Drop Sets: The Ultimate Guide!


drop sets

Drop sets are one of the oldest and most effective high-intensity bodybuilding techniques. Drop sets are extremely effective for building muscle mass but they can also be used to develop superhuman strength. They are easily one of the most versatile training methods in the world!

Introduction

  • Part 1: The Science Of Drop Sets
  • Part 2: Drop Sets For Size And Strength
  • Part 3: 6/12/25 Drop Sets
  • Part 4: Mechanical Advantage Drop Sets
  • Part 5: 2/1/1/1 Drop Sets
  • Part 6: 12/6/6 Drop Sets
  • Part 7: Maximal Effort Drop Sets
  • Part 8: Neurological Overload Sets
  • Part 9: 4/2/2 Drop Sets
  • Part 10: 8/4/4 Drop Sets
  • Part 11: Japanese Drop Sets
  • Part 12: 3/1/1 Drop Sets

In this comprehensive guide I am going to teach you everything you need to know about how to use drop sets to build muscle mass and strength.

Drop sets are an old-school bodybuilding training technique that allow you to train beyond muscular failure. After reaching failure you reduce the amount of the weight on the exercise and continue to pump out additional reps.

For example, here is what a typical drop set might look like:

  • Lift 100 pounds for 10 repetitions, reduce the weight by 10%, rest 10 seconds
  • Lift 90 pounds for 5 repetitions, reduce the weight by 10%, rest 10 seconds
  • Lift 80 pounds for 5 repetitions, done!

These post-failure repetitions are fantastic for dramatically increasing muscle damage and metabolic fatigue. They are also fantastic for stimulating central nervous system adaptations that are important for long-term strength gains.

Even in the earliest scientific literature drop sets were shown to be superior traditional straight sets for boosting strength and size levels.

Nowadays many of the world’s top strength and physique coaches regularly use drop sets in their athletes’ training programs. For example here is Josh Bryant talking about the benefits of drop sets and how he programs them for his athletes:

The first half of this article will be dedicated to the science of drop sets. I will teach you exactly why drop sets work so well and how to manipulate them depending on whether your primary goal is increased muscle size or strength.

The second half of this article is even more exciting: I will teach you ten of the most effective drop set protocols of all time!

Six of these methods are designed to boost muscular hypertrophy while the remaining four are fantastic for facilitating rapid strength gains. I am confident you will find this guide helpful no matter what your goal is!

Please note that I clearly define all of the loading parameters in my training routines. If you have any trouble reading these routines then please consult this article.

Now let’s get down to business…

Part 1: The Science Of Drop Sets

The legendary weightlifting professor Vladimir Zdorovetskiy has famously said that “a muscle fiber that is recruited but not fatigued is not trained.”

One of the reasons that drop sets work so well is that they accomplish both of these goals: they recruit AND fatigue a maximum number of muscle fibers!

Recruiting a muscle fiber simply means that the muscle fiber is being activated during a set. The slow twitch muscle fibers are recruited almost immediately during a set even when you are using relatively light loads.

Of course recruiting the fast-twitch muscle fibers is a much more challenging task.

There are two main ways to recruit the fast-twitch muscle fibers:

  1. Train with heavy loads that you can only lift 1-5 times in a row.
  2. Train all the way to muscular failure during a set (usually this is done with 6-20 reps).

When you train with weights in the 1-5 rep range you are pretty much recruiting the fast-twitch muscle fibers right from the first rep.

For example let’s say you are performing a set of 5 on the bench press with your five-rep maximum. The weight is heavy enough that you are actually recruiting the fast-twitch muscle fibers right from the very first rep. 

Another strategy for recruiting the fast-twitch muscle fibers is to take a set all the way to muscular failure with a relatively lighter weight.

For example, any time you perform a set all the way to failure you will be maximally recruiting the fast-twitch muscle fibers by the end of the set. This is true even if you are using a relatively lighter weight that you can lift 6-20 times in a row.

