by Steve Holman, Iron Man Magazine
Q: In 3D Muscle Building you talk a lot about drop sets. Those work well for me, but on some exercises, like bench presses, it takes too long to change the weight. I train alone, so by the time I get up off the bench and strip weight from both sides, I’ve gotten too much rest. Any suggestions?
A: Using drop sets is a great way to get both myofibrillar and sarcoplasmic growth in the fibers for a double shot of hypertrophy. For those unfamiliar, a drop set is doing a set to fatigue, around nine reps, reducing the weight and immediately repping out again. So you get good force generation on the first set to build the myofibrils, and then you reduce the weight, extend the set and push the sarcoplasm to expand. It’s like extending the set—but you must move fast so there’s very little rest.
Which brings me to your problem with drop sets on bench presses. There are a few solutions. One is to go to pushups. I use the 4X mass method almost exclusively, so on my fourth set to failure at rep eight or nine, I rack the weight, hit the floor and rep out.
It sounds easy, but keep in mind that there’s major fatigue accumulation at the end of a 4X sequence—where you start with a 15RM but only do 10; rest 30 seconds and repeat—for four sets, going to failure on the fourth. Also, I maintain the tension-time cadence on the pushups—that is, one second on the positive stroke and three seconds on the negative. My pecs are screaming from the get-go, so I rarely get 10 reps.
Incidentally, every so often I do speed reps on the pushups—about 1.5 seconds per rep, a controlled explosion on each. New research suggests that speed reps can activate dormant fibers, meaning that the semi-plyometric style can help up your mass—just be careful and controlled.
Instead of using pushups as your “drop set,” another solution is to move to dumbbell bench presses immediately after your barbell benches. You can have the dumbbells ready by the bench, so immediately after you rack your last set with the barbell, you can grab the dumbbells and continue.
I like the plus-one method to amplify the intensity of 3X and 4X sequences. Immediately after your last set to exhaustion, move to a similar exercise for the same -bodypart—squats to dumbbell squats, pulldowns to rope rows, rack high pulls to dumbbell upright rows. You can even go for a preexhaustion effect—flyes to dumbbell bench presses, curls to undergrip pulldowns, laterals to dumbbell upright rows.
Try 4X set-extending blasts to quickly expand your mass.