Maxes and Drop Sets

Maxes and Drop sets

More often than not, when you come into Limestone and see the strength piece, you will see “work to a heavy 1, 2, 3, etc.” followed by drop sets or a WOD that has the same or similar movement involved. We often see this instead of the classic “sets x reps” (i.e. 5×5)

There are many synonyms for this training technique which you may or may not have heard: down the rack, railroading, suicide sets, drop sets, etc.

Beginners can thrive on simple, progressive programs that allow them to lift fairly heavy and accumulate a fair amount of volume. This is why programs centered around five sets of five are so popular for individuals who are just getting started. Fives represent the happy medium between lower reps, which primarily impact the nervous system, and higher reps, which mainly affect the muscular system. On the sliding scale of reps per set and training effects, sets of five are assumed to be the hypothetical point where neurological and morphological effects meet. (5 x 5 for example)

Nevertheless, while sets of five are okay for both objectives, they aren’t necessarily great for either. As trainees gain some size and some strength, and progress to the intermediate stages of lifting, they often need to use slightly more specialized methods in order to continue to make progress. Heavy triples, doubles, and singles in a max-effort method framework prove to be highly effective for lifters to gain strength at this point in their development, as they have built a base of new strength that they can exploit with these neurologically focused methods. However, despite the need for increasingly potent methods, these trainees must continue to accumulate a fair amount of volume in order to get stronger and fulfill their lifting potential. Neurological improvements are short-lived, and in practice, maximal strength tends to stall when the muscle development remains constant for extended periods. Thus, some sort of higher volume training is necessary for strength improvements, but it must be properly integrated into the larger framework of a high-intensity strength training program.

Even in the earliest scientific literature on trying to determine the best loading parameters for strength development, drop sets were found to be superior to standard sets for increasing maximal strength. You first exhaust the higher threshold fibers, by hitting your heavy set, and as you lower the weight you prolong the time under tension of the worked muscle groups.

The advantage of this method, is that even though you may want to go as fast as possible in the concentric contraction, the high tension will not permit to use high velocities to overcome the load. Therefore, the time under tension will be greater, and your body will still believe you are lifting a maximal load.

In a straight set (eg. 3×5 ) you do not hit all muscle fibers, only the number of fiber required to lift a specific weight for a specific number of reps. By adding a drop set, and stripping off 10% to 30% of the weight and continuing the set, you begin to recruit reserve fibers. In doing so, you are hitting stubborn muscle fibers. The primary focus of drop setting, therefore, is to shock the muscle by adding stress to a standard set. This added stress induces hypertrophy, and/or strength gains within the muscle amplifying muscle recruitment and stress.