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Drop Sets | What They Are & How They Build Muscle Mass

If you’re struggling to pack on the muscle mass or your progress is undergoing a plateau, drop sets are something which you should definitely be throwing into your workout!

A drop set is an advanced weight training technique where you perform your usual set, but rather than heading straight into your rest once the set is done, you drop the weight, and perform another set until failure.

Types of Drop Sets?

drop sets

There are three most popular types of a drop set, and they are called:

1) Up the stack

2) Plate stripping

3) Running the rack.

They all share the same idea, and that’s to squeeze every last repetition out of the working muscles. You should aim to change just one exercise per workout to a drop set.

The great thing about adding drop sets to your workout is that they can be performed during any workout, from legs, to abs, to cardio!

What’s running the rack?

Running the rack is simply as the name would suggest, going down in weight each time you reach failure.

? The first set you should go for a weight that is your 4-6 rep maximum.

? Drop the weight by 20%, and do 8 reps.

? Drop the weight by a further 20% and push 10 more reps out.

? If you’re still willing to keep going, drop it by a further 20% and get 12 reps out.

If you still haven’t failed by this point, keep going by taking 20% off the weight, and adding 2 reps each time, and feel the burn.

Example exercise: Alternating dumbbell curls

bicep curl

Reps Weight
6 reps 20kg 
8 reps 16kg
10 reps 12kg
12 reps 10kg

Whats plate stripping? 

This can only be used when performing a set which involves a barbell, which is sort of given away the ‘plate’ stripping name, as you’d be removing plates.

You will need a training partner for this, to ensure you aren’t getting a rest period during the set.

The idea is that once you’ve completed the relevant amount of reps, your training partner will take one of the plates off the barbell once you’ve reached failure with the current weight.

As with the running the rack drop set, once you’ve reached failure a few times, that will have been enough to reach plenty of the muscle fibres, so you will get a real workout from doing this.

Don’t worry if you don’t lift heavily, you can stack your bar using lighter plates, there’s no reason you have to be able to lift big to do a drop set.

Example Dropset exercise: Barbell deadlift

deadlift form

Reps Weight
6 reps 100kg 
8 reps 80kg
10 reps 60kg
12 reps 40kg
14 reps 20kg

What’s up the stack?

Probably the easiest way to perform a drop set, particularly if you don’t have a training partner either. So, next time you’re on a weight machine, go for a drop set.

It’s much easier to perform with a weight machine as you can simply just pin, and unpin your weight, rather than having to rely on a partner to unstack weight, or having all the required dumbbells available.

Example Dropset exercise: Leg extension

leg extension

Reps Weight
6 reps 84kg 
8 reps 67kg
10 reps 54kg
12 reps 45kg

Benefits of drop sets


?  Drop sets allow you to maximise muscle growth by working every single muscle fibre in a single set.

In a regular set of 8-12 reps, you don’t hit all the muscle fibres in the targeted area. However, drop sets allow you to do that and hit them stubborn fibres by providing them with added stress with a regular set!



You shouldn’t perform any more than one exercise as a drop set per workout to prevent over-training!

The idea of a drop set is to send the muscle fibres into a state of shock, so don’t continuously add drop sets to your workout, and take a month break from them every few weeks.

Take home message

Drop sets are perfect to use as tool for adding size and strength – no matter what your ability or your current strength level.

Try adding them to your workout for a couple of weeks each time, then give them a rest.

If you don’t already have a training partner, find yourself one and get drop sets introduced into your workout to see if you can push past that stubborn plateau!

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