Don’t do Drop sets for Powerlifting Competition Prep

This idea will undoubtedly be an unpopular opinion because I see so many athletes doing it and coaches prescribing it; still, I believe drop sets aren’t worth their return on investment (ROI) in the context of powerlifting competition preparation coming into the final 4 to 8 weeks of preparation when training load get high.

What is a drop set?

Originally a drop set had been designed as a pure hypertrophy method. You would do 80% of 1RM max effort followed by 60% of 1RM max effort or 90% / 70%. In powerlifting, it has been adopted to maintain volume as intensity increases to prioritize top sets over lighter sets. So you would do 85% for sets of 2 reps then drop the intensity to 80%, 75%, 70% or lower for more reps.

Why you shouldn’t do drop sets

In the strength and peaking phases of powerlifting leading into a competition, when we start to head into loads of 85% of 1RM and above, a very high neurological, psychological and physiological demand is imposed on the athlete. Following these top sets, substantial mental fatigue sets in, and a significant depletion of neurological resources. This depletion reduces the quality of effort required to stimulate an adaptive response in the drop set. What I mean by this is we train to stimulate an adaptive response that only occurs with quality effort; for strength training, the emphasis needs to be quality of movement at maximal velocities. So, mental fatigue reduces the quality of movement, and I have noticed a 10-30% drop in velocity. All this sets the athlete up for a poor adaptive response.

We must think about programming as the intelligent allocation of neurological resources to maximize your ROI. High strength yield with minimal fatigue. A slow, sloppy rep experienced in drop sets will provide a low yield with high fatigue.

What should you do

If you want to maintain volume whilst intensity increases, I suggest three options 1. loading pyramid, 2. increasing frequency, 3. being specific with intent.

Loading Pyramid

This is getting the volume before the top sets. I have found this doesn’t impact top-set performance if managed well and can potentiate performance for the top sets. I have seen a significant increase in velocity with pyramid load with top sets between 80-90%

Increase frequency

Focus one session on the top sets and the other session on volume. This way, the athlete can put the best effort forward for each session and prepare for the desired intent.

Specific Stimulus

If we are leading into a competition and intend to maintain a hypertrophy response. Then pick exercises with lower load potential and higher muscular tension. This will generate less fatigue, gain the required response, and even mitigate the “damage” from the high specificity of competition preparation.

If it works, it works.

Drop sets work for some, and I would use them in a different context, but I’m afraid I have to disagree with it leading into the final phases of comp prep. I have found a poor return with my athlete and better options. If it works for you, great, then keep doing it. Book a free strategy session if you like our approach and want to work with us.

Posted in