How to Use Drop Sets for More Muscle Gains

This is your Quick Training Tip, a chance to learn how to work smarter in just a few moments so you can get right to your workout.

No one goes to the gym in hope of achieving average results—but that’s exactly what will happen if you only do “straight sets.”

You know the drill: Do one set of an exercise, rest, and repeat. It’s the formula nearly every guy follows when they’re just starting out in the weight room, and it’s quite literally “lifting to failure.” If you’re trying to maximize muscle growth, focusing exclusively on straight sets will always cause you to come up short.

Straight sets are only so effective because they target only one type of muscle fiber. If you do the typical 6 to 10 reps per set, you’re targeting your larger, more powerful type II muscle fibers. If you do 12 or more reps per set, you’re focusing on your more endurance-oriented type I fibers, which are smaller than type IIs, but which can still grow and add to overall muscle size. What you’re not doing with straight sets is targeting both.

That’s where drop sets come in. Also known as descending sets, strip sets, or simply “running the rack,” drop sets are a technique in which you perform multiple sets of an exercise to technical failure with successively lighter loads and little to no rest. In so doing, you’ll not only fatigue both types of muscle fibers, but also increase your training volume and the target muscle’s time under tension and metabolic stress—all of which can crank up muscle growth.

Your move: Due to the high-intensity nature of drop sets, only perform them for one or two exercises targeting one or two muscle groups per workout (any more than that can increase your risk of overtraining). It’s also a good idea to do them towards the end of a training session. Select a weight that you can only lift 8 to 10 times with perfect form (i.e., to technical failure). Complete the set, and then quickly reduce the weight by 20 to 25 percent and lift to technical failure again, performing as many reps as you can. Repeat a total of three or four times.

The key is to rest as little as possible between sets—only long enough to reduce the weight. That’s why dumbbells and cable machines tend to work best for drop sets; you’ll waste precious seconds stripping plates off of a barbell, and every second you waste extends your rest, reduces your time under tension and metabolic stress, and ultimately limits your potential gains.

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