Mechanical Advantage Drop Sets: The Ultimate Guide!


What’s more important for muscle growth: heavy ass weight or maximum time under tension? Why not both!? Mechanical advantage drop sets give you the best of both worlds to build muscle faster than you ever thought possible!

Mechanical advantage drop sets are a high-intensity training method where you perform 2-4 variations of an exercise in a row with 10 seconds rest between sets. You start with the variation that you are weakest on and finish with the variation that you are strongest on. 

Here is Christian Thibadeau giving an excellent primer on mechanical advantage drop sets:

As you can see the procedure is pretty simple:

  • Perform the first exercise for roughly 6-12 reps to near failure, rest 10-15 seconds
  • Perform the second exercise with the same load for as many reps as possible, rest 10-15 seconds
  • Perform the third exercise with the same load for as many reps as possible, done!

For example here is Charles Poliquin coaching one of his clients through a mechanical advantage set for the lats:

Mechanical advantage drop sets can be thought of as a “beyond failure” hypertrophy training method. The 2nd and 3rd exercise variations help to prolong the total time under tension of the set to further exhaust your muscle fibers after first reaching concentric muscular failure.

These post-failure reps dramatically increase the amount of muscular damage and metabolic fatigue incurred from the set.

One of the most difficult aspects of designing workouts to increase muscular hypertrophy is finding the right balance between heavy weights and high reps. A reporter once asked Ronnie Coleman for his opinion on the best way to train to build muscle.

Ronnie’s answer cut straight to the heart of the matter:

“It’s called bodybuilding. The only way you can build muscle is through repetition. Heavy weight, as heavy as possible, and for as many repetitions as possible.”

You may find the following equation helpful:

Hypertrophy = (Load) x (Time Under Tension). 

To build maximum muscle you need to lift relatively heavy. I don’t know about you but I’ve never seen someone with a lot of muscle struggling to incline bench press 135 pounds. Of course lifting heavy is only half of the battle. You also need to use higher repetitions so that you accumulate enough time under tension per set.

Mechanical advantage drop sets are one of the best hypertrophy training methods because they combine the benefits of relatively heavy weights with the benefits of high reps and prolonged time under tension!

Actually mechanical advantage drop sets help you to maximize all three biological triggers for muscular hypertrophy:

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

There are many other training methods such as supersets, tri-sets, and giant sets that also allow you to prolong the time under tension of a set to stimulate hypertrophy gains.

One of the big advantages of mechanical advantage sets is that you only need one exercise station or piece of equipment to perform them. This means that you can perform mechanical advantage sets in a busy commercial gym!

The same cannot be said for Milos Sarcev style giant set training protocols.

Here is an outline for the rest of this article:

Article Outline

  • Part 1: Chest Workouts
  • Part 2: Back Workouts
  • Part 3: Shoulders Workouts
  • Part 4: Biceps Workouts
  • Part 5: Brachialis Workouts
  • Part 6: Triceps Workouts
  • Part 7: Quadriceps Workouts
  • Part 8: Hamstrings Workouts
  • Part 9: Antagonistic Supersets

In this comprehensive guide I am going to introduce you to some of the most effective mechanical advantage drop set protocols for every body part. These protocols have been used by many of the best bodybuilding coaches in the world such as Charles Poliquin, Josh Bryant, Christian Thibadeau, and Dante Trudel.

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

Part 1: Chest Workouts

One of the very best and easiest ways to perform a mechanical advantage drop set for the chest is to perform 3 different types of incline dumbbell presses in a row. Of course you are much stronger on flat DB presses than you are on incline dumbbell presses.

Therefore you would want to start your mechanical advantage chest routine with some type of incline dumbbell press and lower the angle of the bench on each subsequent attempt.

For example here is a very simple chest routine you may want to try:

Chest Mechanical Advantage Routine #1

  • A1: 60 degree incline DB press, 3-5 x 10-13, 3/0/X/0, 20 seconds rest
  • A2: 30 degree incline DB press, 3-5 x AMRAP**, 3/0/X/0, 20 seconds rest 
  • A3: Flat DB press, 3-5 x AMRAP**, 3/0/X/0, 180 seconds rest

**Perform as many reps as you can with the same weight that you used in exercise A1.

Here are the training videos: exercise A1, exercise A2, exercise A3.

This chest routine may look rather simple or even “easy” on paper. In reality nothing could be further from the truth! Keep in mind that you are to train all the way to failure or just shy of failure on every single set.

At the very least your last rep on every set should be very, very difficult to complete. Of course there are many ways to incorporate even more exercises into this type of chest workout if you are someone who thrives on high-volume workouts.

Here is a great way to structure a high-volume mechanical advantage drop set chest workout: 

Chest Mechanical Advantage Routine #2

  • A1: V-bar dips (forward leaning torso), 5 x 6, 4/0/X/0, 180 seconds rest
  • B1: 30 degree incline DB press, 3 x 8-10, 2/0/X/0, 30 seconds rest
  • B2: 15 degree incline DB press, 3 x AMRAP**, 2/0/X/0, 30 seconds rest
  • B3: Flat DB press, 3 x AMRAP**, 2/0/X/0, 180 seconds rest

**Perform as many reps as you can with the same weight that you used in exercise A1

Here are the training videos: exercise A1, exercise B1, exercise B2, exercise B3.

The idea behind this routine is simple: you perform a big compound movement such as v-bar dips first in your routine when you are fresh. Then you move onto the mechanical advantage set to thrash all of the remaining muscle fibers in your chest.

