I often talk about my favorite loading schemes (5-4-3-2-1, wave loading) as well as training methods (clusters, rest/pause, heavy partial lifts) but as a powerbuilding guy, someone who wants to improve performance and size simultaneously, these methods more often fall in the “intensification/heavy load” category.

I’m often asked about what my favorite, pure muscle-building method is. What is my go-to approach when I need to rapidly put muscle on a client, or on myself? Or what is my default “bodybuilding method” when adding muscle-building work to a performance program.

That method is what I call mechanical drop sets (or mechanical advantage sets). I like this method so much that I even produced a DVD specifically on that approach!

The reason I like this method so much is that it is very effective at stimulating muscle growth.  It allows you to reach an optimal hypertrophy time under tension (40-60 seconds) without getting bored mid-set, and it also recruits more muscle fibers during a set. When I have to build hypertrophy in the least amount of time (if I cannot spend a lot of time working on hypertrophy in a workout) this is my favorite approach.


Mechanical drop sets belong to the same category as drop sets and rest/pause sets: The “extended set” category. Basically, all three approaches allow you to continue stimulating a muscle, even once you reach the point of muscle failure, or close to it.

Drop sets do that by having you decrease the weight when you reach failure.

Rest/pause sets do it by having you rest for 15-20 seconds once you hit failure.

And both of these methods work. They work because they induce more muscle fiber fatigue (and according to Zatsiorsky, greater muscle fiber fatigue means more growth stimulation), and they also increase the release of local growth factors (IGF-1, MGF) and lactate which are maximized with a time under tension of 40-60 seconds in a set.

Those local growth factors stimulate protein synthesis directly and lactate (lactic acid) has recently be shown to also trigger muscle growth directly.

Mechanical drop sets do the same thing, but instead of taking a break or reducing the weight to be able to continue with your set, you move on to a different variation of the exercise while keeping the same weight.

Normally, I use 3 variations of an exercise, although you could also use 2 or 4.

You always start with the weakest variation and finish with the strongest (so that when you hit failure on the weaker movements you can still do reps on the stronger ones).

Here is an example of what it can look like. In this set, Gen starts with a reverse grip pressdown (weaker), then moves on to the rope pressdown (slightly stronger) and finishes with the regular pressdown (strongest). She keeps the same weight for all three exercises and does as many quality reps as she can.

Here is a second example. Here Nick does a mechanical drop set with a barbell front raise. He starts with a closer grip, which is harder because the bar will be further away from the body, then he uses a moderate grip which is slightly easier because the bar is closer to the body and he finishes with a wide grip, shortening the resistance arm even further.

And a third example with the neutral grip lat pulldown, first a behind the neck pulldown, moving to the front with an upright torso and finishing up with a leaning back pulldown.

As you can see, you can vary the hand position, the grip width and even the movement. As long as it stays within the same pattern and loads the same muscles.

You can even use mechanical drop sets with compound movements like a deadlift or a squat:

Of course, when using a deadlift or squat, I prefer to go with lower reps for each position and not shoot for failure.

You could even combine an Olympic lift with a strength movement. For example:

3 power cleans + Maximum RDL with same weight

For maximum hypertrophy you can even go to 4-5 variations of the pattern:

– Incline lateral raise
– Seated lateral raise
– Incline partial lateral raise
– Seated partial lateral raise
– Front raise

But the principle is the same: utilize several variations of the same pattern to create more muscle fiber fatigue, greater accumulation of growth factors and lactate.

One of the great benefits from this approach is that it allows you to hit a lot more muscle fibers in less time. That’s why, in my experience, it is more effective for stimulating maximum growth than drop sets and rest/pause.


This training methods offers lots of options.  As long as you can create 2-4 variations of an exercise you can create a mechanical drop set. Here are some guidelines that can help you:

– Create 2-4 (I normally stick with 3) variations of an exercise, you can use grip width, foot stance, hand position (supinated, pronated, neutral) or even change the movement slightly, as long as it loads the same muscles in a similar way
– Put the exercises in order from the weakest to the strongest
– Use the same weight for all three variations
– Rest as little as possible between the variations, up to 10-15 seconds is fine with bigger movements


  • For hypertrophy

Exercise variations: 3-4
Exercise type: either isolation or lower stress movements (e.g. not deadlifts or squats)
Reps per exercise: 6-10 for the first, then maximum reps for the other 2 (or 3) variations
Rest between variations: None/minimal
Number of work sets: 2-3
Going to failure: yes

  • For strength

Exercise variations: 2-3
Exercise type: compound movements
Reps per exercise: 3-6 or the first one, maximum quality reps for the other(s)
Rest between variations: 10-15 seconds
Number of work sets: 3-4
Going to failure: No

  • For power

Exercises variations: 2
Exercise type: one variation of the Olympic lifts and a compound movement (examples below)
Reps per exercise: 2-5 for the first one, maximum quality reps for the other
Rest between variations: 15-20 seconds
Number of work sets: 4-5
Going to failure: No

Examples of pairings:

– Power clean from hang + RDL
– Power snatch from hang + Snatch RDL
– Snatch grip high pull + Bent over row
– Military press + Push press


I love mechanical drop sets because you can get a lot of stimulation with minimal gym time. You also get a very thorough development by utilizing various angles in your set. When I train for strength, I often rely on mechanical drop sets to build muscle because I can get the job done in 10-15 minutes so that I have more time to spend on high performance work. Give this method a try you will be amazed at how great and versatile it is.


Christian Thibaudeau

Written by Christian Thibaudeau

Christian Thibaudeau has been involved in the business of training for over the last 16 years. During this period, he worked with athletes from 28 different sports. He has been “Head Strength Coach” for the Central Institute for Human Performance (of…