Exponential Drop Sets for Mass and Strength

By Nick Nilsson
Author of Mad Scientist Muscle


The Drop Set is a classic intensity technique used by those looking to build muscle mass.

At it's simplest, you're reducing the weight then immediately continuing with the set at that reduced weight in order to keep working the target muscle.

The idea of the drop set (often executed as a Triple Drop Set, reducing the weight three times) is to force recruitment of a greater number of muscle fibers by decreasing the weight slightly (usually about 10%) after reaching momentary muscular failure at the starting weight, allowing you to continue with more reps of the movement.


Personally, I've used Triple Drop Sets in the past...and I don't much like them.

While they work well for some people, I found they simply overloaded my nervous system without giving me the results in muscle mass I was looking for. I was simply beating down my system and not seeing the payoff.

That's where THIS drop set framework comes in....

With this Exponential Drop Set technique, you're going to target literally EVERY available muscle fiber and muscle fiber type in the target bodypart(s) in one set.

You'll do it by doubling the number of reps you do every time you drop the weight (that's where the exponential comes in).

The first time I used it, it felt immensely better than the standard Triple Drop Set. Granted, it's MUCH harder but I believe the payoff is much greater because of the full-spectrum muscle fiber type targeting you're getting with it.



You're going to start with a SINGLE rep of a near-maximal weight (e.g. 95 to 98% of 1 RM) to target the power and explosive-oriented Type 2b muscle fibers.

Perform one rep (I'll be using Trap Bar Deadlifts to demonstrate this).

I've got 495 lbs on the bar here for the first single rep.

Build muscle fast with Exponential Drop SetsBuild muscle fast with Exponential Drop Sets

Now you're going to do the first drop in weight. I reduced the weight about 10% down to 455 lbs, stripping off a couple of the 45 lb plate and adding a couple of 25's.

One important thing to note here is that you don't have to follow these exact percentages...I've included them for reference. For me, I basically reduced the weight by what was fairly easy to manage mentally along with what I thought would work physically.

Also, just FYI, the only rest you get is the time it takes to change weight.

Now perform TWO reps with that weight.

Build muscle fast with Exponential Drop SetsBuild muscle fast with Exponential Drop Sets

At this load, you're still targeting the Type 2b muscle fibers.

Once you've completed two reps at the weight, you're going to drop another 10% (approximately) and do FOUR reps. I pulled the 25's off and went to 405 lbs.

Build muscle fast with Exponential Drop SetsBuild muscle fast with Exponential Drop Sets

At this point, you're still working some Type 2b fibers, moving towards the Type 2a fibers...which are still power and strength-oriented but with more endurance.

After completing the four reps, then I did another drop of 40 lbs (again, approximately 10% reduction), bringing the weight down to 365 lbs.

This next set would be for EIGHT reps.

Build muscle fast with Exponential Drop SetsBuild muscle fast with Exponential Drop Sets

Ironically enough, this is when it really starts to get harder...the heavier weights are a bit easier because you're relatively fresh and you're doing fewer reps. Once you hit this eight-rep set, the waste products are building up and fatigue is increasing.

The next drop will be done for 16 reps, which is primarily Type 2a still, while moving towards Type 1 endurance-oriented fibers.

I dropped down to 295 lbs, which was a 70 lb drop. Because the reps are doubling, you actually have to reduce the weight MORE than when you're working with higher loads but fewer reps.

Build muscle fast with Exponential Drop SetsBuild muscle fast with Exponential Drop Sets

I managed to get the 16 reps at 295 lbs and it was VERY tough. I did have to pause between some of the reps as I was getting towards the end.

So next, I dropped the next weight to 135 lbs for 32 reps. This is the biggest drop yet...and even though the weight seems very light, the accumulated fatigue and waste products will make it extremely challenging.

Build muscle fast with Exponential Drop SetsBuild muscle fast with Exponential Drop Sets

And believe me, at this point, there will be no 64 rep set...I don't think I could even stand up 64 times with no weight at all...

This 32 rep range would definitely target the slow-twitch Type 1 muscle fibers.


Here's what the overall framework of the Exponential Drop Set looks like:

Set 1 1 rep 95-98% 1 RM 495 lbs
Set 2 2 reps 10% drop 455 lbs
Set 3 4 reps 10% drop 405 lbs
Set 4 8 reps 10% drop 365 lbs
Set 5 16 reps 20 to 35% drop 295 lbs
Set 6 32 reps 40 to 50% drop 135 lbs

This type of framework can be easily applied to any compound exercise (it'll work better on compound than with isolation exercises as you'll have more actual load to work with in terms of drops).

I would definitely recommend planning out your weight drops before you do the set so you know exactly what weight you're switching to so you don't waste time trying to figure it out.

And yes, if you try it with deadlifts, you will hate me the next day...and probably quite a few days after. After doing this technique, I experienced a degree of deep soreness I hadn't experienced in years with the deadlift.

So if you're looking for something to shake up your training, give this Exponential Drop Set technique a try. It'll target all your major muscle fiber types in one shot very effectively.



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