The Ultimate Japanese Drop Set Routine!

Japanese Drop Set

Japanese drop sets are an advanced bodybuilding training method that you can use to rapidly build muscle mass. Japanese drop sets have many advantages over regular drop sets: they do a better job overloading the fast-twitch muscle fibers and they are superior for building functional hypertrophy.

But before we talk about Japanese drop sets we have to talk about regular drop sets.

Drop sets are a high-intensity bodybuilding training method that allows you to train beyond muscular failure. Drop sets were used by many bodybuilders in the 1970s including Arnold Schwarzenegger and they are still very popular today.

Here is the strength coach Christian Thibadeau giving a great overview of drop sets:

To perform a drop set you would pick a weight and perform as many reps as possible with good form. After reaching failure you decrease the weight and continue to pump out as many reps as you can. This process can be repeated several times in a row as part of a single drop set. 

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

  • Perform 8-12 reps, decrease the weight by 5-10%, rest 10 seconds
  • Perform as many reps as possible, decrease the weight by 5-10%, rest 10 seconds
  • Perform as many reps as possible, done!

Drop sets work great for building muscle mass because they allow you to train beyond muscular failure and prolong the total time under tension of the set. This means your muscles have to work much harder than they would during a regular set. 

Now let’s talk about Japanese drop sets. Japanese drop sets were invented in the early 2000’s by a team of Japanese researchers. To perform a Japanese drop set you have to perform 25 total reps over 5 total sets. You perform 5 reps, decrease the weight, perform 5 more reps, etc. until you have completed 25 total reps.  

Here is what a Japanese drop set looks like in practice:

  • Perform 5 reps, lower the weight by 4-6%, rest 10 seconds
  • Perform 5 more reps, lower the weight by 4-6%, rest 10 seconds
  • Perform 5 more reps, lower the weight by 4-6%, rest 10 seconds
  • Perform 5 more reps, lower the weight by 4-6%, rest 10 seconds
  • Perform 5 more reps, DONE!

The Japanese researchers found that this drop set works best when performed as the last set in a “5 sets of 5 reps” workout. Here is the exact protocol that they found works best:

  • Set #1: 5 reps
  • Set #2: 5 reps
  • Set #3: 5 reps
  • Set #4: 5 reps
  • Set #5: Japanese drop set! (5 reps, decrease the weight, 5 reps etc. until you get 25 total reps)

The Japanese research shows that this last set is awesome for increasing muscular hypertrophy.

It dramatically increases blood flow to your working muscles and creates a huge amount of muscular damage. It also stimulates the release of several anabolic hormones including growth hormone which is awesome for stimulating muscular hypertrophy.

Japanese drop sets have one big advantage over more traditional drop set protocols: they target the fast-twitch muscle fibers. These are the muscle fibers with the greatest potential for size and strength gains.

The Japanese drop set protocol is perfect for targeting the fast-twitch muscle fibers because it uses the correct rep ranges. Performing 5 sets of 5 reps with a big drop set on your last set is pretty much ideal for targeting the fast-twitch muscle fibers

Now let’s look at a couple of hypertrophy workouts featuring Japanese drop sets. The first workout is designed to increase the size of your chest and back. Note: if you have any trouble reading the routines presented here then check out this article on how to read a training program.

Here is the workout:

Chest / Back Japanese Drop Set Workout

  • A1: 45 degree incline DB press, 5 x 5***, 2/2/X/0, 100 seconds rest
  • A2: Close supinated grip chin ups, 5 x 5***, 2/0/X/0, 100 seconds rest
  • B1: V-bar dips (upright posture), 3 x 6-8, 3/0/1/0, 75 seconds rest
  • B2: V-bar low pulley row, 3 x 6-8, 2/0/1/1, 75 seconds rest

***Performed as a Japanese Drop Set as described earlier in the article.

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

This workout features antagonistic supersets. You are going to perform 1 set of incline dumbbell presses, rest 100 seconds, perform 1 set of chin ups, rest 100 seconds, then perform another set of incline dumbbell presses.

Antagonistic supersets have many advantages when you are training for hypertrophy:

  • They help you recruit more motor units 
  • They decrease the rate at which your muscles fatigue
  • They let you perform more total work in less time

This is a fantastic all-around chest / back hypertrophy workout. Now let’s look at a good lower body Japanese Drop Set routine. Check it out:

Lower Body  Japanese Drop Set Workout

  • A1: Back squat (heels narrow / elevated), 5 x 5**, 2/2/X/0, 100 seconds rest
  • A2: Lying leg curl (Poliquin method***** / feet pointed in), 2/0/X/2, 100 seconds rest
  • B1: 45 degree leg press, 3 x 10-12, 3/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest
  • B2: DB Romanian deadlift, 3 x 12-15, 3/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest

***Performed as a Japanese Drop Set as described earlier in the article.

****Dorsiflex your ankles (point your toes towards your shins) on the concentric range, plantarflex your ankles (point your toes away from your shins) on the eccentric range.

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

Once again this workout uses some of the most bang-for-your-buck exercises to target all of the different muscles in your lower body.

The Japanese drops set on back squats is particularly brutal – you really need to make sure that you are mentally prepared for that set. You may even need to bring a “puke bucket’ with you for that set. Trust me!

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Japanese drop sets are one of the best high-intensity training methods you can use in the gym. They are awesome for targeting your fast-twitch muscle fibers and getting a massive pump in your target muscle.

If you have the “guts” to use Japanese drop sets then you will be rewarded with some rapid hypertrophy gains.

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

Dr. Mike Jansen, PT, DPT

What's going on! My name is Dr. Mike Jansen, I'm the creator of Revolutionary Program Design. If you want to take your training to the next level, then you've come to the right place... My goal is to make RPD the #1 strength training resource available anywhere in the world!

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