DropSets for Muscle Growth Summary
- The study compared two dropsets protocols training to muscular failure (single vs. multi-drop sets) to traditional resistance training (TRT), not training to failure in trained individuals over 8 weeks.
- Both drop-set protocols resulted in greater gains in leg press 1-RM than TRT. Only the multi-step drop-set protocol improved muscular endurance compared to TRT.
- The three groups had no significant differences in body composition (i.e., muscle mass or body fat) changes.
- Training to failure is not required for enhancing muscle mass and strength.
Introduction to Dropsets
Are you looking to take your muscle growth and strength training to the next level? Mechanical tension, the force exerted on the muscle fibers during resistance training, is a primary stimulus for muscle growth. (Krzysztofik et al., 2019) Metabolic stress, accumulating metabolites such as lactate and hydrogen ions during high-intensity exercise, also contributes to muscle hypertrophy.
Resistance training programming variables to increase tension on the muscle, including altering sets, repetitions, proximity to failure, volume, frequency, and tempo, can be manipulated to optimize muscle strength, endurance, and size (Wilk et al., 2021). One bodybuilding technique to gain strength and size is dropset (DS) training, which involves performing the initial set to momentary failure, followed by dropping the load before performing an additional set. The number of repetitions can be adjusted to challenge the muscle and promote growth. Drop sets incorporate little rest between sets. They are a great way to reduce the amount of time spent in the gym while increasing the number of reps performed.
DS is a powerful training technique that can help a lifter push muscles to the limit and stimulate greater muscle growth. A common dilemma many bodybuilders have is how many dropsets to perform. Is three dropsets better than two? Several studies have utilized DS protocols but have used different DS exercise protocols. The most common DS protocol is a set performed to maximal failure and followed immediately with a 20% reduction in the next set (Angleri et al., 2017; Fink et al., 2018).
Other studies have implemented a single drop-set beginning with a high load (80% 1-RM) with 4 descending sets to 30% 1-RM (Ozaki et al., 2018) or a 5-RM to failure, immediately reducing load by 20%, and then another drop by 10-15% (Varović et al., 2021). This has led to confusion about the best way to perform DS and how many you should perform.
A new study has revealed the optimal number of dropsets for maximum muscle gains. In this blog, we will explore the science of dropset training and the latest research study on the optimal number of dropsets to perform. Get ready to transform your training and achieve the gains you’ve been striving for!
What Are Drop Sets?
Muscle hypertrophy, or the increase in muscle size, is a complex process influenced by various factors such as mechanical tension, metabolic stress, and cell swelling (Lawson et al., 2022; Wackerhage et al., 2018). Drop sets are a weightlifting technique where you push yourself to failure on an exercise, then decrease the weight and continue for another set. They increase muscle fatigue and promote growth.
Compared to traditional straight sets, this method may enhance adaptations through increased time under tension, metabolic stress and metabolite accumulation, and cell swelling. You can incorporate drop sets into your routine using various equipment like dumbbells or machines, helping you overcome plateaus. Dropsets are especially useful when doing isolation exercises such as biceps curls and triceps extensions because you can easily drop the weight from the start of a drop set after the heaviest weight on the first set.
Traditional drop sets involve decreasing the weight as fatigue sets in, allowing you to continue the exercise. This method involves performing an exercise with a heavy weight, then immediately reducing the weight and continuing until failure. Traditional drop sets effectively promote muscle hypertrophy by pushing your muscles to fatigue and recruiting more muscle fibers. However, dropsets can result in increased muscle damage compared to traditional sets.
How to Do Drop Sets
Example of a Bench Press Dropset: Start with a weight you can lift for 6-10 repetitions. For example, let’s say you start with 100 lbs.
Perform the bench press exercise until you reach muscle failure, meaning you can’t do another repetition with good form.
Immediately reduce the weight by 20-30%. In this case, you might drop to 70 lbs.
Continue to perform the bench press with the reduced weight until you reach muscle failure again.
