Drop Sets: The Ultimate Guide!


Drop sets are one of the oldest and most effective high-intensity training techniques of all time. Many world-class bodybuilders including Arnold Schwarzenegger, Branch Warren and John Meadows rely on drop sets to build muscle mass as fast as possible.

If you are serious about building muscle mass and strength then drop sets are for you!

Introduction

  • Part 1: How To Build Muscle With Drop Sets!   
  • Part 2: How To Build Strength With Drop Sets!   

In this comprehensive guide I will teach you the best drop set strategies ever invented for building muscle mass and strength. 

Drop sets are a high-intensity training technique where you train to failure on an exercise, then decrease the weight and continue pumping out reps.

Here is what a bodybuilding drop set might look like:

  • Step #1: Train to failure in the 8-12 rep range, then decrease the weight by 10-20%
  • Step #2: Train to failure in the 4-8 rep range, then decrease the weight by 10-20%
  • Step #3: Train to failure in the 4-8 rep range, done!

These post-failure repetitions force your muscles to work harder by extending the time under tension of the set. If a regular set takes 20 seconds to complete then a drop set can easily take 40-80 seconds!

This extra time under tension creates more muscle damage and metabolic fatigue which is perfect for stimulating size and strength gains.

Here is IFBB pro John Meadows demonstrating a perfect drop set on the incline bench press:

In this video John trains to failure three times in a row on the incline dumbbell press.

First John performs a hard set of 10 reps with the 130 pound dumbbells. Then John picks up the 95 pound dumbbells and performs an even harder set of 8 reps. Finally John grabs the 60 pound dumbbells and performs an excruciating 5 reps. He even performs some extra partial reps at the end for good measure!

By the end of this set all of the muscle fibers in John’s chest were absolutely destroyed.

One of the things I like about drop sets is they are a very versatile training method. They can be used to build muscle mass AND strength depending on your goals.

In this guide I will show you 3 of the best drop set protocols for building muscle mass and 5 of the best drop set protocols for building strength. Some of the best drop set protocols include “stripping the rack” drop sets, mechanical advantage drop sets, 4/2/2 drop sets and Doug Hepburn drop sets.

If you want to build muscle mass and strength as fast as possible then these training methods are for you! 

Note: if you have trouble reading the training routines in this article then check out this guide on how to read a training program. Now let’s get down to business…

Part 1: How To Build Muscle With Drop Sets!

Using drop sets to build muscle is very simple. You train to failure in the 6-20 rep range, then take some weight off the exercise and continue training to failure.

This type of extended set is so effective for building muscle because it jacks up the time under tension on your muscles which creates more muscle damage and metabolic fatigue. In other words drop sets create the perfect muscle-building environment in your muscle cells!

In my opinion there are 3 major ways to use drop sets to build muscle:

  • Option #1: Drop Sets On Your Last Heavy Set
  • Option #2: Mechanical Advantage Drop Sets
  • Option #3: Multiple Drop Sets Per Exercise

The first option is by far the most popular. You perform 3-4 sets per exercise with a big drop set on the last set.

This strategy gives you all of the benefits of drop sets. However, it also relatively easy to recover from. It is like the best of both worlds: regular straight sets and drop sets!

The second option is more challenging. Mechanical advantage drop sets are an advanced training method where you perform 2-4 variations of an exercise in a row.

You start with the variation where you are weakest and progress to the variation where you are strongest. Instead of dropping some weight off the bar you are just tweaking the exercise so you can continue busting out reps after failure!

Mechanical advantage drop sets are a higher-volume option because you perform several of these extended sets per exercise. 

The third option is even more extreme: you are going to perform several drop sets on the same exercise. This is an intense training method but it works great for people who can handle high-volume workouts.

Now let’s take a closer look at each of these options.

Option #1: Drop Sets On Your Last Heavy Set

This is one of the oldest and most effective ways to use drop sets in your workout. The idea is simple: you perform several sets on an exercise with the last set being your heavy drop set. This strategy was a favorite of the legendary bodybuilder Arnold Schwarzenegger.

