What Is a Drop Set? The Secret to Building Muscle Mass?

Benedict Ang, CPT, PN1-NC
Published by Benedict Ang, CPT, PN1-NC | Staff Writer & Senior Coach
Last updated: December 28, 2023
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After more than ten years as a fitness coach and extensive research, I've discovered that drop sets are an effective way to train your muscles.

Having applied this technique for years, I advise my clients that the key to it is pushing your muscles hard, aiding in their growth and strength over time.

Continue reading to learn all about drop sets, including their benefits, various types, and how to optimize them for building muscle.

Quick Summary

  • Drop sets involve performing an exercise until failure, then reducing the weight and continuing, serving as a technique to maximize muscle growth and endurance.
  • By enhancing workout intensity, drop sets assist individuals in overcoming plateaus and promoting muscle hypertrophy for more substantial gains in their fitness journey.
  • A study on ResearchGate revealed that incorporating drop sets into resistance training resulted in a 14 percent increase in muscle strength compared to traditional training methods.
  • In my opinion, the versatility and effectiveness of drop sets make them a valuable addition to any workout routine, offering a challenging yet rewarding approach to achieving fitness goals.

What Are Drop Sets For?

Black and white photo of Arnold Schwarzenegger at the gym

Drop sets are an effective weightlifting strategy for stimulating hypertrophy, commonly known as building muscle mass.

Arnold Schwarzenegger, a prominent figure in bodybuilding, significantly contributed to the popularity of drop sets.

As a successful bodybuilder, Schwarzenegger highly recommended strip sets, his term for drop sets, to build mass, especially favoring barbell lifts targeting the biceps, triceps, and forearms.

As a fitness trainer, Schwarzenegger's "The New Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding" has been a valuable resource that assisted both me and my clients in learning about drop sets and various weightlifting exercises [1].

How Do Drop Sets Work?

Drop sets work by involving different muscle fibers as the weight decreases, promoting comprehensive muscle growth, known as "greater total work," and leading to greater hypertrophy, according to the National Institute of Health [2].

The initiation of hypertrophy occurs when glycogen stores are depleted, causing acidosis and damage to muscle fibers that require rebuilding.

Among the most effective high-intensity weightlifting techniques, drop sets start at your highest weight, working until failure with each reduction.

In my experience, beginning with your heaviest weight and continuing until you can't lift anymore with each reduction ensures that your muscles get a thorough workout at different levels, helping with overall development.

Benefits of Drop Sets

Drop sets offer substantial benefits for muscle development by effectively stimulating hypertrophy.

This is achieved through an increase in heart rate, promotion of enhanced blood flow, and induction of muscle tears that contribute to growth.

According to the University of Rochester Medical Center, the heightened heart rate improves circulation, facilitating nutrient delivery, while increased blood flow supports optimal muscle performance and faster recovery [3].

The sweet spot for hypertrophy is 80-95% of your maximum weight. This is exactly where drop sets hit you.

- A. C. Fry, Sports Medicine Researcher

Tips to Maximize Drop Sets


To optimize drop sets, there are a few tips that will give you the upper hand:

  1. Avoid combining them with cardio; designate drop sets for weightlifting-only days.
  2. Take a day off after a drop-set session to prevent burnout.
  3. Employ drop sets more frequently with basic lifts than with compound lifts.
  4. Concentrate on one or two muscle groups to avoid excessive fatigue and soreness.
  5. Adjust the number of drop sets per week for improved fatigue management. For example, alternate between 8, 4, and 10 drop sets in consecutive weeks. This variation stimulates lean muscle growth by preventing adaptation to the same routine.

Types of Drop Sets Exercises

Man doing a bicep curl

Let's explore different variations of this exercise and provide examples of how to incorporate drop sets into your workout.

1. Running The Rack

Running the Rack involves working down the rack with each set of lifts. Once you can no longer lift a certain weight, move down to the next weight (e.g., 15 pounds to 10 pounds) and continue until failure with each weight.