This workout requires that you perform 14 total working sets and is very demanding on your recovery system. If you are looking for a way to blast through a chest hypertrophy plateau then I highly recommend you give it a shot.

Of course you could also test out one of the chest hypertrophy workouts from the following article:

The 9 Best Chest Workouts For Mass!

The choice is yours!

Part 2: Back Workouts

Mechanical advantage drop sets really shine when it come to training the upper back. One of the most effective ways to structure an upper back hypertrophy workout is to perform an extended set featuring 2-4 different variations of pull ups.

You would start with a more challenging version of pull ups such as wide overhand grip pull ups and progress towards the less challenging versions such as supinated grip chin ups or neutral grip pull ups.

Here is a fantastic routine for boosting functional hypertrophy on the upper back. It utilizes slightly lower rep ranges than a typical hypertrophy workout and works well for simultaneously boosting absolute strength levels.

Check it out:

Upper Back Mechanical Advantage Routine #1

  • A1: Wide overhand grip pull ups, 3-5 x 4-6, 4/0/X/0, 15 seconds rest
  • A2: Narrow supinated grip chin ups, 3-5 x AMRAP**, 4/0/X/0, 180 seconds rest
  • B1: T-bar row, 3 x 6-8, 2/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest

**Perform as many reps as you can with the same weight that you used in exercise A1.

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

Charles Poliquin has used upper back routines such as this one with many of his Olympic caliber athletes such as the Olympic gold medalist Helen Maroulis.

Of course there are ways to structure an extended set pull up routine featuring as many as 3-4 different types of pull ups.

These routines are far more challenging to perform. You need to be able to perform AT LEAST 8 strict wide overhand grip pull ups before you attempt either of the next two routines. The advantage to these routines is they are unbelievably effective for boosting muscular hypertrophy on the lats. 

Check it out:

Upper Back Mechanical Advantage Routine #2

  • A1: Wide overhand grip pull ups, 3-5 x 6-8, 3/0/X/0, 15 seconds rest
  • A2: Medium supinated grip chin ups, 3-5 x AMRAP**, 3/0/X/0, 15 seconds rest
  • A3: Narrow neutral grip pull ups, 3-5 x AMRAP**, 3/0/X/0, 15 seconds rest
  • B1: Barbell bent over row, 3 x 8-10, 2/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest

**Perform as many reps as you can with the same weight that you used in exercise A1.

Here are the training videos: exercise A1-A3, exercise B1.

An even more demanding version of this routine features four different types of pullups performed back-to-back with minimal rest. This routine is often called the gymnast pull up routine and is virtually guaranteed to create some serious delayed onset muscle soreness in your lats.

Check it out:

Upper Back Mechanical Advantage Routine #3

  • A1: Wide overhand grip pull ups, 3-4 x 8-12, 2/0/X/0, 15 seconds rest
  • A2: Medium overhand grip pull ups, 3-4 x AMRAP**, 2/0/X/0, 15 seconds rest
  • A3: Medium supinated grip pull ups, 3-4 x AMRAP**, 2/0/X/0, 15 seconds rest
  • A4: Narrow supinated grip pull ups, 3-4 x AMRAP**, 2/0/X/0, 180 seconds rest
  • B1: Seated cable row (v-handle), 3-4 x 8-12, 2/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest

**Perform as many reps as you can with the same weight that you used in exercise A1.

Here are the training videos: exercise A1-A4, exercise B1.

Of course not everyone thinks as highly of pull ups as I do. I often find myself working with bodybuilding clients who are not strong enough to perform any of the above extended set pull up routines.

I sometimes perform extended set routines on the cable pulldown machine with these individuals. Rather than performing multiple variations of pull ups you would perform multiple variations of cable pulldowns to fatigue the upper back.

For example:

Upper Back Mechanical Advantage Routine #4

  • A1: Wide overhand grip cable pulldown, 3-4 x 8-12, 2/0/X/0, 15 seconds rest
  • A2: Medium overhand grip cable pulldown, 3-4 x AMRAP**, 2/0/X/0, 15 seconds rest
  • A3: Medium supinated grip cable pulldown, 3-4 x AMRAP**, 2/0/X/0, 15 seconds rest
  • A4: Narrow supinated grip cable pulldown, 3-4 x AMRAP**, 2/0/X/0, 180 seconds rest
  • B1: Meadows row, 3-4 x 8-12, 2/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest

**Perform as many reps as you can with the same weight that you used in exercise A1.

Here are the training videos: exercise A1, exercise A2, exercise A3, exercise A4, exercise B1.

Another option would be to perform a mechanical advantage drop set on cable pulldowns at the end of your routine as a “finisher” method.

One great way to organize such an upper back workout is to perform various rowing exercises at the start of your workout when you are fresh before moving onto the extended set on pulldowns.

John Meadows comes to mind as a bodybuilding coach who is very fond of performing relatively heavy rowing movements early in your workout when you are fresh before moving onto “stretching” exercises such as cable pulldowns.

Check it out:

Upper back Mechanical Advantage Routine #5

  • A1: Smith machine dead stop row, 3 x 6-8, 2/1/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • B1: One-arm barbell row, 3 x 10-12, 2/1/1/0, 120 seconds rest
  • C1: Wide overhand grip pulldown, 3 x 12-15, 2/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • C2: Medium overhand grip pulldown, 3 x AMRAP**, 2/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • C3: Medium supinated grip pulldown, 3 x AMRAP**, 2/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • C4: Narrow supinated grip pulldown, 3 x AMRAP**, 2/0/X/0, 180 seconds rest

**Perform as many reps as you can with the same weight that you used in exercise C1.

Here are the training videos: exercise A1, exercise B1, exercise C1, exercise C2, exercise C3, exercise C4

If you are an advanced bodybuilder then this can be an AWESOME way to stimulate further hypertrophy gains in your lats.

