Drop Sets and other Advanced Training Techniques are widely used in the gym to increase and potentiate muscle building. Drop sets, rest pause, myo reps,... many variations with a common goal, boost muscle hypertrophy.
In this post you'll get an overview of what advanced training techniques are and why do they work. Later, we'll talk about drop sets and the main advanced training techniques used in the gym.
Advanced Training Techniques are performed to increase mechanical tension (read more about it HERE), and as a result of this, to increase metabolic stress (read more about it HERE). The response to these techniques trigger the activation of mecanosensors to regulate signaling that result in future muscle adaptations (study).
We have a long list of advanced training techniques. However, the science behind is always the same. Increase mechanical tension, metabolic stress and create muscle adaptations. This is done by increasing mechanical load, volume load and intensity, all provided by advanced training techniques.
Why Do They Work?
Advanced Training Techniques are effective at building muscle. However, the mechanism behind are still quite unknown. It increases metabolic stress, highly related to muscle hypertrophy (study). The metabolite accumulation and acidic conditions create will act as cellular signalling to trigger further muscle adaptations.
These methods work by taking your trainings beyond conventional intensity. The best recommendations for normal sets is to take them close to failure (study). If after the normal set you keep doing reps, intensity will keep building up. In addition to that, volume load is also increased, which plays a big role on muscle building as well (study)
When to Use Advanced Training Techniques
Advanced Training Techniques are not essential on our trainings. In fact, we can simply build muscle without doing any Advanced Training Technique. But they are another tool of our 'toolbox' to use under specific conditions that require them.
They are not recommended for everyone. The high technical requirements and increased muscle damage make them suitable only for certain subjects. To get this more clear, here we have a list of the scenarios in where you could use them safely:
Advanced Training Subjects
If you have gone to the gym for years, you'll notice how hard is to keep improving and create muscle adaptations. In these cases, advanced training techniques could be useful. Adding a new intense component on your workouts you'll be able to mantain the normal volume load for a bit longer while still creating adaptations.
At the end of the session
Advanced Training Techniques cause large amounts of fatigue. During our workout, muscle fatigue deteriorates performance and leads to lower muscle fibre activation (study). If you take these techniques at the end of the workout, it won't affect performance simply because you have nothing left to do.
During your warm-up
It seems counterproductive to do advanced techniques at the beginning of the session. But, in certain scenarios, they can fit in our workout. Let's say you have to do bench press as first exercise. To activate your chest before the effective sets, you might like to do a drop set to fully activate it and feel it more when bench pressing.
Late on the Mesocycle
Mesocycle is defined as a period of time in where training parameters progressively increase to build muscle adaptations. Within these parameters we mainly have volume load and intensity. When both of them are reaching a plateau, you might want to add advanced training techniques to keep progressing without adding any extra volume or intensity.
Drop Sets and the Main Advanced Training Techniques
There are thousands of different advanced training techniques around. However, not all of them work as good and efficient as some others. Here, in TBS, we believe in science-based content. Therefore, our selection for today will be both based in own experience and this meta-analysis investigating the effect of advanced training techniques on muscle hypertrophy (read HERE).
Taken from the meta-analysis, the advanced training techniques showing the highest evidence and efficiency are drop sets, BFRT (read about it HERE), eccentric loading and cluster sets.
Drop sets are one of the most widely used advanced training techniques. It allows you to take the set beyond conventional intensity and add extra volume load. However, due to the very high intensity degree, technique is usually forgotten. This can increase the risk of injury in those who don't master the technique.
How to do it?
- Take your set close to failure, leaving 1-3 reps.
- Wait 15-20s, drop the weight by 20-30% and perform another set to failure
- Drop again and do the same. Do it as many time as you want.
Two to three drops are, based on my experience, the most practical application. It doesn't cause a sh*t ton of muscle damage and you can still feel the burning in your muscle. Set a range of reps and lower the weight in order to get to that range.
Accentuated Eccentric Loading
The eccentric phase of an exercise induces large physiological and muscle adaptations, including increased muscle hypertrophy (study).
You can lift more and support a higher load during the eccentric phase when compared to the eccentric phase. During this advanced technique, the weight used only allows you to perform the eccentric phase. For the eccentric phase, you'll need of another person to assist you partially or completely.
This technique has been shown to increase muscle hypertrophy. But so muscle damage does. If performed in excess, muscle damage can deteriorate recovery and further adaptations.
How to do it?
- Choose a weight 10-30% higher than that chosen for normal sets
- Perform a set of 3-10 reps with a controlled eccentric phase of 2-3"
- Get a gym mate to assist you during the conccentric phase
Don't do this technique until you really have mastered the technique of the exercise. And, based on experience, this technique works best at the beginning of the session. No fatigue is present yet, and we are fresh to perform at our best.
This advanced technique is similar to the Drop Sets, but here we are not dropping any weight. In fact, what we are doing here is mantaing the weight but progressively decreasing the repetitions.
Rest Pause Set increases muscle hypertrophy by adding extra volume load in a very short period of time. In this paper, a 6-week protocol including rest-pause led to higher muscle gains (study)
How to do it?