Example Workout For Running The Rack: Bicep Curls

  • Set 1: Choose a weight challenging enough to fail at 4 to 6 reps.
  • Set 2: Move down the rack, reducing the weight by 5 pounds, repeat until failure.
  • Set 3: Reduce the weight by 5 pounds, repeat until failure.
  • Set 4: Reduce the weight by 5 pounds, repeat until failure.
  • Set 5: Reduce the weight by 5 pounds, repeat until failure.

Tight drop sets involve smaller weight reductions and work well with single-muscle workouts like the bicep curl.

2. Plate StrippingMan doing a backward lunge with barbell

Plate Stripping is similar to Running the Rack but with barbells. As you progress in sets, remove plates from each side until you reach failure with decreasing weights.

Ensure you choose a weight you'd fail at 4 to 6 reps initially to avoid the risk of injury.

Example Workout For Plate Stripping: Backwards Lunges With Barbell

  • Set 1: Choose a weight for 4 to 6 reps.
  • Set 2: Strip the plate, reducing the weight by 10 pounds, repeat until failure.
  • Set 3: Strip the plate by 10 pounds, repeat until failure.
  • Set 4: Strip the plate by 10 pounds, repeat until failure.
  • Set 5: Strip the plate by 10 pounds, repeat until failure.

As a fitness trainer, moving swiftly between sets makes plate stripping a great workout, especially when you have a partner to help with removing the weights.

Man doing leg extensions3. Up The Stack

Up the Stack operates similarly to Running the Rack and Plate Stripping, but with a workout machine.

We highly recommend utilizing drop sets with machines because they are much easier to adjust in terms of weight between sets.

Example Workout For Up The Stack: Leg Extensions

  • Set 1: Choose a weight where you would fail at 4 to 6 reps and give it your best.
  • Set 2: Increase the stack to reduce the weight by 5-10 pounds, repeat until failure.
  • Set 3: Increase the stack by 5-10 pounds, repeat until failure.
  • Set 4: Increase the stack by 5-10 pounds, repeat until failure.
  • Set 5: Increase the stack by 5-10 pounds, repeat until failure.

Variations on the Drop Set

Drop sets, like any lifting technique, benefit from variety. Here are a few variations we appreciate:

  • Grip or Stance Change Drop Sets: Add variety to your drop sets by incorporating bodyweight squats, such as sumo squats, single-leg squats, and other modifications to the traditional squat.
  • Drop Supersets: If you're short on time, opt for the drop superset. Combine two drop sets consecutively, such as a set of shoulder presses immediately followed by bicep curls.
  • Zero Rest Drop Sets: Designed for those craving an intense burn and challenge, these are best done with a partner who can swiftly adjust the weight for you.

Related Article: How Many Reps Should I Do to Burn Fat? 


Other resources you can read: Best Parallettes


  1. https://www.schwarzenegger.com/fitness/post/the-science-of-advanced-bodybuilding-exercise-prescription
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3590834/
  3. https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/MediaLibraries/URMCMedia/noyes/migrated-media/PT-Blog-April_1.pdf
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About The Author

Benedict Ang, CPT, PN1-NC
Staff Writer & Senior Coach
Benedict Ang, CPT, PN1-NC is an ex-National Soccer player turned MMA and Kickboxing champion, with ACE CPT and PN1-NC certifications. His advice is rooted in education and experience, ensuring that readers receive scientific and battle-tested insights. His mission is to empower his clients and readers to realize their potential and become the best versions of themselves.
Learn more about our editorial policy
James Cunningham, BSc, CPT
Staff Writer & Senior Coach
James Cunningham, BSc, CPT holds a BSc degree in Sport & Exercise Science from University of Hertfordshire. He's a Health & Performance Coach from London that brings a unique blend of academic knowledge of health supplements and practical exercise experience to the table for his readers.
Learn more about our editorial policy

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One thought on “What Are Drop Sets?
Advanced Muscle Building Techniques

  1. My trainer introduced me to do a drop set workout and I enjoyed it so much! It has great bodybuilding benefits. Must try for everyone who wants to build muscles.

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