When most people think of drop sets they think of bodybuilders chasing the pump. But drop sets are great for strength athletes too! Start using fast twitch drop sets and watch your strength gains shoot through the roof!
This article will teach you everything you need to know about using fast twitch drop sets to get stronger in record time!
The following topics will be discussed:
- Part 1: Fast Twitch Vs Slow Twitch Muscle Fibers
- Part 2: Overview of Fast-Twitch Drop Sets
- Part 3: Neurotransmitter Based Program Design
- Part 4: 4/2/2 Drop Sets
- Part 5: 3/1/1 Drop Sets
- Part 6: 2/1/1/1 Drop Sets
- Part 7: 1/1/1/1 Drop Sets
- Part 8: Disadvantages Of Low Rep Drop Sets
- Part 9: Conclusion
You don’t want to miss this cutting-edge information. In fact, you won’t find low-rep drop sets covered in this level of detail anywhere else!
Now let’s get down to business…
Part 1: Fast Twitch Vs Slow Twitch Muscle Fibers
To make things extremely simple, there are two types of muscle fibers in the body:
Fast twitch muscle fibers and slow twitch muscle fibers.
Each of these types of muscle fibers tend to have different properties and respond best (both in terms of strength and size gains) to differing training stimuli.
Slow Twitch Muscle Fibers
Slow twitch muscle fibers can be thought of as the endurance fibers.
They are great for allowing you to exercise over long periods of time and are very resistant to fatigue.
When most people think of endurance fibers, they think of marathon runners, which is an appropriate example.
However, even most traditional bodybuilding training programs focus primarily on the slower twitch muscle fibers.
As a very general rule of thumb, slow twitch muscle fibers respond best to sets lasting AT LEAST 40 seconds in duration.
This is one of the reasons monitoring the tempo of all your exercises is so important.
It is very easy to believe you are targeting the appropriate muscle fiber, but if your time under tension is inappropriate, then you might be way off from reaching your goal!
Fast Twitch Muscle Fibers
Fast twitch fibers are pretty much the polar opposite of slower twitch fibers. They are designed for relatively short but explosive bursts of energy.
The fast twitch fibers can produce a lot of force in a short period of time, but they also fatigue very rapidly!
Strength athletes such as powerlifters and strongmen are primarily interested in hypertrophying the fast twitch fibers as these are the fibers best-suited for lifting extremely heavy loads.
However, bodybuilders would be wise to focus at least SOME of their routines on training the fast twitch fibers. After all, these are the fibers with the greatest potential for growth!
If you are a bodybuilder and you are neglecting to train the fast-twitch fibers, then you are leaving a heck of a lot of growth on the table.
This is ESPECIALLY true if your unique neurotransmitter profile runs higher in acetyl-choline and/or dopamine relative to the average bodybuilder.
So how do you go about training and hypertrophying the fast twitch muscle fibers?
There are many ways to go about this, but lower-rep drop sets are by far one of my favourite methods.
Let’s take a deeper dive into this brutally effective training method.
Part 2: Overview Of Fast-Twitch Drop Sets
Say it with me:
“A motor unit that is recruited, but not fatigued, is not trained.”
Read this quote from world-renowned strength training researcher Vladimir Zdorovetskiy again.
It is so unbelievably important to understand!
What Zdorovetskiy means by this is that in order to maximally train a motor unit, you must first activate it (recruit it), and then expose that activated muscle fiber to a training stimulus sufficient to actually “fatigue” it.
If you fail to recruit a motor unit, then it isn’t getting any training stimulus at all!
But if you recruit a motor unit but don’t fatigue it, then you aren’t achieving an optimal training stimulus!
You would be surprised how many routines fall into one of these categories: they aren’t activating the fast-twitch muscle fibers as intended, or they aren’t sufficiently fatiguing them once they are activated.
There are many ways to recruit and fatigue the high-threshold motor units.
- Multiple sets of supramaximal eccentric repetitions
- Wave loading (particularly 3/2/1 wave loading)
- The modified hepburn method
- Cluster sets
- Rest-Pause Sets
However, one of my favourite means to maximally recruit and fatigue the high-threshold motor units is fast-twitch drop sets.
Even in the earliest scientific literature drop sets were shown to be superior to “straight sets” for eliciting gains in strength and size.
Low-rep drop sets were a personal favourite of the legendary bodybuilder Mike Mentzer!
Part 3: Neurotransmitter Based Program Design
If you are new to my website then you are probably not familiar with the term “neurotransmitter based program design.”
As I am sure you have noticed, different people seem to get their best training results from different, often dramatically different training programs.
For example, it is hard to argue that Dorian Yates and Arnold Schwarzenegger were both able to build some of the most impressive competitive bodybuilding physiques of their respective eras.
However, Dorian’s low volume / high intensity training style couldn’t look more different from Arnold’s super-high-volume training approach!
I realized very early in my coaching career that no one training style is better than another.
However, certain training styles were clearly better suited for an individual lifter than others!