He would perform several sets of an exercise and then one giant drop set on the last set to shock his muscles into growth.

Arnold loved to use this strategy for shoulders with the seated dumbbell overhead press. Here is what his shoulder drop set looked like:

Arnold Schwarzenegger Shoulder Drop Set

  • Dumbbell overhead press: 110’s x 6 reps, no rest
  • Dumbbell overhead press: 100’s x 6 reps, no rest
  • Dumbbell overhead press: 90’s x 6 reps, no rest
  • Dumbbell overhead press: 80’s x 6 reps, no rest
  • Dumbbell overhead press: 70’s x 6 reps, no rest
  • Dumbbell overhead press: 60’s x 6 reps, no rest
  • Dumbbell overhead press: 50’s x 6 reps, no rest
  • Dumbbell overhead press: 40’s x 6 reps, done!

Talk about a massive drop set! Arnold called these “stripping the rack” sets because he just went down the rack of dumbbells and picked up the next lightest pair every time he reached failure.

Here is Arnold talking about his epic shoulder drop sets:

“By the time you’re on the lower weights, the burning is so intense that 40 pounds feels like 110.”

Arnold used a similar strategy on many other exercises like incline bench presses and machine hack squats. He picked a weight he could perform for 6 hard reps and then performed one big drop set with as many mini-sets as his muscles could tolerate. 

Here is what Arnold’s shoulder drop set looked like:

Arnold Schwarzenegger Shoulder Drop Set Workout

  • A1: Seated DB overhead press, 3-6 sets of 5-20 reps**
  • B1: Barbell upright rows, 3-6 sets of 8-20 reps
  • C1: Front DB raises, 3-6 sets of 8-20 reps
  • D1: Lateral DB raises, 3-6 sets of 8-20 reps
  • E1: 45 degree rear delt DB raises, 3-6 sets of 8-20 reps

**On your last set perform a massive “stripping the rack” drop set as described above

The bodybuilding coach John Meadows has found some creative ways to make these bodybuilding-style drop sets even more intense. If you are only performing 1 drop set per exercise then it makes sense to throw “everything plus the kitchen sink” at your muscles!

One of John’s favorite strategies is to perform 1 big drop set with extra partial repetitions at the end of the set.

These partial reps create even more muscle damage and metabolic fatigue at the end of your set. They also help you to overload specific points in the strength curve such as the stretched position of the exercise. 

Here is John Meadows demonstrating this drop set + partial reps strategy on the lying leg curl machine. Check it out:

Here is what John’s leg curl drop set looks like:

  • Perform 15 reps to failure, then drop the weight
  • Perform 10 reps to failure, then drop the weight
  • Perform 8 reps to failure, then *increase* the weight
  • Perform 25 partial reps in the stretched position to failure, done!

The time under tension for the entire drop set was around 75 seconds. Talk about a high-intensity set!

John actually *increases* the weight for his 25 partial reps. This is a very creative strategy to overload the hamstrings in the stretched position of leg curls where they are stronger. 

Another one of John’s favorite high-intensity strategies is to use drop sets with iso-holds after each mini-set. This method is very intense so John only performs it on the last set for each exercise.

Here is a great video of John performing this method on Bulgarian split squats. Check it out:

Here is the exact protocol for this drop set:

  • Perform 10 reps to failure, then do a 10-second iso-hold, then drop the weight
  • Perform 10 reps to failure, then do a 10-second iso-hold, then drop the weight
  • Perform 10 reps to failure, then do a 10-second iso-hold, then drop the weight
  • Perform 10 reps to failure, then do a 10-second iso-hold, done!

The iso-holds are a form of isometric training. You just hold the weight in a “power position” to put more tension on the target muscle and accumulate more total time under tension.

This is a very demanding training method and should only be performed on your last set for an exercise. If you perform this method correctly then your quads will be absolutely engorged with blood.

