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Mechanical Advantage Drop Sets

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An Advanced Training Strategy for Increasing Size

Before we begin, I just want to make sure everyone read the “Basics of Training For Size” series. Some really good information on muscle building there.

Done?

Okay, cool.

I’m posting a few things all at once. I have been planning on sharing some of this information with you guys for a while, but I’ve got such a crazy backlog of blog post ideas and articles for magazines I wind up never publishing my own stuff when I want to. Which really just sucks for you guys, and I’m sorry about that.

I want to talk about a really fun technique called “Mechanical Advantage Drop Sets” or MADS, which is a great acronym I was too stupid to realize existed until my friend Zoe pointed it out via Facebook chat.

Of course, before we can discuss Mechanical Advantage Drop Sets we have to define drop sets in general. For those who don’t know, a drop set is when you perform a set of a given exercise to the point of fatigue or failure, and then change a variable in a way which allows you to continue performing the set.

In most drop sets, the variable is weight–you reduce or “drop” the weight once you reach fatigue, allowing you to perform a few more reps with a lighter load. Which is pretty good, but not amazing. Drop sets, also known as strip sets (because you’re “stripping” the weight off the bar each set) is probably one of the first advanced techniques you’re likely to use on your quest to gain muscle.

When we talk about mechanics in training, we’re really discussing positional adjustments as the apply to increasing or decreasing leverage.

As an example, you probably notice that it’s easier for you to perform a bench press with a lower incline and harder to perform it with a higher incline. As you increase the incline, muscular leverage changes unfavorably, as does recruitment (more shoulders, less chest in this case) and so the exercise becomes harder.

To set this up into a MA drop set, you would start the chest press at a high incline, work to failure/fatigue, then drop the incline a bit. That is, with each successive set, you wind up being able to perfrom despite being fatigure because you are stronger in that position than you were in the previous one.

Here is another example: a sweet video of our boy Vince doing a Mechanical Advantage Drop Set of pull-ups (with my guidance) a few months back.

Pretty sweet, right?

By changing his hand and arm positioning from the weakest (wide spacing, overhand grip) to ones that are more mechanically advantageous, ending with the strongest (moderate spacing, neutral grip) Vince is able to perform more reps with each change, even though it’s obvious that he’s gone to failure on the previous set.

You may be wondering: why are MADS better than traditional drop sets?

Well, in short, it’s a matter of load. As I mentioned previously, with traditional drop sets, you’re keeping your position static and decreasing the weight to perform more reps. With MADS, the weight stays the same the entire time.

Now, as I’ve covered in the Basics of Training for Size series, there is certainly some merit in training with lighter weights. However, speaking generally, most people are going to get A LOT more out of consistently using more challenging weights. With MADS, your weight is consistently heavy, and you get to push to fatigue and beyond, forcing more and more muscle fibers to be recruited with each rep and each mechanical change.

It’s an advanced method and certainly isn’t easy, but if you’re looking for a way to challenge yourself and force your body to grow, I think you’ve just found it.

About the Author

John Romaniello is a level 70 orc wizard who spends his days lifting heavy shit and his nights fighting crime. When not doing that, he serves as the Chief Bro King of the Roman Empire and Executive Editor here on RFS. You can read his articles here, and rants on Facebook.

  • That's a cool strategy thanks for posting this.

  • To expand on the bench press, another method I'm fond of is to perform 6-8 reps wide grip to the neck (lower the bar right to the throat), rack it, rest 5 seconds, then perform medium grip presses to the chest for as many reps as possible.

    Another fun one for the biceps: 45 degree Incline DB Curls with an offset grip (hold the inner half of the db grip so your pinky is pressed up against the plate) for 6-8 reps, then immediately sit up straight and switch to a hammer grip, perform as many reps as possible.

  • Originally Posted By Meghmmm interesting. i've been doing something similar but i drop the weights by a lot on my upper pec routine.

    Studies has shown undergrip bench press recruits 30% more upper pec musle than flat press. While incline press recruits only 5% more upper pecs then flat press.

    I start of with undergrip flat press then quickly change to incline bench press dropping 20% of the weight.

    maybe i should do UG flat press into OG flat press…

    This was very interesting, checked out a few studies. Me likely.

    Hope everyone got a lot out of that comment, thanks Meg!

  • Erik Anderson

    Roman,

    Great info as usual.

    Loved the impromptu video pitch for Vinnie D.

    I am still buried in your Final Phase Fat Loss program week four and loving/hating it thanks.

    I wore a heart rate monitor today for the strenght #4 workout and realized that my heart rate stayed in the 80-85% MHR range which was higher than when I was on the dang treadmill only minutes before! I get a better cardio workout doing your program than when I run on the treadmill!

    Thanks to you and your great program, now I am lifting so much more weight than ever before that I need to go buy a Smith rack and more weights to challenge myself. I've exhausted all of my old weights and it's too dangerous to lift the heavy squat weight I need over my head to do my squat work.

    I guess this is what you'd call a good problem to have huh?

    I am going to try your MADS after completing the sixth week of your program.

