The Best Drop Set Hypertrophy Workouts!


drop sets for hypertrophy

Drop sets are one of the most effective hypertrophy training techniques of all time. Drop sets have stood the test of time and are used by bodybuilders all over the world for building slabs of muscle mass in record time.

Introduction

  • Workout #1: 6/12/25 drop sets
  • Workout #2: 4/2/2 drop sets
  • Workout #3: 12/6/6 drop sets
  • Workout #4: Japanese drop sets

In this article I will be sharing with you four of the most effective drop set schemes ever invented. These drop set protocols are not in any specific order. They are all extremely effective for building muscle mass but they all work for slightly different reasons.

Drop sets are one of the most effective high-intensity bodybuilding training techniques. They work because they force your muscles to work longer and increase the time under tension of a set.

The procedure for performing a drop set is relatively simple. First you perform as many reps as you can with a specific weight. After your last rep you put the bar down and decrease the total weight on the exercise. Then you perform as many reps as you can with the new lighter weight.

This procedure can be performed as many times as you want although most drop set protocols feature anywhere from 1-4 drops per set.

For example, here is IFBB professional bodybuilder Ben Pakulski demonstrating a triple drop set on the incline DB press:

Of course there are many other bodybuilding training methods that you can use to increase the time under tension of a set and train beyond muscular failure.

For example, rest-pause sets, tri-sets, and mechanical advantage drop sets are all excellent options.

However, drop sets are one of your best options when you want to build slabs of muscle. One of the reasons drop sets are so popular is that they are simple to perform.  Unlike tri-sets or giant sets you don’t need to hog multiple exercise stations at a time to perform them.

However, drop sets are also popular because they maximize the three biological triggers for muscular hypertrophy:

  1. Mechanical tension
  2. Muscular damage
  3. Metabolic fatigue

The bottom line is drop sets are one of the best accumulation or hypertrophy training methods that you can use.

Now let’s dive right in with four of the most effective drop set routines of all time!

Please note that the following routines are written with all of the loading parameters clearly defined. If you have any trouble reading these training routines then please consult this article.

Part 1: 6/12/25 Drop Sets

Let’s kick things off with one of the most brutal, most diabolical drop set protocols ever invented: 6/12/25 drop sets! 6/12/25 drop sets were invented by the legendary strength coach Charles Poliquin.

The idea is relatively simple: you are going to perform a drop set with 6 reps on the first attempt, 12 reps on the second attempt, and 25 reps on the third attempt.

I said this method was simple, not easy! At the end of just one of these drop sets your muscles are going to be begging for mercy!

I recommend you decrease the load you use by about 25% on each of the 2 drops. For example, here is what a 6/12/25 drop set might look like if your starting weight is 100 pounds:

  • Lift 100 pounds x 6 reps, drop the weight by 25%, rest 10 seconds
  • Lift 75 pounds x 12 reps, drop the weight by 25%, rest 10 seconds
  • Lift 50 pounds x 25 reps done!

You don’t have to drop exactly 25% on each of the two weight drops. Those of you with less muscular endurance may need to drop the weight by significantly more than 25% to complete the target number of reps on each attempt.

On the other hand those of you with higher levels of muscular endurance may require weight drops significantly less than 25% a piece! 

6/12/25 Drop Set Sample Workouts

Here is a highly effective routine that makes full use of the 6/12/25 drop set scheme.

For the purposes of this routine I recommend you use the following Poliquin-style training split:

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

This split works extremely well when combined with the 6/12/25 drop set method. It allows you to train antagonistic body parts together and features a once-every-five-days training frequency. In my experience most trainees do wonderful no this moderate training frequency for building muscle.

Here are the workouts:

Chest / Elbow Flexors

  • A1: 45 degree incline dumbbell press, 3-4 x 6**, 4/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • A2: 60 degree incline DB curl (supinating grip), 3-4 x 6**, 4/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • B1: Standing cable crossover, 3 x 12-15, 2/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest
  • B2: Preacher ez-bar curl (wide / supinated grip), 3 x 12-15, 2/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest

**Performed as a 6/12/25 drop set protocol as described above.

Here are the training videos: exercise A1, exercise A2, exercise B1, exercise B2.

Day 2: Legs

  • A1: Leg press, 3-4 x 6**, 4/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • A2: Bilateral lying leg curl (feet plantarflexed / pointing out), 3-4 x 6**, 4/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • B1: Front foot elevated split squat, 3 x 12-15, 2/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest
  • B2: 90 degree back extension (holding DB at chest), 3 x 12-15, 2/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest

**Performed as a 6/12/25 drop set protocol as described above.

Here are the training videos: exercise A1, exercise A2, exercise B1, exercise B2.