As Ron Burgundy famously said, “it’s a deep burn!

Option #2: Mechanical Advantage Drop Sets

Mechanical advantage drop sets are another one of my favorite drop set protocols for bodybuilders. Many world-class bodybuilding coaches like Christian Thibadeau and Josh Bryant use them with their bodybuilding clients to help them blast through training plateaus.

Mechanical advantage drop sets are a high-intensity training method where you perform 2-4 variations of the same exercise in a row with only 10 seconds rest between exercises. You start with the exercise where you are weakest and finish with the exercise where you are strongest. For example:

Mechanical Advantage Drop Set Protocol

  • Train to failure on the weakest exercise variation, then rest 10 seconds
  • Train to failure on the 2nd weakest exercise variation, then rest 10 seconds
  • Train to failure on the 2nd strongest exercise variation, then rest 10 seconds
  • Train to failure on the strongest exercise variation, done!

One of the things I really like about mechanical advantage drop sets is you can easily perform 3-4 of these extended sets per exercise. You are using different variations of the same exercise which helps to prevent you from overtraining on that one exercise.

One of the best ways to use mechanical advantage drop sets is with pull ups. You would perform an extended set with wide overhand grip pull ups, medium supinated grip pull ups and narrow neutral grip pull ups.

Here is Charles Poliquin coaching one of his clients on this method:

As you can see the athlete performs three different types of pull ups in a row using just her bodyweight. She is moving from her weakest grip to her strongest grip so she doesn’t have to change the weight of the exercise!

Here is what a mechanical advantage back workout might look like for an advanced bodybuilder. Check it out:

Upper Back Mechanical Advantage Drop Set Routine

  • A1: Pull ups (wide / overhand grip), 3-4 x 6-8, 3/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A2: Chin ups (medium / supinated grip), 3-5 x AMRAP**, 3/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A3: Pull ups (narrow / neutral grip), 3-5 x AMRAP**, 3/0/X/0, 3 minutes rest
  • B1: Seated cable rows (v-handle), 3 x 8-12, 2/0/1/1, 2 minutes rest
  • C1: Unilateral machine rows, 3 x 8-12, 2/0/1/0, 2 minutes rest
  • D1: Reverse pec dec, 3 x 20-25, 2/0/1/0, 1 minute rest
  • E1: 45 degree back extension against bands, 2 x 12-15, 2/0/X/1, 2 minutes rest

**Perform as many reps as possible with the same weight you used for exercise A1.

Here are the training videos for this workout: exercise A1, exercise A2, exercise A3, exercise B1, exercise C1, exercise D1, exercise E1.

Talk about a high-volume workout! The heart and soul of this routine is the mechanical advantage drop set performed at the beginning of the workout.

I recommend you perform 3-5 of these extended sets for your lats before moving onto the other exercises. If this routine doesn’t blow up your lats then nothing will!

Now let’s look at a mechanical advantage drop set for your chest. One of the easiest ways to do this is to perform 3 different variations of the incline dumbbell press. You would start with a steep incline dumbbell press and then lower the angle of the bench every time you reach failure.

Here is Branch Warren demonstrating this strategy:

Talk about a brutal set! Here is the exact protocol for this training method:

  • Step #1: Train to failure on the 60 degree incline DB press, rest 10 seconds
  • Step #2: Train to failure on the 45 degree incline DB press, rest 10 seconds
  • Step #3: Train to failure on the 30 degree incline DB press, done!

In case you were curious, Branch Warren gets 25 reps on his first attempt, 5 reps on his second attempt and 5 reps on his third attempt. Of course Branch uses the same weight on each of the three attempts. That is the whole point of mechanical advantage drop sets – you change the exercise so you don’t have to change the amount of weight you are lifting!

Now let’s look at a mechanical advantage drop set you can do for your lower body.

