Feel the burn

Feel the burn

One of my favourite methods of working my muscles to complete failure is by utilising drop sets. This means lifting a certain weight for as many reps as you physically can, before then performing as many repetitions as possible at a lighter weight.

Purpose: Drop sets are incredibly intense for your muscles as they increase the time the muscle fibres are under tension. You will utilise more muscle fibres than you typically would, which allows you to continue your set beyond the point where you would usually have to stop. In this way, you will improve your muscle endurance and increase muscle gains.

A drop set should be the final set of an exercise. You can perform a single drop set, where you just decrease the weight once, or multiple drop sets whereby you reduce the weight two or three times.

Drop sets are beneficial because they give you a burn similar to the one you would get from lifting much heavier weights. They are also time efficient, as you get through your sets faster.

Execution: Perform a set at a heavy weight, aiming for 8 to 12 repetitions. As soon as you reach the point where you can’t perform another single rep, strip off some weight or grab a lighter set of dumbbells and do as many reps as possible at the lighter weight. The transition between the two weights should be as fast as possible and ideally no longer than five seconds. Unless you have a training partner helping you, I would therefore stick to cable and dumbbell exercises as it is difficult to quickly reduce the weight on a barbell.

If you are only performing one drop set, aim to pick a weight that is 50 to 70 per cent of what you were lifting in your first set. If you are performing multiple drop sets, try making smaller drops (15-20 per cent at a time) in the weight as necessary.

For example, if I used 12kg dumbbells for 10 repetitions of a shoulder press, I would probably drop to 7 or 8kg for a single drop set. If I was performing two drop sets I would likely follow the 12kg dumbbells by 10kg and then 8kg. Don’t be fooled by the seemingly light weight: I can do 60 kilogram leg extensions, but I have literally been in tears pushing 10 kilograms while doing a five layer drop set.

Drop sets are likely to leave you feeling more sore than usual, as they are taking you beyond your normal point of failure. Consequently, it’s important not to do them too often to avoid overtraining. You should only pick one or two exercises per workout to add drop sets to, and you should only include them in one or two sessions per week while also cycling them in and out of your overall programming.

Some of my favourite exercises to perform drop sets with are:
Leg press
Leg extension
Shoulder press
Lateral raise
Dumbbell chest press
Cable flye
Skull crusher
Cable bicep curl

Have you ever tried drop sets before?

PS. Here is the picture I tried to post in my last blog: this is the view from my balcony which I’ve been waking up to every morning! I am having an amazing time and will be very sad to leave tomorrow. Back to regular posting next week!


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