As you can see it is fairly easy to achieve full muscle fiber recruitment during a set. This is true regardless of whether you are lifting relatively heavier loads in the 1-5 rep range or relatively lighter loads in the 6-20 rep range.

The problem is actually fatiguing these muscle fibers after they have been recruited!

Fortunately for you drop sets are the perfect solution!

After your initial set is over you simply drop the weight (usually by 5-20%) and continue to pump out more repetitions! These additional repetitions further fatigue the muscle fibers that you have already recruited and jack up the overall muscle damage and metabolic fatigue of the set.

Of course it is not just the muscular system that benefits from drop sets. The nervous system is also heavily stimulated which often results in extremely rapid strength gains. 

Here is the world-renowned strength coach Christian Thibadeau talking about the benefits of drop sets for both recruiting AND fatiguing as many muscle fibers as possible:

Of course drop sets that are designed to boost strength levels look very different from drop sets designed to boost muscular size. Let’s take a closer look at both of these types of drop sets.

Part 2: Drop Sets For Size And Strength

Drop sets can be used to build both size and strength. Of course there are some key differences between these two training methods.

Let’s take a closer look at how to manipulate drop sets depending on whether you are more interested in muscular size or all-out strength gains.

Drop Sets For Size

Using drop sets for hypertrophy development is an extremely effective way to train. The basic idea is that you perform a set to failure or just shy of failure in the 6-20 rep range. After that you reduce the load and continue pumping out additional repetitions. 

Usually 2-3 total drops are performed after the initial set to failure. For example, in the case of the 6/12/25 drop set you perform 6 reps, reduce the load, perform 12 reps, reduce the load, and finally perform 25 reps.

There are of course exceptions to this rule. For example, the Japanese drop sets protocol incorporates 4 separate drops after the initial set. However, most of the time you are better off sticking with 2-3 total drops.

You also have a lot of flexibility in terms of how you reduce the load with each successive drop in weight.

Some protocols such as Ben Pakulski’s neurological overload sets involve dropping the load by 20% with each drop. Other protocols involve reducing the weight by only 5% with each drop.

There are pros and cons to each of these approaches. As a general rule of thumb with the larger drops in weight you are trying to maximize the amount of metabolic fatigue you accumulate and to optimize the hormonal environment within the muscle cell.

On the other hand when you do use a relatively smaller drop in weight from one attempt to the next you are trying to maximize muscular damage. Both of these strategies are effective for building muscular hypertrophy – they just work for different reasons. 

Drop Sets For Strength

Of course drop sets can also be used to foster strength gains. This method is used somewhat less often but it can be extremely effective for individuals with a larger percentage of fast-twitch muscle fibers.

The basic idea is to perform a set in the 1-5 rep range before dropping the weight and continuing to pump out reps. Usually 2-3 total drops are performed but this number can be much higher in many cases.

For example Charles Poliquin used to advocate for drop sets with singles where you would perform as many as six separate drops in a single set! However as a general rule of thumb 2-3 total drops tends to work best.

It is very important when using drop sets for strength gains that you do NOT train to failure during the set! You should always leave 1 rep in reserve on all of your attempts. This includes your attempts after you have initially dropped the weight.

Sets in the 1-5 rep range are extremely demanding on the central nervous system. Training to failure in the 1-5 rep range is a foolish idea and will only result in you overtraining your central nervous system.

As a general rule of thumb very small drops in weight are used for strength-focused drop sets. For example you might drop the weight by 2-5% from one attempt to the next. This is in contrast to drop sets for size where both smaller and larger drops in weight are acceptable.

If you were to make larger weight drops with this method then you would reduce your ability to fully recruit the fast-twitch muscle fibers. For optimal results stick with 2-5% drops in weight when using drop sets for strength gains.