One of the best strategies is to superset front squats with back squats. First you perform a set of front squats just shy of failure in the 4-6 rep range. Then you rack the bar, walk the bar out on your upper back and perform as many reps on the back squat as you can.

Here is a perfect demonstration of this training method:

This strategy was a favorite of Charles Poliquin. He believed it was one of the fastest ways for athletes to add functional muscle mass to their lower bodies.

Here is a sample Poliquin-style lower body mechanical advantage drop set routine you may want to try. Check it out:

Quads Mechanical Advantage Drop Set Routine

  • A1: Front squat (medium stance / heels flat), 3-5 x 4-6, 4/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A2: Back squat (medium stance / heels flat), 3-5 x AMRAP**, 4/0/X/0, 2 minutes rest
  • A3: Bilateral lying leg curl (Poliquin method**** / feet pointed out), 3-5 x 6, 4/0/X/0, 2 minutes rest
  • B1: Walking DB lunges, 3 x 7-9, 2/0/1/0, 1 minute rest
  • B2: Glute ham raises, 3 x 7-9, 2/0/1/0, 1 minute rest

**Perform as many reps as possible with the same weight you used for exercise A1.

****Dorsiflex your ankles (point your toes towards your shins) on the concentric range and plantar flex your ankles (point your toes away from your shins) on the eccentric range.

The bottom line is mechanical advantage drop sets are an awesome way to train for hypertrophy. You have to give this drop set strategy a shot!

Option #3: Multiple Drop Sets Per Exercise

This is one of the most extreme ways to use drop sets in your workouts. The idea is simple: you are going to perform several drop sets per exercise on your routine.

You don’t have to perform drop sets on literally every exercise. However, on the exercises you do use this method you are going to perform a drop set on each set.

Some bodybuilders feel this training method is too extreme and will lead to overtraining. I disagree! If you structure your workouts properly then this can be an AWESOME way to build muscle mass.

In my experience the key to making this strategy work is to use antagonistic supersets. An antagonistic superset is a training method where you alternate back and forth between sets for opposing muscle groups. 

Here is what an antagonistic superset might look like for the biceps and triceps:

  • Perform 1 set of bicep curls, rest 1-2 minutes
  • Perform 1 set of tricep extensions, rest 1-2 minutes
  • Perform 1 set of bicep curls, rest 1-2 minutes
  • Perform 1 set of tricep extensions, rest 1-2 minutes

And so on. You keep alternating back and forth between sets for opposing muscle groups like biceps and triceps or chest and back. The main advantage of antagonistic supersets is they improve your muscular endurance. In other words you can perform more sets per exercise without “shitting the bed” and watching your strength drop off a cliff.

This is VERY important when you are using drop sets! The antagonistic supersets improve your muscular endurance so you can perform multiple drop sets per exercise without accumulating too much fatigue. 

Here is what the antagonistic drop set method looks like in practice:

  • Perform 1 biceps drop set, rest 1-2 minutes
  • Perform 1 triceps drop set, rest 1-2 minutes
  • Perform 1 biceps drop set, rest 1-2 minutes
  • Perform 1 triceps drop set, rest 1-2 minutes

And so on. There are TONS of different ways to organize a workout using drop sets and antagonistic supersets. One of the easiest ways is to perform drop sets at the end of a hypertrophy-focused workout. For example:

Drop Set Arm Workout #1

  • A1: 45 degree incline dumbbell curls (supinating grip), 4 x 7-9, 4/0/1/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A2: Preacher ez-bar curls (wide / supinated grip), 4 x 7-9, 4/0/1/0, 2 minutes rest
  • A3: Bench press (shoulder-width grip), 4 x 7-9, 4/0/1/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A4: Lying ez-bar extensions (to forehead), 4 x 7-9, 3/1/1/0, 2 minutes rest
  • B1: Rope cable curls, 3 x 12/6/6**, 2/0/2/0, 1 minute rest
  • B2: Cable pushdowns (overhand grip), 3 x 12/6/6**, 2/0/2/0, 1 minute rest

This workout is broken down into two parts. The first part of the workout features supersets for your biceps and triceps. The second part of the workout is where things get really fun: you are going to perform 12/6/6 drop sets for your biceps and triceps.