Out of all the different ways to pinpoint which type of training stimulus someone will respond best to, I have found Charles Poliquin’s neurotransmitter based program design to be the most effective.
So how Does This Relate Back To Fast-Twitch Drop Sets?
As a rule of thumb, these routines are best reserved for more acetyl-choline or dopamine-dominant lifters.
If you have a more balanced neurotransmitter profile, then you may find these routines too demanding on your central nervous system to recover from.
If you tend to respond best to high-rep / high volume training protocols and want to give these drop set variations a shot, then I recommend sticking to the 4/2/2 drop set and 3/1/1 drop set variations covered below.
On the other hand, if you ARE a wood or fire type individual, then you will do AWESOME on these protocols.
I wouldn’t base your year-round training plan on these routines, but they will serve as a great change of pace to use for one of your intensification training routines.
Now, without further ado, let’s dive right into the sample routines!
Part 4: 4/2/2 Drop Sets
4/2/2 drop sets are a great fast-twitch drop set variation to play around with first.
The reps are still high-enough that your odds of burning out with this routine are somewhat lower than with the other training protocols covered in this article.
4/2/2 drop sets do an awesome job of activating the fast-twitch muscle fibers without risking severe central nervous system burnout.
This is in contrast to the other methods, where you really do have to be careful about not burning out.
Here is how you would perform a 4/2/2 drop set in practice:
- Set 1: 100% load x 4 reps
- Rest 10 seconds
- Set 2: 90% load x 2 reps
- Rest 10 seconds
- Set 3: 80% load x 2 reps
- Rest 2-3 minutes
- Repeat for another 2-3 additional 4/2/2 drop sets
One of the most common questions with drop sets is how much you should reduce the load by on each successive drop.
With 4/2/2 drop sets I recommend you drop the weight by about 10% on each drop.
Of course you will have to play around with this yourself to see how much you have to reduce the load by to get your target number of reps on each “drop.”
Here is a sample 4/2/2 drop set workout for the upper body:
- A1: Standing behind the neck press, 3-4 x 4/2/2**, 2/1/X/1, 120 seconds rest
- A2: Close pronated grip pull ups, 3-4 x 4/2/2**, 2/1/X/1, 120 seconds rest
- B1: Reverse grip bench press, 3-4 x 5-7, 3/0/1/0, 90 seconds rest
- B2: Deadstop row, 3-4 x 5-7, 2/1/X/1, 90 seconds rest
**performed as a 4/2/2 drop set as described above.
Note: if you have any trouble reading this routine then you should immediately stop what you’re doing and read this article.
With all high-threshold drop sets it is important to pay attention to the fatigue drop-off index. I recommend that you allow a performance drop-off of no more than 10%.
For example, if on your first set of standing behind the neck presses you use 100 lbs, then you would stop that part of the workout when the load you use on your first set drops below 90 lbs (90% of 100 lbs).
For example, let’s say your 4/2/2 drop sets look like this:
- Drop set #1: 100 lbs x 4 reps + drops
- Drop set #2: 95 lbs x 4 reps + drops
- Drop set #3: 90 lbs x 4 reps + drops
Your performance on this exercise has now decreased by 10% relative to your first set. This means YOU WOULD NOT perform a fourth set of 4/2/2 drop sets.
In fact, this 10% drop off rule should be applied to all of the fast-twitch drop set protocols discussed in this article.
Part 5: 3/1/1 Drop Sets
3/1/1 drop sets are a little more aggressive in terms of maximal loading.
In this case I recommend you reduce the load by about 5% for the two drops. For example:
Drop set #1: 100% x 3 reps, rest 10 seconds, 95% x 1 rep, rest 10 seconds, 90% x 1 rep.
Again you will have to play around with the exact percentages yourself. If you can BARELY get the singles on this routine then you have dropped the weight by the correct amount.
Here is a sample lower body workout you may want to try:
- A1: Safety squat bar squat (heels narrow / elevated), 4 x 3/1/1**, 4/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- A2: Standing unilateral leg curl (feet neutral / plantarflexed), 3-4 x 3/1/1**, 4/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- B1: Leg press, 3-4 x 5-7, 5/0/2/0, 90 seconds rest
- B2: Standing good morning, 3-4 x 5-7, 3/0/2/0, 90 seconds rest
**performed as a drop set: perform 3 reps, reduce the load by 5-7%, perform 1 rep, reduce the load by 5-7%, perform 1 rep, DONE!
Again, respect the 10% drop-off rule. If your performance on either the A1 or A2 exercises decreases by more than 10%, then you are done for that exercise and you should move on to the B1 / B2 exercises.
Part 6: 2/1/1/1 Drop Sets
I have many very fond memories where I personally made SCREAMING fast strength gains using 2/1/1/1 drop sets.
Many of my clients would agree: 2/1/1/1 drop sets can be a complete game changer when programmed properly.
You can count on this type of drop set to create some severe inroads into your recovery ability.
I am talking about both your central nervous system AND your muscular system here!
If you are going to attempt this routine then you would be wise to make sure your nutrition, sleep, stress management etc. are all optimized first.