By now you should have a thorough understanding of the science of drop sets and how to manipulate drop sets for size or strength gains. Now let’s look at some of the most powerful drop set training protocols ever invented!

Part 3: 6/12/25 Drop Sets

6/12/25 drop sets are easily one of the most effective training methods that you can use when your goal is muscular hypertrophy. The procedure for performing a 6/12/25 drop set is simple: 

  • Perform 6 reps with your 6-rep max, drop the load by 25%, rest 10 seconds
  • Perform 12 reps with the reduced load, drop the load by another 25%, rest 10 seconds\
  • Perform 25 reps with the reduced load, done!

Usually 3-4 total 6/12/25 drop sets are performed per exercise.

As a general rule of thumb you should only perform 6/12/25 drop sets on one exercise per workout. You can of course perform this type of drop set on 2 separate exercises if you superset antagonistic body parts together ala Charles Poliquin.

In my experience one of the most challenging aspects of designing a 6/12/25 drop set workout is picking the right exercises.

There are many exercises where it is simply not practical to perform 25 reps in a fatigued state. Exercises such as chin ups and dips are easily two of the most bang-for-your-buck upper body exercises that you can perform.

Unfortunately they are not very good choices for a 6/12/25 drop set workout.

Can you imagine performing 25 chin ups in a row at the end of a drop set workout? Unless you are a professional rock climber this is going to be nearly impossible! Back squats would also be a rather poor choice as your lungs are likely to give out on you before your quadriceps do! 

Instead you should pick exercises where performing the 25 reps in a fatigued state is not such a big deal.

In my experience the 6/12/25 method works EXTREMELY well for increasing the size of your arms. Here is a sample arm workout that you may want to try:

Arms

  • A1: Close grip bench press, 3-4 x 6/12/25**, 2/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • A2: Preacher ez-bar curl (wide / supinated grip), 3-4 x 6/12/25**, 2/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • B1: Overhead rope cable extension, 3 x 20-25, 2/0/1/0, 30 seconds rest
  • B2: Incline cable curl, 3 x 20-25, 2/0/1/0, 30 seconds rest

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

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

6/12/25 drop sets are so effective for boosting hypertrophy because they produce an unbelievable amount of metabolic fatigue in your muscles! I guarantee you that after just one of these drop sets your arms are going to feel ready to explode!

If this is your fist time attempting this type of workout then I recommend you stick with 3 total drop sets. After 2-3 workouts your muscular endurance should improve to the point where performing 4 of these sets per exercise is no big deal.

Part 4: Mechanical Advantage Drop Sets

rest pause

Mechanical advantage drop sets are a special type of drop set. In fact they are quite unlike any of the other training protocols included in this article! 

Normally during a drop set you are decreasing the load on an exercise in order to allow you to perform additional repetitions. Mechanical advantage drop sets are unique in that you are changing the exercise itself in order to allow you to pump out additional reps.

The basic idea is to pick 2-4 variations of the same exercise. You will start with the variation that you are weakest on and finish with the variation that you are strongest on.

For example a mechanical advantage drop set for the chest may include various types of incline dumbbell presses. You could start with a higher incline and progress to a lower incline as you fatigue. 

Here is Christian Thibadeau giving his take on this superior training method:

In my experience mechanical advantage drop sets are extremely effective for boosting functional hypertrophy levels. You know, hypertrophy specific to the fast-twitch muscle fibers. Whether you are a bodybuilder or a strength athlete you have something to gain from mechanical advantage drop sets!

I find this method to be so effective that I will be sharing with you four separate routines for different body parts. The first routine is for the back and features four different types of pull ups.

Check it out:

Upper Back Mechanical Advantage Drop Set Routine

  • A1: Wide overhand grip pull ups, 3-4 x 6-8, 3/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A2: Medium overhand grip pull ups, 3-4 x AMRAP**, 3/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A3: Medium supinated grip pull ups, 3-4 x AMRAP**, 3/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A4: Narrow supinated grip pull ups, 3-4 x AMRAP**, 3/0/X/0, 180 seconds rest

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

You can click right here for a great video demonstration of this workout. The lifter in the video is only performing 3 reps with each different grip. You would obviously be pushing yourself to 1 rep shy of failure or all the way to failure on each rep.

