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Drop Sets

People talk about "drop sets" as if they are some new secret to gaining muscle mass. Occasionally, you may come across an article with this "revelation" in bodybuilding.

The truth is that "drop sets" have always been a part of the serious bodybuilder's standard practice. Using this technique is integral to getting intensity in your workouts.

So why is the concept of "drop sets" so new to so many people? When gyms started becoming popular in the late 1970s (following the John Travolta and Jamie Lee Curtis movie "Perfect," which was inspired by an uptick in gym usage following Arnold's "Pumping Iron" movie), they had a problem. How do you sign up 900 members a year to use facilities that can actually accommodate maybe 200?

Very simple. Just get people onto a program of 3 sets of 8 reps 3 times a week. The typical new member will be in better shape, having started out as a couch potato. But that person will plateau after 2 or 3 months and stop coming because there's no fitness gain in doing so.

Is this where you want to be? Of course not.

So, what's meant by a "drop set?" It just means that you remove (drop) some weight before going on to the next set. To get intensity, you can't do high reps. That's a matter of word definition. Intensity means you are working out in a mode that is high-demand and short duration. To go with a longer duration (more reps), you must necessarily reduce the demand of each rep and thus reduce intensity.

Something else you may have noticed from some articles on weight lifting is some authors use bloated numbers the typical athlete can't relate to. For example, one writer uses 375 lbs when discussing bench pressing.

While I bench far more than my body weight, I realize this is not at all typical. In fact, when journalists did some articles about President GW Bush, they marveled that he benched his own body weight. So, we'll use that as sort of a basis in the example for this article.

I'll show you how the drop set principle works in a high-intensity bench press example suited to a fairly typical athlete. Remember, we are maintaining intensity. The goal of training is to stimulate muscle growth. This is a hard concept for most people to grasp. They instead focus on meaningless metrics.


  • Set one. 3 reps of 160lbs. Rest one minute.
  • Set two. 4 reps of 150lbs. Rest one minute.
  • Set three. 2 reps of 140lbs, taking 30 seconds per rep. Rest two minutes.
  • Set four. 4 reps of 140 lbs. Rest one minute.
  • Set five. 4 reps of 140 lbs. Rest one minute.
  • Set six. 3 reps of 135 lbs. Rest two minutes.
  • Set seven. 4 reps of 130 lbs. Rest one minute.
  • Set eight. 2 reps of 125lbs, taking 30 seconds per rep.
  • Rest three minutes.
  • Now, do four sets of 2 or 3 reps each of dumbell flyes, trying to take 20 seconds up and 30 seconds down.

That, my fellow athletes, is one intense workout. You will need at least 96 hours to recover from it. If you are doing the split routine thing instead of the 3 day a week full workout nonsense, you will have the proper rest period between chest workouts.

Now, don't copy the example verbatim. Instead, use the principle. Start with a weight that is challenging for you, but make sure it's not so much weight that your form suffers. In the bench press, for example, you should be trying to pinch your shoulder blades together instead of rounding your shoulders forward as most people do. This rounding recruits the front deltoids, rather than working the pecs. Most people can bench only about half of what they think they can, when made to bench correctly. Those who do bench correctly will shoot past the cheaters, at some point.

By working out correctly for intensity, you will gain more size and strength in one month than someone who does 3 sets of 8 reps of whatever weight can gain in three years (if that person is past the couch potato stage when starting).

The drop set thing isn't new. It's how hard-training weight lifters stimulate muscle growth. And if that's your goal, then use this technique to get the intensity that stimulates muscle growth.


Article Authorship

The articles on this site are authoritative, because:

  • Every contributor is an expert in his or her field.
  • The articles comply with the accepted principles of the bodybuilder literature.
  • The articles comply with the teachings of such luminaries as 8-time Mr. Olympia Lee Haney.

 Where an article is not bylined with a specific author's name, it was written by Mark Lamendola (see photos on home page and elsewhere on this site). Mark is a 4th degree blackbelt, has not been sick since 1971, and has not missed a workout since 1977. Just an example of how Mark knows what he's talking about: In his early 50s, Mark demonstrated a biceps curl using half his body weight. That's a Jack LaLanne level stunt. Few people can even come close. If you want to know how to build a strong, beautiful body, read the articles here.

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