Drop Set – Super Set – Giant Set: Intensify Your Workout for Greater Gains

Last week I introduced you to the concept of High Intensity Training.  I listed several “Intensity Techniques” to make your workouts harder and induce greater muscle gain.  The drop set, super set, and giant set are 3 such techniques that will intensify your workout and lead to more growth.  Let me explain each of these techniques and tell you how to implement them into your workout.

drop set

What is a Drop Set?

A drop set is performing two or more sets immediately following each other using lighter weight with each subsequent set.  The primary benefit of the drop set is increased time under tension.  On the first set the muscle fails with a heavy load.  But by dropping the weight the muscle can continue to contract.  This is due to the different fibers utilized for different loads and movement speeds.  Drops sets allow more total reps to be performed which can result in more muscle fiber recruitment and consequent growth.

Multiple drop sets can be performed consecutively using progressively lighter weights to further increase the muscle’s time under tension.  This is referred to as a double drop set since the weight is lowered twice.  Or you may hear it called a triple drop set since there are 3 total sets.

Drop Set Workout

When incorporating drop sets into your workout another good strategy is to alter the tempo for each set.  This will recruit as many muscle fibers as possible during the exercise.  Fast tempo means using explosive reps for the heavier set to utilize the fast twitch muscle fibers.  And then slow tempo using deliberate controlled reps as the load gets lighter to engage the slow twitch fibers.

As a starting point, lower the initial weight by 25-33% for each drop set.  For example, if your initial set of dumbbell curls is 40 lbs then the first drop set would be 25 or 30 lbs.  And a second drop set would be 15-20 lbs.

Drop sets are most easily performed on machines, cables, or with dumbbells.  These exercises allow the load to be changed quickly.  However, this technique can also be used on barbell exercises with help from a spotter to remove the weight.  For drop sets the exercise always remains the same.  When the subsequent exercise changes, then we have what’s called a super set.

What is a Super Set?

Combining single sets of two exercises with no rest in between is referred to as a super set.  A super set is typically performed with two different muscle groups such as biceps and triceps. Alternating between muscle groups allows one to recover while the other is working.  This is a good way to shorten workouts when time is limited.

Super sets can also be performed using the same muscle group with different exercises.  For example, after completing a set of skull crushers you can finish off your triceps by going directly into a close grip bench press.  This changes the loading on the target muscle.  And the compound movement of the close grip press means other muscles like the chest can help out.  The end result is more total work being done by the muscle which will lead to more gains.  When more than 2 exercises are done in this fashion it’s called a giant set.

What is a Giant Set?

A giant set is series of different exercises performed sequentially with minimal rest.  Changing exercises and angles targets different parts of the muscle.  Allowing more fiber recruitment and more work in a short time.  Typically, all exercises within a giant set are focused on the same muscle but it’s possible to alternate between different muscle groups.

I find giant sets to be a useful training method for stubborn muscle groups such as calves or forearms.  I’ll often setup 5-7 exercises for forearms.  Then perform one set of each exercise in immediate succession.  This approach overloads even long enduring muscles like the calves and forearms.  One drawback is that it’s difficult to do giant sets in a crowded gym.  That’s why I like to train calves and forearms on Sundays when the gym is empty!

To summarize:

Drop Set – One or more subsequent sets of the same exercise with less weight

Super Set – Single subsequent set of different exercise sometimes alternate muscle

Giant Set – Multiple subsequent sets of different exercises for the same muscle

Free Workout Guide

If you’d like to learn more about these techniques and other advanced training concepts check out my free Workout Guide.  Just enter your email below and I’ll send you the PDF.

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