    Thanks for all the cool info. Keep up the great work and don't stop making videos. They're fun to watch. I like the quarter bit:)

    Erik

  • Per

    Well, wedding and an open bar with 8 sisters involved may seem like a good idea now, just make sure you don't wind up like Chandler where he can't remember which one of Joeys sisters he hooked up with the day after the party…

  • Meg

    hmmm interesting. i've been doing something similar but i drop the weights by a lot on my upper pec routine.

    Studies has shown undergrip bench press recruits 30% more upper pec musle than flat press. While incline press recruits only 5% more upper pecs then flat press.

    I start of with undergrip flat press then quickly change to incline bench press dropping 20% of the weight.

    maybe i should do UG flat press into OG flat press…

  • LOL! Awesome post man…anxious to try out MADS. I have been a huge advocate of drop sets in the past, but the change in grip is a new perspective. Thanks for the vids man!

    Mike

  • Ylwa

    Btw you are aware that if Vince hooks you up and things work out, your kids will be part Canadian? Worth keeping that in mind, just sayin'…

  • Originally Posted By Ylwa@John Romaniello – Happy birtday, you big piece of eye-candy! Hope the day's swell and filled with choclates and sweet(ies) and joy.

    Okay, makes a bit more sense now. I get it with the pullups, but how do you do in other exercises, like a benchpress or a squat? Going from narrow to wide grip or fron from to back squats?

    Aww thanks =)

    And you have it exactly right. With dumbbell benching, switch from high incline to low incline. With barbell, just bring the grip in.

    With squats, you could go from front to back, or you could go from barbell split squats to narrow stance squats to wider stance

  • Originally Posted By Adam LRoman, I want to hangout with you.

    That's really all I can think and say right now!

    oh yeah.. ps, Good post! Drop sets are always an interesting topic to me.

    If you're ever in NY, let me know. Always happy to meet new people.

  • Ylwa

    @John Romaniello – Happy birtday, you big piece of eye-candy! Hope the day's swell and filled with choclates and sweet(ies) and joy.

    Okay, makes a bit more sense now. I get it with the pullups, but how do you do in other exercises, like a benchpress or a squat? Going from narrow to wide grip or fron from to back squats?

  • Adam L

    Roman, I want to hangout with you.

    That's really all I can think and say right now!

    oh yeah.. ps, Good post! Drop sets are always an interesting topic to me.

  • Stephen Cantelli

    Hey Roman……….you made another 25 cents off of me! I purchased Vince's system for my fitness library. I already dig the EFS bonus.

    I'll email you Sunday with my week four results. I'll just say this……..the results are phenomenal thus far……….and you are indeed MOST AWESOME!

  • Vince

    My gawd….. LOL

  • Originally Posted By ScottySo just wait a minute here… :) My mom always told me if something's too good to be true it probably is….

    Just want to check that I'm not high while I'm reading this…

    If we buy Vince's program through you… You'll give us the Muscle buiding program you're currently working on when it's done????

    (Sounds awesome Roman)

    Scotty in South Africa

    Yup, that's basically the deal.

    The programming is all written, I'm looking to turn it into a full ebook later this year.

    So you get the program which is basically bare bones. I have shoot some videos and pics for the exercises before I send it out, but should be done next week.

    Those people will also get that ebook when it comes out for free obv

  • Originally Posted By TheresaYou are soooooo funny! I actually hate to watch videos, takes too much time but I was glad I saw this one. I'm glad to know there are other crazy people out there. Makes me feel more normal. Will purchase the program, but on one condition, you keep us posted on the sister situation…8 to choose from, wow!

    deal =)

    If you think I'M crazy, you should have seen my moms reaction to the video when I called her out.

    (btw, Vince, she says hi.)

  • Originally Posted By Agus DarmawanDude I'll buy from you if you promised to film your first date with that gal

    Well I have to get the date first…Vince just promised to introduce…I'm assuming I'll have to do the rest of the work.

    Since I'll be meeting them all at the wedding, it's a safe bet that out of 8 canadian girls, one of them will be drunk enough to find my arrogance charming.

  • Scotty

    So just wait a minute here… :) My mom always told me if something's too good to be true it probably is….

    Just want to check that I'm not high while I'm reading this…

    If we buy Vince's program through you… You'll give us the Muscle buiding program you're currently working on when it's done????

    (Sounds awesome Roman)

    Scotty in South Africa

  • Theresa

    You are soooooo funny! I actually hate to watch videos, takes too much time but I was glad I saw this one. I'm glad to know there are other crazy people out there. Makes me feel more normal. Will purchase the program, but on one condition, you keep us posted on the sister situation…8 to choose from, wow!

  • Agus Darmawan

    Dude I'll buy from you if you promised to film your first date with that gal

  • Originally Posted By Jessica (in Aussietraylia)Hi Roman,

    So essentially if you shot this video again with Vince doing pull ups (sounds like your Mum would volunteer to help with the camera work at least!) he wouldnâ??t be able to do another 8 pull ups (6 then 2) even with having a quick rest, shaking his arms out between sets if he maintained the first wide grip position? That the ONLY way he was able to do more was by changing his hand/arm position?

    Interesting.

