The Drop Sets This Trainer Uses To Build Upper-Body Muscle In Less Time

Man performs triceps dips in gym
(Image credit: Getty Images)

If you lift weights regularly you’ll know progressive overload is a tried-and-tested way to build muscle. But if the gains have stopped coming, you may be looking for something to kick-start your training. A deload week could be the answer, or you could try using drop sets.

Drop sets involve performing a set or sets of an exercise as usual, then lowering the weight and performing another set, working to failure. “This technique induces muscular failure, stimulating optimal growth without relying on heavy weights,” says personal trainer Sam Cotton, who posted an upper-body drop set workout on his Instagram page.

It’s an advanced technique and best suited for people with plenty of hypertrophy training experience, because the technique intentionally places a lot of stress on your central nervous system. If you’re new to strength training, this beginner’s upper-body workout is a better place to start, followed by this upper-body workout.

Take a look at Cotton’s Instagram post where he demonstrates each exercise. If you’re not sure how to do any of the exercises, or need more pointers, check out Coach’s exercise guides for the dumbbell bench press, bent-over row, dips, lat pull-down, cable flye and lateral raise.

Cotton has programmed a light warm-up set, two sets at a moderate to heavy weight, and finally, a drop set using a lighter weight. “After completing the final working set, drop the weight by approximately 25% or more,” says Cotton.

“With that lower weight, aim for as many reps as possible,” he says. “This encourages muscles to work to their maximum potential, breaking down for subsequent regeneration as larger and stronger tissue.”

Just remember that even when working to failure, don’t cheat your form just to add another rep to your tally. Stick to proper form and a full range of motion, otherwise you won't experience the benefits of the exercises you’re doing.

Alice Porter

Alice Porter is a journalist who covers health, fitness and wellbeing, among other topics, for titles including Stylist, Fit & Well, Glamour, Cosmopolitan, Grazia, VICE and Refinery29. When she’s not writing about these topics, you can probably find her at her local CrossFit box.