You have probably used this technique yourself many times as it is quite popular for a long time now but what you will learn in this article is how beneficial drop sets are, and when is the best time to use them to build muscle.
What Are Drop Sets?
For anyone that is not familiar with this technique here is a quick summary of what the drop sets are. With this technique, after you go to failure on a normal set, what you will do is decrease the weight which will allow you to perform more repetitions until you go to failure again, at which point you can decrease the weight even further. It is common to perform 3-4 of these drops until you reach a complete fatigue.
Are Drop Sets Beneficial?
This is where it gets interesting because in theory it sounds like a really good way to stimulate your muscle fibers, and here is why. Training to failure or near failure promotes muscle growth, however because we have different types of fibers in our muscles (fast twitch and slow twitch) not all fibers go to true failure during our regular sets. Some fibers are still able to produce force depending on their type even after a failure.
The idea of drop sets is to stimulate exactly this type of fibers by reducing the weight which will allow you to keep going on until all fibers are completely fatigued. There is also another benefit which is time under load which elevates metabolic stress for the particular muscle.
Furthermore, during my weight lifting experience working out in hundreds of different gyms, bodybuilders frequently used them during a cutting period ''burn more calories'' and ''work on definition'' of the muscles which is a complete nonsense.
However, Fisher et al. performed a study with equated volume between 3 groups and the results showed no difference between muscle gain over a period of 12 weeks.
So are the drop sets beneficial? What does the science actually say about this? Lets have a look. While there has been many different studies on this topic, a lot of them were not volume equated when they compared 2 groups performing regular sets vs drop sets which completely rules them out as there is a bias. However, Fisher et al. performed a study with equated volume between 3 groups and the results showed no difference between muscle gain over a period of 12 weeks.
Another study by Angleri et al. compared two styles of training on legs by performing leg press and leg extension for a period of 12 weeks. Again results showed no difference between the two styles of training. Furthermore, a study performed by Fink et al. compared results for the upper body exercises by performing triceps push-downs. One group performed 3 regular sets of 12 repetitions, and another group performed 1 set of 12 RM followed by 3 sets with reduction of load of 20% for each set. Muscle size increased by 3.7% in the drop set group, compared to 2.1% in the regular group. This shows a slight advantage to the drop set group, however, it is not reach a statistical significance.
The fact that drop sets give you the same result as regular sets gives you an opportunity to be more efficient with your workouts.
Looking at the results of a volume equated research, we can confidently say that in terms of muscle growth, drop sets do not offer any advantage. This might be disappointing to some of you, however, you should look at this from another perspective. The fact that drop sets give you the same result as regular sets gives you an opportunity to be more efficient with your workouts when time is a constraint.
This all begs the question: Who would benefit from implementing this technique? Could this be applicable for someone who is short on time? Perhaps, but there are far better ways to save time in the gym like paired sets, super sets and circuit training if you are short on time.
The main issue that I have with drop sets is technique breakdown which only makes it applicable to the isolation and machine exercises.
Neuromuscular fatigue has poor correlation with muscle stimulation and drop sets offer no advantage over normal sets in this area.
On top of everything, you can easily accumulate a lot of fatigue as well which may impair your recovery and training frequency.
My verdict on this is that drop sets should be avoided.