One of my favorite techniques when trying to add lean muscle tissue is called a “drop set”. The drop set allows you the benefits of lifting both heavy and light all in the same set. This allows for lots of time under tension, metabolic stress and heavy mechanical stress. These three things combined with enough food make the perfect environment for building muscle. Here’s how it works:
- Start with a weight that you can lift for 6-8 reps. Perform 5 reps with it.
- Immediately drop the weight by about 30% and perform another 3-5 reps.
- If you are really sadistic… er… I mean adventurous drop the weight another 30% and finish with another 3-5 reps.
This allows you to get some time under a heavy load with the first set to address the strength side of things. As the extended set continues the time your muscles have to deal with weight and the lactic acid begins to build. As a result you’ll get a nice pump as well as taking care of building some strength. Now a technique like this is best used with exercises that allow a quick change of weight or load. A dumbbell exercise like a shoulder press that you can easily drop and grab the next pair down would work. However, a barbell back squat might not be a great choice for drop sets simply because you would have to remove plates from both sides before you could get back under the bar. The key is to be able to reduce weight and go again pretty quickly.
The other benefit to this technique is that the cardio hit can be pretty considerable if you choose the right exercise. Imagine doing a dumbbell clean and press and running from a pair of 60’s for 5 reps (if 5 reps is hard for you) to 50’s for another 5 reps and finishing with a pair of 45’s for another 5 reps. Your heart is going to be pounding pretty hard. You’ll also burn a ton of calories in the process.
Just keep in mind that a tool like this can add difficulty to your workout and as a result can help you make significant gains. That said, any tool that’s powerful enough to change your body is also powerful enough to over work you so be judicious in your use of a technique like this.