Drop Sets in Weight Training

Decreasing Weight While Performing to Failure

lifting barbell
Getty/OJO Images/Martin Barraud

Drop sets are weight training sets in which the weight is decreased in each subsequent set when performing a group of sets.

A set is a group of repetitions of a single exercise. A repetition is a single completed execution of an exercise; for example, with a bicep curl, one repetition would be the action of raising and then lower the dumbbell once.

The first set should be with a weight that induces "failure" at the final repetition. Failure in weight training means performing an exercise repeatedly until you experience discomfort or muscle weakness so you can't perform the last repetition while still maintaining correct form and technique.

In drop sets, you can vary the format by:

  • Decreasing the weight and increasing the number of repetitions in the subsequent set
  • Decreasing the weight and keeping the number of repetitions the same
  • Varying rest time between sets (or having none at all)
  • Reducing the weight a little or a lot.

You can check out more weight training fundamentals in the weight training guide.

Our workout program calls for three drop sets starting at six repetitions to failure, reducing weight by 15% for each subsequent set and progressing to failure, with no rest between sets.

Why Train to Failure?

Some trainers believe that training to failure leads to more muscle growth. For more advanced weight trainers who have reached a plateau in the progress, using this technique can help them break through that plateau. It informs the "no pain, no gain" maxim with the belief that the discomfort of the failure point is a signal that the muscle is sufficiently stressed in order to achieve an increase in muscle size and strength.

Reverse Pyramid Sets

Drop sets are sometimes called reverse pyramid sets because you start with a heavyweight and progressively reduce it: Big at the top and narrow at the bottom, like an upside down pyramid. 

By Paul Rogers
Paul Rogers is a personal trainer with experience in a wide range of sports, including track, triathlon, marathon, hockey, tennis, and baseball.