THE DIRT ON DROP SETS

Matching the shapes of the delicate, cotton candy clouds to their animal doppelgangers, my father and I laid with our sweaty backs to the Earth. With the greenest grass in the neighborhood against our skins and the aroma of a freshly cut lawn, we became prisoners to that brilliant blue sky. After putting in a hard day’s work, we basked in the afternoon sun rays and the glory of our completed task.

These two sons tried every excuse in the book to get out of the work, most of them didn’t work. However, Ryan eventually cracked the code to get off the hook by mowing the lawn in the craziest, most-crooked lines one can imagine. Our father had no patience for his “lack of care”.

Although we heavily resisted, nothing felt better than a job well done and a big sense of accomplishment.

When’s the last time you cleaned the dirt from underneath your fingernails?

No matter how hard he scrubbed, the dirt seemed to be ingrained into his hands. Admittedly, I would get my hands dirty just to use his special orange liquid degreaser for the heavenly citrus smell. Little did I know, my father was teaching me how to play in the dirt. Through his actions and relentless work ethic, he taught my brother and me how to grind.

My most vivid childhood memories were in that yard. Whether it was playing whiffle ball or building sandbox empires, my dad was always completing his random house duties. I say random for a reason. This guy would even wax our gutters for crying out loud.

Gary Vaynerchuk, the O.G. hustler and entrepreneur, talks about the clouds and the dirt when it comes to building your business empire.

The clouds represent your dreams that drive you, the big picture, and the end game. For my pops, his clouds were very honest. Provide and support his family at all costs. Give them a better life than he had.

On the other side of the equation, you have the dirt. This is the ambition, skills, and talent that you must develop that allows you to reach the clouds.

You cannot have one without the other. But the dirt is where it’s at. By getting your hands dirty and learning from the experiences that made you wash your hands, you are in control of your success.

When it comes to changing one’s body, many people are only focused on the clouds. Myself included.

We are all after that coveted “V” taper where your lats block out the sun and your shoulders look like boulders. We want that low body fat percentage along with enough strength to pick up a house if we so fancy. And we want all of that right now.

In reality, there is not enough emphasis on the dirt to making your fitness dreams come true. The dirt of learning to weigh your food, figure out a daily meal plan that fits your macros, the proper techniques of strength versus hypertrophy, or the importance of recovery.

What you need is to get your head out of the damn clouds and come play in the dirt. Don’t be such a sissy. It’s nothing a manicure can’t fix.

If you are after building some serious muscle, this is where you hone your craft. Up until this point, you have followed the principle of progressive overload. Week to week, you gradually increased the stress demands on your body; forcing it to adapt to a higher intensity or more volume.

Even though you’ve reached a plateau, you want to keep playing in the dirt until your mother calls you inside. Well, let’s get a little filthy with a training method that will push your muscular growth to a new level.

This is the first installment of our Methods to the Muscle Madness series. In it, we will break down the intricacies of the high intensities techniques. By applying these methods with some grit, you will build you an impressive physique.

Without further ado, we present to you the Dirt on Drop Sets.

What are Drop Sets?

First thing’s first, these sets are the realest. Drop this and let the whole world feel it.

Obviously, Iggy Azalea was inspired by drop sets so much that she wrote her hit single all about ‘em.

Now before we get so fancy on you, what the hell are Drop Sets?

Drop sets are an intensity technique that allows you to continue a set beyond the normal limits through methodical reductions (“drops”) in the weight.

The method was discovered way back in 1947 by a smart chap named Henry Atkins. No relation to the bro that discovered the all-you-can-eat meat diet AKA the Atkins Diet. Henry Atkins, the editor of Body Culture magazine, actually called his discovery the “multi-poundage system”. Personally, we like drop-sets a lot more.

In the bodybuilding world, drop sets picked up steam and have been ingrained in the sport due to the “pump” they create upon completion. Who doesn’t love that feeling of shoving as much blood into the target muscle group as possible?

Why Drop Sets?

The goal of drop sets is to exhaust the high threshold fibers within the first working set. Upon lowering the weight (percentage depending on the specific technique you are using), you are increasing time under tension by completing more volume.

There are times when straight sets aren’t cutting out. Whether breaking free of the monotony and looking to get straight down and dirty or short on time, this intensity technique will give the type I and II fibers the stimulus they need to get growing.

