Mechanical drop sets allow you to resume a set when you get tired. Usually the position of an exercise is adjusted when you switch from a more difficult to an easier variant.
Think of inverted dumbbell curls, then regular curls, and then hammer curls. Such drop sets extend the time under tension, thereby building muscle and muscular endurance.
Alternating between dumbbell and kettlebell exercises can be another way to use mechanical drop sets. Alternating reps allows you to keep your idle arm isometric in the contracted or extended position.
As tiredness increases, simply switch to a variant where the break is less difficult. And since this challenges you with submaximal weights, it can be a joint-friendly method that still creates significant muscle strain.
Three types of representatives
Your set consists of three types of repetitions:
- Shift arms above. On a weight bench press, one arm would be fully extended while the other was pushing. Then the other arm holds up while the previously extended arm lowers and comes up again.
- Shift down. One arm would be bent at the bottom of the movement while the other arm pushes up, then they switch.
- Work on both arms at the same time. Both arms pass through the range of motion.
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For example, doing a dumbbell curl makes it harder to switch arms in the top contracted position if you keep tension. So that’s why you’d hold it there first. Switching in the lower area is easiest because the free arm gets additional rest when it is straight.
Here’s a closer look at how this can be done using a variety of exercises:
Alternating weight bench press
Do the reps at the bottom with the dumbbells near your chest first. Maintain tension in this lower position and avoid slack in the isometric arm.
When you’re tired, switch both arms to the press and finish by toggling the reps above.
Changing dumbbell curls
Do the repetitions along the top of the curl. Continue with both arms at the same time, then switch with alternating curls that alternate at the bottom. A little English is okay here.
Alternating dumbbell shoulder press
These are a little different as both arms flexed overhead can pose a challenge to core stability and chest extension. For this reason I also prefer the half-kneeling position, as this minimizes the compensation by the lumbar spine.
Press both weights at the same time. Switch to alternating reps that alternate above. Finish with an alternation at the bottom of your shoulders.
If mobility is an issue, do so while sitting on a high incline bench. Rather, use a neutral grip for shoulder health.
Alternating row of dumbbells
You can do this with your chest supported on an incline bench or while standing. Switch arms above. Really focus on getting your elbows back and pushing the lats and upper back. Then go to a two-armed row. Finish the set by alternating below.
Lying dumbbell triceps extension
Do all the repetitions with the weights in line with your forehead or higher. This maintains tension on the triceps.
Start with a switch above. Go for bilateral or rolling dumbbell extensions. At the end alternate below. Emphasize the stretch on the triceps by keeping your elbows high and your hands close to your shoulder.
Raise and hold a dumbbell at shoulder height. Bring the other arm up to form a T. Bring the first arm back to your thighs. Alternate repetitions this way. Then move on to the traditional side elevations and finish the set by switching below.
- Do not go to complete failure until the last phase of the set. Always keep a rep or two in the tank before doing the drop set below.
- For compound lifts like presses and rows, a good rule of thumb is to start with a weight that you can do about 5-10 times in reserve on one rep. If you can’t get a few reps on each drop set, you’ve started too hard.
- For additional movements like side raises and triceps extensions with a higher rep range of around 6-10, start with one rep in reserve.
- Use this for the last set of an exercise OR you can do this for all sets. Expect to decrease your weight with each additional set.
- Use the method for no more than two exercises in one session.
- Be creative. Find out where to apply this concept with your own exercise options.
Advantages of isometry
Static training can be mentally difficult when the seconds add up. With this alternating method, you save a lot of time for static holding in different positions without really thinking about it. According to Supertraining, fluctuating repetitive pace during a set could be a way to avoid stagnation for an experienced lifter.
Since the location of the break changes with increasing fatigue, this naturally happens during the set. Breaks also affect the solid lifting technique as cheating is minimized. Finally, in addition to the recruited muscles, isometric grips strengthen tendons and joint capsules.
This simple technique doesn’t require a lot of resistance, but it’s not easy. Add it to your training toolbox.
Related: Do the one-arm bench press with an iso hold
Related: Eccentric Isometry for Squats
- Verkoshansky, Y. & Siff, M. (2009). Supertraining: extended version (6th edition) Rome: Ultimate Athlete Concepts.