Defining Drop Set

Drop set is an exercise technique, simple in nature, that involves performing an exercise set until failure or short of failure, then some weight gets dropped and repetitions of the same exercise done on a reduced weight. Arnold’s Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding establishes that drop set method originally got discovered by Henry Atkins (Body Culture Magazine editor) in 1947. Originally called a ‘multi-poundage system’ by Atkins, this technique has earned different names over the years such as triple drops, breakdowns, strip sets, descending sets, stripping technique and down the rack.

Why Drop Sets for Bodybuilders?

Bodybuilders are majorly concerned with their cosmetic improvements unlike athletes who go for enhancing their athletic performance. This is what makes the bodybuilders unique and special in their own accord – they mainly chose drop sets over other exercises. They are focused so much on increasing their muscles to a big size. Comparing them to the athletes or footballers or sprinters, the latter less exploit the drop set technique because it is not conducive for gaining power, speed and strength. Take for example athletes, they need strength and power but not with a big body to hinder their movement. So in their case, they will ignore drop sets. Go for drop sets if you are basically for gaining muscle mass – it is ideal for you!

How Does It Work?

With bicep curls movement on a 125 pound weight, the 10th rep is likely to be difficult if going for a set of 8-12 reps. While the 11th is even much harder even when you attempt a slight cheating. But the 12th rep takes your effort out completely. Talk not of the 13th rep, even at gun point you will not do it. That is the exact meaning of a honest failure. Now, suppose you reduce some pounds off the bar, say about 15 to 20%, it means you can still move on for some while. However, you are also going to reach your maximum rep at a momentary muscular failure point of a set of 8-12 reps. Failure was not failure at the 125 poundage weight still you can proceed a while with a stripped weight in a conventional straight set. Now the concept of drop set is analyzed here; a single straight set done to failure does not activate every muscle group fiber. It is like you use a specific muscle fiber to lift a certain poundage until all fiber groups are activated.   

When you reduce the weight and go on with the sets, you are likely recruiting more groups of reserved muscle fibers. So, drop sets will get deep down the stubborn muscle fibers and induce growth that a single set would not be able to achieve, even from the 6th to 12th rep.

Creative Methods to Drop Set

  1. The 50% Drop Set

This is also called the ‘halving method’. It involves a wide drop set that use two totally opposite ranges and where each will effect on a different aspect of a muscle cell. Basically, this allows for an excellent muscle mass gain.

  • Wide Drop Sets

This refers to a largely reducing weights between the reps.  Wide drop sets are much easier than tight drop sets. They as well allow one to repeat more of the reps. For example, on performing squat you may start with 315 lbs and strip off about 30% of weight to continue the next set with a 225 lbs weight.

  • Drop Superset

Drop superset is all about combining effective bodybuilding techniques. For example, select two superset exercises, maybe dumbbell lateral raises and/or presses. Start your superset exercise with lateral raises for a weight of 35 pounds on 8-12 rep max. Move to dumbbell presses with minimized rest periods and weights (65 lbs) on your usual 8-12 rep max. Continue without rest to lighter dumbbell sets as a set of side laterals. Pick 55 lbs of the dumbbells and go into shoulder presses again and finally, descend down to 15 lbs dumbbells for a final set of lateral raises and move straightaway to 45 lbs presses. This makes a single drop-superset.

  • Descending (12-8-4-2) or Ascending (6-12-20) Rep Drop Sets

Descending drop sets are performed on very tight drop set where reps are decreased simultaneously with weight reduction. For example, 225 pounds on a 12 rep, 200 pounds on a 8 rep, 175 pounds on a 4 rep and 150 pounds on a 2 rep. Ascending rep drop set are basically performed by substantially reducing the weights to increase the rep numbers. For example, 100 pounds on 6 reps, 75 pounds on 12 reps and 50 pounds on 20 reps.

  • Barbells Drop Sets

This involves mounting small plates (of certain weights) on each bar side and removing them off when you attain your failure threshold. This method was Arnold’s favorite for bicep training. For example, you have a weight mounting to 125 lbs. When you reach the rep that is of your threshold failure, you strip off a 10lb plate on each side to continue with 105 lbs and so on.

  • Drop Sets with Selectorized Machines

Machines make drop set easier because all that you will do is to pull that pin out of the stack weight and adjust it to a lighter weight. It is even much simpler on a leg extension because you don’t even have to leave your seat to change weight but simply change weight at your seat and intensify the set.

  • Dumbbells Drop Sets

Dumbbell exercises engages a down the rack technique which is fantastic for example, lateral raises, curls and shoulder presses. Suppose you go with dumbbell lateral raises, start with 40’s then 30’s and finally 20’s. You can rep more as well.

  • Tight Drop Sets

This refers to decreasing small weights in between the drops. This can be used as a method of overload and can be technically difficult (or tightening). This weight reduction from the drops is averagely 15%. For example, loading 225 lbs, then dropping to 190 lbs then to 160 lbs. And this drop set can include a reduction of between five to twenty percent. Mostly, tight drop sets are performed on isolation exercises and on small muscle groups.

  • Power Drop Sets

This drop set will allow you to engage heavier weights and help to build your strength level, plus thickening the muscle fibers without having to pump so much. For example, start with a 6-rep max and then decrease the weight by 10 or 15% with each drop. With a lighter weight, repeat this for six more reps until you attain the number of drops you desire.

  1. Drop Sets with Stance Change or Grip

 It can be one of your favorite like mine because it can hit a multi-faceted muscle from every angle. The leg press machine can help you place emphasis on low quad or teardrop, inner thigh, glutes, hamstrings and outer quad. All these will depend on where your feet is placed on the platform.

  1. Zero Rest Drop Sets

These are typically difficult and are avoided deliberately by people. In this, you literally do away with that rest between weight changes. For this reason, you will perform this kind with a training partner.

  1. Rest-Pause Drop Sets

This kind of drop sets are opposite of zero rest drop sets. You will take a deliberate rest of between 5 to 15 seconds in between the weight changes just to permit recovery of your body.

Maximizing Drop Sets Efficiently                                                        

This article lays down seven ways of maximizing the efficiency of your drop set. Below are the 7 mentioned ways:

  1. Keeping the intervals of rest as minimum as possible.
  2. Setting up equipment to be used in advance
  3. Training mostly when there is no crowding in the gym; you may enjoy the space of utilizing Dumbbell alone.
  4. Use like two weight drops most of the time
  5. Maintain mostly a six to twelve rep range most of the time if not all the time.
  6. Always begin with a six to twelve rep max
  7. Do use drop sets sparingly and with caution.


Without any other training method to screen, drop sets are very able to effect to that serious muscle growth of your desire. Applying this technique alone will make you achieve muscle mass gain within a shorter period of time. Try any method aligned in this article and I guarantee you to look out for perfect results in the near future.