Of course it is also possible to group various rowing exercises together as part of a mechanical advantage drop set. Here is a rowing-focused upper back routine that you may want to try. It features two of John Meadows’ favorite rowing exercises: the meadows row and the one-arm barbell row.

Check it out:

Upper Back Mechanical Advantage Routine #6

  • A1: Rack chin, 4 x 6-8, 3/1/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • B1: Meadows row, 4 x 10-12, 2/1/X/0, 15 seconds rest
  • B2: One-arm barbell row, 4 x AMRAP**, 2/1/X/0, 180 seconds rest

**Perform as many reps as you can with the same weight that you used in exercise B1.

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

As you can see there are TONS of different ways that you can organize a mechanical advantage set for the upper back.

In my experience the upper back responds extremely well to these types of extended time under tension training protocols. I highly recommend you experiment with several of these routines if you are interested in increasing the width of your upper back.

After all, “back width” may be the single most important body part for a competitive bodybuilder. Just ask Dorian Yates!

P.S. If you are looking for even more ways to force your upper back to grow then you must check out the following article:

11 Incredible Upper Back Workouts For Mass!

Part 3: Shoulders Workouts

The shoulders are another body part that respond particularly well to mechanical advantage drop sets. Most people believe that the deltoids have three muscle heads:

  1. The front (anterior) head
  2. The lateral (side) head
  3. The posterior (rear) head

Recent research has shown that this model is incomplete. In reality there are seven different heads to the deltoid complex! This is what the distribution actually looks like:

  • The front delts are composed of 3 different muscle heads
  • The side delts are composed of 1 muscle head
  • The rear delts are composed of 3 different muscle heads

Research has also shown that the deltoids have an enormous variety of fast, medium, and slow twitch muscle fibers. If you want to maximally develop your delts then you must use training protocols that incorporate a wide variety of exercise angles and rep ranges.

It just so happens that mechanical advantage sets perfectly meet both of these requirements! Every time you switch exercises within an extended set you expose your muscles to a different exercise angle and a reduced rep range.

This allows you to thoroughly exhaust as many motor units as possible within the shoulder complex!

I hope I have sold you on the idea of using mechanical advantage drop sets to beef up your shoulders. Now let’s look at some sample routines.

A great way to perform a mechanical advantage set for the shoulders is to perform 3 different variations of dumbbell presses.

The 1st exercise will be a seated dumbbell overhead press while the 2nd and 3rd exercises will be dumbbell presses performed on a very high incline. Your shoulders will be pre-fatigued from the overhead presses so your shoulders will be the first thing to tap out on the incline presses as well.

Check it out:

Shoulders Mechanical Advantage Routine #1

  • A1: Seated DB overhead press, 3-5 x 12-15, 3/1/X/0, 20 seconds rest
  • A2: 75 degree incline DB press, 3-5 x AMRAP**, 3/1/X/0, 20 seconds rest
  • A3: 60 degree incline DB press, 3-5 x AMRAP**, 3/1/X/0, 180 seconds rest

**Perform as many reps as you can with the same weight that you used in exercise A1.

Here are the training videos: exercise A1, exercise A2, exercise A3.

This routine can be performed by itself, as part of a more complete shoulder workout with some additional side / rear delt thrown in, or as part of a more complete upper body workout.

For example you could use antagonistic supersets and train your shoulders and back together in one workout.

Another great option would be to superset standing barbell behind the neck presses with standing military presses.

You simply rack the weight after your behind the neck presses and proceed to pump out as many reps as you can with the same weight on military presses.

If you have optimal upper body structural balance ala Charles Poliquin then you should be about 9% stronger on military presses than behind the neck presses.

Check it out:

Shoulders Mechanical Advantage Routine #2

  • A1: Standing behind the neck press (shoulder-width grip), 5 x 10-12, 4/0/X/0, 15 seconds rest
  • A2: Standing military press (shoulder-width grip), 5 x AMRAP**, 4/0/X/0, 180 seconds rest

**Perform as many reps as you can with the same weight that you used in exercise A1.

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

Once again this extended set could be performed as part of a larger shoulder workout or as part of a more complete upper body workout. Many of you reading this article will scoff at my choice of exercises for this routine.

The behind the neck press has been called a “shoulder wrecker” within the fitness community. In reality nothing could be further from the truth!

If you do not have any shoulder issues then the behind the neck press is one of the very best exercises for *increasing* the health and structural balance of your entire upper body.

This is in stark contrast to the bench press which is responsible for more shoulder overuse injuries than any other exercise.

If you are looking for even more shoulder hypertrophy workout ideas then you may want to check out the following article:

7 Science-Based Shoulder Hypertrophy Routines!

Part 4: Biceps Workouts

I have never met a bodybuilder satisfied with the size of their arms. With that being said let’s check out some extremely effective mechanical advantage routines for the biceps!

One of the best ways to organize a biceps hypertrophy workout is to perform an extended set with three different types of incline curls.

Incline dumbbell curls are probably the single best exercise that you can do for targeting the long head of the biceps. The lower the angle on your bench (that is, the more your elbows are behind your body as you curl) the more you recruit the long head.

These lower angles are also much more mechanically challenging so it makes sense to start our routine with these angles before progressing to the easier variations.

