What Is A Drop Set In The Gym?

How to Build Muscle With Single, Double, and Triple Drop Sets

By: Jeremy Fox, CNC, CPTPublished: April 14, 2020

If you have more than one year of weight training experience, you will eventually hit a plateau where you no longer progress. When muscle growth stalls, you can consider exercise techniques such as drop sets to increase workout intensity and unlock additional muscle gains.

In this article, I will explain different types of drop sets and how you can incorporate them into your workout routine to maximize muscle growth.

drop set

Drop Set Meaning

Drop sets are a weightlifting technique that involves performing an additional set with lighter weight 5-15 seconds after reaching muscular failure on the first set. This technique aims to perform more work in less time, thereby increasing metabolic stress to elicit greater muscle hypertrophy compared to traditional straight sets.

There are several other names for drop sets, including strip sets, down-the-rack, and the multi-poundage system.

Drop Set vs Superset: Supersets are a weightlifting technique that involves performing multiple sets of two different exercises in rapid succession. These exercises often use opposing muscle groups, such as biceps and triceps. In contrast, drop sets typically involve a single exercise or at least very similar movement patterns.

Benefits Of Drop Sets

Here are some of the main benefits of drop sets compared to traditional sets.

  • Decrease workout duration
  • Longer time under tension
  • More muscle damage triggers growth adaptation
  • Larger number of muscle fibers recruited
  • Multiple muscle fiber types are used
  • Improve muscular endurance
  • Get a better pump

Drop sets are a great way to increase the intensity of your workout, and the shorter rest period means you spend less time in the gym. 

Another benefit of drop sets is that they work more muscle fibers than regular sets. While a single set only uses a fraction of the muscle fibers, reducing the weight allows the muscle to continue contracting and using more fibers.

Extending the set increases the time under tension, leading to more significant muscle damage and potentially more muscle mass once you recover from the workout.

Additionally, drop sets help recruit multiple types of muscle fibers. The heavier weight set uses more fast-twitch fibers with the most growth potential. The lighter set uses more slow-twitch fibers, which improve muscle volume and muscular endurance.

Overall, drop sets can help you achieve muscle failure without having to use super heavy weight. The minimal rest periods also allow you to increase training volume without increasing workout duration.

drop set muscle failure

Types of Drop Sets

You can implement several types of drop sets in your training program in different ways. Here are some quick definitions of each variation.

  • Single Drop Set: You lower the weight only one time and perform two total sets.
  • Double Drop Set: You lower the weight twice and perform three total sets.
  • Triple Drop Set: You lower the weight three times and perform four total sets.
  • Mechanical Drop Set: You keep the same weight but change your body position to make the exercise easier.
What Is a Mechanical Drop Set

In this illustration, I demonstrate how to change your body position for a mechanical drop set on cable tricep pressdowns. By standing closer to the cable on the second set, the weight feels lighter in the contracted position, allowing additional reps.

How to Perform Drop Sets

When adding drop sets to your training session, it’s important to consider exercise selection and how much resistance you use for each set. Here are some general guidelines.

Exercise Selection

Compound exercises like bench presses and squats expend a lot of energy with every set, making drop sets difficult. Your cardiovascular system is more likely to fatigue before a specific muscle group.

Therefore, isolation exercises involving a single joint are better suited to targeting specific working muscles with drop sets.

What Equipment to Use

You can perform drop sets with almost any equipment, whether you have a basic home gym or a state-of-the-art workout facility. However, some equipment makes adjusting the weight and performing rapid sets easier.

  • Machines: The best way to perform drop sets is on machines where you can change the weight quickly. For example, a weight stack with a selector pin enables you to lower the weight and perform another set within a few seconds.
  • Dumbbells: Dumbbell exercises are another excellent option for drop sets, provided you have the correct weights. Doing multiple drop sets with dumbbells can be tricky in crowded commercial gyms.
  • Weight Plates: You can also do drop sets on plate-loaded machines and barbells, although reducing the weight can take longer unless you have a training partner to help you.

How Much Weight to Use

When aiming to increase muscle size through hypertrophy training, it is best to start with a weight of about 70-80% of your one-rep max. This weight should allow you to perform 8-12 repetitions before reaching muscular failure.

For subsequent drop sets, you should decrease the weight by 25-30% each time so your muscles continue failing at 8-12 reps with less weight.

What is a Double Drop Set

Drop Set Examples

Suppose you are doing dumbbell bicep curls with drop sets. On the first set, you use 30 lb dumbbells and do 11 reps with good form before failing. 

Next, you immediately pick up the 20-lb dumbbells and do another 10 reps before failing. At this point, you’ve completed a single drop set. 

Let’s assume you continue with a third set with 15 lb dumbbells and do 8 reps. That’s called a double drop set.

In this case, the second set was 33% lighter than the first set. And the third set was 25% lighter than the second set.

Double Drop Set Example:

  • First Set: 30 pounds
  • Drop Set 1: 20 pounds (-10 pounds or -33%)
  • Drop Set 2: 15 pounds (-5 pounds or -25%)

When following this general guideline, it’s common to end up with half the weight you started with after a double drop set.

In the video below, I demonstrate a triple drop set with dumbbell alternating curls followed by a triple drop set with the dumbbell French press for triceps.

My YouTube channel has dozens of videos showing you how to do a variety of bodybuilding exercises. You’ll learn how to target and build specific muscle groups in 90 seconds or less. Click HERE to subscribe, or click on the button below!

By Muscle Group

Here are some exercises that are good for doing drop sets for each major muscle group.

In Workouts

As a personal trainer, I typically have my clients perform drop sets near the end of a workout to “burn out” any remaining muscle fibers. Another common strategy is doing drop sets as the last set of an exercise.

However, I have also used drop sets on the first exercise in a workout. This pre-exhaust approach fatigues the target muscle early, which can reduce the amount of time required for it to fail on subsequent exercises.

Drop sets are an effective strategy resistance training technique for increasing workout intensity. However, as with any advanced training technique, you must be cautious not to overdo it.

Use drop sets sparingly to avoid overtraining, and always use proper form to reduce the risk of injury.

More Workout Guides

Drop sets are great for intermediate to advanced lifters who want to make their workouts more challenging. This technique makes your muscles work harder and recruits more muscle fibers, potentially leading to greater gains.

Drop sets make your workouts more intense and save time. So, add them to your toolbox to make your workouts more efficient!

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