Myth: Drop sets are perfect for building strength because of the stress it places on your muscles.
Reality: No, burnout sets or drop sets are not going to increase your max bench, but they can help your muscles get bigger.
Before you lose your mind over the title of this article, please read it again.
Why drop sets aren’t effective for strength training, not in general. That’s right. Many fitness buffs fall into the very human trap of going through the motions of an exercise or workout routine without keeping their true goals in mind. If you’re doing drop sets at the end of every workout because you think “burning out” your muscles will make you stronger, you’ve got a lot to learn.
That’s cool, though, because class is in session as of right now.
The good news for all you drop-set-dedicated perma-bulkers out there is that they are great (in some informed opinions, maybe even the best) at helping to spur on hypertrophy, or muscle size growth.
In order to understand why this is, let’s take a look at training for hypertrophy versus training for strength gains.
Strength does not always equal size. Sometimes it does, in the case of athletes in peak physical condition, but when it comes time for the average Joe to hit the gym, the best plan of action is to pick one of these two goals and stick with it until he sees some results.
Training to build strength (a heavier 1-rep max bench press or squat, for example) requires your body to be put under the stress of increasing the force it exerts against a resistant object, which, in this case, is the barbell. This improves the neurological connections necessary to lift heavier and get stronger. Essentially, your brain and body are working together to make these lifts happen. You do not need to work to fatigue in order to build strength, which is why most heavy lifters perform only a few reps at high weight. If your goal is strength and you tack a drop set onto the end of that workout… well, now you’re training for hypertrophy and not your intended strength gains.
Building muscle mass (hypertrophy) requires rep schemes closer to the 8-12 range. This type of training is more metabolic in nature than high weight, low-rep training, and it generally produces size gains.
In every endeavor, the most important part of your plan is understanding your goals.
“I want to be fit and look good!” ← What does “fit” mean to you? Are you “fit” because of a task you can perform? Do you want to be able to do 50 unbroken strict pull-ups, or is your goal rooted in aesthetics? Sometimes, saying you want to “look good” is also too broad of a goal. Do you want lower fat mass? Larger muscles? What exactly do you want? USE YOUR WORDS.
Failing to define what you want to get out of your workout is one of the biggest reasons people do not get the results they’re looking for. So, where do drop sets come into play here? When every gym bro adds them to the end of their workout because they think that “burnout” is going to make them stronger.
In that instance, they are using a great tool for the wrong purpose, rendering it completely pointless. Now, if the goal is to get strong and build large muscles (read: bulk up) then they will see at least 50% of their goals met. Otherwise, that gym bro has simply drunk the Kool Aid so readily offered up by the gym-going community as a whole that says working until failure is always the best course of action.
Guys, more is not always better; burning muscles does not always mean gains. If strength is your goal, you may have to change your philosophy, or at least adapt to a new training method.