Check it out:

Biceps routine #1

  • A1: 30 degree incline DB curl (supinated grip), 3-5 x 8-10, 3/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A2: 60 degree incline DB curl (supinated grip), 3-5 x AMRAP**, 3/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A3: Seated DB curl (supinated grip), 3-5 x AMRAP**, 3/0/X/0, 180 seconds rest

**Perform as many reps as you can with the same weight that you used in exercise A1.

Here are the training videos: exercise A1, exercise A2, exercise A3.

This routine overloads the long heads of your biceps by forcing them to work harder over a long period of time. The time under tension from this one set alone is off the charts!

Of course you could choose to perform some additional work for your biceps after this extended set. A great choice would be to perform some sort of preacher curl to target the short head of your biceps as the long head was already thrashed by the above routine.

There are of course ways to target the short head of the biceps using mechanical advantage sets. A very easy way to do this is to perform two different types of preacher ez-bar curls back-to-back.

You are slightly stronger when you use a close supinated grip vs a wide supinated grip. Therefore it makes perfect sense to start off with the wide grip and switch to the close grip after approximating muscular failure.

Check it out:

Biceps Mechanical Advantage Routine #2

  • A1: Preacher ez-bar curl (wide supinated grip), 3-5 x 5-7, 2/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A2: Preacher ez-bar curl (narrow / supinated grip), 3-5 x AMRAP**, 2/0/X/0, 180 seconds rest

**Perform as many reps as you can with the same weight that you used in exercise A1.

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

Because of the relatively lower rep ranges this routine tends to work best for increasing functional hypertrophy or hypertrophy specific to the fast-twitch muscle fibers.

Many bodybuilders make the mistake of neglecting their fast-twitch muscle fibers in their training. This is a grave mistake as the fast-twitch muscle fibers have the greatest potential for size and strength gains.

Training your slow-twitch muscle fibers at the expense of your fast-twitch muscle fibers is like skipping over dollar bills to pick up pennies!

P.S. I recommend you check out my article “The 9 Best Bicep Workouts For Mass” if you are at all interested in building bigger arms!

Part 5: Brachialis Workouts

In my experience the brachialis is easily one of the most under-trained muscle groups in the entire body. Many trainees go months at a time without ever performing an exercise specifically targeting the brachialis!

If you are unfamiliar with this muscle group the brachialis is one of the major muscles that flexes the upper arm (along with the biceps brachii and the brachioradialis). The brachialis is located underneath the biceps brachii and looks like a golf ball under the skin when fully developed.

The brachialis is recruited regardless of whether you curl with a pronated (palms-down), supinated (palms-up), or neutral (hammer) grip. This is why the brachialis is often called the “workhorse of elbow flexion” – it is always working when you flex your elbow!

That being said the brachialis is most strongly recruited when you curl with a pronated or palms-down grip. If you want to maximally develop the brachialis then there is no getting around it: you MUST perform curls with a pronated grip!

In my experience mechanical advantage drop sets work especially well for bringing up a lagging brachialis muscle. The key is to make sure that you do not perform more than 8 reps per set when trying to hypertrophy this muscle group.

Unlike the biceps brachii the brachialis is primarily composed of fast-twitch muscle fibers and responds best to somewhat lower reps even when you are training for size.

Here is a great mechanical advantage drop routine for the brachialis. It features three different types of preacher DB curls. You start with a pronated grip where you are weakest and progress to a supinated and then a neutral grip where you are stronger.

The key is to use the exact same weight for each of these three exercises.

Check it out:

Brachialis Mechanical Advantage Routine #1 

  • A1: Unilateral preacher DB curl (pronated grip), 3-5 x 6-8, 2/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A2: Unilateral preacher DB curl (supinated grip), 3-5 x AMRAP**, 2/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A3: Unilateral preacher DB curl (neutral grip), 3-5 x AMRAP**, 2/0/X/0, 180 seconds rest

**Perform as many reps as you can with the same weight that you used in exercise A1.

Here are the training videos: exercise A1, exercise A2, exercise A3.

If you have not performed any pronated grip curling exercises in a long time then you will have to check your ego before performing this routine. You may find that your curling strength with a pronated grip is well below what you can perform with a supinated grip.

Don’t worry, the brachialis responds relatively quickly when you train it properly. 

Here is another mechanical advantage routine for the brachialis. Just like the previous routine this one features a few different variations of preacher curlsThe main difference here is that you are going to use an ez-curl bar.

There are four different grips that you can use with an ez-curl bar:

  • Narrow / pronated
  • Wide / pronated
  • Wide / supinated
  • Narrow / supinated

Research has show that you are weakest with a narrow / pronated grip and strongest with a narrow / supinated grip. Therefore a great way to set up a routine is to cycle through these different grips in the order they are listed.

Don’t worry, your brachialis will still be working VERY hard during the supinated grip curling variations. Keep in mind that the first 2 exercise variations tax the brachialis very hard so it will still be working overtime during the 3rd and 4th exercises.

Check it out:

Brachialis Mechanical Advantage Routine #2

  • A1: Preacher ez-bar curl (narrow / pronated grip), 3-5 x 6-8, 2/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A2: Preacher ez-bar curl (wide / pronated grip), 3-5 x AMRAP**, 2/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A3: Preacher ez-bar curl (wide / supinated grip), 3-5 x AMRAP**, 2/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A4: Preacher ez-bar curl (narrow / supinated grip), 3-5 x AMRAP**, 2/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest

**Perform as many reps as you can with the same weight that you used in exercise A1.

Here are the training videos: exercise A1, exercise A2, exercise A3, exercise A4.

