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ISSA, International Sports Sciences Association, Certified Personal Trainer, ISSAonline, Drop Sets, Muscles, How Drop Sets Can Help You Build Bigger Muscles

Drop Sets vs Supersets: How to Help Clients Build Bigger Muscles

Reading Time: 5 minutes


DATE: 2020-11-06

Strength training is an important component of a complete exercise program. But what this training looks like can vary from one person to another, or even from one workout to the next. Two options to consider are drop sets and supersets. Here we take a more in-depth look at each so you can better decide which one you or your clients should be doing.

What Is a Drop Set?

A drop set is when, during the last set of a resistance training exercise, you “drop” to a lighter weight and do as many reps as you can. Then you drop to a lower weight again and go until exhaustion. The goal of drop sets is to fatigue the muscle, pushing it to failure. 

Let’s use the biceps curl as an example. Maybe you typically curl three sets of 8-12 reps, lifting 25 pounds of weight each time. When using drop sets, on the last set, you would do as many reps as you can with the normal weight. Then, without any rest time, you drop the weight to 20 pounds and do as many reps as you can. Next, you drop the weight to 15 pounds and do another set. You would continue with the lighter weight until you couldn’t lift it one more time.

What Is a Superset?

A superset involves doing two or three exercises with no rest period between. These exercises are typically chosen based on their ability to work the opposing muscle group. 

Sticking with the biceps example, you might start with a biceps curl. Then you could switch to a triceps extensions with no rest pause. Or you might move to a bench dip for a different exercise that targets the triceps muscle. 

Other exercises you could work into a superset are a leg extension (quads) and leg curl (hamstring). If you do a lateral raise (front and lateral deltoids), an exercise that would work opposite muscles is the reverse fly (rear deltoids).

Drop Sets vs Supersets: Which Should You Be Doing?

Both drop sets and supersets are valuable training methods. So, which one should you or your client be doing? The answer depends, in part, on the fitness goal since each type of training offers different benefits. 

Benefits of Drop Sets

Drop sets are good for building muscle, also known as muscle hypertrophy. They force the use of different and more muscle fiber types to finish the exercise. One review connects drop sets with higher muscle activation and increased metabolic stress (1). Together, this leads to increased muscle growth. Working to failure and fatigue assists with this process.

You also increase training volume when using drop sets. This, too, supports muscle growth. Research indicates that doing more drop sets may be better for this purpose. 

As an example, a 2018 study involved some subjects doing three drop sets while others did six drop sets (2). Those doing six drop sets had significantly higher surface skin temperatures of the elbow flexors. This suggests that a higher training volume resulted in greater muscle response. A 2017 pilot study adds that drop sets are also effective for building muscle endurance (3).

Benefits of Supersets

Working antagonist muscles in a superset helps prevent muscle imbalance. This protects against injury both in everyday movements and during exercise. It also leads to better muscle symmetry. Bodybuilders and other physique competitors benefit from this effect.

A 2022 study compared supersets with traditional exercise (4). Based on factors such as oxygen uptake, heart rate, and blood lactate, researchers concluded that performing supersets “may elicit increases in musculoskeletal, cardiorespiratory, and physiological adaptations.” And it provided these benefits in a shorter training session.

This makes how much time you have to invest in training another factor to consider when deciding between drop sets and supersets. Supersets are also a good way to work opposite muscle groups quickly yet effectively. Drop sets, on the other hand, typically take more time to complete. 

Bottom line: Drop sets are good for muscle growth and endurance while supersets are more time efficient and also support cardiovascular and metabolic improvements.

How to Do a Drop Set

If you want to incorporate drop sets into your training session, aim for two or three drops during the exercise. First, do a normal set, then another. Move on to the third set and continue until you can’t do another rep. After finishing the last rep of the third set, lower the weight and start another set. Stop when the fatigue is so much, you can’t do another rep. Lower the weight one more time, then go through the process again.

With each set, drop the weight by 10%. Do as many reps as you can without sacrificing form. If you find that you aren’t able to keep good form, the muscle has been worked to fatigue. It’s time to stop the exercise.

Because you don’t want to rest between sets, it may be helpful to have someone ready to reduce your weight for you if you are using weight plates on a barbell. If using dumbbells, have a lower weight nearby so you can grab it quickly. You can also typically reduce the weight quickly when using cables and machines. 

Drop sets work the muscle to fatigue. So, you only want to do one drop set per training session. Do them for a few weeks, then take a break. Give the muscle time to recover.

You also want to avoid compound exercises like a bench press when doing drop sets, focusing on isolation exercise options instead. Since you’re working your muscle to failure, it’s too easy to compromise form when doing compound movements.

How to Do a Superset Workout

Before doing superset training, you need to decide which muscle groups you want to work. The next step is to decide which exercises you’ll do in quick succession.

If you want to work the quads and hamstrings, for example, you might do a squat or leg extension followed by a hamstring curl. If you want to work the chest and back, you can do a chest press followed by rows. 

Since you’re not working the same muscles, you can get away with a shorter period of rest after the two exercises are complete. Aim for 1-2 minutes of rest before jumping into another exercise or superset.

It should be noted that some people use supersets to work the same muscle group in a different way. The thought is that if you target the same muscle group in a superset, you’re able to work that group with greater intensity. This leads to strength gains along with gains in muscle size. 

If you take this approach, it’s important to give the muscle adequate time to recover. This helps prevent overtraining or injuries due to increased stress and repetition.

Take It To the Next Level

If you’d like to help your clients achieve their muscle or strength-related goals, you can do this as a Strength and Conditioning Coach. ISSA offers Strength and Conditioning certification. This online course teaches effective weight training techniques for building muscle mass and strength. You also learn methods for increasing clients’ endurance, power, and speed.

Featured Course

ISSA | Strength and Conditioning Coach

ISSA's Strength and Conditioning course bridges the gap between science and application by giving students the "how" of helping athletes achieve any sport-related goal. With this course, not only will you learn the exercise science behind strength and conditioning, but exactly how to create the perfect training program for any athlete. Further, it offers one of the only accredited exams in the strength and conditioning space, making you a hot commodity to any employer.


  1. Schoenfeld, B., & Grgic, J. (2018). Can drop set training enhance muscle growth? Strength & Conditioning Journal, 40(6), 95–98. https://doi.org/10.1519/ssc.0000000000000366 

  2. Uchôa, P., Matos, F., Neves, E. B., Saavedra, F., Rosa, C., Reis, V. M., & Vilaça-Alves, J. (2018). Evaluation of two different resistance training volumes on the skin surface temperature of the elbow flexors assessed by thermography. Infrared Physics & Technology, 93, 178–183. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.infrared.2018.07.038 

  3. Ozaki, H., Kubota, A., Natsume, T., Loenneke, J. P., Abe, T., Machida, S., & Naito, H. (2017). Effects of drop sets with resistance training on increases in muscle CSA, strength, and endurance: A pilot study. Journal of Sports Sciences, 36(6), 691–696. https://doi.org/10.1080/02640414.2017.1331042 

  4. Realzola, R. A., Mang, Z. A., Millender, D. J., Beam, J. R., Bellovary, B. N., Wells, A. D., Houck, J. M., & Kravitz, L. (2021). Metabolic profile of reciprocal supersets in young, recreationally active women and men. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 36(10), 2709–2716. https://doi.org/10.1519/jsc.0000000000003920 

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