Just like with 3/1/1 drop sets I recommend 5% drops in load for the singles and I recommend you move on from the drop sets if your overall performance drops by more than 10% relative to the first set.
Here is a sample 2/1/1/1 drop set arms workout:
- A1:10 degree decline close grip bench press, 4 x 2/1/1/1**, 2/2/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- A2: Preacher ez-bar curl (close / supinated grip), 4 x 2/1/1/1**, 2/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- B1: Dead skulls****, 3-4 x 5-7, 2/0/1/0, 90 seconds rest
- B2: Seated zottman curls, 3-4 x 5-7, 4/0/1/0, 90 seconds rest
**Performed as a drop set: perform 2 reps, reduce the load by 5%, perform 1 rep, reduce the load by 5%, perform 1 rep, reduce the load by 5%, perform 1 rep, DONE!
****”Dead skulls” were (to the best of my knowledge) invented by Dante Trudel of DC training.
They are a fantastic exercise for targeting the long head of the triceps!
Here is a video demonstration by Jason Wojo (one of Dante’s original DC Training disciples):
I highly recommend you give this new exercise a try. You will feel like someone took a bamboo stick and started whacking the long head of your triceps by the following morning!
Part 7: 1/1/1/1 Drop Sets
This type of drop set was originally popularized by bodybuilding legend Mike Mentzer in the 1970’s.
It is a little-known fact that Mike used this type of maximal-effort drop set as a regular part of his training when he was his biggest and strongest.
Actually, Mike called these drop sets “rest-pause sets.”
Of course Dante Trudel of DC Training fame borrowed the term “rest-pause sets” and most people no longer associate this term with Mike Mentzer.
Mike strongly believed that the optimal number of 1/1/1/1 drop sets to perform in a single workout is 4.
Any less and you aren’t getting the maximum benefit out of this routine, and any more and you are risking overtraining.
I have to agree with Mike Mentzer here!
Wow, I never thought I’d be saying that in an article about the bodybuilder who truly went off the deep end in regards to program design…
In all seriousness, Mike is 100% on the money.
After extensive testing (on myself and my clients), 4 drop sets does seem to be the magic number for most trainees.
Here is a sample chest / biceps workout you may want to try:
- A1: 45 degree incline bench press, 4 x 1/1/1/1**, 5/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- A2: Preacher ez-bar curl (wide / pronated grip), 4 x 1/1/1/1**, 5/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- B1: Flat DB press, 3-4 x 5-7, 3/0/1/0, 90 seconds rest
- B2: 30 degree incline hammer curls, 3-4 x 5-7, 3/0/1/0, 90 seconds rest
**performed as a drop set: perform 1 rep, reduce the load by 5%, perform 1 rep, reduce the load by 5%, perform 1 rep, reduce the load by 5%, perform 1 rep, DONE!
Note: you may be so thrashed from the “A” exercises that you don’t even have enough energy to perform the “B” exercises on this routine.
If that is the case, don’t feel bad, it simply means you put in the correct amount of effort onto the drop sets.
The drop sets are by far the most important part of the training routine here.
Stan Efferding would agree with this philosophy.
Stan has said that if you are doing an intensification routine, and you pushed yourself hard enough on the main sets, why bother with some sissy isolation exercises afterwards?
You already got the job done with the main exercises!
Part 8: Disadvantages Of Low Rep Drop Sets
By now you should be thoroughly convinced of the merits of incorporating lower-rep drop sets into your routine.
However, I feel the need to give you a stern warning about these routines.
Drop sets targeting the high-threshold motor units can be hell on your recovery reserves.
They are a lot like cluster sets and The Modified Hepburn Method in this regard.
This is especially true if you are not used to lower-rep training, or if you are not used to performing a high volume of lower-rep sets.
If you are doing these routines, then you MUST make sure that your recovery ability is optimized.
This means your nutrition, sleep, stress management etc. are all completely dialed in.
In particular I would pay attention to the quality and quantity of your sleep. Low-rep drop sets tend to be a bit tougher on the central nervous system than the muscular system.
And when you overtrain through “intensity” (too many low-rep sets), the first thing that goes to shit is the quality and quantity of your sleep.
I recommend you get AT LEAST 7-8 quality hours of sleep per night on this routine. Of course, my training clients know how obsessed I am with a good night’s sleep.
There are MANY other tricks that I use with my clients to help them get a superior night’s sleep, but these tricks are beyond the scope of this article.
Part 9: Conclusion
You now have insider-knowledge on the 4 greatest fast twitch drop set protocols ever invented! \
If you can’t recruit and fatigue your fast twitch muscle fibers on one of these training protocols, then you’re hopeless!
Just kidding 😀
But seriously, these drop set protocols ROCK!
So what are you waiting for? Hit the gym and get back on the gains train!
Thank you for reading and I wish you the best of luck in your strength training endeavors!
Chad Wesley Smith is one of the brightest minds in the fitness industry today. Chad has competed at the absolute highest levels in three different sports: shot put, powerlifting and strongman....
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