Drop Sets: What They Are and How to Use Them in Your Workout

In case you haven't noticed, there are a million different ways to make your training sessions more productive. OK, we're exaggerating, but  a plethora of techniques exist to amp up the intensity of your workouts. One proven method is the drop set.

When properly executed, drop sets are particularly effective at building muscular strength and endurance—plus, they will challenge your body in a new way.

The drop set is a technique in which you perform an exercise until failure, then immediately reduce the weight load for an additional set—or sets. Drop sets can be used with any exercise or drill and in a variety of ways. The idea is to increase the number of reps you perform while working near maximum capacity—close to failure. As long as you minimize the time between sets each time you lower the weight, you will realize benefits.

Drop sets increase muscle size and endurance. By continuing an exercise at a lower weight, you force your muscles to work as hard as they possibly can, like you do in competition. Although your arms and legs might feel like cooked noodles after drop sets, you'll be stronger and last longer on the field or court.

Drop sets can be incorporated into your workouts in a variety of ways. One is to lift until failure before dropping to a lower weight. Another is to complete a specific number of reps before continuing with lower weight—e.g., ten reps of Bicep Curls at 40 pounds, ten more at 30 pounds and another ten at 25 pounds.

Another variation is to change the amount of weight you drop. As a rule of thumb, drop the weight for each set by about 20 percent, as in the Bicep Curl example above. Plan the weight increments you will drop in advance, so you can minimize time between sets.

With drop sets, it's easy to overtrain. Pay attention to your body! We cannot stress that enough. Do not perform drop sets with every set of every exercise in every session. Limit drop sets to one set per muscle group, especially when you are getting started. Drop sets will shock your muscles, so you need to be careful in order to avoid injury. The first time you use drop sets, use lighter weights than you normally do, because you'll be doing more reps. If you usually Bench three sets of 10 reps at 180 pounds, start off around 140 pounds, or even lower. You know the expression—it's better to be safe than sorry.

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