Either of these routines could be performed as part of a larger workout. For example you could perform some extra work for the biceps brachii immediately after either of these extended set routines.

Another option would be to perform some triceps work together with your brachialis exercises to form a more complete arm workout. This is an option that I use with a lot of my online coaching clients who are looking to add some quick size to their arms.

If you want to learn more about how to train the brachialis for muscular hypertrophy then this article is your friend:

The 7 Best Brachialis Workouts For Size!

Part 6: Triceps Workouts

In my opinion the triceps are a very exciting muscle group to train. The feeling I get when I exhaust my triceps is simply fantastic. But the triceps are also a very exciting muscle group to design workouts for!

There are obviously three different muscle heads to the triceps:

  • The long head
  • The medial head
  • The lateral head

Each of these muscle heads requires a unique set of exercises and rep ranges for optimal development. For example the lateral head tends to be *very* fast-twitch and tends to respond best to loads that are upwards of 85% of your 1-rep max on an exercise.

On the other hand the long and medial heads respond well to a much greater range of rep ranges. Each of these muscle heads also responds best to very specific types of exercises.

Before you design a mechanical advantage drop set you really need to understand which of the 3 muscle heads you are trying to target. 

Let’s kick things off with a cable pushdown mechanical drop set. Cable pushdowns are a favourite of many bodybuilders and are a reasonable exercise for targeting the lateral head of the triceps.

A great strategy is to perform the following exercises back-to-back:

  • Supinated grip cable pushdowns
  • Rope cable pushdowns
  • Pronated grip cable pushdowns

You are weakest on the supinated grip pushdowns and strongest on the pronated grip pushdowns. Therefore sequencing these three exercises in this manner allows you to perform a very effective extended set without dropping the weight from one exercise to the next.

Here is a routine you may want to try. Check it out:

Triceps Mechanical Advantage Routine #1

  • A1: Triceps cable pushdown (supinated grip), 3-4 x 10-12, 2/0/X/1, 10 seconds rest
  • A2: Triceps cable pushdown (rope handle), 3-4 x AMRAP**, 2/0/X/1, 10 seconds rest
  • A3: Triceps cable pushdown (pronated grip), 3-4 x AMRAP**, 2/0/X/1, 180 seconds rest

**Perform as many reps as you can with the same weight that you used in exercise A1.

Here are the training videos: exercise A1, exercise A2, exercise A3.

This mechanical drop set can be performed at the start or at the end of a triceps workout. John Meadows and many other bodybuilding coaches are big fans of starting triceps workouts with cable pushdowns as it helps to reduce your risk of elbow injury over time.

Another great strategy is to perform a superset of lying ez-bar extensions and close grip bench presses.

The idea is simple: you perform a set of lying ez-bar extensions to failure or near failure. After completing your last rep you IMMEDIATELY transition into a close grip bench press with the same ez-curl bar. Your triceps are pre-fatigued from the extensions so they are recruited more strongly than normal during the bench presses.

Ronnie Coleman was a big proponent of this type of mechanical advantage set for the triceps. In honor of Ronnie I would like to show you his entire triceps routine.

Check it out:

Triceps Mechanical Advantage Routine #2

  • A1: Lying ez-bar extension (behind head), 3 x 8-15, 1/0/X/0, no rest
  • A2: Close grip bench press (with ez-bar), 3 x AMRAP**, 1/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest
  • B1: Seated DB french press (with one dumbbell), 3 x 8-15, 1/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest
  • C1: Bilateral bent-over DB tricep kickbacks, 3 x 8-15, 1/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest

**Perform as many reps as you can with the same weight that you used in exercise A1.

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

This mechanical advantage set performed at the beginning of Ronnie’s tricep routine is excellent for targeting both the long head and the lateral head of the triceps. 

Let’s move onto a mechanical advantage set specifically designed to target the long head of the triceps. We are going to do an extended set featuring three different types of rope overhead extensions all performed back to back.

Here are the 3 variations:

  • Variation #1: Hands pushed apart during the concentric and eccentric range
  • Variation #2: Hands held together during the concentric range, pushed apart during the eccentric range
  • Variation #3: Hands held together during the concentric and eccentric range

Many bodybuilders quickly discover that you are MUCH stronger on the cable rope overhead extension for triceps when your hands are held together as opposed to pushed apart.

A great way to take advantage of this fact is to perform an extended set starting with your hands pushed apart. After you reach failure you then continue busting out reps by pushing your hands together only during the concentric range.

After you reach failure with this variation you push your hands together during the entire range and bust out as many reps as you can. For the purposes of this routine it is acceptable to perform these final repetitions through a partial range of motion.

Check it out:

Triceps Mechanical Advantage Routine #3

  • A1: Seated half press in a rack (shoulder width grip), 4 x 10-12, 2/1/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • B1: Rope overhead cable extensions*, 3-4 x 12-15, 2/0/X/0, no rest
  • B2: Rope overhead cable extensions**, 3-4 x AMRAP****, 2/0/X/0, no rest
  • B3: Rope overhead cable extensions***, 3-4 x AMRAP****, 2/0/X/0, 180 seconds rest

*Push your hands apart during the concentric and eccentric range.

**Push your hands together during the concentric range, apart during the eccentric range.

***Push your hands together during the concentric and eccentric range. Perform partial repetitions if unable to perform full repetitions.