This routine is often called the “gymnast pull up routine” and was popularized by Charles Poliquin. It is an unbelievably effective way to boost functional hypertrophy levels on the shoulder extensors and elbow flexors.

Please not that you must be able to perform at least 10 wide overhand grip pull ups before you can attempt this routine.

If you are not strong enough to perform this routine then you may want to perform a similar mechanical advantage drop set on a cable pull down machine. It will not be as effective using cable pulldowns but you will still get excellent results.

Here is a mechanical advantage drop set for the chest that you may want to try. It features several different variations of dumbbell presses to make your pecs work very hard over a long period of time. 

Check it out:

Mechanical Advantage Drop Set Chest Workout

  • A1: 60 degree incline DB press, 3-4 x 10-12, 3/1/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A2: 30 degree incline DB press, 3-4 x AMRAP**, 3/1/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A3: Flat DB press, 3-4 x AMRAP**, 3/1/X/0, 10 seconds rest

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

You can click right here for a video of Branch Warren demonstrating this chest mechanical advantage drop set routine:

Branch Warren tends to perform his reps in “ballistic” fashion and I wouldn’t necessarily recommend modeling your form after his. That being said Branch’s style of lifting clearly works for him!

Here is a mechanical advantage drop set for the elbow flexors that you may want to try. This routine is particularly effective for bringing up a lagging brachialis muscle but it is also quite effective at stimulating the biceps brachii. 

Check it out:

Elbow Flexors Mechanical Advantage Drop Set Routine

  • A1: Preacher ez-bar curl (narrow / pronated grip), 3-4 x 6-8, 2/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A2: Preacher ez-bar curl (wide / pronated grip), 3-4 x AMRAP**, 2/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A3: Preacher ez-bar curl (wide / supinated grip), 3-4 x AMRAP**, 2/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A4: Preacher ez-bar curl (wide / narrow grip), 3-4 x AMRAP**, 2/0/X/0, 180 seconds rest

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

The routine is not nearly as complicated as it looks! You simply change your grip for each of the four exercises. This routine creates an absolutely horrible amount of muscular damage and metabolic fatigue in the elbow flexors.

If you are looking for a routine to add some quick size to your arms then look no further!

Before we move on I have one last mechanical advantage drop set routine that I want to share with you. This one is for the legs and features front and back squats.

The idea is that you first perform a heavy set of front squats for 4-6 reps. You then immediately rack the weight and reposition yourself under the bar to perform a back squat. As soon as you walk the weight back out again you perform as many reps as you can on the back squat in good technical form.

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, 180 seconds rest

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

Of course you may want to perform some additional work for the hamstrings muscles after this superset for a more complete leg workout.

This routine was another favourite of Charles Poliquin and is extremely effective at not only building functional muscle mass on the quads but also driving up your front squat and back squat poundages.

Part 5: 2/1/1/1 Drop Sets

And now it’s time for something completely different! As I mentioned earlier in this article drop sets are a great choice regardless of whether you are primarily training for size or strength gains.

The key when using drop sets for strength gains is to use relatively lower rep ranges and to use small drops in weight during the set. 2/1/1/1 drop sets are a perfect choice when training for strength because they fulfill both of these requirements.

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!

It is very important that you do NOT go to failure at any point during this set! Each of these reps should be challenging but you should be confident that you will make them.

A typical 2/1/1/1 drop set workout features 3-4 drop sets per major exercise. If you are supersetting antagonistic body parts then you can perform 2/1/1/1 drop sets on 2 separate exercises.

This is my usual recommendation as it tends to produce better results but as always there is more than one way to skin a cat.

