Written by Jack Boardman
Drop sets are widely used by many established bodybuilders as a primary go-to approach for developing mass muscle. Whether you’re already seeing the results you’re looking for, or if you could do with a few pointers, here are some tips you might not know about to make drop sets work for you.
Revise Your Rest Time
The amount of rest you take between sets depends how many reps and how heavy you’re going, but even for heavy sets you should keep your rest period brief so that your set is its most effective and as intense as can be. This will also mean preparation is required. If you’re using a barbell, things will go smoother and quicker with a gym buddy or two to take plate off either end. Whatever you’re doing your drop sets on, the less time and energy you use dropping the weight for your next set, the better. With that in mind, you’ll benefit a less busy gym or an unoccupied weight rack.
Some prefer zero rests or the rest-pause method, wherein you would wait 15 seconds before your next set – this is recommended for strength building. Zero rest sets definitely require assistance so that you don’t need to pause between sets. These are as intense as it gets and will obviously result in muscle failure much sooner. You’ll be surprised how much you benefit from even a 5-10 second rest.
In order to focus on heavier weights, many lifters prefer a three weight – two drop approach. This will also cut down the amount of time spent lowering the weight, focussing instead on three sets so that you can go heavy or high with reps.
When it comes to reps, it is widely acknowledged that a cap of 8-12 reps is best for hypertrophy. If you’re going heavy, cap it at 5 full-range lifts that you can’t possible do a sixth of. For an extra pump, go for 15-20 reps at the end of a session from time to time – perhaps best saved for when you have a rest day after.
Drop sets are high intensity and have a high impact on your targeted muscles. That said, you don’t want to overuse them and burn excessive calories where other methods will do. You should use them as part of a broader plan during a session. One suggestion is to add a drop set following three other sets of an exercise. Because the aim is to achieve muscle failure, you should save them for last.
Change Your Stance Or Grip
Repetition is key in resistance training, but if you slightly vary your grip (or stance when training legs) you will target different muscle fibres in the same areas.
If this was used for a barbell bicep exercise, lift the first 8-12 reps at a moderate weight with a normal grip, then for the next drop set use a wide hold, adopting a close grip for the third. Using the example of a leg press machine on leg day, the same approach of widening and narrowing your stance will place emphasis on different parts of your legs.