****Perform as many reps as you can with the same weight that you used in exercise B1.

Here are the training videos: exercise A1, exercise B1-B3

I actually first learned about this triceps extended set from Justin Harris in the above video. It has the added benefit of eccentrically overloading the triceps during the set.

As you may know eccentric training is easily one of the most effective training methods in the world. Eccentric training is especially effective for targeting the more fast-twitch muscle groups such as the triceps.

Here is another triceps routine that you may want to try. It features a wide variety of exercises designed to thrash all of the available motor units in the triceps muscle.

The workout finishes with a MASSIVE mechanical drop set that is designed to fully exhaust the long head of the triceps.

Check it out:

Triceps Mechanical Advantage Routine #4

  • A1: V-bar dips (upright torso), 3 x 6-8, 3/2/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • B1: Decline ez-bar extension (to forehead), 3 x 6-8, 3/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • C1: 60 degree incline DB extensions, 3 x 10-12, 2/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • C2: 45 degree incline DB extensions, 3 x AMRAP**, 2/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • C3: 30 degree incline DB extensions, 3 x AMRAP**, 2/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • C4: 15 degree incline DB extensions, 3 x AMRAP**, 2/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • C5: Flat DB extensions, 3 x AMRAP**, 2/0/X/0, 180 seconds rest

**Perform as many reps as you can with the same weight that you used in exercise C1.

Here are the training videos: exercise A1, exercise B1, exercise C1, exercise C2, exercise C3, exercise C4, exercise C5.

I trust you are able to figure out how to perform a 60, 30, 0r 15 degree incline DB extension without a video!

If you grow like a weed on higher-volume training protocols then you are going to LOVE this routine. It features 21 working sets for the triceps and is sure to give you a skin-splitting triceps pump.

Just don’t be surprised if you are so sore in your triceps that you cannot touch the back of your head for a few days after completing this workout! You’ve been warned!

If you read that warning and said “challenge accepted!” then you might have what it takes to survive the tricep hypertrophy workouts in the following article:

13 Incredible Tricep Workouts For Mass!

Part 7: Quadriceps Workouts

I have to be honest with you here: it is a little more difficult to design mechanical advantage drop sets for the quadriceps than it is for the upper body muscles.

This does not mean that it is impossible to design such workouts! However, you are going to be slightly more limited in terms of your exercise selection.

One of the best ways to design a hypertrophy workout for the quads is to superset front squats and back squats. I first learned about this type of workout from the legendary strength coach Charles Poliquin many years ago.

The idea is simple: you perform a set of front squats to 1 rep shy of failure. In other words if you are aiming for 5 reps then you would load the bar up with your 5-rep max. Immediately after finishing your set of front squats you load the bar on your upper back and perform a set of back squats with the same weight.

If you performed 4-6 reps on your set of front squats then you can expect to get 1-4 reps on your set of back squats. 

Check it out:

Quadriceps Mechanical Advantage Routine #1

  • A1: Front squat (medium stance / heels flat), 5 x 4-6, 4/0/X/0, no rest
  • A2: Back squat (medium stance / heels flat), 5 x AMRAP**, 4/0/X/0, no rest

**Perform as many reps as you can with the same weight that you used in exercise A1.

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

This is an absolutely brutal combination that is extremely effective for boosting functional hypertrophy. Charles Poliquin often used it with his Olympic caliber athletes who needed to rapidly increase the size and strength of their thighs.

Dmitry Klokov also comes to mind as an athlete who loved to superset front squats with back squats. 

If you are looking for a way to boost functional hypertrophy on your quadriceps and to boost your maximal strength on front squats and back squats then I highly recommend you give this workout a shot.

Another great way to structure a mechanical drop set for your quadriceps is to perform two different types of leg presses. The first variation will be a “Peterson leg press” while the second variation will be a regular leg press with a “power” stance.

The Peterson leg press is a very effective exercise. I will be discussing it more detail below but I think it is best if you check out the exercise videos first.

Here is the routine. Check it out:

Quadriceps Mechanical Advantage Routine #2

  • A1: Peterson leg press, 3-5 x 15-20, 2/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A2: Leg press, 3-5 x AMRAP**, 2/0/X/0, 180 seconds rest

**Perform as many reps as you can with the same weight that you used in exercise A1.

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

I find this superset is extremely effective when placed towards the end of a hypertrophy workout. For example you could perform a few sets of 1-2 exercises such as front squats, back squats, and / or machine hack squats before moving onto this leg press extended set. 

Before moving on I want to bring your attention to the Peterson leg press. This is a very effective and underrated exercise for developing your quadriceps muscles.

A Peterson leg press is performed with your feet low on the leg press platform and only a few inches apart from each other. As you go deep into the stretched position your heels will actually come *off* the platform so only the balls of your feet are still pressing. On the way back up you initiate the movement with the balls of your feet.

This exercise is EXTREMELY effective for activating and hypertrophying the vastus medialis muscle.

The vastus medialis is the “teardrop” shaped quadriceps muscle located on the medial side of your leg near the knee. The vastus medialis is often weak and underdeveloped relative to the other quadriceps muscles. This is a recipe for disaster as the vastus medialis plays a critical role in overall lower body structural balance.

If you have neglected this critical muscle for too long then this leg press mechanical advantage drop set will bring them up in a hurry!

If you are looking for even more ideas for your next quadriceps hypertrophy workout then I highly recommend the following article:

7 Incredible Quadricep Workout Routines For Mass!

Part 8: Hamstrings Workouts

There are a few different ways to structure a mechanical advantage set for the hamstrings. The first one involves supersetting two different types of leg curls. Don’t worry, you won’t need to hog two different leg curl machines to make this work.

