Here's what you need to know...
- Few intensity techniques pack on size as effectively as drop sets.
- While the classic "keep dropping the weight" technique works, eventually you're forced to use really puny weights. Mechanical drop sets are a better option.
- Bodyweight exercises are already great finishing exercises, and when you combine them with mechanical advantage drop sets, you have a powerful hypertrophy tool.
Drop sets are a great way to pack on serious muscle in a hurry. What's more, for those of you who enjoy pushing yourselves to the limit to test your will at the end of a workout, drop sets are a way to do that in a relatively safe manner as the load gets lighter as fatigue starts to kick in.
There are two primary ways to do drop sets. The first and most common is to rep out a weight until you reach technical failure and then strip some weight off and keep repping out, continuing in this fashion for 2-5 total drops. An example of this method would be "running the rack" with dumbbell curls.
I'll use this method occasionally with the bench press after performing my heavier sets and do something like sets of 235, 185, 135, and then pushups to finish up, but apart from that I almost never do regular drop sets.
It's not that I necessarily have anything against them; I just lose interest quickly after the first drop. And to be honest, I feel like a massive tool struggling with super light weights. I have a hard time believing such light loads are even doing anything from a muscle growth standpoint anyway.
Alternatively, you can do mechanical drop sets whereby rather than dropping the weight, you manipulate the exercise to make it "easier" so that you can keep repping out. This method is a lot better.
Type "Mechanical Drop Sets" into the T-Nation search bar and you'll get some great articles sharing different ways to do them using barbells, dumbbells, and machines However, I've come up with a few ways to do them using bodyweight exercises, namely chin-ups, single-leg hip thrusts, and push-ups.
These exercises all work great at the end of the workout after you've done your heavier lifting, but none of them really lend themselves well to traditional drop sets... until now.
1. Chin-up/Inverted Row Drop Set
This is a three-part mechanical drop set that will have your lats, upper back, and arms begging for mercy.
You'll want to get set up beforehand so you can transition quickly between exercises. Ideally, you'll hang a suspension trainer from a chin-up bar, but if you don't have a suspension trainer, you can also set up a bar in a power rack near the chin-up bar. You'll also need a bench or box positioned a few feet from where you intend to do the inverted rows.
Start with chin-ups using whichever grip you prefer. Next, drop down and do feet-elevated inverted rows. Lastly, drop your feet off the bench and continue repping out with bent-leg inverted rows with your feet on the floor.
Step four is to lie on the floor and catch your bearings and question your existence while you wait for the burn in your upper back and arms to dissipate Here's what it looks like in action.
You can either go to failure on all three phases of the drop set, or do what I did in the video and perform a preset number of reps for each. I do 10 reps of each and then add weight once I can get all 30 reps. Interestingly, I find that by doing it this way, each set of 10 ends up being close to failure anyway.
If you can't do chin-ups, just start with the feet-elevated inverted rows and proceed from there.
2. Single-Leg Hip Thrust Drop Set
With this one, your ass is grass and single-leg hip thrusts are the lawn mower.
Position two benches about three feet apart from one another, making sure one of them is propped against something sturdy so it won't slide back when you do your hip thrusts.
Start with single-leg shoulder-and-feet elevated hip thrusts. Then, once your ass is sufficiently cooked from those, drop your foot to the floor and continue repping out until you can't get another good rep.
Make sure you're using good form and coming all the way up at the top. To ensure your glutes are doing the work and you're not substituting lumbar extension for hip extension, hold each rep for a second at the top.
In the beginning you'll likely find that just bodyweight is plenty, but once you get stronger, you'll want to add weight, first by draping chains or weight vests over your waist and finally using a barbell.
Be prepared to walk a little funny after a few sets of these. Can you say butt pump?
3. Pushup Drop Set
This is the simplest of the lot and requires the least set-up, but don't mistake it for being ineffective. It's plenty brutal.
Start by doing as many push-ups as you can with your feet elevated on a bench Then drop your feet to the floor and rep out until you can't take the pain anymore.. or you face plant, whichever comes first.
If you can, add a weight vest or have a buddy put a plate on your back. You can also up the ante by doing the same thing with ring push-ups, which will fry your chest even more.
If you have rings, you can also do "fly aways," which is probably the most brutal chest exercise I've ever done. Start with full ring flies, then go into bent-arm flies before finishing up with push-ups. If full flies are too challenging, just start with the bent-arm flies. Warning: Your chest will hate you for at least a few days after just one set of these.
Remember, a drop set isn't a race against the clock, so don't rush the reps for the sake of finishing quickly. You want to move quickly between exercises, but don't rush the reps themselves.