Key Points of Drop Set Study

  • The study aimed to compare the effects of drop sets over traditional sets on skeletal muscle hypertrophy.
  • Drop sets and traditional sets both lead to significant increases in muscle size. There was no significant difference in muscle hypertrophy between drop sets and traditional sets. Some regional parts of the muscles may respond better to drop sets, indicating that drop sets could be more effective for complete muscle growth in certain areas.
  • Drop sets can be a time-efficient strategy for maximizing hypertrophy in individuals with limited training time.

The Science Behind Drop Sets and How They Work

Despite the positive outcomes of performing hypertrophy-oriented resistance training, several people refrain from resistance training due to lack of time, which is one of the most frequently self-reported barriers to engaging in physical activity. (Fink et al., 2018) In the quest for muscle growth, fitness enthusiasts, bodybuilders, and athletes continually seek efficient and effective training methods to gain muscle.

One such method that has gained popularity in recent years is the drop set (DS). This time-efficient technique promises shorter workouts with muscle hypertrophy/growth, but what does the science say? Does the science hold up the claims made by drop-set proponents? This blog post will delve into the findings of a recent meta-analysis study conducted in 2023, shedding light on the efficacy of DS in muscle growth (Sødal et al., 2023).

Benefits of Incorporating Drop Sets into Your Routine

DS is a strength training technique where an exercise is performed to the point of muscle failure, then the weight is reduced, and the exercise is continued until muscle failure is reached again. This process can be repeated multiple times within a single set. The appeal of DS lies in its ability to induce high levels of muscle fatigue within a short time, potentially leading to greater muscle hypertrophy. In a previous article on Evidence Based Muscle, I wrote about how a single DS was as effective as completing multiple DS for muscle growth.

Sample Drop Set Bicep Curl Drop Set Workout

  • Start with a weight you can lift for 8-10 reps. Perform the curls until failure.
  • Immediately reduce the weight by about 20-25% and continue to perform reps until failure.
  • Repeat this process, reducing the weight by another 20-25% and performing reps until failure.

However, a DS has also been reported to impair neuromuscular performance compared to traditional sets, potentially increasing recovery periods (Costa et al., 2021), which may decrease training frequency for the same muscle group. Although DS could be a time-efficient and effective training strategy for enhancing muscle hypertrophy, the strategy has not been well-researched. A few studies with inconsistent findings have been conducted to compare the effects of DS vs. traditional sets on muscle hypertrophy.

What is a Dropset?

A DS is a training technique where you perform a set of an exercise for muscle failure and then immediately reduce the weight and continue with another set to failure. This allows you to extend the intensity and volume of your workout by pushing your muscles to their limits.

On the other hand, a regular set is a traditional approach where you perform a set of an exercise with a specific weight and number of repetitions. Once you complete the set, you rest before moving on to the next set.

The main difference between a DS and a regular set is the intensity and fatigue level. With a DS, you continue challenging your muscles by reducing the weight and pushing them to failure multiple times. This can lead to greater muscle fatigue and potentially more muscle growth.

In contrast, a regular set focuses on completing several repetitions with a specific weight. While it still provides a stimulus for muscle growth, it may not reach the same level of intensity and fatigue as a DS.

In a 2022 meta-analysis, the effects of DS training versus traditional training on muscle strength and hypertrophy measures were systematically reviewed. The analysis included studies with randomized experimental designs that directly compared DS versus conventional training. The results indicated that drop-set training had comparable effects to traditional training on muscle strength and hypertrophy. (Coleman et al., 2022)

drop sets what is a dropset are drop sets effective benefits of drop sets
In a 2022 meta-analysis, found drop-set training had comparable effects to traditional training on muscle strength and hypertrophy. (Coleman et al., 2022)

Both DS and regular sets can be effective for muscle growth, but DS offer a time-efficient strategy to increase volume without increasing training duration. It’s important to consider your personal preferences and training goals when deciding which approach to incorporate into your routine.

The 2023 Meta-Analysis Study of Drop Sets vs. Traditional Resistance Exercise

In a 2023 meta-analysis study comparing DS to traditional resistance exercise, researchers found that DS resulted in significantly greater muscle growth and strength gains in a shorter time. This is due to the increased total work performed during DS, leading to greater muscle fatigue and growth. By incorporating DS into your workout routine, you can overcome plateaus and achieve faster results. However, it is important to gradually increase weight and intensity to avoid injury when implementing DS. Properly executed DS can be an effective tool for maximizing muscle growth and improving overall strength.