I recommend performing your first drop set using 90% of your 1-rep max on the first attempt. This will help to ensure that you get all of your reps in good clean form. If 90% was too easy then you can just use the same weight for your second drop set in the workout. 

Here is a sample upper body workout that you may want to try.

Check it out:

Upper Body 2/1/1/1 Drop Set Routine

  • A1: 30 degree incline bench press (medium grip), 3-4 x 2/1/1/1**, 2/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • A2: Narrow supinated grip pull ups, 3-4 x 2/1/1/1**, 2/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • B1: 75 degree incline DB press, 3-4 x 6-8, 2/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest
  • B2: Seated cable rope row, 3-4 x 6-8, 2/0/X/1, 60 seconds rest

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

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

I should warn you that 2/1/1/1 drop sets are extremely demanding on the central nervous system. They can deliver screaming fast strength gains but they can also overtrain you in a hurry if you are not careful.

In my experience trainees with a large percentage of fast-twitch muscle fibers or trainees with a dopamine-dominant neurotransmitter profile tend to do best on this routine.

If this describes you then you may be surprised at how well the 2/1/1/1 drop set method works for you!

Part 6: 12/6/6 Drop Sets

12/6/6 drop sets are a very effective tool for boosting hypertrophy. Here is what a typical 12/6/6 drop set might look like:

  • Perform 12 reps, drop the weight by 5%, rest 10 seconds
  • Perform 6 reps, drop the weight by 5%, rest 10 seconds
  • Perform 6 reps, done!

In my experience this particular drop set protocol works best when it is performed towards the end of your routine on one of your last exercises. I don’t have any double-blind studies to back this up, just a lot of “in-the-trenches” experience that was earned while working with hundreds of clients.

I find that the lower body responds particularly well to this sort of extended time under tension approach. Here is a lower body routine you may want to try if you have an above-average pain tolerance.

Check it out:

Legs 12/6/6 Drop Set Routine

  • A1: Back squat (narrow stance / heels elevated), 4 x 10-12, 3/0/X/0, 90 seconds rest
  • A2: Bilateral lying leg curl (Poliquin method** / feet neutral), 4 x 6-8, 3/0/X/0, 90 seconds rest
  • B1: Leg press, 3-4 x 12/6/6****, 2/0/1/0, 90 seconds rest
  • B2: Dumbbell Romanian deadlift, 3-4 x 12/6/6****, 2/0/1/0, 90 seconds rest

**To perform the Poliquin method on leg curls you 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.

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

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

Notice that the drop sets are performed on some slightly less demanding exercises such as the leg press and the dumbbell Romanian deadlift. This is on purpose! Attempting a drop set with reps this high on something like back squats is a disaster waiting to happen.

As John Meadows has repeatedly pointed out sometimes it really is best to perform your high-intensity bodybuilding techniques on less demanding exercises. The benefit of this approach is that you can really push yourself without having to worry as much about balancing the weights or your form horribly breaking down. 

Part 7: Maximal Effort Drop Sets

Not many people know this but maximal effort drop sets were actually Mike Mentzer’s favourite training program for packing on muscle. He actually called them “rest-pause sets” and he used them extensively during his preparation for the 1980 Mr. Olympia competition.

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!

Technically you can perform as many as 7 separate singles during a maximal effort drop set. However, I am in agreement with Mike Mentzer that 4 total singles in a single set is more than enough for great results.

Most people wouldn’t think of a drop set featuring multiple singles to be a great choice for building muscle but Mike Mentzer grew like a weed on this protocol! His strength also shot through the roof on many different exercises.

Of course the typical trainee using this method is going to be more interested in strength gains than size gains. If you get great results performing maximal singles then you are going to love this method.

Here is a sample training routine for the arms 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

Maximal effort drop sets can also be used for the lower body provided you choose the correct exercises. In my experience the front squat responds extremely well to this set / rep scheme.

