What Are Drop Sets?

by Evelyn Valdez

Getting stronger at the gym is one of the main fitness goals that active people have, but sometimes getting a leaner and more toned body is the primary goal. Reshaping your body and achieving that sculptured physique with rounded muscles that you dream of can be a tough challenge, but it’s perfectly doable if you follow the correct strength training techniques – such as drop sets.

Drop sets are a highly effective way of pushing your muscles to the limit so that they can grow faster, and while it’s definitely a great method, it can be very taxing on your body. This is why this kind of technique should only be approached after learning enough about it, and that’s where we come in!

We’ll show you everything there is to know about drop sets. What they are, how beneficial they can be for your muscle-building goals, things to keep in mind when incorporating them into your routine, and lastly, some of the best exercises that you can try with drop sets. So let’s begin!

What exactly is a drop set?

Drop sets are a resistance training technique that’s mostly used by advanced lifters to break out of their training plateaus. During a drop set, you first perform one set of reps with the heaviest weight you can lift for that many reps, usually around 6-10. When you reach the last rep and your muscles can’t successfully lift that weight again with proper form, you drop the weight (lighten the load) by 10-20% and perform another set with minimal to no rest in between.

That is the basis of drop sets: lift, drop, repeat. The most common routine involves dropping the weight two times, performing a total of three sets (the first one, a lighter set, and then an even lighter one) until your muscles reach complete fatigue and you can’t train them any longer. One drop set example could be performing 8 overhead press reps at 80 lb, then dropping to 70 lb and performing until failure, then dropping again to 60 lb and performing until failure.

The main idea behind this is that you can accelerate hypertrophy by reaching muscle fatigue a lot faster than with straight sets, the standard training technique in which you finish all sets of a given exercise with the same weight and then move on to another exercise until you’re done.

But, why is fatiguing your muscles beneficial for lifters?

Well, if you’re familiar with how muscle building works, you’ll know that the more damage the muscles receive, the more muscle tissue is needed to repair said damage. Because you’re training the same area to failure, you’re doing more damage and forcing more nutrient-rich blood to reach the area, ultimately leading to increased lean muscle growth and a more toned body – the main goal of a lot of lifters!

Another benefit of drop sets is how time-efficient they are. Since you’re starting your workout with the heaviest weight and only going down from there, you’ll find yourself getting exhausted pretty quickly while still getting all the muscle gains of a regular workout – and even more. And since there’s minimal rest, which also helps increase fatigue, time passes pretty quickly between the first and the last set, making it an incredibly effective high-intensity workout that improves both muscular endurance and mass.

How to incorporate drop sets into your routine

Before you pick up a pair of heavy dumbbells and start working until failure, there are a few things you should know first. 

If you’re a beginner, drop sets are not for you. It’s an advanced training technique, and you should only try it if you’ve been training for a while and can push your muscles to failure while avoiding discomfort and injury, which many beginners still don’t know how to handle. Proper form and technique are learned with time, so be patient and make sure to build enough strength before you try drop sets.

When it comes to which exercises to do, there are plenty that you can try, and others that you’ll want to avoid. For example, leg extensions, cable triceps pushdowns, and lat pulldowns are all great exercises that you can add to your workout routine, and they all have two things in common: they’re isolation exercises, and they’re performed with gym machines.

First, isolation exercises target only one area of your body, allowing you to reach muscle fatigue before you exhaust yourself, which could happen with broader exercises such as compound movements. And second, machine exercises help you keep proper form throughout your routine, lending you a hand in reaching your failure goal. Now, this isn’t strictly the norm, but keeping these two things in mind will help you perform your drop sets successfully!

You also need to remember that you’re completely fatiguing your muscles, meaning that you shouldn’t do drop sets too often. Ideally, you should limit your drop sets to once a week at the end of your workout if you’re just starting to twice a week when you’re more advanced, but no more than that to allow your muscles to recover properly and avoid overtraining.

Best exercises for drop sets

If you’re ready to start trying drop sets, we’ve prepared a list of some of the best exercises that you can choose depending on the area that you want to target so you can build lean muscle in no time.

