When you first start off in the iron game how you workout is pretty straightforward. You throw some weight on the bar, lift, and repeat. After awhile you throw more weight on the bar, and repeat the process over again.
Your first couple of years this process seemingly never ends. You continually make gains, you’re continually getting stronger, and it’s all happening by just slowly adding more weight.
And while that holds true to one of the most basic principles of lifting, progressive overload, at some point just adding more weight doesn’t necessarily work.
The body is a pretty smart organism, and it adapts quickly to the stimulus you’re presenting. After a couple of years of serious training you’re not going to keep adding more muscle, unfortunately.
And this is when you have to start adding advanced lifting techniques into your bag. One of my favorites? Mechanical advantage drop sets.
But first, what is a drop set?
A drop set is one of the more simple techniques that advanced lifters add into their program. All you’ve got to do is pick an exercise with a given weight, perform your number of reps, immediately drop the weight (usually by about ½), and then keep performing the exercise.
It’s extremely simple, but it’s seriously brutal. 20lb dumbbells have never felt heavier. The burn, and subsequent pump you get is absolutely unreal.
Mechanical advantage drop sets take the classic drop set and throw in a twist.
In a normal drop set you’re cutting the weight after performing a set in order to do more reps. In a mechanical advantage drop set you’re keeping the same weight, but changing the actual lift, while hitting the same muscle group.
Sound confusing? At first it can be, but the implementation is relatively simple.
All you really need to do to change the lift is vary your hand positioning. You can widen or shorten your grip to change the emphasis, or you can go from neutral grip to overhand, underhand, or any combination above.
The beauty of them though is that while the weight stays the same by changing your hand positioning you begin stimulating muscle fibers that weren’t traditionally being hit during the initial movement. Leading to more muscle fiber breakdown, and more growth overall.
A quick caveat: most people screw up mechanical advantage drop sets by not paying attention to where they’re strongest and weakest with certain movements. You want to set yourself up for success by starting where you’re weakest, and then transitioning to where you’re strongest.
Here are a few examples of exercises that work well for mechanical advantage drop sets:
- Pull-ups – varying the width or hand positioning of your grip
- Barbell bench press – Varying the width of your grip
- Nearly any hammer strength machine
Using dumbbells is a little bit trickier with drop sets. It can absolutely be done, but you just need to pay extra attention to the weight that you’re using, as well as your hand positioning, because as you fatigue, your risk of injury does go up. And there’s nothing worse than dropping a dumbbell on your face.
Give mechanical advantage drop sets a try during your next program. They work exceptionally well during a bulking period. I think you’ll be happy with the results.