Drop sets – a method for quick progress

The drop sets technique is believed to have been invented in 1947 by Henry Atkins, editor of Body Culture magazine. Despite the years that have passed, it's still one of the best known and commonly used methods of training intensification. Drop sets are an advanced strength training technique that is based on performing a set until muscle failure, then immediately reducing the weight and performing the next phase, again, until muscle failure.

Bodybuilders are the most specific group among athletes, as their ultimate goal is to improve the aesthetics of the body, not performance, as in most other disciplines. This is why bodybuilders value the use of drop sets so much – because they are definitely geared towards increasing muscle size (hypertrophy). However, they aren't conducive to improving strength, endurance or speed. In fact, most athletes aim to increase strength and endurance without gaining muscle mass, so drop sets won't work for them.

Types of drop sets

There are many types of drop sets. Descriptions of each of them are provided below. They will surely be a great inspiration for you as to how this versatile technique can be used.

Drop sets with barbells

It was the favorite method of Arnold Schwarzenegger, which was used primarily during biceps training, but it can be easily used in any exercise performed with a barbell or possibly with a landmine barbell. All you have to do is use more plates (depending on the exercise) to keep the load reduction small and strip them off the bar when you can't do another rep. You finish the exercise only after you achieve muscle failure with an unloaded barbell.

Drop sets on machines

Removing the plates from the barbell or using multiple sets of dumbbells can be cumbersome and time-consuming (unless you have a training partner). Drop sets are much easier to perform on machines. All you need to do is reduce the number of plates in a stack, e.g. on a leg extension or leg curl machine. This allows the load to be changed quickly, which intensifies the set.

Drop sets with dumbbells

This method is especially effective for all kinds of exercises for the biceps muscles of the arm and for the deltoid muscles.

Example: Perform Dumbbell Lateral Raise with 8 kg  for 10 reps, then perform another 10 reps with 6 kg dumbbells, and finally do another 10 reps with 4 kg dumbbells.

Tight drop sets 

Tight drop set is a very intense variation of the drop sets method. The name refers to the small difference between the succeeding phases of load reduction. It's assumed that with this method the reduction of the load should be between 5% and 20%. For example, let's take an average value of around 15%. This approach can be successfully used as a method of overloading muscles. Therefore, remember to take care of the appropriate recovery time before the next training during which you intend to use it again.

Example: Perform Barbell Flat Bench Press with 100 kg for 6 reps, then reduce the load to 85 kg and do 5 reps, and finally reduce the load to 70 kg and do another 4 reps.

Wide drop sets

Wide drop sets are easier to use than tight ones and allow more reps to be performed. Due to cardiovascular fatigue, wide drop sets are often used on the main exercises of large muscle groups, such as squats or barbell rows. In this method, the weight reduction should be between 30% and 40%. In the following example, the load reduction will be exactly 40%.

Example: Perform Barbell Back Squat with 100 kg  for 8 reps, then reduce the load to 60 kg and perform another 8 reps.

50% drop sets ("halving" or 6-20 method)

The 50% drop set is a method that allows you to use two completely opposite rep ranges, each engaging different muscle fibers. It's an excellent stimulus for muscle growth, additionally inducing a powerful muscle pump. Performing this type of drop set consists of preparing a load with which you can perform a maximum of 6 repetitions. Then reduce the weight by exactly half and do 20 reps.

Example: Perform Barbell Flat Bench Press with 70 kg for 6 reps, then reduce the weight to 35 kg and perform another 20 reps.

Power drop sets

It was the favorite method of Larry Scott, the first Mr. Olympia. He used this technique to build monstrous shoulders and arms. Scott believed that the best way to develop muscle size and strength at the same time was to use heavy weights and small rep ranges (e.g., six reps). Such a set allows you to use heavier weights which help maintain strength levels and thicken the muscle fibers without causing excessive muscle pump.

Example: Perform 6 reps, then reduce the weight by 10% to 15% with each drop set. Repeat the pattern for 6 consecutive reps for the desired number of drops.

Ascending or descending rep drop sets

Ascending drop sets are those in which the number of reps should be increased and the weight reduced. In turn, the term descending drop sets describes a completely opposite situation in which we reduce the number of reps and increase the weight. An inherent characteristic of ascending drop sets is that the weight reduction will be significant with the succeeding drop sets (read: wide drop sets), while with descending drop sets, the weight reduction will be slightly smaller (read: tight drop sets).

Drop sets with change in grip or stance

With this method, you can stimulate the muscle from different angles and stances, making it one of the most interesting on this list. Of course, in accordance with the assumptions of the drop sets, the weight should be reduced each time the grip or stance is changed. This approach can be effectively used, for example, on a leg press machine.


  • First part of the set – feet placed narrow in the middle of the platform with 80 kg for 8 reps,
  • Second part of the set – feet placed wide at the top of the platform with 60 kg for 8 reps.

Zero drop sets

Zero drop sets are those in which there is no rest between the individual elements of the set. Most people avoid them either intentionally or unknowingly because it's an extremely demanding variant. To perform an "honest" set with zero rest, you usually need a training partner (or two).

As an example, if you are doing a drop set on the leg press by yourself, you need to get up, walk to one side, strip a plate off, walk over to the other side, strip another plate, then sit down and resume the drop set. This process takes at least ten seconds. During this time, your muscles will begin to metabolize the lactic acid and replenish their energy reserves. If you have two training partners, you can make a real zero drop set as the plates can then be stripped simultaneously from both sides.

The difference between not resting and resting 10 seconds is colossal. Combined with performing reps with continuous tension, where you don't accentuate the end of the phases between repetitions, this method can contribute to one of the most challenging workouts in your life.

Rest-pause drop sets

Rest-pause drop sets are the opposite of zero drop sets. After completing the set, we deliberately rest 5, 10, or even 15 seconds between weight changes to allow ourselves a short recovery, and thus – use a bit more weight. Thanks to this, we get two valuable perks: the effect of the strong involvement of muscle fibers in the drop sets and the increase in strength as a result of using heavier weights. This technique is great when muscle size and strength development are priorities for you.

Drop sets combined with supersets

If drop sets are the most effective method of maximizing the intensity of strength training, then the next one are supersets. Therefore, a combination of these two methods would seem a great idea, and it's indeed in practice, although it's probably one of the most demanding variants for the central nervous system (CNS). Two or more exercises should be selected to be performed as a superset, and then this superset will be repeated but as a drop set (with less weight). 


  • The first part of the set – Standing Barbell Bicep Curl + Flat Bench Tricep Extension with 30 kg for 8 reps,
  • The second part of the set – Standing Barbell Bicep Curl + Flat Bench Tricep Extension with 20 kg for 8 reps.


There are dozens of training methods, thanks to which we can easily achieve high training intensity. You can and should introduce many of them into your training. Drop sets are a unique technique for intensifying strength training because they allow you to effectively influence the training volume.

Advanced bodybuilding methods are a great tool in the process of body shaping. Their often complex nature and influence on the nervous system require a perfectly developed training plan.


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