Drop sets are exquisite. Drop sets are brutal. Drop sets are so efficient, they are a way for you to get an entire workout from just one set! They are also a way for you to include ALL rep ranges in a single set!
Rep ranges are a hot topic in strength training circles. If you have the patience you can google it, but the gist is that different rep ranges are thought to have different effects on muscle building and strength development. An exercise or weight that is difficult enough for you to only be able to do five or fewer reps is thought to be best for building pure strength, whereas a higher range such as 10-12 is believed better for building muscle. An even higher range is best for conditioning and endurance. I think they’re ALL important, but do you have time and energy to practice them all?
Drop sets allow the entire range in a single set. In the weightlifting world, you would pick an exercise and a weight that allows only a few good reps. At that point, put that weight down and pick the next lighter weight and keep going. Do this all the way down the rack until the final weight is a fraction of the starting weight. In the end you have done a set of 20 or more reps, but each one of those reps was very difficult and near the limit of your strength and ability.
But with calisthenics we don’t use weights, so how can we do drop sets? The answer is that we do Mechanical drop sets. Rather than changing the weight, we change the angle or hand position or foot position to make each phase of the set slightly less difficult than the preceding phase. You can also accomplish this with exercise selection, as long as the exercises you choose are in the same general grouping, such as push, pull and squat.
Here’s a video showing a mechanical drop set in the push group. I start out with dips, but because dips are relatively easy for me, I made sure the form was good and the tempo was rather slow. Once I couldn’t do another, I move to diamond push-ups, then to regular push-ups, then to incline push-ups. As you can see, it got difficult very quickly. The sky’s the limit here; you can keep going as long as you have variations to add and energy in your tank. Believe me, you will really feel it if you try these.
Below is a video showing a mechanical drop set for pulling exercises. It’s a little bit more difficult to orchestrate drop sets for pulling exercises with a bar, as you would need bars at varying heights. However, you can easily accomplish drop sets for pulling exercises using gymnastics rings or suspension trainers. Although exercises in general are more difficult with rings or trainers because you do not have the stability of the bar, you are able to easily vary your body position without needing to change the height of the rings or trainers. Put them at about waist height or a little higher. This will allow a pull-up with your legs out in front of you, or an L-Sit Pull-Up (a VERY difficult exercise). From there you can put your feet to the ground and change their position as well as the position of your upper body to accomplish a variety of rows.