You perform 12 reps, drop the weight, perform 6 reps, drop the weight, perform 6 reps and you are done!

Your goal is to perform 1 of these drop sets for your biceps, rest 1 minute, perform 1 for your triceps, rest 1 minute and perform 1 more for your biceps. Alternating between sets for your biceps and triceps gives your muscles way more time to recover so you can handle multiple drop sets per exercise.

Another great drop set strategy is to perform drop sets on 2 different exercises per body part. Here is a sample routine you may want to try. Check it out:

Drop Set Arm Workout #2

  • A1: Decline bench press (shoulder-width grip), 3-4 x 6/6/6**, 2/0/X/0, 2 minutes rest
  • A2: 90 degree preacher ez-bar curl (narrow / supinated grip), 3-4 x 6/6/6**, 2/0/X/0, 2 minutes rest
  • B1: Overhead rope cable extension (high pulley), 3 x 6/12/25**, 2/0/1/0, 1 minute rest
  • B2: 60 degree Incline cable curl, 3 x 6/12/25**, 2/0/1/0, 1 minute rest

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

This routine uses two different types of drop sets: 6/6/6 drop sets and 6/12/25 drop sets. For the 6/6/6 drop set you perform 6 reps on each part of the set. For the 6/12/25 drop set you perform 6 reps on the first mini-set, 12 reps on the second mini-set and 25 reps on the third mini-set.

I recommend you drop the weight by 25% on each drop so you can get all of your reps in. The bottom line is performing multiple drop sets per exercise is a great way to train for muscle mass. You just have to be smart with how you organize your workout.

In my experience the best way to use this method is to train antagonistic body parts together. Antagonistic supersets give your muscles more time to rest in between each drop set which helps to prevent overtraining and maximize muscle growth.

Part 2: How To Build Strength With Drop Sets!

Drop sets aren’t just for bodybuilders! In reality drop sets are one of the most powerful training methods you can use to build strength. The key is to train in lower rep ranges.

If your goal is to build maximal strength then you want to perform 1-4 reps on the first part of your drop set. I like to call these “fast-twitch drop sets” because you are targeting the fast-twitch muscle fibers to make your nervous system more efficient and to build functional hypertrophy.

One of the really cool things about fast-twitch drop sets is they recruit AND fatigue the fast-twitch muscle fibers. This means your fast-twitch muscle fibers are getting stronger AND bigger all at the same time. That is a recipe for rapid strength gains! 

Here are 5 of the best fast-twitch drop set protocols that you can use:

  • Option #1: 4/2/2 Drop Sets
  • Option #2: 3/1/1 Drop Sets
  • Option #3: 2/1/1/1 Drop Sets
  • Option #4: Max Effort Drop Sets
  • Option #5: Doug Hepburn Drop Sets

The first three options are very effective for building strength and increasing the size of your fast-twitch muscle fibers. You won’t grow as fast as you would on a typical bodybuilding routine but most trainees build at least a little muscle on these routines.

The last two options are more intense: you are going to perform drop sets with single repetitions! This is an extreme way to train but it works like magic for many people.

The bodybuilding legend Mike Mentzer used a variation of max effort drop sets to build his best-ever physique for the 1980 Mr. Olympia competition!

Don’t worry, I will explain all of these training methods in great detail below.

Option #1: 4/2/2 Drop Sets

The 4/2/2 drop set is one of the best all-around drop sets that you can use to build strength. The idea is simple: you are going to perform a drop set with 4 reps on your first attempt, 2 reps on your second attempt and 2 reps on your third attempt. For example:

The 4/2/2 Drop Set Protocol

  • Perform 4 reps, drop the weight by 3-5%, rest 10 seconds
  • Perform 2 reps, drop the weight by 3-5%, rest 10 seconds
  • Perform 2 reps, done!

