The Mash Elite coaches love to program drop sets for our athletes. We use them to give more volume to our programs without beating our athletes up. We typically program a Rep Max (RM) at a certain numbered Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) and then we follow them up with a few drop sets at 10-20% less than the intensity of the RM.
High Bar Back Squat 5RM, then -10% x 5
This is done in order for the athlete to finish the exercise with some solid technique and speed work. By dropping 10-20%, it allows the lift to be fast and snappy. If the RM was a grind, 10% will feel much smoother and 20% will feel great! Yet it is still a percentage that will allow the athlete to sharpen their skills.
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If you have ever been on a 3×5 or even 5×5 linear progression program for longer than 6 weeks, you feel like the 3 or 5 sets are all max sets. When you finish the first set, you may feel like gravity is heavy that day! Instead of doing drop sets, you continue at the same weight for another few sets. To do this requires much more rest between sets. Instead of resting 2 minutes, you may have to rest 5-6 minutes before getting under the bar again to ensure that you are recovered enough to hit that same weight again.
While linear progression does work, it is not the most sustainable approach. Especially if you have a decent amount of stress outside of the gym. You really have to have control of ALL your stressors for you to progress. This approach is also not best for longevity in the sport. It can set you up for a series of injuries later on down the road.
If you are a novice (less than a year in the sport), then you should be able to make progress with this linear approach without injuries. But once you get past that phase, things change! Your training needs to change to match that.
We like to program one hard set and several drop sets. This ensures that you are in your best condition and able to hit the heavy set. It will allow you to use heavier weight each session and will not be as hard to recover from. Then we reinforce the technique with lighter weight drop sets.
If you are concerned about not getting in as much total poundage in your sets you can add more drop sets to increase the volume. For squats and presses, dropping 10% normally works if your goal is to train in the same rep range. Ex. 5RM, then drop 10% for 2×5. For deadlifts, if you are going to stay in the same rep range I would drop 15% to ensure that your technique is on point and the speed it there. Ex. 3RM, drop 15% for 2×3 If you are doing heavy singles, we often will write 1RM, drop 20% for 2×3.
Drop sets are a great way to improve an athlete’s confidence levels. You want them to finish training the movement with a “make”. One of my old basketball coaches always made us finish our practice with a made basketball shot. We were not allowed to go to the locker room until we made our last shot. That strategy of always finishing everything you do in life with a make has stuck with me since. It doesn’t have to be a half-court shot, a lay-up will do. The same goes for weightlifting. A 40kg snatch with crisp technique is more powerful at the end of the session than an 80kg snatch that is all over the place and feels bad.
Finish on a “make” with more drop sets in your program!