In order to unlock the fast-twitch fibers, which have the most potential for growth, you must place enough demand on the muscle to access those high levels of muscle activation. Because you cannot by-pass straight to those big, strong fibers, you must recruit from the smallest to the largest.

Since the body and brain are all about efficiency, the minimum amount of fibers will be recruited to perform a repetition with the weight.

Drop sets allow you to by-pass the energy efficient mentality by increasing fatigue while still placing a high demand on the motor units. By exhausting the muscle fibers, it will become easier to tap into those glorious type-II fibers at a weight where they usually wouldn’t be required. So the risk of injury is lessened since you will be using lighter weights in a fatigued state.

In addition to recruiting those muscle fibers, more metabolic stress will be created. That one-two punch has a beneficial effect on muscle growth.

The magic happens when you take sets beyond their normal limits leads to higher strength and hypertrophy gains.

Drop Sets allow you to do just that.

Drop Set & Grow.

In the reckless days of our training youth, we unknowingly added drop sets to our workouts. Sometimes, it was our ego that chose a weight that our undeveloped muscles couldn’t handle and we ended up dropping the weight after a few weights. And then again.

Other times, we got lost while chasing the pump. In hopes of shoving as much blood into the target muscle, we would run the rack all the live long day.

We had no clue what we were actually doing. Only that it was hard as shit and we had one hell of a pump afterward.

While an intensity technique at its roots, one can abuse the typical drop set. And well, perform them with a lack of intensity and results.

When most trainees haphazardly throw a drop set into the mix of their training, there is no rhyme or reason. Start with a heavy weight. Then take off a plate or two and go to failure. Rinse and repeat.

Personally, we thought we were advanced from how we strategically stacked the weighted plates to strip them off.

Ready to get your mind blown?

When it comes to performing drop sets, there is more than one way to skin a cat.

Since you are here because you want to build muscle and improve your physique without wasting time, let’s break down the specifics to each drop set protocol:

1. DOUBLE // TRIPLE DROP SET.

Easing into this, double drop sets refer to a single drop; leaving you with two mini-sets within the one.

For triple drop sets (our absolute favorite), you will reduce the load two times. The end result is 3 mini-sets within one.

2. TIGHT.

Tight drop sets refer to a slight to a small reduction in weight from set to set. The decrease in weight should range between 10 to 25 percent between drops. This method works best on smaller muscle groups and in isolation movements.

For example: You perform barbell curls with 100 pounds for 10 repetitions. The next set you will reduce the weight by 15% to 85 lbs and complete either A.) failure or B.) a set number of repetitions like 8 to 10. Then repeat once more at another 15% of the ORIGINAL weight. In this case, your last set would be 60 lbs.

3. WIDE.

In contrast to their tight drop set counterparts, wide drop sets work through large decreases in weight from drop to drop. The reductions in weight are normally around 30% or simply pulling off a 25 to 45-pound plate. This specific technique is best for larger muscle groups and multi-compound movements due to the cardiovascular demand they create. Just because the weight jumps are larger does not mean that this method is any easier.

For example: You perform squats with 235 lbs and knowing you will be doing wide drops, set the bar up with one 45 lb and two 25 lb plates. After completing 6 reps at 235, you strip a 25 lb plate on each side and perform the next set to failure at 185. You have a short rest period and repeat with 135.

4. ASCENDING.

To build off the last two methods, the goal of ascending drop sets will be to increase repetitions with each drop in weight. This means the reductions in weight should be large enough to ensure that you can perform more repetitions than the previous set.

For example: Your set of three drops could look something like this…x8 x12 x15

5. DESCENDING.

Similar to the first method, in descending drop sets you will use tight drops. However, the specific goal will be using a weight that causes your repetitions to decrease with every reduction. Rightfully so, this is the complete opposite of ascending drop sets.

For example: Your set of three drops could look something like this…x12 x8 x4

6. RUNNING THE RACK.

This one brings back sweet yet painful memories for the first time we experienced a blood-pumping set of biceps curls. And it’s always better with a partner to move that pin for you to minimize rest time.

You may know this method as pyramid sets if you’re ballsy enough. Like any villain, there are always lots of nicknames for their evil actions.

Running the rack is an extended set where you move from the heaviest weight for a particular amount of repetitions then move down to the next weight in line. This works best on machines or in a dumbbell rack where you have access to each small increment.