If you’re doing a multi-drop set, on your third set, you could reduce the weight again by another 20-30% (to around 50 lbs.) and repeat the process.
Rest for 2-3 minutes before starting the next set or moving on to the next exercise.
Benefits of Drop Sets
Drop sets are an effective training technique for muscle growth and breaking through plateaus. You can increase muscle fatigue, stimulate muscle growth, and target different muscle fibers by performing drop sets. Dropsets are beneficial for increasing muscle mass, improving muscle endurance, reducing muscle plateaus, and while reducing workout time.
Drop set training may elicit greater gains in hypertrophy due to the limited recovery time between sets, causing greater muscular fatigue and metabolic stress. Furthermore, drop-set training increases time under tension and local hypoxia (ischemia), thereby creating a greater stimulus for muscle adaptations over time (Schoenfeld, 2013)
Dropsets are a training technique that can potentially enhance muscle hypertrophy through several mechanisms. Firstly, dropsets increase the overall training volume, which is a key factor in promoting muscle growth. (Li et al., 2022) By performing multiple sets with decreasing weights, dropsets allow for a higher total workload and greater time under tension, which are important stimuli for muscle hypertrophy.
Additionally, dropsets can induce metabolic stress by fatiguing the muscles to a greater extent, leading to the accumulation of metabolites and the activation of growth-promoting pathways. Finally, dropsets are more time efficient than traditional training allowing you to get in and out of the gym faster.
Scientific Evidence on the Dropsets and Muscle Growth
Several studies have investigated the effects of dropsets on muscle hypertrophy. A systematic review by (Krzysztofik et al., 2019) examined various advanced resistance training techniques and methods and found that dropsets effectively promoted muscle hypertrophy. The review highlighted that dropsets, along with other training methods, led to significant increases in muscle size compared to traditional approaches. One study found that including a single drop set resulted in greater muscle mass than a traditional weight training routine. (Goto et al., 2004) Adding the single drop set resulted in a 23% greater volume than the conventional weight training group. This suggests that it was not the drop set that increased muscle growth but the extra volume of performing an additional set. However, not all studies have found DS to be beneficial.
For example, when training volume is equal, studies have found that DS and traditional resistance exercise result in similar muscle growth. (Angleri et al., 2017; Enes et al., 2021; Max et al., 2022; Ozaki et al., 2018) Another study found that the gains in muscle mass are similar when you perform DS, whether you drop weight by 5 or 10% the next set. (Lima et al., 2018) Furthermore, some studies have found that DS impairs strength gains since longer rest time between sets is optimal for muscle strength.(Max et al., 2022; Schoenfeld et al., 2021)
New Study on DropSets: How Many Drops Sets are Best for Muscle Growth.
In a study involving healthy young resistance-trained males, participants were randomized into three groups:
a.) Traditional resistance exercise (TRT): The TRT group completed four sets of 10 repetitions at 75% of 1-RM with 90 seconds of rest between sets. A key point: the traditional resistance training group did not train to failure.
b.) Single-drop-set: The Single-drop-set group performed two sets beginning at 80%, and
after reaching failure, the load was immediately reduced to 45% of 1-RM until failure with 90 seconds of rest between sets.
c.) Multiple drop-set: The Multiple drop-set performed two sets beginning at 80%, and after reaching failure, the load was immediately reduced by 15 % for two additional sets to failure. The Multiple drop-set groups %-1 RM were 80, 65, 50, and 35% 1-RM performed until failure.
Results and Implications
The change in % body fat was similar between all groups. All groups gained muscle mass, but there was no difference between groups. Interestingly, the study found no differences between traditional resistance training (4 sets of 10 at 75%), which was not performed to failure, while both drop set protocols were performed to failure. This suggests that training for failure is not required to enhance muscle mass and strength.
