9 Superior Shoulder Drop Set Workouts!


shoulder drop set

Drop sets are one of the oldest “high-intensity” training methods. They work incredibly well for both hypertrophy and strength gains depending on what type of drop set protocol you use!

Drop sets work well for most body parts but in my experience they work extremely well for building big, strong shoulders!

Introduction

  • Part 1: The 6/12/25 Method
  • Part 2: The 8/4/4 Method
  • Part 3: Japanese Drop Sets
  • Part 4: The 3/1/1 Method
  • Part 5: The 10/10/10 Method
  • Part 6: Maximal Effort Drop Sets
  • Part 7: The 12/6/6 Method
  • Part 8: Devil’s Drop Sets
  • Part 9: The 4/2/2 Method

In this comprehensive guide I am going to teach you 9 of the most effective shoulder drop set workouts of all time! 

Shoulder drop sets allow you to increase the strength of your training stimulus by prolonging the time under tension of a set and making your shoulders work longer.

For example, here is what a 12/6/6 drop set might look like for the shoulders:

  • Perform 12 reps, drop the weight by 10%, rest 10 seconds
  • Perform 6 reps, drop the weight by another 10%, rest 10 seconds
  • Perform 6 reps, done!

Please note that it is very important to take the full 10 second rest break in between each “leg” of the drop set.

The idea is that the short 10-second rest break gives your body a chance to partially replenish its creatine phosphate and ATP stores and to partially reduce the fatigue on the shoulders.

This short rest period allows you to lift SIGNIFICANTLY more weight on each subsequent “leg” of the drop set. 

Drop sets are traditionally thought of as a bodybuilding “high-intensity” technique that lets you train beyond muscular failure.

Drop sets are certainly one of the more effective ways to train for hypertrophy but they can also be designed to boost your strength!

In this guide I am going to give you a healthy mix of hypertrophy-focused and strength-focused drop set shoulder routines.

I am extremely confident that at least a few of these routines will work awesome for you regardless of your training goal or neurotransmitter profile. 

As this is an article dedicated to training the shoulders I have only provided sample shoulder exercises for reach of these routines.

As a general rule of thumb I believe you will get better results if you pair shoulders together with at least some other upper body muscle groups.

Here are three possible training splits you may want to use:

The Dorian Yates training split involves splitting up your training into four separate training days. Shoulders will be trained on their own separate day along with the triceps.

For example:

  • Day 1: Chest / Biceps
  • Day 2: Legs
  • Day 3: Off
  • Day 4: Shoulders / Triceps
  • Day 5: Back / Rear Delts
  • Day 6: Off
  • Day 7: Repeat!

There are many Poliquin-style splits but for the purposes of this article I would recommend you train your shoulders and back together.

For example:

  • Day 1: Shoulders / Back
  • Day 2: Legs
  • Day 3: Off
  • Day 4: Chest / Biceps / Triceps
  • Day 5: Off
  • Day 6: Repeat!

You could perform all of your shoulder exercises followed by some exercises for your back. Another way to do it (and the way I recommend) is to alternate between sets for your shoulders and your back.

For example, you could perform a drop set for the shoulders, rest 2 minutes, perform a drop set for the back, rest 2 minutes, perform a drop set for the shoulders, etc.

You would simply go back and forth until you complete your desired number of drop sets for your first shoulder and back exercises, then move on to the second pairing etc.

A third split that you may want to use is a push / pull / legs split. Here is what a 4 days per week version of this split might look like:

Week 1:

  • Monday: Push
  • Wednesday: Legs
  • Friday: Pull
  • Saturday: Push

Week 2: 

  • Monday: Legs
  • Wednesday: Pull
  • Friday: Push
  • Saturday: Legs

Etc.

You train on the same 4 days of the week each week but the body parts you train on each day rotates from one week to the next.

Of course you would train your chest / shoulders / triceps on the “push” day, your quads / hamstrings / calves on the “legs” day, and your upper back / biceps on the “pull day.”

If you use this split then you may want to perform your shoulders work before training chest and triceps in the same workout.

If you don’t mind this unconventional ordering of body parts the this split will work awesome with all of the routines listed here!

Please note: all of the routines provided here are written in such a way that all of the loading parameters are clearly defined. If you are having any trouble reading these routines then please consult this article.

Ok, I’ve made you wait long enough – let’s get on with the shoulder drop set routines!

Part 1: The 6/12/25 Method

I first learned about 6/12/25 drop sets from the world-renowned strength coach Charles Poliquin. He mainly uses the 6/12/25 method for tri-sets but it can just as easily be used for good-old-fashioned drop sets on a single exercise. 

