Kick Muscle Mass into Overdrive with Drop Sets

Drop sets beat traditional training for increasing muscle mass.

If you’re looking to increase muscle mass, try drop sets!  Adding a few sets of drop sets to your routine will be helpful if you’re having trouble packing on some new muscle. Drop sets are a muscle pre-exhaustion technique in which a person starts with a heavier weight than once muscle fatigue is achieved, the lifter drops then uses a lower weight until failure. Drop sets are easiest to perform on machines because reducing the weight quickly is much easier than using free weights. An example of a drop set would be doing triceps extensions on a machine using 50 pounds until complete muscular failure, and then immediately dropping the weight to 40 pounds, lifting until failure.

Arnold Schwarzenegger was known to be a big advocate of drop sets and was commonly seen dropping the weight several times to create the most intense workout possible. Drop sets keep a muscle under tension for an extended period, which means they can induce significant levels of metabolic and mechanical stress. There are plenty of bro-science techniques that have been reported to increase lean muscle mass, but drop sets have been proven to work! Researchers reported in the Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness that drop sets beat standard resistance exercise for increasing lean muscle mass.

The researchers had subjects do workouts of cable triceps push-downs two times per week for a period of six weeks. One group was assigned to drop sets, and the other was assigned to a standard multi-resistance exercise group.

– The drop set group did one drop set of 3 drops, starting with a set of 12RM, then reducing the load by 20 percent twice. Three sets were done to failure with incrementally lower loads.
– The multiple set group did three sets to failure with 90 seconds of rest between sets.

At the end of the six-week study, both groups achieved increases in triceps muscle size, but the drop set group tended to have greater increases in muscle size than in the multiple set group.  So, what are the researchers’ hypothesis as to why the drop set group increased muscle mass more than the conventional weight training group despite doing the same workload? The increased metabolic stress could be a big reason why drop sets resulted in larger arm size. Metabolic stress is caused by an accumulation of lactate, inorganic phosphates, and hydrogen ions, which elevate blood acidity, leading to a greater metabolic stress placed on muscle tissue.

There is a strong relationship between metabolic stress and elevated levels of the anabolic hormones GH, IGF-1, and testosterone that support muscle protein synthesis. Drop sets taken to muscular failure stimulate greater type II muscle fibers, thereby boosting greater muscle growth potential. Multiple drops can be performed to induce even greater levels of fatigue and metabolic stress, and hence potentially further enhance anabolism.


Fink J, Schoenfeld BJ, Kikuchi N, Nakazato K. Effects of drop set resistance training on acute stress indicators and long-term muscle hypertrophy and strength. J Sports Med Phys Fitness. 2017 Apr 26