Why are Drop Sets Effective for Gaining Muscle?

A 2023 Meta-Analysis Study published in Sports Medicine aimed to compare the effects of DS and traditional sets on skeletal muscle hypertrophy. (Sødal et al., 2023) The study examined all studies investigating the effects of the drop-set training methods compared to conventional exercise for muscle hypertrophy. The mean length of the included studies was 9 ± 2.2 weeks (range 6–12), which should be sufficient to detect significant increases in muscle size.

The study found that both drop sets and traditional sets significantly increased muscle hypertrophy. However, no significant difference was found between the two methods when the total training volume was equal. Interestingly, the study found that some DS modalities took half to one-third of the time compared with traditional training. This shows that drop-set training may be more effective than traditional sets for increasing muscle size but is more time-efficient.

drop sets what is a dropset are drop sets effective benefits of drop sets
The study found that both drop sets and traditional sets significantly increased muscle hypertrophy. However, no significant difference was found between the two methods when the total training volume was equal. Interestingly, the study found that some DS modalities took half to one-third of the time compared with traditional training.

One of the studies included in the meta-analysis showed that DS increased regional hypertrophy in different parts of the same muscles varied across the modalities. Using a within-subject design, the study examined hypertrophy in three different parts of the vastus lateralis and rectus femoris. Both modalities significantly increased the muscle thickness of both muscles. However, rectus femoris increased more in the groups performing the DS.(Varović et al., 2021)

Why are Drop Sets Effective for Gaining Muscle?

DS are effective for muscle growth for several reasons. Firstly, they lead to maximal fatigue of the muscles, which is beneficial for muscle hypertrophy. Secondly, DS can increase training volume without increasing training duration, which is beneficial given the dose-response relationship between volume and hypertrophic responses.(Schoenfeld et al., 2017) Lastly, DS can be a practical choice for individuals with limited time for training, as they offer a way to maximize muscle hypertrophy in a shorter time. (Ozaki et al., 2018)

Based on the results of this meta-analysis, the choice of whether to incorporate DS in the training routine is entirely up to the individual, with personal preferences and limited time for training being primary factors in this choice because both modalities increased muscle size equally.

DS can be time-efficient because one can add volume without increasing the training duration. One can simply add a DS into the traditional workout to gain a higher volume while keeping the workout short.(Kassiano et al., 2021) Since there is a dose–response relationship between volume and hypertrophic responses, DS can be used to maximize muscle hypertrophy for those with limited time for training. (Schoenfeld et al., 2017) DS can increase muscle hypertrophy through mechanical tension, metabolic stress, time under load, concentric failure, and potentially regional hypertrophy.

drop setswhat is a dropset are drop sets effective benefits of drop sets
DS can increase muscle hypertrophy through mechanical tension, metabolic stress, time under load, concentric failure, and potentially regional hypertrophy.

Key Tips to Remember When Using Drop Sets

When incorporating DS into your workout routine, there are key tips to keep in mind for optimal results. Start by selecting a weight that allows you to perform 8-12 reps before reaching muscle failure. For each subsequent set, reduce the weight by 20-25% and continue until reaching muscle failure again. Remember, DS are best used as a finisher to your workout, not the main focus. To add variety, try different exercises and equipment. Additionally, ensure proper rest and recovery to prevent injury and overtraining.

Conclusion

In conclusion, DS can be a powerful tool for maximizing muscle hypertrophy time-efficiently. However, like any training method, they should be used judiciously and as part of a balanced and well-structured training program. When incorporating DS into a training routine, individual fitness goals, preferences, and constraints should be considered.