Day 3: Back / Triceps

  • A1: Cable pull down (wide / pronated grip), 3-4 x 6**, 4/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A2: Decline DB extension, 3-4 x 6, 4/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • B1: Seated cable row (v-handle), 3 x 12-15, 2/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest
  • B2: Cable rope overhead extension, 3 x 12-15, 2/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest

**Performed as a 6/12/25 drop set protocol as described above.

Here are the training videos: exercise A1, exercise A2, exercise B1, exercise B2.

One of the most difficult aspects of writing your own 6/12/25 drop set workouts is picking the right exercises for each body part. This drop set protocol is absolutely brutal and you have to be very careful about which exercises you decide to use.

For example, using back squats for your lower body day may not be the best choice. After all, performing a 6/12/25 drop set on back squat is a great way to wind up in the emergency room!

It is much better to pick something like a leg press where factors such as your cardiovascular conditioning and lower back endurance will not limit your performance.

Don’t get me wrong, in general I find the back squat to be a far superior exercise for adding mass to the quadriceps than the leg press. However, for this routine I think the leg press is a better choice.

You may find that your strength endurance is quite poor during your first bout of workouts for each body part. In other words, you may find that your strength quickly drops off from the first drop set to the second etc.

Do not worry – your strength endurance will quickly increase on this routine. If this is your first time performing this type of drop set workout then I recommend you only perform 3 of the /12/25 drop sets per major exercise.

By your 2nd or 3rd workout for each body part your muscular endurance should improve to the point where you can handle 4 of these drop sets per exercise.

Part 2: 4/2/2 Drop Sets

I have a confession to make: I absolutely LOVE 4/2/2 drop sets! While most trainees will be successful with 4/2/2 drop sets I find that they work especially well for trainees with a high percentage of fast-twitch muscle fibers. The fast-twitch muscles tend to respond best to lower rep ranges. 

The protocol for performing a 4/2/2 drop set is pretty straightforward:

  • Perform 4 reps with your 4-rep max, reduce the weight by ~5%, rest 10 seconds
  • Perform 2 reps, reduce the weight by ~5%, rest 10 seconds
  • Perform 2 reps, done!

For example, a very strong incline presser may perform their 4/2/2 drop set protocol as follows:

  • Attempt #1: 300 lbs x 4 reps, rest 10 seconds
  • Attempt #2: 285 lbs x 2 reps, rest 10 seconds
  • Attempt #3: 270 lbs x 2 reps, DONE!

It is very important to use a weight that you can only complete 4 times on the first attempt.

Or as Charles Poliquin used to say, “your spleen should come out through your left eye on the 4th rep. Your left eye, not the right eye! This is very important.”

The feeling you get in your muscles following this drop set protocol is unreal. It feels like your are tearing apart some very deep muscle fibers that don’t normally get activated with other training methods.

One of the problems with using lower rep ranges when training for hypertrophy is that it can be difficult to accumulate enough time under tension per set to really fatigue the target muscle. Using 4/2/2 drop sets is a great way to bypass this issue!

You are automatically going to recruit the fast-twitch muscle fibers when you use your 4-rep max on an exercise. However, you will also maximally fatigue these muscle fibers thanks to the 2nd and 3rd attempt where you only get 2 reps. 

4/2/2 Drop Sets Sample Workout

One of the best training splits that you can use for a 4/2/2 drop sets program is the classic 4 days per week upper body / lower body split

For example:

  • Monday: Upper Body
  • Wednesday: Lower Body
  • Friday: Upper Body
  • Saturday: Lower Body

This is easily one of the most popular training splits in the world. It works extremely well for strength athletes and for bodybuilders who are trying to increase the size of their fast-twitch muscle fibers.

Here are the 4/2/2 drop set workouts:

Day 1: Upper Body

  • A1: V-bar dips (forward leaning torso), 3-4 x 4**, 3/2/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • A2: Narrow neutral grip pull ups, 3-4 x 4**, 3/0/X/1, 120 seconds rest
  • B1: Seated DB overhead press, 3 x 6-8, 2/0/1/0, 90 seconds rest
  • B2: Barbell row, 3 x 6-8, 2/0/1/0, 90 seconds rest
  • C1: Overhead french press (close grip), 2 x 8-10, 2/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest
  • C2: Preacher ez-bar curl (close / reverse grip), 2 x 8-10, 2/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest

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

Here are the training videos: exercise A1, exercise A2, exercise B1, exercise B2, exercise C1, exercise C2.

Day 2: Lower Body

  • A1: Front squat (narrow stance / heels elevated), 3-4 x 4**, 3/2/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • A2: Bilateral seated leg curl (feet dorsiflexed / pointing straight), 3-4 x 4**, 3/0/X/1, 120 seconds rest
  • B1: Peterson leg press, 3 x 8-12, 2/0/1/0, 90 seconds rest
  • B2: DB stiff legged deadlift, 3 x 6-8, 2/2/1/0, 90 seconds rest

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

The 4/2/2 drop set method is extremely demanding. If you are someone who easily burns out with too many lower-rep sets then this may not be the best routine for you.