You are going to perform both leg curl variations on the same machine.

As you may already know you are much stronger on leg curls when you dorsiflex your ankles (point your ankles towards your shins) vs when you plantarflex your ankles (point your ankles away from your shins).

Let’s take a look at some sample training videos to make sure we are on the same page.

Here is a video of leg curls performed with plantarflexed ankles:

And here is a video of leg curls performed with dorsiflexed ankles:

A great technique that you can use is to perform an all-out set of leg curls with your feet plantarflexed. Immediately after you reach technical failure (or close to it) you dorsiflex your ankles and continue to pump out as many reps as you can. 

Here is what this technique looks like in practice. Check it out:

Hamstrings Mechanical Advantage Routine #1

  • A1: Bilateral lying leg curl (feet neutral / plantarflexed), 3-4 x 6-8, 3/0/X/0, 15 seconds rest
  • A2: Bilateral lying leg curl (feet neutral / dorsiflexed), 3-4 x AMRAP**, 3/0/X/0, 180 seconds rest

**Perform as many reps as you can with the same weight that you used in exercise A1.

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

Of course you would want to add some other exercises for your hamstrings and perhaps your quadriceps to make a more complete lower body workout.

This technique is EXTREMELY effective for adding mass to your hamstrings. If you are stuck at a hamstrings training plateau then I highly recommend you give it a shot!

If you are creative enough it is also possible to use mechanical advantage sets to train the hamstrings as hip extensors. A great way to do this is to superset two different types of Romanian deadlifts.

You will perform the first variation with a snatch (ultra-wide) grip and the second variation with a regular shoulder-width grip. Here is what the mechanical advantage set looks like in practice:

Hamstrings Mechanical Advantage Routine #2

  • A1: Snatch grip Romanian deadlift, 3 x 10-12, 2/0/X/0, 15 seconds rest
  • A2: Romanian deadlift, 3 x AMRAP**, 2/0/X/0, 240 seconds rest

**Perform as many reps as you can with the same weight that you used in exercise A1.

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

This is a very demanding superset. I recommend that you perform it towards the end of your leg workout rather than towards the beginning.

Don’t be surprised if your lower back gets so pumped up after 3 rounds of this superset that you feel like you are 2-3 inches shorter!

P.S. if you have the hamstring development of a flamingo then this article will help you repent for your weightlifting sins:

The 9 Greatest Hamstring Workouts For Mass!

Part 9: Antagonistic Supersets

Mechanical advantage drop sets are an incredibly effective way to train. Of course I am always searching for ways to take an existing training method and make it even more effective.

In my experience there is one way to make all of the above mechanical advantage routines even more effective: by performing antagonistic supersets.

An antagonistic superset involves alternating between sets and exercises for opposing muscle groups. For example, you could perform a set for your chest, rest 1-2 minutes, perform a set for your back, rest 1-2 minutes, and then repeat the process with another set for your chest.

According to the scientific literature there are many reasons to incorporate antagonistic supersets into your long-term programming:

  • You recruit more motor units in the prime movers
  • You fatigue more slowly over the course of a workout
  • You dramatically increase your training density

In other words if you use antagonistic supersets in your training you will be able to lift more weight per set, you will accumulate muscular fatigue less quickly over the course of the workout, and you will perform up to twice as much volume in a given period of time. Not a bad deal if you ask me!

Of course I am not the first person to discover the benefits of antagonistic supersets. The world-class strength coach Josh Bryant confirmed all of these statements in his book “Bench Press: The Science.”

Charles Poliquin, the greatest strength coach of all time, went so far as to call antagonistic supersets to be a superior way to train for size and strength gains.

If you are looking to get the most out of mechanical advantage drop sets then I highly recommend you combine them with antagonistic supersets. Don’t worry, I will give you plenty of examples for how to do this!

In my experience two of the best training splits to use when training antagonistic body parts together include the “Poliquin-style” splits and the classic “upper / lower” split.

There are many different variations of the Poliquin splits. However, as a general rule of thumb you will be training 3 out of 5 days. One day will be dedicated to training your lower body while two days will be dedicated to training your upper body.

Here is one Poliquin split:

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

Here is a second Poliquin split:

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

These splits perfectly accommodate antagonistic supersets and feature a once-every-5-days training frequency. In my experience this is an EXTREMELY effective training frequency for a large percentage of the training populace.

Charles Poliquin believed in this type of training frequency so strongly that he used it with about 70% of his clients. The main disadvantage of this split is that you have to train on different days of the week from one week to the next.

Of course the good-old fashioned upper body / lower body split is another great split to use when you want to use mechanical advantage drop sets. 

Here is what a 4 days per week upper / lower split might look like:

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

This is probably the most popular training split amongst world-class powerlifters and strongman competitors. Of course it can also be extremely effective for packing on muscle.

Christian Thibadeau and Greg Doucette are two bodybuilding coaches who really believe in this type of twice per week training frequency for packing on muscle.

