In Part I of this series I discussed the Pre-Exhaust Method, whose purpose is to activate the muscle fibers in a desired muscle group prior to beginning a workout, which ensures that this muscle group will fatigue first during the compound movements for that day. Pre-Exhausting is a good way to add extra volume to your training as well as achieve a pump at the beginning of a workout and shock a stubborn muscle group. In Part II, I will be talking about Back Down sets and Drop Sets, which are both ways to add extra volume into your workouts.
Back Down sets and Drop Sets serve a similar purpose in training in that they both involve dropping down to a lighter weight after heavier training as a mode to add additional volume to workouts. Back down sets and drop sets are something that a lot of us do/did when first learning to lift weights, most likely by accident but kept going with it because they work whether we knew what we were doing or not!
-Back Down Sets
The purpose of the Back Down set is to add additional volume at the end of a main movement or competition lift, if you compete in powerlifting. Back down sets provide an opportunity to practice quality technique under a submaximal weight in addition to added training volume, so I feel that they serve their purpose especially well when used on exercises where technical work is needed. When implemented properly, you can expect to see improvements in both muscle gains and muscle strength resulting from the additional volume that back down sets afford us.
The purpose of a Drop Set (also known as strip sets) is to allow us to add volume and extend the set after the point of muscle or technical failure by “dropping” to lighter weights and completing more reps, which results in the ability to pump as much blood into the muscle as possible, which is exactly what we want if we are looking to gain muscle. Drop sets also lend a hand in enhanced muscle endurance since often upwards of 15+ reps at a time will be performed in each drop set.
-Back Down Sets
Back down sets work perfect for people who follow a training approach that utilizes Max Effort Work, such as the conjugate system or a Bulgarian Split (Daily 1 RM) as a supplement to your top set in to add additional volume at lighter weights when needed, beyond your daily 1-3RM, although back down sets work well with other programs as well and can be implemented as we feel necessary. Back down sets are great during any stage of training but I have found the best use for them during training blocks where I am utilizing max effort training such as my strength blocks or when training for a meet. I use the back down sets as a way to get additional volume and technique work while maintaining my conditioning beyond 1-3RM training.
As far as actually implementation goes, dropping the weight down by about 20% of your maximum load for the day for 2-3 additional sets is a good recommendation based on much of the reading that I have done, although I have seldom select my back down weights this way. Personally, I choose my weights based on what I feel I can do for 5 reps, 8 reps etc for 2-3 sets depending on the prescription for the day.
Example Routines: Here are some example back down set routines that I have used in my training!
- High Bar Squat: 8,6,4,2, 2×10 Back Down Sets
- Box Squat Against Bands: Work Up to a Max Effort Triple, 3×5 Back Down Sets
- Competition Squat: 3×3, 1×1, 2×5-6 Back Down Sets
- Competition Bench: 8,8,6,4, 2×10 Back Down Sets
- Competition Bench 12,10,8,6,4, Use Close Grip for 3×10 Back Down Sets
- Floor Press: Work Up to Submaximal Single, 3×5 Back Down Sets
- Conventional Deadlift: 6,4,4,2, 2×8 Back Down Sets
- Sumo Deadlift: 4×3, 2×5 Back Down Sets
- Pin Pulls With Chains: Work Up to Max Triple, 3×5 Back Down Sets W/O Chains
Drop Sets work well for just about anyone in my opinion. From powerlifters and bodybuilders, to general fitness seekers drop sets are a nice addition to a training program. I personally have gotten the most benefit out of drop sets during hypertrophy phases when I am looking to add an overload of volume to totally tax my muscle fibers after failure, and during my overload phase when peaking for a meet for the additional volume.
In terms of implementation, performing 2-4 dropsets, dropping the weight by about 5-10 lbs each drop, after working sets on just about any accessory movement is a good rule of thumb. I would not recommend performing these on your main compound movements due to risk of injury (especially deadlifts). I also would not over do it on these, use them for a few weeks at a time and cycle them out to let your muscles recover.
Example Routines: Here are some example drop set routines that I have followed:
DB Incline Press: 4×12 Work Sets, 2×20 Dropsets
DB Flat Press: 3×10 Work Sets, 3×15 Dropsets
Cable Flies: 4×10 Work Sets, 3×15-20 Dropsets, repeat x2
Weighted Dips: 4×8-10 Work Sets, 3×12 Dropsets
Lat Pulldown: 4×12 Work Sets, 2×20 Dropsets
Seated Row: 3×10 Work Sets, 4×15-20 Dropsets,
DB Incline Rows: 3×12 Work Sets, 3×15-20 Dropsets Repeat x2
DB Arnold Press: 4×12 Work Sets, 3×12-15 Dropsets Repeat x2
Lateral Raise/Front Raise: 3×10 Work Sets, 3×20 Dropsets
Shrugs: 4×8 Work Sets, 3×20-25 Dropsets
EZ Bar Curl: 4×10 Work Sets, 2×20 Dropsets
Overhead Triceps Extensions DB: 3×12 Work Sets, 2×15-20 Dropsets Repeat x2
Cable Curl/Rope Triceps Ext: 3×10 Work Sets, 3×25 Dropsets
Leg Ext/Leg Ext: 3×12 Work Sets, 2×25 Dropsets Repeat x2
Split Squats: 3×10 Weighted Each Leg Work Sets, 2×20 No Weight Dropsets Repeat x2 Each Leg
Leg Press: 4×10, 3×12 Dropsets Repeat x3