How to Use Drop Sets and Rest-Pause to Get Stronger

The research has proven over and over that one of the very best things you can do for your overall health is strength training.

Strength training is proven to…

  • Reduce your risk of heart disease
  • Improve mood and mental states
  • Reduce injuries, aches and pains
  • Improve blood lipid profiles
  • Reduce body fat
  • Boost metabolic rate

Proper strength training transforms your body by improving body composition, optimizing hormones, and boosting metabolic rate.

If you have never felt truly strong, I encourage you to follow one of my programs, and commit to a dedicated strength training practice for at least three months.

If you need some guidance, you can download my free 6 Week Interim Workout Plan.

And if you want more detailed, higher level programming (and incredible support and accountability), please check out The Comeback. 

If you have been strength training for a while and are stuck on some exercises, today’s review is for you.

The rule of thumb for improving your strength is progressive overload. This means that you follow one specific program for 4-6 weeks (no program hopping here, please), completing the same exercises week after week.

Every 1-2 weeks you should be able to “force” your body to use heavier weight loads for the majority of exercises in your program.

You’ll find that most of the time you can increase weight loads somewhat easily if you are truly challenging yourself, and choosing to use 5-10 pounds increments anytime an exercise feels easy.

NOTE: You’ll know it’s time to increase your weight loads when the last two reps of a set are high quality and feel doable. If you find yourself wondering if you could have gone heavier, you probably could.

Nearly every client I have worked with has 2-3 exercises that seem to never get easier. Despite trying to lift heavier, you just aren’t able to.

This is the time to consider Drop Sets and/or Rest-Pauses.

How to Perform a Drop Set

Let’s use the example of a bicep curl exercise and pretend the following…

  1. Your program tells you to complete 3 sets of 12 reps.
  2. On Tuesday, you complete all three sets of 12 reps with 10 pound dumbbells and that last two reps looked pretty good. You wonder if you could have done a higher weight.
  3. On Saturday your program tells you to do the exercise again. In an effort to try out a higher weight load (good little student) you pick up the 12 pounds dumbbells and start your first set.
  4. As you get half way through your first set of 12 reps, you find that you are losing technique and getting sloppy. This is a sign that the weight load is too high.

You are stuck between weight loads. 10 pounds is too light, and 12 pounds is too heavy. What’s a girl to do?

This is where you consider using a Drop Set. Since you just determined that 12 pounds for 12 reps is too challenging for you right now, you change your approach for the second set and do the following…

  1. Begin your second set with the 12 pound dumbbells and complete only as many reps as you can, where the last two reps are sloppy. Let’s say that number is 5 reps.
  2. You stop the set, put down the 12 pound dumbbells and quickly pick up the 10 pound dumbbells.
  3. Continue the current set until you reach 12 reps. This means that this set has 5 reps at 12 pounds, and 7 reps at 10 pounds.
  4. Tah dahhhh, you just completed your first Drop Set!

How to Perform a Rest-Pause

This is an alternate technique that serves the same purpose as the Drop Set above.

Let’s assume the same scenario as above…

  1. Your program tells you to complete 3 sets of 12 reps.
  2. On Tuesday, you complete all three sets of 12 reps with 10 pound dumbbells and that last two reps looked pretty good. You wonder if you could have done a higher weight.
  3. On Saturday your program tells you to do the exercise again. In an effort to try out a higher weight load (good little student) you pick up the 12 pounds dumbbells and start your first set.
  4. As you get half way through your first set of 12 reps, you find that you are losing technique and getting sloppy. This is a sign that the weight load is too high.

This is where you consider using a Rest-Pause.

  1. Since you just determined in your first set that 12 pounds is too challenging for your body at this time, you approach your second set differently.
  2. Begin your second set with the same weight load – 12 pound dumbbells.
  3. Complete only as many reps as you can, where the last two reps are sloppy. Let’s say that number is 5 reps.
  4. Stop the set, put the dumbbells down and rest (literally, do nothing) for 10 seconds or so.
  5. Pick up the same 12 pound dumbbells and complete the set of 12 reps!
  6. And that’s how you perform a Rest-Pause.

Alright, now it’s your turn. Try out one of these two techniques during your next strength workout and then share your thoughts (or questions) below in the Comments!

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2 replies
  1. Kathy Connors
    Kathy Connors says:

    Yes very familiar. It’s very hard to move up in weight. So thank you. I will try these tips. Have heard of them and have done both at time. I pick up 25 dumbbells to chest press when usual use 20’s. And I can do it most of time and do 8 reps 2 sets/ 10 reps 2 sets. One gym has 17 .5 dumbbells. Those got me to 20’s now for hammer curls. I use 20’s for concentration curls but throw in some 25’s. I can barely lift them so I support the lifting arm with other hand to get the curl then squeeze and lower it down. I love it. Little by little. More weight.

    Reply

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