With so many ways to build muscle, it can be hard to choose the right training routine and get your sets and reps just right for quick and lasting results. Among the wealth of options, one technique that shows real results is the “drop set”. Backed by research and a time-efficient way to train, drop sets are by no means a new technique; however, it is being fast recognized as an effective way to boost muscle strength without requiring you to spend all day in the gym. If you’re pressed for time, understanding and incorporating drop sets into your routine might just be the upgrade your training sessions need.
At its core, the concept of drop sets is simple, and the results are effective. You begin with a weight that challenges you but is still manageable and complete your usual number of reps and sets. Instead of pushing to failure with that initial weight, you lighten the load towards the end of the set. Then you aim for extra reps, often going for AMRAP (as many reps as possible) without resting.
Drop sets offer benefits regardless of where you are in your weightlifting journey. These advantages are universal, making drop sets a great choice in weight training for women and men alike. Thanks to the weight decrease in the last few reps, those age 50 or older might find drop sets more appealing. As part of a healthy and active aging strategy, drop sets help build muscle, safeguard joints and promote bone health without overtaxing the body.
Muscles can begin to lose their strength at any age, but this loss often accelerates over 50. This muscle loss can result in less strength and a higher risk of injury. To address this concern, drop sets push muscles to get stronger without overwhelming them, providing a safe and effective way to see results quickly.
While all forms of resistance training benefit joint health, drop sets offer a unique edge for those who may be looking for an alternative to the typical reps/sets. Through the concept of actively adjusting weight throughout the set as you get higher in the target rep range, you not only give your muscles a varied workout, but ease potential strain on your joints, which can help alleviate joint problems while boosting flexibility.
The shifting weight in drop sets also help bones adapt and strengthen. Moreover, introducing bones to varied weights and progressively reducing the load offers a diverse workout without excessive strain on the skeletal system.
If you’re wondering how efficient and effective drop sets really are, especially when there’s a preconceived notion that heavier weight always equals faster results, there is research to back their value. A study in Sports Medicine Open suggests that drop sets can result in muscle gains akin to a traditional strength workout, but in much less time, even just a third in some cases.
While drop sets are not the only way to build muscle, they are certainly a contender when compared to another technique referred to as progressive overload, which is the concept of increasing to a more challenging weight once you can effectively lift with proper form above your target rep range. With drop sets, you reduce the weight towards the end of a set and add more reps, while progressive overload zeroes in on lifting heavier weights with fewer reps. Both techniques push your muscles to grow, but drop sets build muscle faster, making them a valuable tool in strength training for women and men alike, across all experience levels and ages.
Muscle growth can be achieved in the following ways:
*Using heavy weight to stress the muscle.
*Using metabolic stress, which produces power and muscles by-products like lactic acid inside the muscle tissue. This involves the concept of “time under tension” as the muscles are working and is the way endurance athletes build their endurance base.
*Muscular damage, or micro-tears in the tissue itself, which stimulates growth in the muscle as it repairs itself. This is often the result achieved by a lot of volume/high-rep workouts.
The great thing about drop sets is it is a technique that involves all three types of muscle training in a single workout. Another benefit of drop sets is that you can continue to work close to muscle failure, which makes sure you get the most ‘bang for your buck”. When you lower the weight after the muscle is already fatigued and pump out those extra reps, you build up lactic acid in the muscle and you feel the work of those last couple of squeezed out reps. That effort gives you the extra effectiveness inherent in drop sets. This works with the following caveat – you cannot sacrifice good form for a few additional reps. As soon as your form breaks down, you should either lower the weight again or stop the exercise. The last thing you want to do is injure yourself.
When it comes to muscle building, there are basically three methods to focus on:
*Heavy lifting to stress the muscle;
*Muscular damage or micro-tears that arise from intense workouts and trigger growth during repair. Think high-volume or high-rep routines!
*Metabolic stress associated with by-products like lactic acid within the muscle. This is the “time under tension” idea where you actively engage your muscles longer. Put simply, it means not rushing exercises to force quantity over quality and keeping your muscles working a few seconds more.
Drop sets strategically combines all three muscle-building methods into a single, streamlined workout. You start with heavier sets to stress your muscles. As you reduce the weight and continue lifting, you induce micro-tears in the muscle tissue. Then, as you push close to or at failure with lighter weights, you prolong the tension on your muscles. This induces metabolic stress and causes lactic acid to accumulate in muscles, making you really feel the burn of those last few reps. Here is where the athlete’s mindset of getting comfortable being uncomfortable comes into play. Your body’s natural inclination to protect itself will make you want to give up on the last few reps, but maintaining a strong mindset will give you the focus to finish the reps, which is where the real gains are made.
Adding a drop set or sets to the last exercise for a muscle group is a great way to really work that muscle and bolster those gains you’re working so hard to achieve. Here is an example of what I’m talking about: You are doing four sets of medium-range reps (15-20) of 150 lbs on the leg press. After your final set, you would drop the weight by 20% and do a last set of AMRAP (as many reps as possible) at 120 lbs. If you really want to challenge your quads, you can drop the weight again and go for another AMRAP set at 90 lbs. The goal is to only drop weight once you can no longer do another rep while maintaining good form at the current weight.
Drop sets are great to work smaller muscles groups effectively as well. Adding drop sets to shoulder, tricep and biceps exercises will give you an effective workout that should allow for faster muscle growth.
We’ve talked a lot about reps and enhancing the benefits of your workout, but there is more to reaching your goals for muscle growth than lifting the weights alone.
As with any exercise technique, it’s important to remember that proper form is more important than hastily adding a few extra reps onto your sets. The misconception in the fitness industry that more is more can lead to slips in form and potential injuries. If you do notice that your form is slipping, try implementing some mental or physical cues that will get you back on track or consider lightening the weight until you can move through the movement properly and safely.
Recovery is also crucial for building muscle. Another exercise myth is that your body doesn’t need to rest and that you can work out 7 days a week for 2 hours every day and still make progress. This is just not true. EVERYbody needs time to rest and recover properly, particularly after a hard workout, and particularly if you are 50 years old or older. If you want to maximize the benefits from your last training session and show up stronger for your next one, you need to take time to rest and recover, especially if you push yourself as hard as you can by adding drop sets into your workouts.
Together, intense training, taking rest days, getting adequate sleep, and good nutrition help build stronger, healthier muscles, which is all vital to age in good health and with strength and vitality.
Drop sets are a highly effective if you are looking for ways to maximize your workouts. They cater to every muscle group, from the quads to the biceps, and merge heavy lifting, micro-tears and metabolic stress to promote muscle growth. Whether you are just starting your fitness journey or are already years in, if you are short on time or are just looking to spice up your workouts, adding drop sets into your weightlifting routine promises lasting benefits. If you decide to give them a try, I would love to hear from you at email@example.com or if you are looking for guidance and would like to work with me, you can find more information on my 1:1 coaching page.
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