Cable biceps curl

As the name suggests, this movement isolates your biceps so you can have the toned arms that you’ve been dreaming of. It’s commonly done with a barbell or a couple of dumbbells, but the cable variation is the best option for drop sets.

How to do it:

  1. Load the machine with a weight that you can handle for 6-10 reps before failing.
  2. Attach a bar handle to a low pulley and stand in front of it with your feet shoulder-width apart while holding the handle with both hands in an underhand grip.
  3. Keeping a straight back, begin the set by curling the weight up to your chest while keeping your arms close to the sides of your body.
  4. Hold this position for a moment while squeezing your muscles, then go back to the starting position and perform the next rep until you’re done with the set.
  5. Reduce the weight by around 10%, then repeat steps 2-4 until failure.
  6. Once again, reduce the new weight by around 10% and repeat steps 2-4 until failure.

Seated cable rows

Your back is composed of many muscle groups, with the biggest one being your lats. These huge muscles at each side of your body often need dedicated workouts to grow, and drop sets are a great way to do this.

How to do it:

  1. Load the machine with a weight that you can handle for 6-10 reps before failing.
  2. Sit on the cable row machine with your torso pressed against the cushioned support and your legs on the pads while holding the handle with both hands.
  3. Begin the set by pulling from the handle, driving your elbows back without flaring your arms until the handle almost touches your abdomen.
  4. Hold this position for a moment while squeezing your shoulder blades together, then go back to the starting position and perform the next rep until you’re done with the set.
  5. Reduce the weight by around 10%, then repeat steps 2-4 until failure.
  6. Once again, reduce the new weight by around 10% and repeat steps 2-4 until failure.

Leg press

The leg press is one of the safest ways to make your legs grow because the machine allows the movement to be controlled, making it perfect for a drop set primarily targeted at your quads, along with your glutes and hamstrings.

How to do it:

  1. Load the machine with a weight that you can handle for 6-10 reps before failing.
  2. Sit on the leg press machine with your torso pressed against the backrest and your feet on the weighted platform at a shoulder-width distance.
  3. Engage your core and begin the set by pressing the platform away from your body with your legs until they’re at full extension but without locking your knees.
  4. Hold this position for a moment while squeezing your muscles, then go back to the starting position and perform the next rep until you’re done with the set.
  5. Reduce the weight by around 10%, then repeat steps 2-4 until failure.
  6. Once again, reduce the new weight by around 10% and repeat steps 2-4 until failure.

Seated chest press

A toned body isn’t complete without a nice-looking chest, which is why strengthening your pectorals is so important. By doing a few drop sets of seated chest presses you'll be able to isolate these muscles and truly make them grow.

How to do it:

  1. Load the machine with a weight that you can handle for 6-10 reps before failing.
  2. Sit on the chest press machine with your torso pressed against the cushioned backrest and your feet comfortably on the floor while you hold the handles with both hands in a neutral grip.
  3. Engage your core and begin the set by pressing the handles forward until your arms are fully extended without locking them, keeping your wrists in line with your forearms at all times.
  4. Hold this position for a moment while squeezing your muscles, then go back to the starting position and perform the next rep until you’re done with the set.
  5. Reduce the weight by around 10%, then repeat steps 2-4 until failure.
  6. Once again, reduce the new weight by around 10% and repeat steps 2-4 until failure.

Reach your goals faster with drop sets

Getting a toned body can be hard work, but it’s definitely worth it! If you’re going to try incorporating drop sets into your routine, remember to make sure you’re using the right weight for yourself, and never overdo it. This goes both for how much weight you use and how many times you do it – your safety always comes first!

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2 comments

  • I absolutely love my belts! The colors are gorgeous and the support in back are on point! No moving around! The belt stays in place! Finally went heavy on squats today coming off an injury. ;))

    Belinda Pickett -
  • I absolutely love my belts! The colors are gorgeous and the support in back are on point! No moving around! The belt stays in place! Finally went heavy on squats today coming off an injury. ;))

    Belinda Pickett -

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