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Drop sets are simple. Load up the bar, work, take some discs off the bar, repeat. Mechanical drop sets segue into an easier movement instead of a lighter load, meaning they're more transportable and versatile.

Drop sets are simple. Load up the bar, work, take some discs off the bar, repeat. Mechanical drop sets segue into an easier movement instead of a lighter load, meaning they're more transportable and versatile.

When we want to get more results from the same amount of time spent training, we pick big multijoint movements and shoot for intensity. (Note: with good form. Otherwise, you’ll get a really intense injury.)

Trouble with intense exercises, though, is that they’re, well, intense.

You can’t just knock them out like they’re nothing, and if you’re training up in the range of about 85% of your maximum – a range where you can do only between one and six repetitions with good form – you’re going to spend a lot of time resting. So how can we throw in a bit of conditioning while keeping training oriented toward strength, and increase the volume too?

One popular answer is drop sets.

A drop set is self explanatory: you start the set, then you drop some weight and continue it, sometimes making multiple drops. The advantage is that it lets you use significantly the same movement, unlike supersetting, where you’ll often superset a compound move with a move that targets some of the same muscles but isn’t a similar movement. What that means is that drop sets let you groove in motor patterns in a way that supersets don’t. 

To give you an example: say you do a drop set of back squats with a barbell. You’d do your set, then remove some of the weight from the bar, get back under and continue to squat, this time with a lighter load. This process might be repeated several times. Obviously, as you continue to work, your muscles become more exhausted and the amount of weight you an lift decreases. So you reduce the amount on the bar and continue.

So drop sets are a way of training to failure – and staying there – with the same exercise.

As such, they’re popular with people who do exhaustion training for sports reasons, and with those who realize that that’s the kind of training that can trigger hypertrophy, like bodybuilders. But they have another obvious advantage, too:

You’re working the whole time.

So if you do a couple of big drop sets – a lower body one and an upper body one – you have a recipe for a short, effective session.

But to do it, you need access to a gym. To barbells, or dumbbells at least, right?

Not at all.

There’s another way to approach drop sets, called mechanical drop sets.

Mechanical drop sets

A mechanical drop set is one in which you change the exercise to an easier one instead of changing the weight on the bar. That doesn’t mean supersetting bench presses with kickbacks and calling it something fancy. Rather, you’re replacing an exercise you’ve trained to failure with one that’s mechanically easier to do.

Let’s look at an example: let’s suppose you’re immensely strong, and when it’s time to train your upper body push you opt for planche pushups. After you do a few, though, you can’t do any more, so you transition to tuck planche pushups, then put your feet down and finish off with ordinary pushups. OK, I missed a few steps – when you do it, feel free to throw some Maltese pushups in there. But at very stage, you’re doing the hardest upper body push you can do, even as you move down the ladder of progression.

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