Advanced Training Protocols: Drop set and Superset

Your fitness is a journey. It is a continuous exploration of your limits and overcoming them.

In the gym, you’ll see different individuals varying in fitness levels and having different goals. Some would want to lose weight; others want to build muscles or level up their athletic performance. Despite these differences, we all share a common goal: progress.

That said, progress is only attained by continuously breaking our limitations. However, there will come a time when our routine training no longer suffices. Some refer to it as the ‘wall.’ Others call this plateau.

Here lies the role of advanced training protocols, such as drop set and superset, designed to push our boundaries and accelerate our progress.

This article will delve into the science and practice of advanced training protocols, so you can break out of your fitness limitations and achieve your goals.

A drop set is designed to fatigue the target muscles and reach their anabolic limits, providing significant stimulus for muscle growth.

To do this protocol, you need to perform an exercise until muscle failure. Then immediately reduce the weight to provide a window of opportunity for the muscles to keep working again until muscle exhaustion.

Continuously working a muscle beyond the point of its initial limits can effectively engage more muscle fibers as it tries to overcome the physical demands of the exercise.

According to research, performing a drop set can also lead to regional hypertrophy or an increase in muscle size on the muscles within the same region, making your workouts more effective and efficient.

In addition, drop set exercises also recruit both slow-twitch and fast-twitch muscle fibers responsible for quick bursts of strength and power, resulting in increased muscle strength and endurance over time.

1. Choose your exercise and weight

Choose a weight that you can perform with 8 to 10 rep max. This means the weight should be heavy enough that you can only lift it 8 to 10 times without compromising your form. See the example protocol below.

Complete the initial set to failure. Focus on your form and the contraction of your muscles. Performing the exercise in front of the mirror can also give you external feedback and improve your mind-muscle connection while doing the exercise.

Immediately “drop” or reduce the weight by 20-30% without resting and perform another set to failure. This will further fatigue your muscles. Remember that the burning sensation within the muscle is normal as it accumulates lactic acids and uses energy rapidly when performing high-intensity continuous workouts.

Drop the weight again by 10-40%, depending on your exercise capacity. The key is to drop it to a level where you can lift it again in proper form for another 8 to 10 reps until muscle failure. A typical routine drop set routine consists of 2-3 drops.

Initial Set 10 Reps of 33lbs of Bicep Curls
First Drop Reduce the weight to 26lbs (~20% drop) perform to failure
Second Drop Reduce the weight to 22lbs (~20% drop) perform to failure
Optional Drop Reduce the weight to 11lbs (50% drop) perform to failure
Rest Rest for 2 to 3 minutes

Superset is a powerful training strategy used to amp up the intensity and efficiency of your workouts. This protocol combines two exercises performed consecutively while eliminating any rest in between.

Share it

In a superset, you can target the same muscle group (agonist/compound set) or opposing muscle group (antagonist superset). The idea is to create a more dynamic and challenging workout to enhance muscle growth and endurance.

Research has shown that lifters who perform antagonist superset have superior lifting performance than traditional set due to optimal recovery of each muscle during a set. This also promotes a greater workout volume in the same or shorter time, resulting in greater stimulus for muscle growth.

Using a compound set, you can effectively train with greater specificity and stimulus to fatigue a target muscle group. It also allows you to target different angles of the muscles and ensure the activation of other muscle fibers within the muscle.

An example of a compound superset is performing a bench press and then immediately following through with cable fly.

An antagonist superset allows your body to engage one muscle group while the opposing muscle recovers, allowing an efficient transition between exercises.

Doing this correctly could lead to a higher overall workload in a single workout session performed half the time without negatively affecting rest and recovery periods. Plus, on the inside, more blood rushes into the target muscles, which promotes better gains.

An example of an antagonist superset is performing bicep curls and immediately following through with skull crushers.

Supersets are best done at the end of your training sessions after heavy compound exercises are already done. It is also effective when targeting smaller muscle groups of opposing positions or functions.

Select two exercises targeting either the same muscle group (agonist/compound superset) or opposing muscle groups (antagonist superset).

Start with a weight that allows you to do 8-10 reps to failure. This set should be challenging enough to bring your muscle to failure but not too heavy to compromise your form.

Execute your first exercise. Focus on the quality of your movement rather than the speed. Allow yourself to ‘experience’ the contraction of your muscles during each rep.

Without resting, switch to your next exercise in the super set. Perform another set to failure. If you are low on stamina or haven’t built the necessary muscle endurance, you can drop the weight by 20-30%. Just remember to do the exercises in proper form.

After performing the second exercise, rest for 1 to 2 minutes before performing another super set.

Agonist Superset

Exercise 1 Bench Press for 8 to 10 reps to failure
Exercise 2 Dumbbell Flyes 8 to 10 reps to failure
Rest Rest for 1 to 2 minutes before performing another set

Here’s a plan for men that includes a lot of supersets:

And for women:

Exercise 1 Shoulder Press 8 to 10 reps to failure
Exercise 2 Lat Pull-Down 8 to 10 reps to failure
Rest (Optional) Rest for 30 seconds
Repeat Perform the whole set again. Repeat 2-3 times.

Exercise pairs for Antagonist Superset:

Don’t fatigue your core

For many, it would be a bad idea to superset your core at the start of your routine.

The idea of drop set and superset is to fatigue the muscle to stimulate better growth. However, you must keep your deep core muscles at their peak rather than exhausted to provide your spine with adequate stability, especially in the gym.

Advanced training protocols require you to have adequate fitness foundations such as muscle strength, stability, and endurance.

It is crucial to focus on these elements first before progressing. As a rule of thumb, keep it simple. You don’t have to force yourself into complex training methods. Your body will automatically tell you when it is ready.

If you are a beginner, performing StairMaster Exercise, squat variations, core exercises, and cardio are excellent ways to build your fitness foundations.

The drop set and superset protocols are effective ways to break your personal limitations in the gym when you hit the wall. It is an excellent way to spice things up and take your fitness journey to the next level.

If you have already built the necessary fitness foundations, it might be a good time to explore advanced training techniques to propel you further toward your fitness goals. Just remember to keep your workouts safe and smart.

Share it
Bert Bauzon is a licensed physiotherapist specializing in spinal care and sports rehabilitation. He writes articles and books about exercise science and health care.

Weekly knowledge exclusively for people who want to improve their health, fitness and mindset.

First name