The 4/2/2 drop set feels almost like a regular set of 8 reps. The big difference is you are using a MUCH heavier weight throughout the set!

In my experience the 4/2/2 drop set works well if you are more of a “powerbuilder” and want to build size and strength at the same time.

Here is a sample 4/2/2 drop set routine that you may want to try for your upper body. Check it out:

Upper Body 4/2/2 Drop Set Workout

  • A1: Standing behind the neck press (shoulder-width grip), 3-4 x 4/2/2**, 2/1/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • A2: Narrow neutral grip pull ups, 3-4 x 4/2/2**, 2/1/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • B1: V-bar dips (forward leaning torso), 3 x 6-8, 2/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest
  • B2: T-bar row, 3 x 8-10, 2/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest

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

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

For this routine I want you to do 3-4 total drop sets for both the behind the neck presses and the pull ups. This sounds like a ton of work. After all, most bodybuilders only perform 1 drop set on their last working set per exercise!

Don’t worry, I haven’t gone off my rocker. The antagonistic muscle group supersets jack up your muscular endurance and makes this kind of routine much easier to perform. 

Option #2: 3/1/1 Drop Sets

Another great drop set protocol is the 3/1/1 drop set. For this protocol you are going to work up to a 3-rep max on a major exercise like bench presses or front squats. Then you are going to strip a little weight off the bar and squeeze out 2 more hard singles. 

Here is what the 3/1/1 drop set looks like in the real world:

  • Perform 3 reps, drop the weight 2-5%, rest 10 seconds
  • Perform 1 rep, drop the weight 2-5%, rest 10 seconds
  • Perform 1 rep, done!

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

The 3/1/1 drop set is a very powerful training method. You have to be very careful about which exercises you perform it on.

In my experience it works great for upper body and machine exercises like incline bench presses, chin ups, leg curls and so on. I would NOT perform 3/1/1 drop sets for any exercise that really taxes your lower back like deadlifts or rack deadlifts.

If you want to build strength and functional hypertrophy all at the same time then this is a great training method.

Here is a drop set workout that the NFL superstar David Boston performed in his offseason phase of training. This arm workout combines the 3/1/1 drop set and the 4/2/2 drop set into one brutal routine. Check it out:

David Boston Fast-Twitch Drop Set Arm Routine

  • A1: Seated half press in rack, 5 x 3**, 2/2/1/0, 2 minutes rest
  • A2: Preacher ez-bar curl (wide / pronated grip), 5 x 3**, 4/0/1/0, 2 minutes rest
  • B1: One-arm low pulley rope french press, 4 x 4****, 3/1/1/0, 90 seconds rest
  • B2: Standing 2.5 inch bar curl (medium / supinated grip), 4 x 4****, 4/0/1/0, 90 seconds rest

**Performed as a 3/1/1 drop set. Perform 3 reps, decrease the weight, perform 1 rep, decrease the weight, perform 1 rep, done!

**Performed as a 4/2/2 drop set. Perform 4 reps, decrease the weight, perform 2 reps, decrease the weight, perform 2 reps, done!

This fast-twitch drop set routine was designed by Charles Poliquin (who else?). This workout may look simple but it is one of the hardest arm workouts you will ever perform.

Just think about it: you are performing 9 drop sets for both your biceps and triceps. If you count each drop set as 3 separate sets then you are performing 27 total sets for each muscle group! Now THAT is a lot of volume!

One of the things I really like about this routine is the novel exercises and exercise tempos. How often do you see exercises like the seated half press in the rack or thick bar curls in arm workouts?

If you want to make progress as fast as possible then you have to use a lot of variety in your workouts. And that means mixing things up with novel training methods, exercises, tempos etc.

Option #3: 2/1/1/1 Drop Sets

If you are a very advanced lifter and respond well to low reps then you may want to give 2/1/1/1 drop sets a shot. Like the name suggests you are going to work up to a 2-rep max, then perform 3 extra singles with a little less weight on the bar.