Here is a lower body routine that you may want to try:

Legs Maximal Effort Drop Set Routine

  • A1: Front squat (medium stance / heels flat), 3-4 x 1/1/1/1**, 2/0/X/0, 240 seconds rest
  • B1: Front foot elevated split squat (holding DBs), 3-4 x 5-7, 2/0/1/0, 90 seconds rest
  • B2: Bilateral seated leg curl (feet plantarflexed / pointing straight), 3-4 x 5-7, 2/0/1/0, 90 seconds rest
  • C1: 90 degree back extension (barbell on back), 2-3 x 7-9, 2/0/1/1, 120 seconds rest

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

Here are the leg exercise videos: exercise A1, exercise B1, exercise B2, exercise C1.

The maximal effort drop set method can be very difficult to recover from if you are not careful. I recommend you do everything in your power to optimize your recovery from workouts before attempting this routine.

Part 8: Neurological Overload Sets

IFBB professional bodybuilder Ben Pakulski was a huge fan of drop sets during his competitive bodybuilding career. He had a special type of drop set that he liked to perform. He called them “neurological overload sets,” or NOS for short.

A NOS set is a triple drop set where you reduce the weight by 20% on each drop.

For example:

  • Perform 5-10 reps to failure, drop the weight by 20%, rest 10 seconds
  • Perform as many reps as you can to failure, drop the weight by 20%, rest 10 seconds
  • Perform as many reps as you can to failure, drop the weight by 20%, rest 10 seconds
  • Perform as many reps as you can to failure, done!

For example here is Ben demonstrating a NOS set on the incline dumbbell press:

NOS sets create an absolutely horrible amount of metabolic fatigue within your muscle cells. This in turn jacks up levels of certain key anabolic hormones such as growth hormone.

If one of your goals is increased hypertrophy then you have got to give this method a try!

NOS sets are so demanding on your central nervous system that Ben only likes to perform them on the final set for an exercise. For example, let’s say you are performing 4 total sets of incline dumbbell presses. The first 3 sets would be regular straight sets while the 4th set would be your NOS set.

Here are some complete upper body and lower body workouts featuring NOS sets that you may want to try.

Check it out:

Upper Body

  • A1: 30 degree incline DB press, 3 x 8-10**, 3/0/X/0, 90 seconds rest
  • A2: Wide overhand grip pull downs, 3 x 8-10**, 3/0/X/0, 90 seconds rest
  • B1: Seated Poliquin DB lateral raise****, 3 x 12-15, 2/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest
  • B2: Seated cable row (v-handle), 3 x 12-15, 2/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest
  • C1: Hammer strength dip machine, 3 x 10-12**, 2/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest
  • C2: Seated Zottman curl, 3 x 10-12**, 2/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest

**On your last set of this exercise perform a neurological overload set as described above.

****To perform the Poliquin DB lateral raise you bend your elbows to 90 degrees on the concentric range and fully extend your elbows on the eccentric range. 

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

Lower Body

  • A1: Back squat (medium stance / heels flat), 4 x 6-8**, 3/0/X/0, 90 seconds rest
  • A2: Kneeling leg curl (Poliquin method**** / feet pointed out), 4 x 6-8**, 3/0/X/0, 90 seconds rest
  • B1: Walking alternating DB lunge, 3 x 12-15, 2/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest
  • B2: 45 degree back extension (eccentric emphasis with DBs), 3 x 12-15, 2/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest

**On your last set of this exercise perform a neurological overload set as described above.

****To perform the Poliquin method on leg curls you 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.

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

Ben Pakulski is one of the brightest minds in the fitness industry. I don’t agree with everything he has to say on training but I definitely agree with him on one thing: NOS sets are an incredibly effective training method for packing on slabs of muscle mass!

I highly recommend you give them a shot in your own training. You won’t be disappointed!