Here is what a 6/12/25 drop set looks like in practice:

  • Perform 6 reps, reduce the load by 25%, rest 10 seconds
  • Perform 12 reps, reduce the load by 25%, rest 10 seconds
  • Perform 25 reps, done!

Now let’s look at a sample training routine. Check it out:

6/12/25 Method Drop Set Shoulder Workout

  • A1: Seated DB overhead Press, 3 x 6, 3/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A2: Seated DB overhead press, 3 x 12, 2/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A3: Seated DB overhead press, 3 x 25, 1/0/X/0, 180 seconds rest
  • B1: Seated Poliquin lateral raise**, 3 x 10-12, 3/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • C1: Seated band pull-apart, 3 x 12-15, 1/0/1/1, 60 seconds rest

**To perform the poliquin lateral raise you bend your elbows to 90 degrees before initiating the concentric range and fully straighten your arms before initiating the eccentric range. See the video below for more details.

Here are the sample training videos: exercise A1-A3, exercise B1, exercise C1.

If you are an intermediate-level bodybuilder then you may find yourself using the 80 pound dumbbells for the first leg of the drop set, 60 pound dumbbells for the second leg of the drop set, and 40 pound dumbbells for the third leg of the drop set.

The 6/12/25 drop set method works so well because it thrashes all of the muscle fibers in your shoulders! The 6 rep attempt is great for recruiting the higher-threshold motor units.

On the other hand the 12 and 25 rep attempts are perfect for fatiguing the lower-threshold motor units and jacking up metabolic fatigue levels in the working muscles!

Before moving on I want to bring your attention to the second exercise performed in this routine: the poliquin lateral raise. 

For example:

In my experience this exercise is simply superior to a traditional DB lateral raise. This exercise is really a form of eccentric training!

By bending your elbows on the way up you can use a dumbbell that is significantly heavier than normal. This means when you fully straighten your arms out you are lowering a heavier-than-normal weight!

You may actually find that it is more difficult to lower the dumbbells under control than it is to lift them up!

These heavy eccentric contractions are unbelievably effective for stimulating strength and size gains in the side deltoids.

Overall this is a far superior exercise compared to the “cheating” dumbbell lateral raises that most people perform in the gym

Part 2: The 8/4/4 Method

Just like the 6/12/25 method the 8/4/4 method is another fantastic drop set protocol to use when you are trying to increase the size of your shoulders.

The idea is simple: you perform 8 reps on the first leg of the drop set and 4 reps on the second and third legs of the drop set. 

For example:

  • Perform 8 reps, drop the weight by 5%, rest 10 seconds
  • Perform 4 reps, drop the weight by 5%, rest 10 seconds
  • Perform 4 reps, done!

The prolonged time under tension from this drop set protocol does a fantastic job of pumping the deltoids full of blood.

You may find it difficult to raise your arms after 3 of these drop sets on any overhead pressing exercises! Check it out:

8/4/4 Drop Set Shoulder Workout

  • A1: Standing military press (shoulder-width grip, hanging band method)**, 3 x 8/4/4****, 2/0/X/0, 180 seconds rest
  • B1: Seated cable rope face pull, 3 x 8-10, 2/0/1/2, 120 seconds rest

**Hang weights from “mini” or “monster-mini” resistance bands on either side of the barbell rather than sliding the weights onto the ends of the barbell. See the video below for more details.

****Performed as an 8/4/4 drop set as described above. For example:

Here are the sample training videos: exercise A1, exercise B1.

I want to bring your attention to each of these shoulder exercises as you may not be familiar with them.

The hanging band method is a very creative training method that involves hanging weights from bands on either end of a barbell.

This is very similar to the “bandbell” bar as popularized by Louie Simmons of the Westside Barbell powerlifting club. The hanging weights create a chaotic training environment.

Your brain is forced to fire off additional motor units to keep your shoulder joints stabilized and the barbell in the correct path.

This exercise takes a little getting used to but the muscle soreness you get after one such workout will have you sold for life!

Many elite bodybuilders and powerlifters frequently use the hanging band method in their training.

For example, here is Julius Maddox (the strongest bench presser in the world) performing some hanging band overhead presses to keep his shoulders strong and healthy:

The cable rope face pull is another exercise that I see most trainees perform incorrectly. The key to making this exercise work for you is to fully externally rotate your arms in the contracted position.

You will know you are doing this correctly if your forearms are directly over your upper arms in the contracted position.

When performed correctly this exercise nails the low- and mid-traps, the rhomboids, the external rotators of the humerus, and even the rear delts.

Part 3: Japanese Drop Sets

And now for something completely different!

