The review suggests that drop-set training is a time-efficient way of training (i.e., less time in the gym) to gain muscle.
DO DROPSETS BUILD MORE MUSCLE? SUMMARY
- Dropsets result in similar gains in muscle mass as traditional exercise and allow for greater time efficiency allowing lifters to get in and out of the gym faster.
WHAT ARE DROPSETS?
If you are old enough, if you read Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Encyclopedia of Bodybuilding, you would know that the Austrian Oak routinely used drop sets in his training for body parts such as shoulders and biceps.
A dropset (i.e., running the rack) is when a set is performed to complete muscular failure, followed immediately by a reduction in weight in which more repetitions are performed. Drop set means reducing the weight and performing more repetitions. There are no prescribed rep ranges; you keep doing each set until you reach failure.
How much weight is reduced is based on preference, but most researchers define a drop set as lowering the weight by approximately 20% for each set. (Enes et al., 2021; Krzysztofik et al., 2019) Researchers found that whether you drop weight by 5 or 10%, the gains in muscle mass are similar. (Lima et al., 2018)
Arnold’s favorite drop set workout was the seated dumbbell press, in which he would start with 110 pounds for 6 reps, rest for 10 seconds, perform 100 pounds for 6 reps, and so on. He would do this for 4 sets until his last set was with 80 pounds. Another drop set example would be leg extensions. This is the perfect machine to use drop sets because you can easily lower the weight not having to move.
DROP SETS FOR HYPERTROPHY/MUSCLE GROWTH
Three prevailing mechanisms have been suggested that strength training increases muscle growth: mechanical tension, metabolic stress, and cell swelling. (Schoenfeld, 2010) The benefits of drop sets are that all three boxes can be checked (i.e., mechanical tension, metabolic stress, and cell swelling). For a detailed scientific explanation of these mechanisms, you may want to read Dr. Schoenfelds’ and Dr. Grgic’s free paper Can Drop Set Training Enhance Muscle Growth? (Schoenfeld & Grgic, 2018)
Drop sets allow a greater training density in a shorter time (i.e., meaning you rest less, so a greater exercise intensity is being utilized). There are some disadvantages to using drop sets if you want to build strength. Drlize short rest periods, which will inevitably result in less weight and fewer repetitions in each set compared to straight sets with adequate rest (i.e., less volume).
If strength gains are your primary focus, you will want longer rest periods to maximize strength. (i.e., >2 minutes)(Schoenfeld et al., 2017) As covered in a previous article on Evidence Based Muscle, most studies conducted on drop set training have found similar gains in muscle compared to traditional training. Drop set training involves training to failure, greater time under tension, and short rest periods. All of these are counterproductive for optimal muscle growth in several studies. Based on these limiting factors, one would expect drop-set training to result in sub-par results compared to traditional exercise.
DROP SETS VS STRAIGHT SETS STUDIES
Researchers examined the current literature on all the studies on dropsets to see if there was a relationship between performing drop sets and gaining muscle and strength. The study showed that drop-set training resulted in similar strength gains. The author noted to use caution when interpreting this because all the studies included used a weight less than 80% of a 1-RM.
There was no difference between drop sets and traditional training for muscle gain or hypertrophy. (Max et al., 2022) This is good news for a couple of reasons. A.) Drop sets require less time in the gym B.) Despite using a lower training volume (i.e., fewer reps performed), drop-set training resulted in similar muscle growth.
One of the main reasons most people don’t go to the gym regularly is lack of time. (Hoare et al., 2017) The review suggests that drop-set training is a time-efficient way of training (i.e., less time in the gym) to gain muscle.
Enes, A., Alves, R. C., Schoenfeld, B. J., Oneda, G., Perin, S. C., Trindade, T. B., Prestes, J., & Souza-Junior, T. P. (2021). Rest-pause and drop-set training elicit similar strength and hypertrophy adaptations to traditional sets in resistance-trained males. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab, 46(11), 1417-1424. https://doi.org/10.1139/apnm-2021-0278
Hoare, E., Stavreski, B., Jennings, G. L., & Kingwell, B. A. (2017). Exploring Motivation and Barriers to Physical Activity among Active and Inactive Australian Adults. Sports (Basel), 5(3). https://doi.org/10.3390/sports5030047
Krzysztofik, M., Wilk, M., Wojdała, G., & Gołaś, A. (2019). Maximizing Muscle Hypertrophy: A Systematic Review of Advanced Resistance Training Techniques and Methods. Int J Environ Res Public Health, 16(24). https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph16244897
Lima, B. M., Amancio, R. S., Gonçalves, D. S., Koch, A. J., Curty, V. M., & Machado, M. (2018). Planned Load Reduction Versus Fixed Load: A Strategy to Reduce the Perception of Effort With Similar Improvements in Hypertrophy and Strength. Int J Sports Physiol Perform, 13(9), 1164-1168. https://doi.org/10.1123/ijspp.2018-0072
Max, C., Khalil, H., Roberto, A., Ericka, J., Jozo, G., John, O., & Brad, S. (2022). Muscular Adaptations in Drop Set vs. Traditional Training: A meta-analysis. International Journal of Strength and Conditioning, 2(1). https://doi.org/10.47206/ijsc.v2i1.135
Schoenfeld, B., & Grgic, J. (2018). Can Drop Set Training Enhance Muscle Growth? Strength & Conditioning Journal, 40(6). https://journals.lww.com/nsca-scj/Fulltext/2018/12000/Can_Drop_Set_Training_Enhance_Muscle_Growth_.14.aspx
Schoenfeld, B. J. (2010). The mechanisms of muscle hypertrophy and their application to resistance training. J Strength Cond Res, 24(10), 2857-2872. https://doi.org/10.1519/JSC.0b013e3181e840f3
Schoenfeld, B. J., Grgic, J., Ogborn, D., & Krieger, J. W. (2017). Strength and Hypertrophy Adaptations Between Low- vs. High-Load Resistance Training: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. J Strength Cond Res, 31(12), 3508-3523. https://doi.org/10.1519/jsc.0000000000002200