The 1940’s were a revolutionary period in history. We were in the middle of the Second World War, Joe DiMaggio had his 56 game hit streak, Captain America was born, and last but certainly not least, M&M’s were invented.
By the way, fun fact: During the war, M&M’s were only available to soldiers.
And those events, while cool, are not all that took place in the 40’s. At least not concerning you and your quest to get jacked.
You see, back in the day getting jacked wasn’t as en vogue as it is nowadays. If dudes wanted to build serious muscle they had to play with a variety of techniques, share secrets, and get extra creative in the gym.
And from this sharing of secrets in the dank iron filled gyms of the 1940’s one of the greatest techniques for building straight muscle was born, by a magazine editor.
Henry Atkins, editor of Body Culture magazine came up with what he called the “multi-poundage system” as a way for guys to pack on more muscle mass than they ever thought possible, while also lifting lighter weights than they ever imagined.
Today that method is commonly known referred to as drop sets.
In the world of bodybuilding, there are a number of advanced techniques that lifters utilize to build size and strength, and most of them are awesome. But very few work as well as drop sets when it comes to building muscle mass.
Sure, using straight sets like 5×8 is awesome, and there’s little doubt that it works up to a point. But after awhile you’ve paid your dues in the weight room. You’ll need to start employing more advanced training techniques to build more size, and that’s where drop sets come in.
What is a drop set?
It’s as simple as it sounds, really. You perform a given set of work to failure, and then drop the weight, and continue. So let’s say you’re doing dumbbell incline presses because you want to bring out that upper chest. More power to you bro, the upper chest doesn’t get enough love.
What you would do is work to failure on your first set, drop the weight, and go to failure again. Then you’d repeat the process over 3-4 more times.
How much should you drop the weight by? Typically by about 20% per drop set. So if you’re using 100lb dumbbells on the dumbbell incline, you’d drop to 80lbs, then 65lbs, then 50lbs.
Those last few sets should be taxing beyond belief, by the way. They should leave you with such a ridiculous pump that you’re walking around the gym afterward asking everyone to feel your chest because it feels THAT good.
Why do drop sets work?
There’s no doubting that straight sets are awesome. They work wonders for building a great base of strength and size, as I’ve already said. But straight sets tend to limit the overall muscle fiber recruitment that you’re going to be able to get out of an exercise.
Whereas drop sets allow you to recruit more muscle fibers, leading to more growth. And at the same time, you’re getting an insane build up of metabolites and waste products within the muscle, which you’re all too familiar with because it’s what we typically view as the hot burning fucking lava that resides within your muscles during certain sets.
You may not have taken Getting Jacked 101, which I understand. The class fills up quickly. Until you do, it will help immensely to understand that if you can increase the number of fibers you’re recruiting within a given muscle you’re typically going to elicit more growth.
Which should help you see why drop sets can be so beneficial.
But on top of the enhanced fiber recruitment and metabolite build up, you’re also training in a way that is going to be a bit safer on your joints, which is paramount to long term success.
One of the biggest issues lifters run into over the course of their lifting life is the potential for injury. Especially when going through periods of trying to pack on size and strength, because typically the weights being used go up.
However, when performing drop sets this isn’t the case. Obviously, you know you’re going to be using a lighter weight on the drop set(s), but you’re typically not starting off with an extremely heavy weight, to begin with, either.
What equipment do drop sets work the best with?
Obviously, it’s a bit more difficult to drop set exercises like the barbell back squat, unless you lift with a couple of people who can strip the weights for you. Unfortunately, we’re not all that lucky.
Instead, that means that equipment like dumbbells and weight stack or pulley machines are the best options since you can change the weight rapidly. After all, the whole point of a drop set is building up the fatigue within the muscle.
Using dumbbells and pulleys allows you to move through weight options as rapidly as possible
For example, movements like the dumbbell incline press, lat pull down, lateral raise, bicep curls, and others involving these pieces of equipment work well when using drop sets.
An important note on performing drop sets.
By this point, you’re probably fucking amped to walk into the gym and drop set every single set of every single exercise. And I get that. But hold your horses, bro.
Performing drop sets is exhausting, and the pump you get is very real, but that doesn’t mean that you need to be doing it on every single set. Instead, look at performing them on the last set of the given exercise.
So let’s say you’re doing dumbbell incline presses, because you’ll look better in a V-neck, and you’re doing 4 sets. You’d do your first 3 sets for straight reps, and then on the 4th set you’d drop set for an additional 2-3 sets.
Drop sets are a highly effective method, but they are not easy by any means, so be ready to hate your life. But if you’re looking for a new way to bring about some insane growth, then this is your method.