, for biceps curls) but the other folk in the gym might get a bit annoyed with you if you hoard all the weights. If you have a trainer or workout partner with you, they can help to unload barbells.

Below are a few examples of exercises that work well for drop sets, as well as the main muscles they involve:

1. Lat Pull-Downs: Simply move the pin up the stack as you progress. This works the latissimus dorsi, biceps and supporting mid-back muscles.

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2. Assisted Pull-Ups and Triceps Dips: Pull-ups work mainly the latissimus dorsi, as well as other supporting muscles in the back. Triceps dips will target the triceps (bet ya wouldn’t have guessed that one), as well as the shoulders and chest. When using this machine, it helps to have a workout buddy who can quickly adjust the weight stack at the side as you move through sets.

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3. Cable Chest Fly: This works the pectorals, as well as the deltoids and biceps. Again, simply move the pin further up the weight stack as you go.


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4. Barbell Squat: This one is best done with a partner who can offload the weight from each side of the barbell as you progress. The move targets the glutes, quadriceps and hamstrings.


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5. Overhead Shoulder Press: This exercise can be used for drop sets focusing on the shoulders if you are training alone. If you don’t have access to an overhead press machine but can use several sets of dumbells, seated overhead shoulder presses can be done instead.

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And that is your fitness education for today!! Time for me to head to work. I hope you have a fabulous Friday and a great weekend. See you back here on Monday! :)


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