On the other hand if you are someone who thrives on lower-rep sets then this routine may be just what you need to make some of the best gains of your life!

I want to bring your attention to the lower body training day in this routine. I have chosen a couple of unique quadriceps exercises for this particular workout:

  • Front squat with a narrow stance and heels elevated
  • Peterson leg press

Both of these exercises are fantastic for increasing the size and strength of the vastus medialis. The vastus medialis is the teardrop-shaped quadriceps muscle located on the inside of the knee.

This muscle plays a critical role in promoting overall lower body structural balance. I highly recommend you give these 2 exercises a shot in your own training if you are stuck at a plateau in your lower body size and strength.

For more information on training the vastus medialis you can always consult this article:

The 17 Best Vastus Medialis Exercises!

Part 3: 12/6/6 Drop Sets

This is another awesome drop set method to use when you are training for size. The drop set itself goes like this:

  • Perform 12 reps, reduce the load by 5-10%, rest 10 seconds
  • Perform 6 reps, reduce the load by 5-10%, rest 10 seconds
  • Perform 6 reps, done!

For example, if someone were to perform decline close grip ez-bar extensions with 100 lbs, then the sets may look like this:

  • 100 lbs x 12 reps, rest 10 seconds
  • 90 lbs x 6 reps, rest 10 seconds
  • 80 lbs x 6 reps, done!

One of the reasons that this drop set protocol works so well is that it uses some of the most battle-tested rep ranges for building size.

Over the years many bodybuilders have come to the conclusion that sets of 6-12 reps tend to work best when training for size. There are some exceptions, of course. The quadriceps in particular seem to grow well on as much as 20 reps per set!

However, most of the time the 6-12 rep range seems to work best.

Sample 12/6/6 drop set routine

For this routine I recommend you use the following training split:

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

Of course this is the training split that Dorian Yates used during his reign as the 6 x Mr. Olympia winner. This split looks very similar to a traditional bodybuilding “bro-split.”

The major difference is that you will be training body parts once every 6 days rather than once per week. This slight increase in training frequency goes a long way in helping you to build muscular hypertrophy.

Here are the sample workouts:

Chest / Biceps

  • A1: 30 degree incline bench press, 3 x 12**, 4/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • B1: 60 degree incline dumbbell press, 3 x 12-15, 2/2/1/0, 120 seconds rest
  • C1: Flat dumbbell fly, 2 x 12-15, 2/0/1/0, 90 seconds rest
  • D1: Preacher 1-arm DB curl neutral grip, 3 x 12**, 4/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • E1: Seated zottman curls, 3 x 10-12, 120 seconds rest

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

Here are the training videos: exercise A1, exercise B1, exercise C1, exercise D1, exercise E1.

Legs

  • A1: Kneeling unilateral leg curls (plantarflexed / pointing in), 4 x 6-8, 2/0/X/2, 180 seconds rest
  • B1: Leg press, 3 x 12**, 3/0/1/0, 10 seconds rest
  • C1: Machine Hack squat, 4 x 8, 10, 12, 15, 2/0/1/0, 120 seconds rest
  • D1: Walking DB lunges, 3 x 12-15, 1/0/1/0, 90 seconds rest
  • E1: Stiff legged deadlift, 3 x 10-12, 5/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest

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

Here are the training videos: exercise A1, exercise B1, exercise C1, exercise D1, exercise E1.

Shoulders / Triceps

  • A1: Seated DB Overhead press, 3 x 12**, 4/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • B1: Lateral raise machine, 3 x 10-12, 3/0/1/1, 120 seconds rest
  • C1: Rear delt pec deck, 3 x 12-15, 2/0/1/2, 90 seconds rest
  • D1: PJR pullover, 3 x 12**, 2/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • E1: Cable overhead extension, 3 x 12-15, 3/2/1/0, 90 seconds rest

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

Here are the training videos: exercise A1, exercise B1, exercise C1, exercise D1, exercise E1.

Back

  • A1: Wide grip overhand pull ups, 4 x 6-8, 2/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • B1: Smith machine deadstop row, 4 x 6-8, 2/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • C1: Wide neutral grip cable pulldowns, 3 x 12**, 3/0/1/0, 10 seconds rest
  • D1: 1-arm cable rows, 3 x 12***, 3/0/1/0, 10 seconds rest

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

Here are the training videos: exercise A1, exercise B1, exercise C1, exercise D1.

