Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Drop setting for Hypertrophy. By Veeraj Goyaram

 High Intensity Techniques

Drop setting for Big Gains
By Veeraj Goyaram
Photo credits: Mr. Mike Neveux.
My favourite bodybuilding magazine!
Drop Setting is a training technique which can be said to have made a serious "comeback"! Dennis James is using them on Big Ramy, John Meadows is a serious advocate and scientists are working to shed light on their growth-promoting mechanisms. It can be said that drop setting is quite hot again right now although it has been around for a several decades. For example, 3-time Mr. Olympia Frank Zane used drop sets in his training. Drop setting is definitely one of my favourite techniques and has accounted for a large share of my progress. They are highly effective and can help you blast through growth plateaus. Most of you may already know what drop setting is all about but here is a quick reminder:

"A drop set is a training technique whereby you perform a set of an exercise to the point of failure (or just short of failure), reduce the weight and then crank some more repetitions. You can drop the weight once, twice or sometimes thrice (triple drops)"

If you hear anyone mentioning the terms descending sets, "down the rack" training or strip setting you need to know that they are referring to drop sets. Drop sets may sound boring to some as well but believe me, there are many ways you can use them to keep training fun and the muscles growing. Unfortunately, drop setting is not conducive for gains in strength, speed and power and therefore is not so common in the athletic population. However, if it is mass (hypertrophy) that you are after then this technique is your friend. 

I. How does drop setting induce growth?
Note: As I always say, I don't want to bore you with my exercise science stuff all the time. The scientifically inclined among you can keep reading this section. Otherwise, skip to Section II straightaway. 
Frank Zane used Drop Sets in his training. Here is his FULL ARTICLE
Frank Zane Drop Setting (2003)
When you lift weights, the mechanical tension which is generated is the main stimulus that triggers muscle growth mechanisms. There is also increasing evidence that not only mechanical tension but metabolic stress is also an important factor (Schoenfeld, 2010). What brings about metabolic stress during bodybuilding-type exercises, as laid out in Schoenfeld's review is a buildup of metabolites like lactate, hydrogen ions, inorganic phosphate, etc. Scientists also theorised that the acid buildup in muscle during bodybuilding-type training increases muscle fibre breakdown which in turn triggers a muscle growth response (Buresh et al., 2009). That's what happens during drop sets: Metabolic stress (Goto et al., 2003)! And that's why drop sets is such a wonderful method to make your muscles grow.  
I used drop sets in my first year of training
Here is yours truly at age 14
II. How to perform drop sets?
You take a set to muscular failure then reduce the weight and perform extra repetitions (single drop). You can go further and decrease the weight again (double drop) and crank out another few repetitions to complete fatigue. Your muscles will be screaming for mercy at this point. If you have the balls, go for another drop and perform more reps until you can't do it anymore. I know what you are thinking, "hot chick walks in while I am struggling with barely 5kg on side laterals" but think GROWTH! 

III. Drop setting pointers
  • Don't begin too light. Begin with a weight which allows you 6-12 reps to failure. In each successive drop aim to get about 6-12 reps again. Occasionally you may  get crazy and perform as high as 20-25 reps in successive drops. Drink coffee before training! 
  • How much to drop? There are no hard and fast rules. Most of the times I drop the weight by 20-25%. Sometimes I drop the weight by 50% and crank out twice more reps than I did in the first set. Say I'd do barbell curls with 90lbs for 10 reps and then take the 45lbs bar and rep out 20 reps. Feel free to experiment. The key is to pump the muscle.
  • Prepare equipment in advance. Use selectorized weight machines and small plates on barbells so that you can drop the weights very easily with minimal rest between drops. If you are using dumbbells make sure you have them ready and that no one steals them while you are busy in a set. It is also convenient to have a training partner to help with the whole process.
  • Variety is the spice of lifethere are many ways in which you can use drop sets other than the traditional single, double and triple drops. In another article I will detail the ways in which you can use drop sets. 
IV. Warning
Don't get overzealous. Drop sets are quite taxing on the nervous system. So, don't make the mistake of using them excessively unless you want to burn yourself out. Rather use them sparingly rather than on every set, every week and every body part. What I like to do is perform three straight sets and then on the last set perform drop sets. That works fine for me. Experiment and find out what works best for you and always keep an eye open for any sign of fatigue. Listen to your body!

Here is a video of John Meadows using drop sets on Bulgarian Split Squats

Buresh, R, Berg, K, and French, J. The effect of resistive exercise rest interval on hormonal response, strength, and hypertrophy with training. J Strength Cond Res 23: 62–71, 2009

Goto K, Sato K, Takamatsu K. A single set of low intensity resistance exercise immediately following high intensity resistance exercise stimulates growth hormone secretion in men. J Sports Med Phys Fitness. 2003 Jun;43(2):243-9.

Schoenfeld BJ. The mechanisms of muscle hypertrophy and their application to resistance training. J Strength Cond Res. 2010 Oct;24(10):2857-72.

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