Interestingly, both drop set protocols appeared to be superior to TRT to augment gains in lower body (leg press) muscular strength. However, only the multi-step drop set group was superior to TRT in enhancing muscular endurance, suggesting that variations in drop set protocols influence muscle adaptations and that performing multiple drops enhances muscular endurance without negatively impacting muscular strength compared to a single reduction drop set training.(Fasihiyan et al., 2023)
All three training protocols were equally effective at improving body composition. Based on these findings, single-step and multi-step drop-set training to failure appear to be effective strategies to enhance lower body strength. In contrast, only the multi-step drop-set training protocol enhanced muscular endurance compared to TRT.
Common Mistakes to Avoid Performing Dropsets:
– Neglecting proper warm-up before starting dropsets can increase injury risk. Always warm up your muscles and perform dynamic stretches to prepare them for the intense workout. Incorporate warm-up exercises targeting the specific muscle groups you plan to focus on during dropsets.
– Sacrificing form by using too much weight or compromising on technique is another common mistake to avoid. Maintaining proper form throughout each repetition is important to maximize the benefits of dropsets and prevent injuries. Focus on controlled movements, full range of motion, and proper alignment to effectively target the intended muscles.
– Not allowing enough rest between sets can hinder your progress and performance. Dropsets are intense and require recovery time. Give yourself enough rest to allow your muscles to recover before performing the next set. This will ensure optimal performance, reduce the risk of overtraining, and prevent muscle fatigue.
– Neglecting to track your progress and adjust weights accordingly is a mistake. Keeping track of the weights and reps you perform during dropsets is important to ensure progressive overload. Gradually increase the weight as you become stronger to continue challenging your muscles and stimulating muscle growth. Tracking your progress will also help you identify any plateaus and make necessary adjustments to your training program.
In conclusion, drop sets are a highly effective training technique for muscle growth and strength gains. Incorporating drop sets into your workout routine can help you break through plateaus, increase muscle fiber recruitment, improve muscular endurance, and save time in the gym. However, performing drop sets correctly and safely is important to avoid injury. Remember to start with an appropriate weight, maintain proper form throughout the set, and listen to your body’s signals.
Angleri, V., Ugrinowitsch, C., & Libardi, C. A. (2017). Crescent pyramid and drop-set systems do not promote greater strength gains, muscle hypertrophy, and changes on muscle architecture compared with traditional resistance training in well-trained men. European Journal of Applied Physiology, 117(2), 359-369. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00421-016-3529-1
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 compared with traditional sets in resistance-trained males. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab, 46(11), 1417-1424. https://doi.org/10.1139/apnm-2021-0278
Fasihiyan, M., Forbes, S., Taheri, M., Lopez, J., Babaie, M., Dejam, B., & Nourshahi, M. (2023). effects of a single or multi-step drop-set training compared to traditional resistance training on muscle performance and body composition. Scientific Journal of Sport and Performance, 2, 410-422. https://doi.org/10.55860/ZMKL1980
Fink, J., Schoenfeld, B. J., Kikuchi, N., & Nakazato, K. (2018). Effects of drop set resistance training on acute stress indicators and long-term muscle hypertrophy and strength. J Sports Med Phys Fitness, 58(5), 597-605. https://doi.org/10.23736/s0022-4707.17.06838-4
Goto, K., Nagasawa, M., Yanagisawa, O., Kizuka, T., Ishii, N., & Takamatsu, K. (2004). Muscular adaptations to combinations of high- and low-intensity resistance exercises. J Strength Cond Res, 18(4), 730-737. https://doi.org/10.1519/r-13603.1
Krzysztofik, M., Wilk, M., Wojdala, G., & Gołaś, A. (2019). Maximizing Muscle Hypertrophy: A Systematic Review of Advanced Resistance Training Techniques and Methods. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph16244897