- Choose a weight to perform 12-15 reps leaving 1-3 reps to failure (RIR 1-3)
- Rest 15-20" and do another set of 8 with the same weight
- Rest 15-20" an do it again with 6 reps
At the end of the set, the cadency should look something like : 12-8-6-4-2-1
Don't take the "normal set" to failure. This will affect performance on the rests-pause sets following and you won't be able to perform the reps proposed. Choose a weight with which you are comfortable doing 12-15 reps.
During this technique, we are aiming for a high number of repetitions, but performed in micropaused-sets (E.g: doing 25 reps by doing 12-6-2-3-2). Compare with rest-pause sets, this technique takes a higher intensity degree performing all sets to failure. It's a great tool to take your sets way beyond conventional intensity.
How to do it?
- Set a number of reps (+25) and a 12-15RM weight. Start the first set to failure.
- Do a micropause of 10-15" and go to failure again, doing as many reps as you can.
- Do it again as many as times as you need to get to those objective reps.
As you can see, intensity and muscle fatigue here is going to be high. If you don't want to compromise your workout, perform this technique at the end of the session. Some exercise, because of a difficult set up, don't enable you to do this type of techniques. Choose an easy, low load exercise.
This technique is great in terms of time efficiency. It joind two exercises together performing them alternarly. They can be antagonist (e.g: lat pulldowns and chest press) or agonisst (e.g: lat pulldowns and cable crossover). Both are based on the same principle: take the resting time of exercise A to perform exercise B.
In this study, it was seen how supersets could increase muscle hypertrophy in unit per time, but longer muscle recovery might be needed (study)
How to do it?
- Do a normal set of exercise A. Don't take it to failure
- Go to exercise B and do the same. Resting time will be that of going from A to B.
- After both exercises, take a normal resting of 1-2' after doing it again.
This technique is great to save you some time at the gym. But it takes a lot of space, and your gym might be too crowded for that. To avoid that, choose exercise preferrably with dumbells or the same machine (e.g: both in the smith machine).
Other Advanced Training Techniques
Besides the main and most popular advanced training techniques, there's a long list of other techniques you can use to increase the intensity of your trainings and enhance muscle hypertrophy.
During this Advanced Training Technique, you'll be doing repetitions at three different key areas of the movement. Doing 7 repetitions on all three areas, you'll end up with a set of 21 repetitions in total.
By focusing an the three different areas of the lifting, you'll be working equally the different parts of the muscle.
This advanced training technique works specially well for exercise with accentuated areas such as bicep curls, bench press, triceps pushdown,...
This advanced training technique is done taking the set beyond muscle fialure. Once you are done doing the total sets, take a micropause of 10-15 seconds and keep going, as if it were a rest pause. When you see you can't do a single more full repetition, keep doing repetitions at partial range of motion.
The key idea of this advanced training technique is the fact that muscles also exert force when doing partial range of motion. Doing those half repetitions, you are adding more volume load and intensity to your training.
This advanced training techniqued is recommended for exercises with an easy and comfortable set up. This include seated harmstring curls, leg extension, seated chest press,...
Pre-Exhaustion works by creating fatigue on the muscle to work before the real training session begins. It shows to increase muscle fibre activation on the working muscle.
Because the muscle is already fatigued, you are making sure the limiting factor on the actual exercise is the muscle of interest. It also improves the muscle-mind connection. You can feel the muscle working out to a higher extent.
Do the pre-exhaustion for compound exercises involving more than one muscle group at the same time. By doing it there, the true limiting factor will be the muscle of interest. This include overhead press, bench press, squat,...
Besides the concentric and eccentric phase, we can also induce muscle hypertrophy doing isometric exercises (study). By adding an isometric load after your normal set, you'll be adding more volume and intensity to your session. And that translates to more muscle gains.
But be careful. This advanced training technique causes a lot of muscle damage. And you want to stay alive for the next workout
Perform this advanced training technique at the last exercise of the session. It's a nice way of finishing the workout, and the fatigue created won't harm any other exercise of the routine.
Aspects to Consider
When deciding to do an advanced training technique or not, you should take some things into account. First of all, you might not need it. If you can add more volume load or intensity before, these options are more recommended. You'll still build muscle mass to the same (or more) extent without adding the extra component of doing an advanced training technique.
Second, time. Some people might not have too much time to workout, therefore advanced training techniques are a great tool to induce muscle hypertrophy and compact their trainings. But if you do have the time, we highly recommend you adding that extra set before mantaining volume but with an advanced technique.
Third, technique. The advanced training technique is useless if your technique is not appropiate. The stimulus won't go to where you go and you'll just be building up more muscle fatigue. So, before any advanced technique, make sure you know how to do the exercise properly.
Last, muscle recovery. If muscle damage is too high due to advanced training technique and excess of volume load, you might want to reduce that volume. Muscle recovery is crucial for performance (study), and too much muscle damage may eventually lead to overtraining.
Need, time, technique and muscle recovery. Evaluate all four and decide if that advanced training technique is for you
Drop sets and other advanced techniques are a great tool to maximize muscle hypertrophy. However, one should know when and how to use them wisely. They work by adding extra volume load and intensity, two king factors for muscle adaptations.
In this post you have learned what the main advanced techniques are and how you can perform them and apply them in your routine. In future posts we'll talk about different techniques depeding on the focus of your routine.