Part 9: 4/2/2 Drop Sets

4/2/2 drop sets are another fantastic drop set protocol for strength gains. Unlike some of the other lower-rep drop set protocols that I have covered so far 4/2/2 drop sets actually work well for a wide variety of lifters.

Even bodybuilders and other physique athletes stand to benefit from this training protocol during an intensification phase. The reps are just high enough that you can actually build a fair amount of functional hypertrophy with this method.

The procedure for performing a 4/2/2 drop set is pretty straight forward:

  • Perform 4 reps, drop the weight by 5%, rest 10 seconds
  • Perform 2 reps, drop the weight by 5%, rest 10 seconds
  • Perform 2 reps, drop the weight by 5%, rest 10 seconds

Here is a sample chest / back routine featuring the 4/2/2 drop set method that you may want to try. Check it out:

Chest / Back

  • 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.

I am sure some of you are shaking your heads at my choice of exercises for this routine. Specifically I am talking about the behind the neck press. In reality the behind the neck press is a superior exercise for strengthening the delts, triceps, and traps. 

It has been shown to recruit all three heads of the deltoids better than regular military presses and is actually a great exercise for INCREASING the health of your shoulders and upper body!

If you have extremely poor shoulder mobility or very weak rotator cuff muscles then this may not be the best exercise for you to use right now. However, if you have good shoulder health then I highly recommend you start incorporating this exercise into your workouts.

Part 10: 8/4/4 Drop Sets

This drop set protocol actually reminds me a lot of Dante Trudel’s rest-pause training protocol. The idea is to perform a set of 8 reps just shy of muscular failure.

After the set is done you take off a small amount of weight and then bust out 4 more repetitions. This step is repeated a second time so you perform 3 total attempts within the drop set.

For example:

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

8/4/4 drop sets are a fantastic accumulation method that tend to work well for a large percentage of the training populace. Let’s take a look at a couple of upper body workouts using the 8/4/4 method.

Here is a very effective chest / arms workout that you may want to try.

Check it out:

Chest / Arms

  • A1: V-bar dips (forward leaning torso), 4 x 8**, 3/2/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • A2: 45 degree incline DB curl (supinated grip), 4 x 8**, 3/2/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • B1: Decline ez-bar extension (to forehead), 3 x 8-10, 2/1/1/0, 60 seconds rest
  • B2: Unilateral preacher Zottman curl, 3 x 8-10, 2/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest

**Performed an 8/4/4 drop set as described above on the last set only.

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

And here is a very effective shoulders / back workout that you may want to try. Check it out:

Shoulders / Back

  • A1: Seated DB overhead press, 4 x 8**, 3/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • A2: Wide neutral grip cable pulldown, 4 x 8**, 3/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • B1: 45 degree rear delt DB swings****, 3 x 20-30, 1/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest
  • B2: Barbell dead stop row, 3 x 10-12, 2/1/X/0, 60 seconds rest

**Performed an 8/4/4 drop set as described above on the last set only..

****Only perform through the bottom half of the range of motion. You will be able to use significantly more weight than normal on these.

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

In case you are wondering, I recommend you incorporate these workouts into a Poliquin-style training split. For example:

  • Day 1: Chest / Arms
  • Day 2: Legs
  • Day 3: Off
  • Day 4: Shoulders / Back
  • Day 5: Off

This type of training split may look a little unusual to you if you are not familiar with Charles Poliquin’s work. One of the main benefits of this type of split is the once-every-five-days training frequency per body part.

In my experience many trainees do WONDERFUL on this type of training frequency! It is a great compromise between the lower-frequency and higher-frequency training splits that most people in the fitness industry seem to focus on.

Part 11: Japanese Drop Sets

Japanese drop sets are not for the weak of heart. They have been declared illegal and a violation of human rights by nine countries.

Greg Doucette once looked at a Japanese drop set training protocol and said “no way man! I said train harder, not dig your own grave!”

