Drop Sets for Increasing Intensity

Drop sets are a simple technique to increase the intensity of your workouts. Or course just intensity is not enough: your diet is critical too! They can be done with machines, dumbbells, and with some difficulty (you may need a helper) with barbells. So, what exactly is a drop set?

A “drop set” is when you perform an exercise to failure, then continue with a lighter weight to failure. You might drop the weight one or more times, continuing to failure each time. Sometimes they are also called descending sets. Triple-drops is a term sometimes used when three different weights are used.

Here are two examples from last week’s workouts:

Dumbell curls: For my last two sets of dumbbell curls, I used 35 pounds until I couldn’t continue with good form, quickly put down the 35 pound dumbbell and grabbed the 30 pounder and managed a few more reps, then switched to a 25 pound dumbbell and cranked out yet a few more reps. I did this separately for each arm, although I also could have alternated arms with two dumbbells. It was important that I had the dumbbells all lined up so that there was a mere second or two when switching dumbbells.

Lat Pulldowns: I use drop sets a lot with lat pulldowns. I had pre-exhausted with 3 sets of pull-ups (one of my favorite back exercises together with deadlifts), did a set with close to my body weight, immediately moved the pin in the weight stack to remove 20 pounds, cranked out another 3 reps, dropped another 20 pounds, managed 4 more reps, dropped 20 pounds again, did 2 more reps, and then gasped for air for a while.

After both workouts I had a post workout shake and then cooked a quick and easy anabolic meal!

It is harder to do drop sets with barbells, but I will occasionally do them on the benchpress when I have a spotter or two. It is pretty straightforward: one set to failure, then have the spotter(s) quickly remove one weight from each side and continue until failure. Of course you can drop several times as well.

I’m more likely to do negative reps to increase intensity with bench presses, where a spotter helps me raise the bar when I fail for the last (usually 2 or 3) reps, and then I slowly lower (hence “negative”) the barbell myself.

As a general rule, you need to use dropsets sparingly as they can easily lead to overtraining. I only occasionally use them and they’re not a weekly part of my training.

There are plenty of variations as well. For example, some people do not do them to failure. Also the amount of weight change can vary quite a bit. For example, with my dumbbell curls, instead of going from 35 to 30 to 25 pounds I could have done 40 to 30 to 20 pounds.

Workout hard, pay attention to nutrition  , and grow!

5 thoughts on “Drop Sets for Increasing Intensity”

  1. My favorites for drop sets are leg extensions and lat pulldowns. Super sets are also something I work into my workouts frequently.

    1. I’m a big super set fan too Elroy, and may write something up soon. Lately I’ve been supersetting benchpresses and pullups, as much to increase intensity as to save time when I’m short on time in the gym. I’ll also superset for the same bodypart, starting with big compound movements and moving to more isolation type exercises, for example over presses followed by lateral raises

  2. I do these with machines and dumbbells the most as it’s easiest (Just had a killer leg bicep workout yesterday with drop sets for example). I do use them sparingly as it is so easy to over train sometimes, at least for gym rats like me 🙂

    1. Craiggar, I’m no longer a gym rat!
      I try to get in and out as quickly as possible; short intense workouts!

      Yes, I often want to hang out in the gym and workout more than I should – it’s sooo easy when you are into it!

  3. Just added drop sets a few weeks ago – one set of drops per workout, always to blast a different body part. Wow! Of course I’ll be repeating bodyparts before long, I only haveso many, but it’s taken my workouts to another level. Drop sets for legs required a nap afterwards yesterday – glad I didn’t need to go back to work 🙂
    Going to try drops for deadlifts next week – will require a workout partner!


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