Drop Sets Explained: One Set or Multiple?

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Drop sets are a potent method to enhance muscle exhaustion and facilitate muscle development, though they can be strenuous and not ideal for every individual. Typically, a drop set is counted as a single set, despite involving several decreases in weight.

Understanding Drop Sets

"Drop sets are a great way to intensify your workout and push your muscles to failure. However, they should be used strategically and not overused, as they can lead to overtraining." - Arnold Schwarzenegger

Drop sets are a fantastic training protocol you can incorporate into your workout routines.

They involve gradually reducing the weight you lift during consecutive sets without taking a break.

The main aim here is to continue exercising past the point of initial muscle fatigue.

However, when I say “sets”, this doesn’t count as additional sets, but rather as an extension of the original working set.

In other words, drop sets should always be counted as a single set.

The main reason to perform drop sets is to increase muscular endurance and promote muscle growth.

This is achieved through fully fatiguing the muscle fibres.

That being said, although drop sets can increase strength, there is evidence published in the Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness that shows that simply performing normal heavy sets will lead to greater strength improvements.

Drop sets are suitable for beginners, intermediate, and advanced trainees, but they should be used carefully to avoid overtraining.

Furthermore, you can apply them to pretty much every exercise, thus enhancing workout intensity and efficiency.

Just ensure you maintain proper form throughout to enjoy the maximum benefits.

The Most Common Way to Use Drop Sets

Personally, I have mainly used drop sets during the last set of an exercise.

My standard protocol would involve a total of 3 drop sets after the final working set while ensuring that the reps remain the same.

Plus, I will typically reduce the weight by around 10-30% for each subsequent drop set.

Here’s an example with barbell bicep curls:

Barbell Bicep Curls: The Single Drop Set Method
Set Reps Weight
1 8-12 70lbs
2 8-12 70lbs
3 + 3 Drop Sets 8-12 70lbs ➡️ 50lbs ➡️ 40lbs ➡️ 30lbs
Brought to you by mybodyweightexercises.com

However, the final working set which includes 3 drop sets should only be counted as ONE SET and not 4 total sets.

Realistically, your “real” sets (for want of a better word) should be performed with maximum weight, intensity, and repetitions.

Drops sets are simply a way to squeeze a bit extra out, while your muscles are fatigued and close to failure, by incorporating the same movement but with reduced weight.

 So, the above bicep workout involves only 3 sets and not 6 sets.

The “Every Set Drop Set” Method

The every set drop set method is exactly as it sounds, you perform a drop set for every single set of each exercise throughout your routine.

This will significantly increase the intensity and volume of your workout.

Basically, you’re looking to push your muscles to fatigue at various resistance levels.

This will enhance muscle endurance and growth by exposing your muscles to a wide range of stimuli in a single session.

I will say that this is extremely effective for muscle hypertrophy but with a few caveats.

Firstly, you have to consider your overall workout intensity, training volume, and powers of recovery in order to avoid overtraining.

Therefore, I would recommend that the every set drop set method is only used by experienced lifters, especially those trying to break out of a plateau.

"Drop sets can be a great way to increase muscle growth and endurance if used correctly. However, they're not suitable for everyone, especially beginners. Start with lighter weights and lower reps before progressing to heavier weights and more drops." - Bret Contreras, Strength & Conditioning Coach

Then again, use this method if you wish to temporarily intensify your training.

So, I would not recommend that beginners try this method, plus, I would avoid training this way for more than two days per week.

Ensure that you have at least 72 hours between these two sessions and train normally for the rest of the week.

Finally, take notice of your recovery, as well as how you feel in the gym, as there’s no point in continuing if you feel permanently exhausted or if you find that your training sessions suffer.

Barbell Bicep Curls: The Every Set Drop Set Method
Phase Reps Weight
Initial Set 8-12 70lbs
Drop Set 1 8-12 50lbs
Drop Set 2 8-12 30lbs
Brought to you by mybodyweightexercises.com

As you can see from the table I have decreased the number of drop sets from 3 to 2.

This workout will still consist of just 3 working sets and not 9 sets in total.

Now, you can try the every set method with 3 drop sets per set, but this is a huge amount of intensity and volume.

So, this is potentially something you can work your way up to, but I would err on the side of caution, and use fewer drop sets until your body becomes more accustomed to this type of training.

This is also a great opportunity for you to check out my article that discusses whether you should perform bicep curls seated or standing.

Key Learning Points

  • A drop set is counted as one set.
  • Drop sets involve reducing the weight with subsequent sets without taking rest between these “sets”.
  • They are a great way to enhance muscle endurance and muscle growth.
  • The most common method of using drop sets is to incorporate a drop set into the final set of a specific exercise.
  • I would generally perform 3 drop sets after the final set of an exercise.
  • You can use the “every set drop set” method, which involves performing a drop set after every single set, I typically stick to 2 drop sets using this method.
  • Every set drop sets are an advanced training method and should be avoided by beginners.
  • Don’t perform “every set drop sets” more than twice per week and train normally for the remainder of the week.
  • Be wary of your recovery and ensure that your workouts aren’t suffering due to potential overtraining.

One of the greatest advantages of drop sets is that they increase metabolic stress as well as promote greater muscle growth. Essentially, you can burn fat while building muscle. Which is the exactly focus of the Massthetic Muscle workout program.

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