I’ve even heard rumors that Japanese drop sets were exposed to the Covid-19 virus. As a result Covid-19 had to quarantine itself for 2 weeks. 

In all seriousness the Japanese drop set protocol was invented in the early 21st century by a  team of Japanese researchers. It involves performing five sets of five reps.

The first four sets are performed in traditional straight sets fashion. However, all hell breaks loose on the fifth set. You are going to perform a quadruple drop set where you perform 5 reps on each of the five attempts. 

Here is what the fifth set looks like in practice:

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

So it’s four regular sets of five followed by the above drop set protocol on the fifth and final set. This training method was a favourite of the legendary strength coach Charles Poliquin for packing on slabs of functional hypertrophy in record time. It just flat-out produces results.

The main problem with this training protocol is that it is so hard to perform! You quite literally need to bring a “puke bucket” with you if you have the balls to perform a lower body workout using this training method.

In fact you probably don’t have the guts to perform this training method. Just in case you want to prove me wrong (and get some of the fastest hypertrophy gains of your life) here is a sample lower body workout.

Check it out:

Legs Japanese Drop Set Workout

  • A1: Front squat (heels flat / medium stance), 5 x 5**, 2/0/X/0, 100 seconds rest
  • A2: Bilateral seated leg curl (feet plantarflexed / pointing in), 5 x 5**, 2/0/X/0, 100 seconds rest
  • B1: Snatch grip deadlift, 3 x 6-8, 4/1/X/0, 240 second rest 

**Perform a Japanese drop set on the fifth and final set. 

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

This may not seem like a lot of work. After all, you are only performing 13 total sets for your entire lower body. Let me assure you that this is one of the more demanding workouts you will ever perform in your entire life.

The key is to push yourself on every set but especially the Japanese drop set.

I will leave you with one of my favourite Nick Mitchell quotes in case you are motivated enough to try this routine. “Train like a beast and you will eventually become a beast. Train like a maggot…”

Part 12: 3/1/1 Drop Sets

Let’s wrap up this article with another one of my favourite lower-rep drop set protocols: 3/1/1 drop sets. You are going to perform 3 reps with your 3-rep max followed by busting out a couple of additional singles with a slightly reduced load.

For example:

  • 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!

These additional single reps are extremely effective for further recruiting and fatiguing the fast-twitch muscle fibers. I first read about this drop set method from Charles Poliquin’s book “The Poliquin Principles.”

I will continue to use this drop set protocol with my more fast-twitch online coaching clients for one simple reason: it works! Here is a sample upper body training routine that you may want to try. Check it out:

Upper Body 3/1/1 Drop Set Workout

  • A1: Bench press with chains (shoulder-width grip), 3 x 3/1/1**, 5/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • A2: Wide overhand grip pull ups, 3 x 3/1/1**, 5/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • B1: 45 degree incline DB press, 3 x 6-8, 3/0/1/0, 90 seconds rest
  • B2: Unilateral seated cable row, 3 x 6-8, 3/0/1/1, 90 seconds rest
  • C1: Standing ez-bar curl (wide / reverse grip), 3 x 6-8, 3/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest
  • C2: Seated DB external rotations, 3 x 6-8, 2/0/2/0, 60 seconds rest

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

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

Please note that the 3/1/1 method should be reserved for intensification phases where your primary goal is to rapidly increase strength levels.

I highly recommend you perform a higher-rep accumulation phase routine after performing this one for 2-4 weeks. The higher reps will give your central nervous system a break and improve your odds of making long-term strength and size gains. 

Conclusion

drop sets

Drop sets are one of my favourite training methods to use. They are incredibly versatile and can be customized to work for a wide variety of training goals.

There is a reason many of the world’s top strength and physique coaches continue to use drop sets with their training clients: they produce results!

Despite all of the recent advancements in strength training program design one thing is for certain: drop sets will never go out of style!

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 in 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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