Mechanical Drop Sets - Break Into New Strength And Size Territory

We all know what drop sets are, but do you know what a mechanical drop set is? Find out how to use this technique to build both muscle and strength.

Maik Weidenbach

Everybody on this site has heard of drop sets, I assume. If not, better break out that copy the "Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding" by a certain Arnold Schwarzenegger.

You start with 100%, perform as many reps as possible and then lower the weight by 30%, bang out another couple reps. The very brave ones amongst us might even go for a double-drop in order to squeeze those last reserves out of the target muscle.

So what are the shortcomings of that technique and how do mechanical drop sets differ? First off, there is nothing wrong with regular drop sets, the concept has been used for decades and it works. However, I do think that it can made better, therefore I want introduce the mechanical drop set. Instead of dropping weight, we lower the mechanical demands on the body by recruiting more auxiliary muscles as the set progresses.

What does this mean? Let me elaborate with the help of a practical example. A mechanical drop set for the chest would start out with regular dumbbell flyes, elbows kept at minimal bend. After 10 reps you switch to a push-fly where the elbows are bend almost 90 degrees. Once that is done you turn the palms forward and add 10 regular bench presses.

This gives you a total of 30 reps. The first 10 were done in an isolation movement, the next 10 got some help from the triceps, for the last 10 we brought the deltoids in for assistance. Therefore the target muscle is constantly being challenged via different grips and angles, which makes for a higher neural output.

Mechanical Drop Set Examples​

Back Mechanical Drop Sets

  1. Stiff arm pull downs (here only the lats work).
  2. Wide grip lat pull down to the chest, overhanded (some brachioradialis involvement).
  3. Narrow grip lat pull down, underhanded  biceps to the rescue).

If you want to go really old school, do three variations of the pull ups. Wide grip first, then underhanded medium wide and finish with some parallel grip pull ups. Again, the degree of difficulty lessens as the target muscle fatigues.

Chest Mechanical Drop Sets

The chest can be trained as described above. You can perform the set with dumbbells or at the cable crossover station.

  1. Flyes with minimal elbow bend.
  2. Flyes with elbow bend at 90%, going for a deep stretch.
  3. Bench presses.

Leg Mechanical Drop Sets

As for legs, this is the one muscle group where I advise 45 seconds of rest, but if you can do it without, more power to you. I prefer doing a tri-set of 10 squats, again with a descending degree of difficulties.

During the first set, I use 10 lbs plates under my heels, so I have to force myself to stand upright and use mainly quads. This is followed by a set of narrow stance squats, feet about shoulder wide apart. The last set is a wide, almost power lifting stance, this will maximize glute and hamstring involvement.

Beware: it might be a good idea to do this with dumbbells, since you might get lightheaded and experience nausea. This is how it would look like:

  1. 10 squats, heels elevated.
  2. 10 squats with a shoulder wide stance.
  3. 10 squats with a wide stance.

Bicep Curls

Shoulder Mechanical Drop Sets

When training shoulders, one way to do it would be to start with heavy partial sides, where you raise the arms about 40%, switching then to Arnold presses and finishing with regular shoulder presses.

  1. Partial side raises.
  2. Arnold presses.
  3. Regular shoulder presses.

Bicep Mechanical Drop Sets

Everyone's favorite muscle, the biceps is rather straight forward. First set I use incline curls, maximal isolation, no chance to cheat. Second set would be regular standing curls. Lastly hammer curls in order to activate the forearm as an auxiliary muscle.

  1. Seated incline curls.
  2. Regular curls, seated or standing.
  3. Hammer curls.

Tricep Mechanical Drop Sets

Triceps are all trained via dumbbell: kick backs (yes, they do work, just ask Lee Labrada), laying down extensions, and for grand finale close grip bench presses. Here you can up the weight for the presses.

  1. Dumbbell tricep kickbacks.
  2. Extensions, laying down or standing.
  3. Flat bench press, narrow grip (add weight if you get more than 12 reps).

Calves Mechanical Drop Sets

Now on to the forgotten muscle, the calves. You started at the seated calf raise, which uses primarily the soleus muscle. Next stop would be calf raises standing, involving the gastrocnemius as well. Lastly, I would add squat jumps with a light barbell, so your poor little calves get a lift from the bigger brothers amongst the leg muscles.

  1. Seated calf raises.
  2. Standing calf raises.
  3. Jump squats.

Mechanical drop sets are a great tool to bring a lagging muscle up to speed or you construct a whole body workout out of them (make sure it is a high carb day though).