Here is what a 2/1/1/1 drop set might look like in practice:

  • Perform 2 reps, 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!

This is a very nasty training method and you really have to know what you are doing. However, if you perform this method correctly then you can expect some ridiculously fast strength gains.

The initial set of 2 reps teaches your body to recruit the fast-twitch muscle fibers. Then the extra single repetitions further fatigue your fast-twitch muscle fibers after they have been recruited.

This is a one-two punch that works ridiculously well for building size and strength. You can expect some very deep muscle soreness from this method!

Here is a 2/1/1/1 drop set leg workout that you may want to try. Check it out:

Front Squat 2/1/1/1 Drop Set Workout

  • A1: Front squat (wide stance / heels flat), 4-5 x 2/1/1/1**, 2/0/X/0, 2 minutes rest
  • A2: Bilateral seated leg curl (Poliquin method / feet pointed in), 4-5 x 2/1/1/1**, 2/0/X/0, 2 minutes rest
  • B1: Front foot elevated split squat (BB on back), 3-4 x 5-7, 2/1/2/0, 75 seconds rest
  • B2: 90 degree back extension (BB on back), 3-4 x 5-7, 2/0/1/2, 75 seconds rest

**Performed as a 2/1/1/1 drop set as described above.

****Dorsiflex your ankles (point your toes towards your shins) on the concentric range and plantar flex your ankles (point your toes away from your shins) on the eccentric range.

If you are going to use the 2/1/1/1 drop set method for your legs then I HIGHLY recommend you use front squats rather than back squats as your exercise of choice. Front squats are much easier on your knees / lower back than back squats and are better suited for ultra low reps.

I know some of you reading this article think that performing sets of 2 on leg curls is a silly idea. Nothing could be further from the truth!

The hamstrings are a fast-twitch muscle, especially when performing isolation exercises like lying leg curls. They really do respond best to lower rep ranges as long as your form is perfect.

Option #4: Max Effort Drop Sets

If you are serious about getting as strong as possible then you have to try max effort drop sets.

A maximal effort drop set is essentially a triple drop set with singles performed on each part of the set. For example:

  • Perform 1 rep, drop the weight by 2-4%, rest 10 seconds
  • Perform 1 rep, drop the weight by 2-4%, rest 10 seconds
  • Perform 1 rep, drop the weight by 2-4%, rest 10 seconds
  • Perform 1 rep, done!

You can perform more than 4 reps for your max effort drop sets if you want. The strength coach Charles Poliquin used to have his athletes perform as many as 7 singles in one drop set! However, for most people 4 singles is more than enough.

Max effort drop sets were Mike Mentzer’s favorite muscle-building training method. Mike used them as the foundation of his training program when he was training for the 1980 Mr. Olympia competition.

The extra single repetitions do a wonderful job of fatiguing the fast-twitch muscle fibers so you can build plenty of fast-twitch muscle tissue if you respond well to lower rep ranges.

Here is a sample max effort drop set arm workout that you may want to try. Check it out:

Arms Maximal Effort Drop Set Routine

  • A1: Decline bench press (shoulder-width grip), 3-4 x 1/1/1/1**, 2/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • A2: Preacher ez-bar curl (wide / pronated grip), 3-4 x 1/1/1/1**, 2/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • B1: Flat DB extension, 3 x 5-7, 3/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest
  • B2: 30 degree incline DB curl (hammer grip), 3 x 5-7, 3/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest

**Performed as a maximal effort drop set as described above.

Here are the arm exercise videos: exercise A1, exercise A2, exercise B1, exercise B2

It’s really important with this type of workout that you do NOT fail on any of the single repetitions. Instead you want each of the singles to be very challenging but not quite all-out. If you “fail” on any of the single repetitions then you will have a much harder time finishing the routine.