Japanese drop sets are one of the most difficult drop set training protocols that you will ever perform.

It takes some serious balls to perform this routine correctly. As IFBB professional bodybuilder Ben Pakulski likes to say, “you need to take your balls out of your purse” before attempting this routine!

Japanese drop sets were invented and battle-tested by a team of Japanese researchers in the early 21st century. You are going to perform five sets of five reps.

The first four sets are going to be performed in regular fashion. The last set of five reps is going to involve a massive drop set where you perform 4 seperate drops with 5 reps on each leg of the drop set.

For example:

  • Set #1: perform 5 reps
  • Set #2: perform 5 reps
  • Set #3: perform 5 reps
  • Set #4: perform 5 reps
  • Set #5: perform 5 reps, drop the weight by 10%, perform 5 more reps, drop the weight by 10%, perform 5 more reps, drop the weight by 10%, perform 5 more reps, drop the weight by 10%, perform 5 more reps, done! 

This drop set protocol is absolutely brutal. However, the rewards in terms of increased functional hypertrophy more than makes up for the temporary pain. Check it out:

Japanese Drop Set Shoulder Workout

  • A1: Seated hammer strength machine overhead press, 5 x 5**, 3/1/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • B1: Seated rear delt pec-dec, 3 x 6-8, 2/0/1/2, 60 seconds rest

**Performed as a Japanese drop set as described above. 

Here are the sample training videos: exercise A1, exercise B1.

I find Japanese drop sets work particularly well on machines and other exercises where you don’t have to worry so much about stabilizing the weights used.

Ideally you don’t want to be worrying about balancing a free weight at the tail end of a quintuple drop set!

I find this routine works extremely well for anyone trying to increase the size of their fast-twitch muscle fibers.

Bodybuilders might use this as more of an intensification phase whereas strength athletes (powerlifters, strongmen etc) may want to use this as more of an accumulation phase.

Part 4: The 3/1/1 Method

I mentioned in the introduction that drop sets can be designed for strength gains rather than hypertrophy gains.

The key to making this work is to use rep ranges that are low enough to allow you to recruit the higher-threshold motor units.

One of the best drop set training protocols for boosting strength is the 3/1/1 drop set method. It is right up there with other strength-based set / rep schemes such as cluster sets and wave loading.

As the name suggests you are going to perform a drop set where you perform 3 reps on the first leg, 1 rep on the second leg, and 1 rep on the third leg.

For example:

  • Perform 3 reps, drop the weight by 5%, rest 10 seconds
  • Perform 1 rep, drop the weight by 5%, rest 10 seconds
  • Perform 1 rep, done!

This sequence would constitute one complete drop set.

For this routine I want you to perform between 3-5 total drop sets! If you feel like superman when you walk in the gym then go ahead and perform 5 total drop sets.

If you are feeling “off” during the workout then 3 total drop sets will be more than enough.

Because you are using relatively lower rep ranges on this routine I recommend you stick to barbell overhead pressing exercises such as the military press and the behind the neck press. Check it out:

3/1/1 Drop Set Shoulder Workout

  • A1: Seated behind the neck press (shoulder-width grip), 3-5 x 3/1/1**, 4/1/X/0, 180 seconds rest
  • B1: Standing cable lateral raise, 4 x 5-7, 2/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest

**Performed as a 3/1/1 drop set as described above.

Here are the training videos: exercise A1, exercise B1.

This drop set protocol has a totally different “feel” to it than any of the other drop set protocols covered thus far. You are really fatiguing the fast-twitch muscle fibers when you train this way.

You can expect a very “deep” level of muscular stimulation as you complete the set.

I am sure some of you are having second thoughts about performing such low rep ranges on the behind the neck press.

Despite what the misinformed will tell you the behind the neck press is an extremely safe exercise to perform as long as you have good shoulder mobility.

If you are capable of performing a seated DB overhead press with good technique then the behind the neck press should also be safe for you.

Actually the behind the neck press is one of the best exercises you can do to improve the health of your shoulders.

There is a reason Charles Poliquin used to use this exercise quite frequently with his world-class athletes.

Part 5: The 10/10/10 Method

If you are looking for a shoulders drop set routine that will really give you a tremendous pump then look no further!

The 10/10/10 drop set method is a poor choice to build strength but it works extremely well for boosting muscular hypertrophy!

The idea is simple: you are going to perform 10 reps on each leg of the drop set.

For example:

  • Perform 10 reps, drop the weight by 10-20%, rest 10 seconds
  • Perform 10 reps, drop the weight by 10-20%, rest 10 seconds
  • Perform 10 reps, done!

