The first Mr. Olympia, Larry Scott, learned about drop sets from Steve “Hercules” Reeves. Rather than increasing the weight every set, as Scott had been doing, Reeves taught him about starting with a heavy weight and decreasing the weight for several sets without resting between sets. One reason drop sets became so popular with bodybuilders is that it created a tremendous “pump” in the muscles.
Let’s say you can curl 100 pounds in a biceps exercise for 10 reps. As soon you complete the 10th rep, immediately decrease the weight by 10 pounds and do as many reps as you can. Then drop the weight another 10 pounds and perform 10 more reps. Due to the effort required to complete such training, it only takes a few sets to produce results – in fact, often just one set of drop sets is performed in a workout as a “finisher.”
Although drop sets are a popular method for building muscle, they also can be used to develop strength. The major difference when strength is the goal is to use lower reps, which increases the intensity of the exercise and enables you to use heavier weights. Intense exercise with heavy weights recruits more fast-twitch motor units, which produce the most powerful muscle contractions.
The following are two workout using drop sets to increase upper body strength. One is designed for a beginner and one is designed for an advanced athlete. Note that the exercises are performed in “push-pull” superset fashion to provide more complete recovery of the muscles, which is necessary to develop higher levels of strength.
The drop sets in these workouts are indicated by a forward slash. If you see the formula 4/4/4 for a set, this means you perform 4 reps, reduce the weight and perform 4 reps, reduce the weight again and do 4 more reps. For best results, rest no more than 10 seconds total between weight reductions.
Beginner Drop Set Workout (drop sets in “B” supersets)
A1. Scott One-Arm Dumbbell Hammer Curl, 6,6,4,4,2,2, 40X0, 120 seconds rest
A2. Close-Grip Bench Press with Chains, 6,6,4,4,2,2, 40X0, 120 seconds rest
B1. Standing Thick Bar Curl, 3 x 4/4/4, 30X0, 120 seconds rest
B2. Triceps Pressdown, Pronated Grip, 3 x 6/6/6, 4010, 120 seconds rest
Advanced Drop Set Workout (drop sets in all supersets)
A1. Front Lat Pulldown, Wide Pronated Grip, 3 x 6/6/6, 5010, 120 seconds rest
A2. 30-Degree Incline Barbell Press, 3 x 6/6/6, 4020, 120 seconds rest
B1. Pulldown to Chest, Learning Back, Medium, Parallel Grip, 3 x 6/6/6, 5010, 90 seconds rest
B2. Dumbbell Punch Press, 3 x 6/6/6, 3210, 90 seconds rest
C1. Incline Dumbbell Fly, 3 x 10/10/10, 3010, 60 seconds rest
C2. Incline Prone Lateral Raise, 3 x 10/10/10, 3010, 60 seconds rest
Give this workout a try and see your strength levels rise. The bodybuilders got it right on this training method, but it delivers more than just big muscles. If you want to get strong, your motto should be “Drop sets – they’re not just for bodybuilders anymore!”