Workouts for Women

What is a Drop Set? Your Complete Guide

Whether you feel like you’ve plateaued with building strength, or just want to try a new muscle-building method to up your game, a drop set is an excellent choice to mix up your usual routine. 

What is a drop set we hear you ask! Well, we’ve got a complete guide to answer all of your drop set related questions right here. With all the information in this article, you’ll know what they are, what the benefits are of using a drop set and how you should do it too. 

So, without further ado, let’s get into it – drop sets! 

What is a drop set? 

A drop set is a resistance training technique that you can use to intensify your workouts… basically, it’s a lifting pattern that really helps you burn those muscle fibers, and turn your muscle gain up a notch. 

With a drop set, you complete a set of your chosen exercise at a challenging weight until failure. Then, without stopping for a rest, you drop (see where we’re going here?) the weight by around 10-30% and go until failure again. 

When we say until failure, we mean the maximum amount of reps you can perform at that weight. So normally, if you’re at 20kg on a bench press and your max is 6-8, then aim to complete 6-8. You can plan your reps in advance. 

[Related Article: How to do Hack Squats and Whether you Should Try Them

What is a drop set – example:

So, if you’re doing shoulder press for example:

  • First set: 6-8 reps at your chosen starter weight (aim heavy)
  • Second set: Drop the weight by 10-30% and do 10-12 reps

If you want, you can even go for a third set and drop the weight again. This is called a triple drop set and there’s absolutely no doubt you’d feel the burn from this. We’d recommend starting with two and progressing on to three. Trust us, you’ll feel it with two sets. 

Don’t forget, as you work towards failure with these movements, your muscles will really start to fatigue. With this in mind, it’s essential you concentrate on strong form. Let failure happen before you start to break form, or you could be in for an injury. 

How do drop sets work?

When it comes to building muscle, drop sets are there to completely fatigue muscle fibers in a specific area, including smaller muscles that a single set may not target effectively. By dropping the weight and performing another set, you’re recruiting more, smaller muscles too, which will promote more muscle growth than a normal set. 

Think about it like this: when you reach fatigue at a certain weight, it means you cannot lift that weight any more. It doesn’t mean you can’t lift a lighter weight. You muscle fibers will be fatigued, but not fatigued enough to be unable to lift another, lighter weight. So by going again and recruiting those smaller muscles to help you through, you’re working so much harder. 

With that in mind, it’s little wonder the muscle-building benefits of drop sets are widely known and praised. 

What are the benefits of a drop set?

Woman doing a shoulder press drop set

Muscle building

Research has shown that, when a group of participants trained using drop sets for a 6-week period, compared to a group who didn’t, those who used drop sets displayed superior muscle gains (1). Need we say more? It really is very effective in building strength and size. 

Increased muscle endurance

Endurance is the ability to continue to do something, over and over, with delayed fatigue onset. Think endurance runner, they can go far longer than most people. So, it’s exactly the same for muscle. 

And, due to the nature of drop sets in that, you carry on when your body thinks it can’t, you’ll benefit from more muscular endurance. 

A research study showed exactly this, even with less training time than others in the same study (2)

Drop sets are quick

Life is busy, and if you’re struggling to get in a really long training session, then drop sets are your best friend. Because they fatigue the body so quickly, and without rest between sets, you can feel some incredible results, without going for a super lengthy workout. 

Drop sets are so demanding on the body, and the muscle fibers you want to target, so you can rest assured you’re getting in a goo workout, without the time commitment. 

How to drop set

Now you’re pretty much a drop set pro, let’s find out how best to do them. Before you get started it’s important you remember a couple of things: 

  • Drop sets are all about intensity, so try to minimise that down time between sets. Keep your plates or dumbbells close by so you can switch between movements easily. Make sure everything you need is in easy reach and you’re good to go. 
  • Be strategic – don’t do drop sets for every movement or you’ll be so tired you won’t be able to move pretty soon! To get the best out of your workout, aim to do it for one movement where you really feel you need to focus on improvement
  • Never sacrifice form for a drop set. We know they’re pretty amazing, but nothing is worth an injury – that’ll put your progress back in a serious way
  • Don’t run before you can walk. If you’re new to lifting or resistance training, then chances are you don’t really need drop sets yet. Wait until you hit a plateau and you’re built some muscle, then use it to supercharge your efforts. 
  • Don’t go drop set mad. Chances are you’ll do two rounds of drop sets for a certain movement and you’ll really be feeling it. Listen to your body and don’t over do it. These are very demanding on the body and that should be respected. If you feel like you can do three, go for it. Four? Maybe you’re crazy, or maybe you need to up your weight a bit! Really though, we wouldn’t recommend more than three rounds of drop sets… trust us.

Superset or drop set?

So, should you be doing a superset or a drop set? Great question. They’re both advanced resistance training techniques and can both be great for building muscle, but actually, they’re completely different. 

A superset is pairing two movements together, and going back to back in one set. So for example, you’ve done 6 heavy deadlifts, then you go straight into 12 bent over rows. It’s also pretty demanding on the body. 

By doing two different movements, that focus on similar areas (in the above example, it would be the back) you can push muscles to fatigue and really make some amazing gains. 

Find out more about supersets in our guide: What is a Superset?


What is a Drop Set? – The Final Word

We’re hoping by this point you feel like you’ve got a good idea of what a drop set is, whether you need to include them in your workouts, and how to do them safely. Why not try adding them in to mix up your usual routine and letting us know how it goes? No go, feel that burn!! 


gymgirlfit was created by health and fitness enthusiasts, with backgrounds in powerlifting and writing. We've written for a number of well-known fitness publishing companies.

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