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Why Trainers Swear by 'Drop Sets' to Build Muscle

Pack on more muscle by integrating drop sets into your workouts.

Keeping your fitness routine fresh is a must when it comes to optimizing results at the gym. That includes bulking up, and trainers swear by performing "drop sets" in order to build muscle. We're here to explain all of the benefits of this training tool and how you can add it to your workouts.

"A drop set is a training tool that can help you build more muscle," explains Domenic Angelino, CPT and author from the International Personal Trainer Academy (NPTA). "A drop set is when you perform a set of an exercise, immediately reduce the weight, and then perform another set without taking any time to rest."

Look at it this way: A drop set is a way to lengthen how long you perform a set by decreasing the weight you're lifting midway through your workout. Without the decrease, you'll ultimately get fatigued, and it will be the end of your set.

Angelino points out, "Lowering the weight as you get fatigued extends the amount of time that you can continue the set until your muscles get so fatigued that you can no longer continue the set."

What it boils down to is dividing your workout into two parts: one heavy set, then one light set, with no rest period. The same exercise is performed during both sets.

Now, let's explore how drop sets can help you build muscle and how you can get started.

How can drop sets help you build muscle?

muscular man doing dumbbell bicep curls, concept of regular strength exercises for men

When you perform heavier sets versus lighter sets, you use different muscle fibers. You utilize type I muscle fibers when lifting lighter weights and type II when lifting heavier weights.

"If your training consists of only one type of set, you'll see less overall growth," explains Angelino. "Using drop sets allows you to see meaningful growth in both types of muscle fibers because it combines a heavy set with a light set."

You may be wondering if it makes sense to start with lighter weights for the first half, and it does not. "You [should] perform the heavy set first because it allows you to get more out of both sets overall," Angelino tells us. "If you performed the lighter set first, it would significantly reduce how well you could perform the heavier set. Performing the heavier set first only moderately reduces how well you could perform the second set. Going with the heavier set first leads to a greater overall effect on your body."

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Drop sets also help you pack on muscle by increasing the amount of mechanical and metabolic stress an exercise puts on the muscles that are being trained. "You place those muscles under a large amount of stress in a short amount of time, and they will be more prone to grow," says Angelino. "The amount of stress you put them under is inherently greater than a normal set because drop sets, by definition, extend a normal set. So this increases how effective mechanical and metabolic stress are for supporting muscle growth."

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How can you use a drop set in your workouts?

fit man doing barbell lift exercise

The best way to effectively program a drop set into your routine is to decrease your current weight by 50% and bump up your reps by 50% to 100%. For example, if you are lifting 100 pounds and performing six reps in a heavy set, your drop set would consist of lowering the weight to 50 pounds and performing nine to 12 reps. The higher your muscular endurance, the more reps you'll be able to complete. If you're not at a high level of muscular endurance quite yet, stick to the lower end of the rep range.

"If you want to incorporate drop sets into your training, it's best to tag them onto the middle and later parts of your workout," Angelino explains. "Generally, you'd want to perform them at a point where they would not interfere with the parts of your workout you haven't gotten to yet. This is because they will heavily fatigue the muscles involved in them."

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You can integrate drop sets into any resistance training workout; just always be mindful of safety. They can be included with isolation exercises or compound exercises as well.

Angelino cautions, "One common mistake that people make when doing drop sets is that they don't reduce the weight they're using enough. You will be pretty fatigued after your first heavy set if it [is] a near-maximal effort. So, if you only slightly reduce the weight, you won't be able to perform very many extra reps. If you don't perform enough extra reps, you will risk reducing your [drop sets' effectiveness]."

It's not uncommon for weightlifters to overestimate the amount of weight they can lift in a drop set. If you're unsure, lower is always better, and work your way up over time.

Alexa Mellardo
Alexa is the Mind + Body Deputy Editor of Eat This, Not That!, overseeing the M+B channel and delivering compelling fitness, wellness, and self-care topics to readers. Read more about Alexa