Wednesday, March 16, 2016 2:12 PM

Super Sets, Drop Sets, Forced Reps & Negatives…Oh my!

As per request this is the 411 on everything drop sets, forced reps, negatives and super sets.  Hopefully everyone is up to speed on isometrics now and the explanation of what our three types of muscle contractions are.  If not, I would encourage you to take a moment to refresh your memory on that now: "What, When, Why & How of Isometrics."

I apologize for not leaving this info in comment form on the isometric blog but I felt I wouldn’t be able to do the topic justice there.  So here we go!

A little disclaimer before we get to the meat of this subject.  These four tricks are commonly used for building size and strength as well as being handy for breaking through a stubborn plateau.  Now keep in mind that strength and hypertrophy go hand in hand, but some of the following techniques are thought to stress one more than the other.  I will expand on this thought as we go.

When any of these techniques are incorporated into your workout and done properly, your ‘Grrrrrrrrrr- face’ will be on prominent display, as well as the possibility of a slightly audible grunt or groan uttered during the effort of trying to achieve muscle ‘failure’.  This is the one time where failure is a good thing and is something we are actually striving for!  

Super Sets-
There are two commonly practiced super set options: agonist and antagonist.  You probably recall hearing those two terms from waaay back in a high school English-Lit class.  Anatomically they have a similar definition here.  Muscles attach to the skeleton in antagonistic or opposing pairs, think biceps and triceps for example.  The biceps will flex the elbow and the triceps will extend the elbow.  Easy enough?  

Antagonistic Super Set-

  • In an antagonistic super set you are going to stress two opposing muscle groups in back-to-back sets, ie., quads vs hamstrings, chest vs back or biceps vs triceps for a few common examples.  The thought is to take a standard 2-3min break between every set to try and be somewhat rested for maximal effort on each set to see the best strength gains possible.  
Agonistic Super Set-
  • An agonistic super set is a full on direct attack on a specific muscle group.  This would be combining two different exercises that hit the same muscle group.  Say leg press combined with leg extensions for the quads, or leg curls paired with dead lifts for the hamstrings as good examples of this.  In an agonist super set you want to keep the rest in between set pairs to a minimum.  Let’s take the hamstrings for instance.  I would perform my usual set of leg curls and jump straight to a set of deadlifts.  Once the deadlift set is done I would then rest 2-3min before going back to the leg curls and starting that two set cycle all over again.  This type of super set tends to be more targeted at hypertrophy than strength gains, so theory says

Drop Sets-
Let me start with a little disclaimer on drop sets; you may or may not need a partner for this technique.  A drop set is basically where you perform a set of 4-6reps and at the end of your set you immediately ‘drop’ or reduce the weight and keep going with the same exercise until failure again.  The key is you want to make this ‘drop’ and keep going as quickly as possible. 

With that in mind you can see where a training partner is crucial if, for instance, you wanted to perform drop sets on say the leg press or bench press where you would waste time getting out of and back into position to lift again.  It would be MUCH more efficient to have a partner to strip plates for you as you go.  If you are working out alone it is no problem to perform drop sets on a weight stack machine where all you have to do is move a pin to ‘drop’ weight.  Speed of transition is the key. 

One of my personal favorite drop sets is for dumbbell curls and is sometimes referred to as ‘Running the Rack’.  Pick a set of dumbbells that you can curl 4-6 times before failure.  Once you hit failure grab a lighter pair and curl them as many times as possible.  Continue down the rack in this fashion until failure.  Hence the name ‘Running the Rack’.  I will also warn you that this would be a bit rude to do at a peak time in the gym.  You will be hogging dumbbells, using a large portion of the rack and walking between fellow gym patrons and the mirror where they are focused on their form and technique.

Theory is that this is another technique that is going to target hypertrophy more than strength.

Forced Reps-
Forced reps can not be performed without a spotter, preferably a spotter you workout with regularly and trust.  Here is how forced reps work.  Say your rep count goal is 8reps in a set but you pick a weight that you can complete 5reps with correct form and technique, your spotter will be taking some of the load off for the last 3reps so that you can finish your set.  You can kind of think of forced reps as a mini version of drop sets.  Those last 3reps your spotter will be taking more of the load for you on each repetition.  With that in mind you can see how forced reps mimic drops sets a little bit.

Negatives are a great way to build strength if done correctly and just like forced reps you are going need a partner to include these in your workout.  You might also hear negatives referred to as eccentric training.  The reason is we are stressing that eccentric phase of any lift or lowering portion of a lift.  Do not confuse this with the regular eccentric phase of motion involved in your usual garden variety lifting routine.  This is going to be much slower.  If you are taking your time when you lift and showing good control most people will take around one second…maybe two seconds per eccentric phase of a lift.  While doing proper negatives we are talking 3-6 seconds per eccentric motion.  This will seem incredibly slow to most.  Don’t believe me?  Count 6 Mississippi's while you are sitting there reading this.  Go ahead, I will wait… 

Once you complete that slooow negative rep, your partner will do most of the work to help you move the weight into position to start the next negative rep.  If done correctly, you shouldn’t be able to perform more than 6 reps.  I should also point out that the weight used for your negative set is going to be a little bit more than your usual weight for that lift.  If you can do more than 6 negative reps, the weight is too light. 

So there you have it…the basics of of supersets, drop sets, forced reps and negatives.  I stress the word basics.  They can all be modified to meet your specific needs or goals, but this is a basic outline of the standard practice of each of them.  Feel free to drop a comment here or come into the Employee Fitness Center and hit us up if you are not sure if one of these techniques will work for your needs.  We would love to help you meet your goals!