How to use drop sets to build muscle and improve endurance, according to experts.
We’re always on the lookout for ways to refresh our training in order to keep our workouts exciting and motivating. The simplest way to do that is by mixing up your sets and reps, such as using sweaty supersets or plateau-busting pyramid sets.
Now we’re back in the gym, with access to a huge range of dumbells and kettlebells, it might be time to introduce drop sets. They’re a challenging way to keep adding load to your muscles ‑ even after they’ve fatigued.
What is a drop set?
In a drop set, you perform an exercise until the muscle has been exhausted. At that point, rather than taking a rest break, you drop the weight and push out more reps. For example, if you’ve been doing shoulder presses with 6kg for 10 reps, you’d drop the weight to 4kg. On the lighter set, you could do the same or more reps. Then you’d reduce the weight again and continue for a further set.
“One important thing to note is that we don’t have a rest in between sets to keep up the exhaustion,” says fitness trainer from the Strong Women Collective Emma Obayuvana. “I also recommend doing it with dumbbells, kettlebells or machines, where it’s easy to reduce the weight. Don’t do a drop set with an exercise that will involve taking time to unrack and rerack the bar, for example.”
What are the benefits of drop sets?
Drop sets are considered a hypertrophy technique because they build muscle mass by “increasing the volume of weight you life,” explains Emma. But according to personal trainer Zara Ozard, drop sets are great because they train more than just one discipline. “A drop set allows you to train both types of muscle fibres in one go. The first is the fast-twitch fibre that makes you more powerful, and the second is the slow twitch fibres that we need for endurance. In a normal set, you usually only train one of these at a time, which is why drop sets are so great,” she explains.
Because it’s an intense technique, you’ll finish a drop set with your heart rate sky rocketing as well as your muscles burning. “They can be similar to HIIT, so I do recommend only doing a drop set workout once a week, or saving one drop set for the end of a session.”
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Chloe Gray is the senior writer for stylist.co.uk's fitness brand Strong Women. When she's not writing or lifting weights, she's most likely found practicing handstands, sipping a gin and tonic or eating peanut butter straight out of the jar (not all at the same time).