DROP SETS AND DOWN SETS: Are they effective and how do you use them?
Are drop sets effective?!
Your squat and bench press have been stagnant, your clean and jerk technique hasn’t improved, you feel like you have been stuck on the plateau that will never end. Every day you go in, you give training incredible effort, you push yourself physically and mentally and STILL, you feel stuck in a rut. Is there a training answer to your problem? How can you blast through these issues? The answer lies inside!
Drop Set: What is it?
You hit your big sets on the bench press at 5 sets of 3. You crush those triples and then move on to the next exercise. BUT, what if you didn’t move on. Your nervous system is incredibly stimulated, your body has started to incorporate methods of recovery, why not stimulate the body even further.
Instead of finishing 5 sets of 3 reps and moving on, now you drop down to 70% of your max and you hit 3 sets of 5 reps AS FAST AS POSSIBLE! You smash the reps, your body is stimulated and GROWTH really ensues. The 3 sets of 5 reps constitute a drop set.
How are they implemented?
Drop Set (for Olympic weightlifting): Sets I use to prescribe for drastic technical improvements. After a few heavy sets, a drop set forces an athlete to truly focus on technique. Typically, I prefer the pace to be a bit faster and weight a little lighter. 3 x 3 or 2 x 4 are some sets and reps prescriptions I like using for drop sets. I may also make them timed to get the athlete to move faster and force them to find a quick rhythm with stronger technique.
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These extra sets are KEY for satellite cell recruitment. As the lifter has done 4-6 sets previously, their moving at a greater state of awareness and the drop sets enable them to perform movements at a heavier weight with more volume. When their body ignites to recover, myofibrillar hypertrophy is set into place, myofibers and sarcomeres are increased and the satellite cells release more IGF-1 and testosterone, sparking greater muscle protein synthesis. These sets enhance technique AND physiological adaptation.
But what about general strength? I just want to squat big!
Drop Set (for general strength): For general strength work, I like to use drop sets as unbroken sets or as rapid sets. These rapid reps increase force production and the coupling time (bottom of the rep) will lead to improved recruitment. Occasionally, I will use a near burnout set as the drop set. Typically, drop sets would appear in this scheme for general strength gains.
4 x 2
3 x 7-9 fast at 65-70%
So the 7-9 reps fast would fully imprint the motor units that were recruited for the heavy 2’s. I also like to alter the drop sets primarily based around the goal or point of periodization for the individual. Even with deads, benches, and squats, the drop set can provide some stable technical improvements and even some mobility gains.
Think about the back squat. If athletes are focused on speed of movement, they generally hold greater tension and mental focus during training. This, in turn, leads to better depth because they are in an improved technical position!
But what if I am a bodybuilder?
Burnout (bodybuilding): The burnout is similar to drop sets. This is a trick we use to increase Time Under Tension (TuT). After 4-6 sets on a movement, I may ask for 20-30 reps on an exercise or even sets of 50 straight. This burnout set or drop set can lead to massive gains in sarcoplasmic hypertrophy and subsequently large growth from the targeted area. Burnouts are a great way to get a quick pump going and to really pack on muscle size. Just like their fellow drop sets, they are incredibly effective.
Drop sets can be used every single day in an athlete’s program. They can blow up a targeted area and get rid of inefficiencies. As the athlete progresses with a greater drop set performance, they will grow incredibly from the increased volume!
This is a simple tool that can lead to massive gains on the weightlifting platform, in the sport of powerlifting AND in the realm of sports performance. If this is something you need more guidance toward, pick up our WeightliftingU course on Programming to learn the in’s and out’s behind drop set implementation.
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Dane Miller is the owner and founder of Garage Strength Sports Performance. He works with a select handful of elite athletes building comprehensive programs for strength and sports performance. Several times a year he leads a seminar for coaches, trainers, and athletes.
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