Lawson, D., Vann, C., Schoenfeld, B. J., & Haun, C. (2022). Beyond Mechanical Tension: A Review of Resistance Exercise-Induced Lactate Responses & Muscle Hypertrophy. Journal of Functional Morphology and Kinesiology, 7(4), 81. https://www.mdpi.com/2411-5142/7/4/81
Li, J., Davies, T. B., & Hackett, D. A. (2022). Self-Reported Training and Supplementation Practices Between Performance-Enhancing Drug-User Bodybuilders Compared with Natural Bodybuilders. J Strength Cond Res. https://doi.org/10.1519/jsc.0000000000004356
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
Ozaki, H., Kubota, A., Natsume, T., Loenneke, J. P., Abe, T., Machida, S., & Naito, H. (2018). Effects of drop sets with resistance training on increases in muscle CSA, strength, and endurance: a pilot study. Journal of Sports Sciences, 36(6), 691-696. https://doi.org/10.1080/02640414.2017.1331042
Schoenfeld, B. J. (2013). Potential mechanisms for a role of metabolic stress in hypertrophic adaptations to resistance training. Sports Med, 43(3), 179-194. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40279-013-0017-1
Schoenfeld, B. J., Grgic, J., Van Every, D. W., & Plotkin, D. L. (2021). Loading Recommendations for Muscle Strength, Hypertrophy, and Local Endurance: A Re-Examination of the Repetition Continuum. Sports (Basel, Switzerland), 9(2), 32. https://doi.org/10.3390/sports9020032
Varović, D., Žganjer, K., Vuk, S., & Schoenfeld, B. J. (2021). Drop-Set Training Elicits Differential Increases in Non-Uniform Hypertrophy of the Quadriceps in Leg Extension Exercise. Sports, 9(9).
Wackerhage, H., Schoenfeld, B. J., Hamilton, D. L., Lehti, M., & Hulmi, J. J. (2018). Stimuli and sensors that initiate skeletal muscle hypertrophy following resistance exercise. Journal of Applied Physiology, 126(1), 30-43. https://doi.org/10.1152/japplphysiol.00685.2018
Wilk, M., Zajac, A., & Tufano, J. J. (2021). The Influence of Movement Tempo During Resistance Training on Muscular Strength and Hypertrophy Responses: A Review. Sports Medicine, 51(8), 1629-1650. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40279-021-01465-2
Frequently Asked Questions
Can dropsets be used for different muscle groups or exercises?
Yes, dropsets can be used for different muscle groups or exercises. They are versatile training techniques that can be incorporated into workouts to enhance muscle growth and strength. However, selecting the right weight and exercise variations for each muscle group is crucial to prevent overtraining or injuries. Dropsets are potentially riskier for exercises like barbell deadlifts and squats in which proper form is essential.
What Muscle Groups Work Best for Drop Sets?
If you want to push your muscles to their limits and break through plateaus, drop sets can be a powerful tool. You’ll know it’s time to do a drop set when you’re able to complete your desired number of reps with good form and feel like you could still do more.
Drop sets can effectively target a range of muscle groups. Popular drop-set muscle groups include the chest, back, quads, and arms. For the chest, exercises like bench presses and dumbbell flies work well. Lat pulldowns and rows effectively target the back muscles in drop sets. Bicep curls on a machine are often used because you can easily drop the weight with less time compared to free weight exercises.
Are dropsets suitable for beginners?
While dropsets can be suitable for beginners, it’s crucial to approach them with caution. Beginners should begin with lighter weights and gradually increase intensity. Prioritizing proper form and technique is essential before incorporating dropsets. Beginners should seek guidance from a fitness professional or trainer when including dropsets in their workout routine.
How does one know if they need to do a drop set?
Knowing when to incorporate drop sets into your workout routine is important for optimal results. One way to determine if you need to do a drop set is if you’re consistently able to complete your desired number of reps with good form without feeling challenged.
Can dropsets be used for cardiovascular exercises?
Dropsets are primarily designed for muscle growth and strength in weightlifting, not for cardiovascular exercises that prioritize endurance and heart health. Interval training or high-intensity workouts are more suitable for achieving cardiovascular benefits.