References

Coleman, M., Harrison, K., Arias, R., Johnson, E., Grgic, J., Orazem, J., & Schoenfeld, B. J. (2022). Muscular Adaptations in Drop Set vs. Traditional Training: A Meta-Analysis. International Journal of Strength and Conditioning. https://doi.org/10.47206/ijsc.v2i1.135

Costa, B. D. V., Ferreira, M. E. C., Gantois, P., Kassiano, W., Paes, S. T., de Lima-Júnior, D., Cyrino, E. S., & Fortes, L. S. (2021). Acute Effect of Drop-Set, Traditional, and Pyramidal Systems in Resistance Training on Neuromuscular Performance in Trained Adults. J Strength Cond Res, 35(4), 991-996. https://doi.org/10.1519/jsc.0000000000003150

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

Kassiano, W., Costa, B. D. d. V., Nunes, J. O. R., Aguiar, A. F., Salles, B. F. d., & Ribeiro, A. S. (2021). Are We Exploring the Potential Role of Specialized Techniques in Muscle Hypertrophy? International journal of sports medicine. https://doi.org/10.1055/a-1342-7708

References

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. J Sports Sci, 36(6), 691-696. https://doi.org/10.1080/02640414.2017.1331042

Schoenfeld, B. J., Ogborn, D., & Krieger, J. W. (2017). Dose-response relationship between weekly resistance training volume and increases in muscle mass: A systematic review and meta-analysis. J Sports Sci, 35(11), 1073-1082. https://doi.org/10.1080/02640414.2016.1210197

Sødal, L. K., Kristiansen, E., Larsen, S., & van den Tillaar, R. (2023). Effects of Drop Sets on Skeletal Muscle Hypertrophy: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. Sports Medicine – Open, 9(1), 66. https://doi.org/10.1186/s40798-023-00620-5

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 (Basel), 9(9). https://doi.org/10.3390/sports9090119

Additional Information.

In the world of bodybuilding and weightlifting, there’s a technique that’s been making waves due to its potential for superior muscle gains: drop sets. This method, also known as strip sets, is an advanced training plan that can take your workouts up a notch, pushing you past your limits.

DS are a form of resistance training where you perform an initial set to technical failure, then progressively overload your muscles by dropping to a lighter weight and continuing with minimal rest. The inability to perform another rep with good form signifies the end of a set, at which point you switch to a lighter load.

For instance, you might start a drop set with a bench press using the heaviest weight you can manage for a certain number of reps. Once exhaustion sets in, you switch to a lighter weight and continue. This process is repeated, often until you’re lifting the lightest dumbbells or barbell plates you have.

The Benefits of Drop Sets

The benefits of drop sets are manifold. They’re designed to cause extensive muscle damage, which sounds negative but is actually a good thing. This damage stimulates the repair process in the muscle fibers, leading to muscle gain.

Drop sets are particularly effective for isolation exercises like biceps curls and lateral raises. They can also be incorporated into compound exercises like squats and deadlifts, although maintaining proper form can be more challenging due to the complexity of these movements.

Muscular Endurance and Metabolism Boost

Drop sets enhance muscular endurance. By pushing your muscles to the brink of their capacity, you’re training them to perform under strain for extended periods. This can translate into better performance in your straight sets and other exercises.

Additionally, the high-intensity nature of drop sets can give your metabolism a significant boost. This means you’ll be burning calories long after the end of a workout, making drop sets an excellent choice for those looking to shed fat alongside their muscle-building goals.

Time Efficiency

One of the major pros of drop sets is the amount of time you can save. Because there’s minimal rest between sets, you can complete an intense, effective workout in less time than traditional straight sets would require.

The Cons of Drop Sets

While drop sets have many benefits, they’re not without their cons. The risk of poor form increases as you reach exhaustion, especially when using heavier weights. It’s crucial to prioritize maintaining good form over the number of reps to avoid injury.

Incorporating Drop Sets into Your Training Plan

To incorporate drop sets into your training plan, select one exercise per workout to apply this technique. This could be at the start of a drop set workout for a compound exercise when you’re freshest, or at the end of a workout for an isolation exercise.

Remember, the goal is not to replace all your straight sets with drop sets but to use them as a tool for when you want to push past plateaus and stimulate new muscle growth.

Conclusion

Drop sets are a powerful tool in the arsenal of any lifter looking to maximize muscle gain and enhance muscular endurance. By strategically dropping to a lighter weight and pushing to failure, you can stimulate muscle fibers in a way that traditional straight sets might not achieve. However, as with any advanced technique, drop sets should be used wisely and with proper form to avoid injury and ensure optimal results.

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