Workout of the Week: Rest-Pause Drop Sets
Learn what Rest-pause drop sets are, how to do them and work them into your training program for more growth in less time.
In the 1960s Jim Williams, “The Scranton Strongman,” began lifting weights while he was incarcerated in the Rockview Penitentiary. He started experimenting with a groundbreaking training protocol of high-volume training, which became the foundation of the rest-pause method today.
Bodybuilding legend and IFBB Pro Michael Christian would start with a weight he could bench press for 8–10 reps, take a slight break and try to match the reps on the next bench, take a slight rest and do the same thing on the next bench.
This is the rest-pause method in action!
While it’s clear that rest-pause training is beloved in correctional institutes, institutes of higher learning also confirm its efficiency.
One study published in Journal of Science & Medicine In Sport in 2012 showed that a rest-pause workout, when compared to a traditional set workout and a cluster set workout, recruited more motor units, completed the same work in less time and didn’t cause any greater post-workout fatigue.
Another study published in Journal of Translational Medicine found that a rest-pause program protocol with less volume and the same load was accomplished in nearly half the time of a traditional resistance training program. However, the post-workout resting energy expenditure was much greater with the rest-pause group. In a nut shell, the group that trained rest-pause style was burning more calories at rest than those training in a traditional style, in this study, for a full day after their final rep.
Rest-pause training is the cornerstone of the pig iron program in the book I coauthored, Jailhouse Strong, and it allows one to get more done in less time.
So how do you put this in action? Rest-pause training breaks down one set into several sub-sets with a brief rest between each. For this workout, you will load a weight you can perform for 6–10 repetitions, lift the weight for as many reps as possible, take a 20-second rest interval, and do the same weight again; this will probably be 2–3 repetitions. Repeat this process twice; for a total of three sub sets.
Looking at the bench press, a rest-pause series might look something like this:
Set 1: 250 x 8 reps; rest 20 seconds
Set 2: 250 x 3 reps; rest 20 seconds
Set 3: 250 x 2 reps
Drops sets have been an integral part of the muscle-building regimens of bodybuilders for years. Everyone from Larry Scott to Branch Warren utilize this training technique.
Drop sets work simply because they recruit the entire spectrum of muscle fibers, ranging from the powerful fast-twitch fibers down to the slow-twitch fibers.
Drop sets have been used as a way to continue exercise with lighter weights but maximal intensity once muscular failure has been reached. This, in turn, stimulates the release of growth hormone (GH) and insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1) and sparks hypertrophy.
Using the dumbbell incline press as an example, with a pair of 100s, you would perform this weight until failure. Next, you would do the same thing with 80s then finish with 60s.
Barbell drop sets are usually associated with the strip set, meaning you have small plates on the barbell and once muscular failure is reached, you strip one of the plates off and continue.
An example would be doing triceps extensions with 105 pounds, which would be a 45-pound bar with three 10s on each side; curl this weight until failure. Then, your partners immediately strip a 10-pound plate off each side; then you do 85 pounds until muscle failure. Repeat the process, and then do 65 pounds until failure. You could continue this all the way down to the 45-pound Olympic bar.
Generally, drop sets are reduced in weight/intensity 10–30% per drop, and 2–3 drops are performed.
Rest-Pause Drop Combo
Bodybuilding gurus say you can train long (high volume) or intense. There is an exception: by combining these two methods, we get an intense workout without skimping on the volume.
Once warmed up, I’m going to have you in and out of the gym in 30 minutes. This requires a 100% physical effort and 100% mental focus, no Facebook updates and no social interaction periods. As my friend, Ray Toulany, says, “To truly see a man train hard is frightening.”
What is a rest-pause drop (RPD)?
Okay, now you’re schooled on rest-pause and drop sets. Let’s put it all together. You are going to lift a weight you can normally hit for each of the prescribed exercises for 6-–10 reps at failure, rest for 20 seconds, then repeat this again at failure, rest 20 seconds and repeat this again. This is a traditional rest-pause set, three sets in one.
Now, here is the kicker.
Immediately reduce the weight by 20–30% and repeat the exact same sequence. You have now accomplished six sets in minimal time, with maximum intensity.
Do this for all four exercises.
A practical example for the Dumbbell Bench Press would be:
80s x 8 reps; rest 20 seconds
80s x 3 reps; rest 20 seconds
80s x 2 reps; rest 20 seconds
60s x 7 reps; rest 20 seconds
60s x 4 reps; rest 20 seconds
60s x 4 reps
You just got more done in less time without sacrificing intensity. Give this a shot without sacrificing the perils of volume or intensity.
This is not for faint of heart—if you have any doubts you can always find excerpts on YouTube from Richard Simmon’s “Sweatin’ to the Oldies.”
Time to hit the pig iron!
Josh Bryant, MS, CSCS, trains some of the strongest and most muscular athletes in the world in person at Metroflex Gym in Arlington, Texas, and via the Internet. He is the co-author of Amazon # 1 selling book, Jailhouse Strong. To learn more about Josh Bryant or to sign up for his free training tips newsletter, visit www.JoshStrength.com