Option #5: Doug Hepburn Drop Sets

Doug Hepburn was one of the strongest men who ever lived. He was a world-champion Olympic weightlifter from 1953 – 1954 and was the first man in history to bench press 500 pounds.

Doug Hepburn had a special training system where he performed 6-8 singles on an exercise followed by 5 sets of 5 reps with a lighter weight. Some strength coaches have used a modified version of Doug Hepburn’s training method to build muscle mass and strength at a ridiculously fast pace.

This modified routine is called the “Doug Hepburn Drop Set.” Here’s how it works:

Doug Hepburn Drop Set Protocol

  • Part 1: Drop set with seven singles
  • Part 2: Five sets of five reps

For this training method you are going to divide your workout into two parts. For the first part of the workout you are going to perform one drop set with seven singles. You are going to rest 1 minute in between each single and take 2-3% off the bar while you rest. For the second half of the workout you are going to perform 5 sets of 5 reps on the same exercise that you used in part 1. 

Here is what the drop set looks like:

  • Perform 1 rep at 95-100%, drop the weight by 2-3%, rest 1 minute
  • Perform 1 rep, drop the weight by 2-3%, rest 1 minute
  • Perform 1 rep, drop the weight by 2-3%, rest 1 minute
  • Perform 1 rep, drop the weight by 2-3%, rest 1 minute
  • Perform 1 rep, drop the weight by 2-3%, rest 1 minute
  • Perform 1 rep, drop the weight by 2-3%, rest 1 minute
  • Perform 1 rep, done!

For the drop set you want the first rep to be very close to your 1-rep max. Then you rest 1 minute while taking 2-3% off the bar and perform your next single. You just continue doing this until you have performed 7 total singles.

For the second half of the workout you are performing 5 sets of 5 reps. Your goal is to perform all 5 sets using the same weight. I recommend you use about 85% of the weight you used for your last single repetition.

Trust me, you want to keep this weight light as you will be VERY fatigued from the drop set.

Here is a sample upper body workout that you may want to try. Check it out:

Doug Hepburn Drop Sets Upper Body Workout

  • A1: 30 degree incline bench press (medium grip), 7 x 1**, 3/2/X/0, 1 minute rest
  • B1: 30 degree incline bench press (medium grip), 5 x 5****, 3/2/1/0, 90 seconds rest
  • B2: Sternum chin ups, 5 x 5**, 3/0/X/0, 90 seconds rest
  • C1: Seated DB external rotations, 3 x 10-12, 2/0/2/0, 1 minute rest
  • C2: Seated cable row (v-handle), 3 x 8-10, 2/0/X/1, 1 minute rest

This workout is ridiculously effective for improving your incline bench press. The drop set performed at the beginning of the workout is geared towards relative strength gains because it teaches your body to recruit the fast-twitch muscle fibers.

On the other hand the 5 sets of 5 reps performed at the end of the workout helps you to fatigue the muscle fibers that were already recruited.

The Doug Hepburn drop set protocol is like a 1-2 punch for stimulating size and strength gains! I highly recommend you try this training method if you are bored with your current strength training program.

Conclusion

Drop sets are one of the oldest and most effective training methods ever invented. One of the great things about drop sets is they are incredibly versatile. You can design your drop sets to build muscle mass or strength gains depending on which rep ranges you use.

Drop sets are also very easy to perform in a busy commercial gym.

I recommend you experiment with the different drop set strategies presented in this routine until you find what works best for you.

Here is an old training quote on drop sets by Arnold Schwarzenegger to pump you up even more:

“Without stripping there is no excitement!”

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

Dr. Mike Jansen, PT, DPT

Thanks for checking out my site! My name is Dr. Mike Jansen and I'm the founder of Revolutionary Program Design. If you want to reach your size and strength goals faster then you've come to the right place. My goal is to make RPD the #1 strength training resource available anywhere in the world. So grab a seat, kick back and relax. There's never been a better time to lift weights or to learn the art and science of strength training program design.

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