The Science of Advanced Bodybuilding Exercise Prescription

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Intensity Technique #1 – The Dropset

What are Drop Sets?

Drop Sets, otherwise referred to by Joe Weider as the Descending Set Principle, involve working a muscle to failure, and then reducing the weight before immediately continuing. (Stoppani, 2013)

The Theory

The benefit of this technique is rather simple, Drop Sets allow for more weight to be lifted for more reps than in a more conventional situation. Such an occurrence would enhance time under tension, and the buildup of lactate, hydrogen ions, and inorganic phosphates (McArdle, 2010). Enhancing time under tension and metabolic stress appear to be of great benefit to those seeking muscular development. (Spiering, 2008; Toigo, 2006)

Pros of Implementing Drop Sets

  • Increasing high threshold motor unit recruitment due to more contractions occurring in an environment of accumulated fatigue (Spiering, 2008; Burd, 2010).
  • Dropsets can be performed on most exercises independently, therefore they do not require the assistance of a training partner or spotter – although it is recommended.


  • Increased risk of burnout (Willardson, 2006)

The Verdict

Dropsets appear to be a valid and effective technique of training for muscular development. Due to the increased risk of burnout, it would be wise to keep usage of this technique to a reasonable weekly minimum.

Practical Implications

For the purpose of fatigue management, we suggest periodizing dropsets in a weekly undulating manner. Weekly Undulating Periodization involves changes in a training variable on a weekly basis.

Week 1 – 8 total dropsets

Week 2 – 4 total dropsets

Week 3 – 10 total dropsets

Week 4 – 4 total dropsets

The model above includes an alteration of training volume which creates a different magnitude of training stimulus during each week of a 4-week training program. The higher volume microcycles in week 1 and week 3 create a larger overload stimulus, while the lower volume periods in weeks 2 and 4 create a lower volume, maintenance based stimulus.

Additionally, we do not recommend utilizing dropsets on movements that require significant stability of the spinal column. One must also note that Dropsets performed on major compound movements will be more taxing than dropsets performed on isolation movements. This fact warrants more frequent usage of this technique on isolation movements such as a bicep curl, and more cautious usage of this technique on compound lifts such as the chest press.

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