Do This to Build Muscle

 In Blog

Would you do anything to build muscle? I mean, anything?  When I say anything, I’m talking about making your body uncomfortable. So painful it feels like your muscles are on fire. And those muscles will keep burning because your legs are too tired to run over and get a fire extinguisher.

What I’m talking about here is drop sets.

Traditional workout protocols call for what we refer to as “straight sets.” So 4 sets of 8 reps means that the set is terminated by the 8th rep. The rest allows your muscles to recover to exert themselves for another effort.  It’s boring but effective…..for a while. If you’re an experienced lifter, i.e. you have more than one year of lifting experience, your muscles may need more advanced methods to get fully stimulated. When you do a particular exercise, you recruit specific muscle fibers (so when you bench press your body calls your triceps into action to help lift the bar). However, a recruited muscle is not the same as a fatigued muscle. If you’ve been training for a while, you may need different techniques to fatigue your muscles.

Enter the drop set. The drop set refers to performing a set of an exercise and then immediately dropping down to a lighter weight to perform more reps. So if you do 10 reps with 80 pounds you drop down to 55 pounds for another 10 reps. Performing the second set should fatigue any muscle fibers that weren’t fatigued with the first set. Will it work? Yep. Are they fun to do? Not really. Good luck trying to wash your hair the day after an upper body session.

For some, going lighter is a bit of a bruise to the ego so they avoid drop sets. But a research study shows that those who performed drop sets with lighter weights used more muscle and lifted weights with more force than those who did reverse drop sets (starting light and going heavier with each set (1). Using more force when you lift forces the brain to tap into more muscle cells. Interestingly, the researchers also had untrained subjects perform drop sets. These guys had no benefit from all that extra work, showing that if you’re a newbie, doing your standard straight sets is plenty to stimulate your body.

A workout depends a lot on your body type. As a personal trainer, part of the art of training is applying workouts to all different walks of life, so here are two ways you can do drop sets:

  1. A) For those who were good at jumping and sprinting (not very many of us) lower rep sets with small drops will work. So a workout would look like this:

Set 1: 4 reps, reduce weight by 10%, do 1-2 reps, reduce weight by 5-10%, do 1-2 reps.

  1. B) For the rest of us, a better drop set version would look like:

Set 1: 8 reps, reduce weight by 25%, do 8-10 reps, reduce weight by 25% do 8-10 reps.

Drop sets are great for those looking to build muscle. If you have more than a year of training experience, then give them a try for 2-4 weeks. All you need is a calculator to figure out your weights and a whole lot of determination to get through those workouts.


1. Goto, M, Nirengi, S, et al. “Effects of the Drop-Set and Reverse Drop Set Methods on the Muscle Activity and Intramuscular Oxygenation of the Triceps Brachii among Trained and Untrained Individuals.” (2016) Journal of Sports Science and Medicine. 15, 562-568

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