Now let’s check out some sample workouts using each of the above training splits. Here are three complete mechanical advantage drop set workouts that you could use as part of a Poliquin-style split. Check it out:

Chest / Back Routine

  • A1: V-bar dips (forward leaning torso), 5 x 6, 4/0/X/0, 100 seconds rest
  • A2: Wide overhand grip pull ups, 3-5 x 6-8, 3/0/X/0, 15 seconds rest
  • A3: Medium supinated grip chin ups, 3-5 x AMRAP**, 3/0/X/0, 15 seconds rest
  • A4: Narrow neutral grip pull ups, 3-5 x AMRAP**, 3/0/X/0, 100 seconds rest
  • B1: 30 degree incline DB press, 3 x 8-10, 2/0/X/0, 30 seconds rest
  • B2: 15 degree incline DB press, 3 x AMRAP**, 2/0/X/0, 30 seconds rest
  • B3: Flat DB press, 3 x AMRAP**, 2/0/X/0, 100 seconds rest
  • B4: Barbell bent over row, 3 x 8-10, 2/0/X/0, 100 seconds rest

Leg routine

  • A1: Front squat (medium stance / heels flat), 5 x 4-6, 4/0/X/0, no rest
  • A2: Back squat (medium stance / heels flat), 5 x AMRAP**, 4/0/X/0, no rest
  • A3: Bilateral lying leg curl (feet neutral / plantarflexed), 3-4 x 6-8, 3/0/X/0, 15 seconds rest
  • A4: Bilateral lying leg curl (feet neutral / dorsiflexed), 3-4 x AMRAP**, 3/0/X/0, 180 seconds rest
  • B1: Walking alternating DB lunge, 3-4 x 8-10, 2/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest
  • B2: Romanian deadlift, 3-4 x 8-10, 2/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest

Arm routine

  • A1: Decline bench press (shoulder width grip), 4 x 6-8, 2/1/X/0, 100 seconds rest
  • A2: Preacher ez-bar curl (narrow / pronated grip), 3-5 x 6-8, 2/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A3: Preacher ez-bar curl (wide / pronated grip), 3-5 x AMRAP**, 2/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A4: Preacher ez-bar curl (wide / supinated grip), 3-5 x AMRAP**, 2/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A5: Preacher ez-bar curl (narrow / supinated grip), 3-5 x AMRAP**, 2/0/X/0, 100 seconds rest
  • B1: Rope overhead cable extensions*, 3-4 x 12-15, 2/0/X/0, no rest
  • B2: Rope overhead cable extensions**, 3-4 x AMRAP****, 2/0/X/0, no rest
  • B3: Rope overhead cable extensions***, 3-4 x AMRAP****, 2/0/X/0, 100 seconds rest
  • B4: Incline cable curl, 3-4 x 12-15, 2/0/X/0, 100 seconds rest

These workouts feature an absolutely massive amount of volume. Keep in mind that every set listed here is a “working set,” not a “warm up.” I don’t know about you but I am always confused when trainees count their warm up sets as part of their overall training volume.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with performing a high-volume workout. They can be fantastic for boosting muscular hypertrophy and many trainees respond best to workouts featuring lots of sets and reps. But for the love of pumping iron, don’t perform 3-4 total working sets for a bodypart and call it a “high-volume” workout!

Here are a couple of workouts that you could use as part of an upper / lower split to boost muscular hypertrophy. Check it out:

Upper Body Routine

  • A1: 60 degree incline DB press, 3-5 x 6-8, 3/0/X/0, 20 seconds rest
  • A2: 30 degree incline DB press, 3-5 x AMRAP**, 3/0/X/0, 20 seconds rest 
  • A3: Flat DB press, 3-5 x AMRAP**, 3/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • A4: Wide overhand grip pull ups, 3-5 x 4-6, 4/0/X/0, 20 seconds rest
  • A5: Narrow supinated grip chin ups, 3-5 x AMRAP**, 4/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • B1: Seated Poliquin DB lateral raise, 3 x 10-12, 2/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest
  • B2: Seated cable rope face pull, 3 x 10-12, 2/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest
  • C1: Decline DB extension, 3 x 10-12, 2/0/X/0, 30 seconds rest
  • C2: 45 degree incline DB curl (hammer grip), 3 x 10-12, 2/0/X/0, 30 seconds rest

Lower Body Routine

  • A1: Front squat (medium stance / heels flat), 5 x 4-6, 4/0/X/0, no rest
  • A2: Back squat (medium stance / heels flat), 5 x AMRAP**, 4/0/X/0, no rest
  • A3: Bilateral lying leg curl (feet neutral / plantarflexed), 3-4 x 6-8, 3/0/X/0, 15 seconds rest
  • A4: Bilateral lying leg curl (feet neutral / dorsiflexed), 3-4 x AMRAP**, 3/0/X/0, 180 seconds rest
  • B1: Walking alternating DB lunge, 3-4 x 8-10, 2/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest
  • B2: Romanian deadlift, 3-4 x 8-10, 2/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest

The upper body routine definitely places more emphasis on the chest and back as these are the body parts that feature mechanical advantage drop sets.

That being said the rest of your upper body including your shoulders and arms still receive a reasonable amount of stimulation. This is the main disadvantage when performing training the entire upper body in one workout: it is difficult to use a lot of “high-intensity” techniques for every body part without risking overtraining. 

Conclusion

Mechanical advantage drop sets are easily one of the most effective bodybuilding training methods in the world.

There is a reason so many world-class physique coaches such as Josh Bryant and Christian Thibadeau continue to use them with their clients.

There are just so many advantages to this training method: 

  • Unbelievably effective for developing muscular size
  • Easy to perform in a commercial gym
  • Allows for a tremendous training volume in a relatively short period of time

If you are stuck in a hypertrophy training rut then I highly recommend you give mechanical advantage drop sets a shot. Just be ready for some out-of-this-world muscle soreness the next day! You’ve been warned! 

“You must see it. You must believe it. And then you must never stop working to make it happen.”

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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