This specific routine features drop sets on isolation exercises for the side and rear delts. Once you have pre-exhausted your side and rear delts you will move onto a compound pressing exercise for the shoulders.

Normally I am not such a huge fan of the pre-exhaust technique as post-exhaustion methods tend to produce better results.

That being said I think you will find this routine to be quite effective for increasing the size of your deltoids. Check it out:

10/10/10 Drop Set Shoulder Workout

  • A1: Standing Poliquin lateral raise, 2 x 10/10/10**, 2/0/1/0, 120 seconds rest
  • B1: Bent-over DB lateral raise (elbows bent), 2 x 10/10/10**, 2/0/1/0, 120 seconds rest
  • C1: Seated machine overhead press, 2 x 12-15, 2/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest

**Performed as a 10/10/10 drop set as described above.

Here are the sample training videos: exercise A1, exercise B1, exercise C1.

If you are someone who thrives on higher-rep training protocols then I am confident this shoulder hypertrophy routine will work awesome for you!

On the other hand if you are someone who lives for lower-rep training programs and loves to throw around heavy slag iron every training day then this routine may not be your best choice.

In other words this routine will work great if you have more of a balanced or an acetyl-choline dominant neurotransmitter profile.

If you are more of a dopamine-dominant individual then you will crash and burn on this routine. You’ve been warned!

Part 6: Maximal Effort Drop Sets

Maximal effort drop sets were a favourite training method of the legendary bodybuilder Mike Mentzer. He used this special type of drop set to build his best-ever physique for the 1980 Mr. Olympia.

Mike may have come up short in his quest for the Mr. Olympia title but superhuman physique will not be forgotten.

Mike Mentzer personified the coveted “look of power” as well as any bodybuilder from his era. 

Performing a maximal effort drop set is rather simple: you are going to perform 1 rep with a weight that is very close to your 1-rep max.

After completing the rep you will strip 2-5% off the bar and complete another repetition. You repeat this process until you have completed 4 total repetitions.

For example:

  • Perform 1 rep, drop the weight by 2-5%, rest 10 seconds
  • Perform 1 rep, drop the weight by 2-5%, rest 10 seconds
  • Perform 1 rep, drop the weight by 2-5%, rest 10 seconds
  • Perform 1 rep, done!

It is certainly possible to perform more than 4 singles within a single maximal effort drop set. For example Charles Poliquin sometimes had his trainees perform as many as 7 singles within a single drop set!

Mike Mentzer found through trial and error that 4 singles tends to work best and I have to agree with him.

For the purposes of this routine we are going to follow in Mike Mentzer’s footsteps and complete 4 total singles per drop set. Check it out:

Maximal Effort Drop Set Shoulder Workout

  • A1: Standing military press (shoulder-width grip), 4 x 1/1/1/1**, 5/0/X/0, 180 seconds rest
  • B1: 45 degree incline DB press, 4 x 5-7, 2/1/X/0, 120 seconds rest

**Performed as a 1/1/1/1 drop set as described above.

Here are the sample training videos: exercise A1, exercise A2.

This would be an excellent routine to perform as part of a complete upper body workout. For example, you could alternate between drop sets on the military press with drop sets on narrow neutral grip chin ups.

You could then alternate sets of 45 degree incline DB presses with sets of T-bar rows.

The scientific literature as well as real-world experience have confirmed that alternating between antagonistic exercises in this fashion is a superior way to train.

This is especially true when you are using an intensification method such as maximal effort drop sets.

Of course the choice is yours to make. This routine will be highly effective as part of a “push” workout or many other training splits!

Part 7: The 12/6/6 Method

The 12/6/6 drop set method is another classic hypertrophy training protocol. As long as your nickname is not “captain dopamine” then this routine will probably work great for you! 

A 12/6/6 drop set involves performing 12 reps on the first leg of the drop set, 6 reps on the second leg, and 6 reps on the third leg. For example:

  • Perform 12 reps, drop the weight by 5-10%, rest 10 seconds
  • Perform 12 reps, drop the weight by 5-10%, rest 10 seconds
  • Perform 12 reps, done!

On this routine you are going to pre-exhaust your rear delts on the reverse pec dec before progressing to a compound overhead pressing movement.

This is a sequence that John Meadows likes to use with a lot of his bodybuilding clients. This can be a very effective way to structure your shoulder workouts as most trainees have horribly underdeveloped rear delts.

Part of this is due to improper training methodology (focusing too much on the bench press etc.).

However, I often find trainees just have a hard time activating their rear delts from a motor unit recruitment standpoint.