In honor of Dorian Yates I have cranked up the volume on this back workout. If you are someone who grows like a weed on this type of high-volume programming then you are going to love this training routine.

Guys like John Meadows and Arnold Schwarzenegger certainly come to mind in this regard.

On the other hand, if you are someone who easily burns out when there are too many exercises in a single workout then this routine is probably not for you.

Part 4: Japanese Drop Sets

I’ve saved the best for last!

Japanese drop sets may be the most effective drop set variation you have never heard of! They were a favourite of the legendary strength coach Charles Poliquin and are extremely effective at building functional hypertrophy.

You know, hypertrophy specific to the fast-twitch muscle fibers, or the ones with the greatest potential for strength and size gains.

The Japanese drop set training protocol was first invented and tested by a team of Japanese researchers around the turn of the 21st century.

The idea is simple: you are going to perform five sets of five reps with a weight that is close to your five-rep max. The first four sets of five reps are performed like regular-old straight sets. You simply perform five reps then take a long rest break before performing your next set of five.

Don’t let the first four sets fool you though. On the fifth set you are going to perform one of the most difficult drop sets of your entire life!

On the last set you are going to perform a drop set with four seperate drops in weight. On each attempt you are going to perform 5 repetitions. This means you are performing 25 total gut-busting reps on the final drop set!

Here is what the entire Japanese Drop Set training method looks like in practice:

  • Set #1: 5 reps, rest 2-4 minutes
  • Set #2: 5 reps, rest 2-4 minutes
  • Set #3: 5 reps, rest 2-4 minutes
  • Set #4: 5 reps, rest 2-4 minutes
  • Set #5: 5 reps, drop the weight by 10% / rest 10 seconds, 5 reps, drop the weight by 10% / rest 10 seconds, 5 reps, drop the weight by 10% / rest 10 seconds, 5 reps, drop the weight by 10% / rest 10 seconds, 5 reps, DONE!

Japanese drop sets are easily one of the most effective training methods that you can use to blast through a training plateau. 

For this routine I recommend you use the following poliquin-style training split:

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

Here is a sample routine that you may want to try:

Day 1: Chest / Biceps

  • A1: 15 degree Incline DB press, 5 x 5**, 4/2/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • A2: 60 degree Incline curl (supinated grip), 5 x 5**, 4/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • B1: 60 degree incline DB press, 4 x 10-12, 3/0/1/0, 90 seconds rest
  • B2: 1-arm preacher zottman curls pointer finger touch DB, 4 x 6-8, 5/0/1/0, 90 seconds rest

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

Here are the training videos: exercise A1, exercise A2, exercise B1, exercise B2.

Day 2: Legs

  • A1: Back squat (heels narrow / flat), 5 x 5**, 4/2/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • A2: Unilateral lying leg curl (feet plantarflexed / pointed in), 5 x 5**, 4/0/X/2, 120 seconds rest
  • B1: Leg press feet high / medium, 4 x 10, 12, 15, 20, 2/0/1/0, 90 seconds rest
  • B2: 90 degree back extension (barbell on back), 4 x 10-12, 3/0/1/2, 90 seconds rest

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

Here are the training videos: exercise A1, exercise A2, exercise B1, exercise B2.

Day 3: Back / Triceps

  • A1: Close neutral grip pull ups, 5 x 5**, 4/2/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • A2: Seated partial overhead press in rack, 5 x 5**, 4/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • B1: Seated 1-arm cable row, 4 x 10-12, 3/0/1/0, 90 seconds rest
  • B2: 45 degree incline DB extension, 4 x 6-8, 5/0/1/0, 90 seconds rest

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

Here are the training videos: exercise A1, exercise A2, exercise B1, exercise B2.

I want to bring your attention to the following tricep exercise: the PJR pullover. This is perhaps the single best exercise you can do for recruiting the long head of the triceps.

This is because it is one of the few triceps exercises that works both functions of the long head of the triceps:

  1. Elbow extension
  2. Shoulder extension

Most triceps exercises emphasize elbow extension. However, it is rare to see a tricep exercise that simultaneously emphasizes the shoulder extension function of the long head.

If you do this exercise correctly then it will feel like a team of angry ninjas beat the back of your triceps with a bamboo stick for 3 hours straight!

Conclusion

drop sets for hypertrophy

Drop sets have stood the test of time and are widely used in various hypertrophy training protocols.

And for good reason – they work!

However, all too often people fail to make progress because they do not understand how to optimally program drop sets into their long-term training plan. Thankfully you won’t have this problem.

So what are you waiting for? Get back in the gym and start building slabs of muscle with any one of these 4 drop set training protocols!

“For me life is continuously being hungry. The meaning of life is not simply to exist, to survive, but to move ahead, to go up, to achieve, to conquer.”

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.

Recent Content