If you are feeling extra bad-ass, try this: Go to failure on each set. Start as heavy as possible. Once failing, rack the weight and move right to the next set of dumbbells or the move the pin one up the rack. Keep going until you reach the lightest weight (that still calls for some tension). Then move back up to the starting weight.

7. MECHANICAL.

This one is a little curveball. You will not be actually dropping the weight here. Instead, you will be positioning your body to reduce the intensity. In mechanical drop sets, some physics come into play.

Here we will be utilizing levers to move from a position of the greatest difficulty

By manipulating gravity demands or a cable’s line of pull, mechanical drop sets are the perfect technique to push hypertrophy off the charts.

These examples play around with body positioning regress from most gravity pull to least.

  • Feet Elevated Push-Ups —> Regular Push-Ups —> Hands Elevated Push-Ups
  • Feet Elevated Inverted Rows —> Straight Leg Inverted Rows (feet on ground) —> Knees Bent Inverted Rows
  • Incline DB Bench Press —> Falt DB Bench Press —> Decline DB Bench Press

Now, we move on to manipulate levers. Cable machines or exercise tubing gives us the best opportunity to do that. The cable will place the highest tension when the handle is at 90 degrees to the working muscle. In the video below, we will manipulate body positioning to impact the strength curve of the triceps.The goal of this mechanical drop set is to move through the entire contractile range of the triceps from a shortened position to the most lengthened.

Begin by taking 3 steps away from the cable stack. In this position, the cable creates the most amount tension while the triceps are in the shortest position. Upon completing the first set, take one step in and change the tension towards the mid-range. Another step in and the triceps are in a more lengthened position. The final set is completed by bringing the arms overhead, where the triceps are in their most lengthened position.

8. GRIP OR FOOT POSITION CHANGE.

Expanding further on the last technique, the load remains constant here as well. Instead of changing the position of your body, you will be decreasing the intensity with each drop by moving from the most difficult grip or stance to the least difficult. This method allows you to hit the muscle group from all different angles while pushing the set beyond its normal limits.

For example: You begin with Wide Grip Pull-Ups, leaving 1 to 2 reps in the tank. For the second set, you will switch to a Neutral Grip. Then you will finish with Close Grip Chin Ups.

Begin with Cable Reverse Grip Curls and transition by supinating the wrists to regular Cable Curls. Then switching once more to a Cable Hammer Curl with a triceps rope.

For lower body work, you could begin with a narrow stance in the squat and change to a wider grip. Same goes for work on the leg press.

9. ISOLATION —> MULTI-COMPOUND. VICE VERSA.

In this drop set, the load remains constant once again. The difference here is the amount of joints and muscle groups in play. You will begin with an isolation movement and progress to a multi-compound exercise. Simply, you will start with the least amount of muscles involved and progress to the most while targeting a specific group.

For example:

A1. DB Lateral Raises x10

A2. DB Arnold Press x10

A3. DB Push Press x10

This is a two-for-one special. If you swap that order, you have another method. Here you will hit the exercises that include the most amount of muscles involved and progress to the isolation movements. This will pre-fatigue those smaller muscles and tap into the higher threshold fibers.

For example:

A1. Back Squat

A2. Horizontal Leg Press

A3. Leg Extension

Those are 10 monstrous drop set methods to create muscle damage, produce mechanical tension and demand cell swelling. All the mechanisms behind producing muscle growth. To wrap this up so you can stop reading and start applying, here are some additional rules:

 REST PERIODS: These can be manipulated depending on your current levels and the intensity used. As a baseline rest periods should be between 5 to 30 seconds. Work towards no rest or just the amount of time it takes to move the pin or strip the weight.

SET UP: Be efficient with your drops by knowing the weights you want to use at each set. Even if you have pet-peeves that the weights must look at certain way on the bar, you must put your OCD aside when it comes to drop sets.

COMBO: In the techniques explained above, feel free to use these solely or as a combination. You could choose between a triple and double drop for each one. You could also add on any of the methods that call for a drop in weight to the END of the mechanical drop set. 

Just when you thought we gave you all the dirt, there’s more…

Put these drop sets into immediate action by applying them directly into your workouts. If you’re serious about building muscle, do not hesitate to click this link to discover our top training tactics for massive muscle growth.