If this describes you then training your rear delts first in a routine can be a great strategy to “turn on” this muscle group over time. Check it out:

12/6/6 Drop Set Shoulder Workout

  • A1: Rear delt pec-dec machine, 3 x 12/6/6**, 2/0/1/1, 180 seconds rest
  • B1: Seated DB overhead press, 3 x 12/6/6**, 3/0/1/0, 180 seconds rest
  • C1: Seated DB partial lateral raise, 3 x 20-30, 1/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest

**Performed as a 12/6/6 drop set as described above.

Here are the sample training videos: exercise A1, exercise B1, exercise C1.

The partial lateral raise may be an exercise you are not familiar with. The idea is to use a much heavier than normal weight and perform only the bottom-half of the movement.

In this manner you can overload the mid-range position of the exercise with significantly more weight than normal. Make sure to isolate your side delts as much as possible during this exercise.

You will be tempted to use your upper traps to help initiate the movement. The more you can keep your upper traps out of it the more your side delts will grow!

Part 8: Devil’s Drop Sets

This routine is just as nasty as the name suggests! You are going to perform a 6/6/6 drop set where you perform 6 reps on each leg of the set. Hence the name “devil’s drop sets.” 

For example:

  • Perform 6 reps, drop the weight 10-15%, rest 10 seconds
  • Perform 6 reps, drop the weight 10-15%, rest 10 seconds
  • Perform 6 reps, done!

This is an outstanding way to fatigue the higher-threshold motor units and to boost functional hypertrophy levels. Check it out:

Devil’s Drop Set Shoulder Workout

  • A1: Standing behind the neck press (shoulder-width grip), 4 x 6/6/6**, 4/0/X/0, 180 seconds rest
  • B1: V-bar upright dips, 4 x 6-8, 4/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest

**Performed as a 6/6/6 drop set as described above.

Here are the sample training videos: exercise A1, exercise B1.

This is another routine where it would make a lot of sense to superset “pressing” and “pulling” exercises to make a more complete upper body workout.

For example, you could alternate the behind the neck presses with close supinated grip chin ups (resting 2 minutes between drop sets).

If you are not strong enough to perform weighted chin ups then something like wide overhand grip lat pulldowns would also work.

You could then superset the v-bar dips with something like seated cable rows (again resting 2 minutes between drop sets).

Part 9: The 4/2/2 Method

The final shoulder drop set routine of this article features the 4/2/2 drop set method. The idea is simple: you are going to perform a drop set with your 4-rep max.

After completing your first 4 repetitions you are going to perform 2 seperate drops where you complete 2 reps on each drop.

For example:

  • Complete 4 reps, drop the weight by 5-10%, rest 10 seconds
  • Complete 2 reps, drop the weight by 5-10%, rest 10 seconds
  • Complete 2 reps, done!

This routine is excellent for boosting strength gains. However, unlike the 3/1/1 drop set method and maximal effort drop sets this drop set protocol is a little more forgiving.

You are far less likely to overtrain on the 4/2/2 method than you are on other fast-twitch drop set protocols.

It is even possible for many bodybuilders who otherwise struggle to recover from too many low-rep sets to make excellent progress on this routine. Check it out:

4/2/2 Drop Set Shoulder Workout

  • A1: 80 degree incline bench press (shoulder-width grip), 4 x 4/2/2**, 3/0/X/0, 180 seconds rest
  • B1: Klokov muscle snatch, 4 x 6, X/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest

**Performed as a 4/2/2 drop set as described above.

Here are the sample training videos: exercise A1, exercise A2.

I want to bring your attention to the second exercise in this routine: the Klokov muscle snatch. I am willing to bet that you have never heard of this exercise.

This is a shame, as the Klokov muscle snatch is truly one of the best exercises that you can use to build big, strong shoulders. Charles Poliquin would agree with me here.

This exercise should be performed explosively both on the way up and on the way down. Yes, this exercise requires superior flexibility in all of the major joints of the body.

If you are not flexible enough to perform this exercise then you know what you need to work on.

As Charles would say, “no pissing, no moaning!”

Conclusion

shoulder drop set

You are now fully equipped with 9 of the most effective shoulder drop set workouts of all time!

These workouts will work perfectly fine on their own but you may want to train your shoulders with some of your upper body muscles to make a more complete upper body workout.

Regardless of how you organize your workouts I am confident that these routines will help you to build bigger, stronger shoulders in record time!

Always remember: the mind is more important than the body. Where the mind goes the body will follow.

Thank you for reading and I wish you the best of luck on your strength training journey!

 

Dr. Mike Jansen

I am the creator and owner of Revolutionary Program Design. I help advanced athletes take their training to the next level and achieve results they never imagined possible.

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