    If he had just rested and shaken his arms out and then went right back to the pull ups, he would have gotten 1-2 more; he'd still be in a weaker position. In that case, it's be more like Rest-Pause than anything else

  • haha I love the authenticity! You're the man

    Great example with the Chest . Hopefully we can get a workout in Cali at the end of the month!

  • Jessica (in Aussietraylia)

    Hi Roman,

    So essentially if you shot this video again with Vince doing pull ups (sounds like your Mum would volunteer to help with the camera work at least!) he wouldn’t be able to do another 8 pull ups (6 then 2) even with having a quick rest, shaking his arms out between sets if he maintained the first wide grip position? That the ONLY way he was able to do more was by changing his hand/arm position?

    Interesting.

    Also matey I’d be checking the fine print of this arrangement with Vince. With 8 sisters I’d be asking myself about the age range involved here…. and besides what sort of woman (because we all know who REALLY has the control over this deal) sells her sisters out for a measly 30 bucks (30 sales)?! That’s a paltry $3.75 per sister!

  • Clement

    Hi roman, great post. And video. I love THAT part. Hahahah.

    Anyway, about mads, this would go against Chad waterbury's lifting and stopping before failure for strength and size. Which is better to help me increase my pullup max reps and for greater strength gains?

    Also, you talk about failure here. Is your definition of failure reached when the speed of the rep starts to slow or when you can't grind out another rep?

    Lastly, are mads to be done as a single set like HIT or can they be repeated across a series of sets with, say, 1min set in between? (For example: 7 pullups, 5 neutral grip, 2 chins, rest 1 min, repeat sequence twice)

    thanks in advance for your advice!

  • Chuck

    hahaha Roman you should totally shoot more videos late at night. You're cracking me up ;)

    Thanks for the advice and the MADS post.

    Chuck

  • Chris

    Hahahaha, god you're funny. I've already bought the program but if I hadn't you would have gotten the sale. Love your posts mate, keep them coming.

  • Originally Posted By ZachI just ordered through your link, what do I do now? Should we forward you the receipt? Or do you want us to wait until the program has been finished?

    Sweet! 1 down, 29 to go.

    Actually the link is coded and takes care of all of that.

    You made an awesome investment, seriously it's such good info and you get more each month.

  • Zach

    I just ordered through your link, what do I do now? Should we forward you the receipt? Or do you want us to wait until the program has been finished?

  • Vince

    LOL… John Romaniello folks… easily the funniest dude I know.

    John… her sisters are really hoping that you get those 30 sign ups because they saw your pics… yeah, the ones in your undersized underwear, and they think you're HOT.

    Keep being real dude! I love it and all your fans love you for it.

  • Joe

    Originally Posted By John RomanielloAlthough I should mention that he and I have always had a lot of similar ideas.

    I did notice that after reading a few of your articles. Doesn't hurt to have two coaches who look the part to have similar ideologies :)

  • Originally Posted By YlwaSo MADS is basically a fancy name for lifting a weight beyond fatigue? By pure willpower? No spotting or anything? Or should you start with a slightly lower weight than you normally use (say 5-10% lower) to crank out a few extra reps? I don't get it.

    You could start a bit light, particularly you have low-ish strength endurance.

    Just like reducing the weight on a regular dropset allows you to do more reps, increasing mechanical leverage allows you to do the same.

    In the above video, Vince failed on the wide grip pull-up at 14 reps, and then simply switched grips and was able to get 6 more, then another 2 after that.

    He didn't decrease the weight from his normal pull up sets, obviously, because he weighs the same, the simple change of grip is enough.

    With MADS, you're able to work beyond fatigue because you go from a weak(er) position to a strong(er) one.

    A spotter is always a great help of course =)

  • Originally Posted By JoeHow does this differ from Christian Thibaudeau's Mechanical Drop Sets program?

    The method and exercises are similar, the program differs. Basically as any program of mine might differ from any one of his.

    Although I should mention that he and I have always had a lot of similar ideas.

  • @Ryan Orrico – Hey man, great to have you on board! Hahah a remember that pic. Ooooh my.

    Who else are you following?

  • Ylwa

    So MADS is basically a fancy name for lifting a weight beyond fatigue? By pure willpower? No spotting or anything? Or should you start with a slightly lower weight than you normally use (say 5-10% lower) to crank out a few extra reps? I don't get it.

  • Joe

    How does this differ from Christian Thibaudeau's Mechanical Drop Sets program?

  • Ryan Orrico

    dude I've been following you since back like in the RuggedMag days.. I was ryno on that forum. You're still a funny motherfucker. I remember when you posted some photos from a shoot you did and captioned one “this one is gayer than a bag of dicks.” (I stole that joke and still use that to this day.)

    You're now one of like 3 people in the IM/Fitness world that I actually believe what they say.. especially when appearing in videos.

    Anyways, just saying whatup! and keep on keepin on, brothahood!

  • Nathalie MacDonald

    Seriously, you kill me!! Thanks for all the awesome info. Can't wait till you release your new book. In the meantime, keep the blog posts coming, I love reading your stuff!

  • Thanks Carey, good luck with it =)

  • Good strategy!