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I saw someone else doing this and I tried it and have liked the results. I start by doing a half dozen reps on the heaviest weight I can handle, then without resting more that the time it takes to change weights, I do as many reps as I can on a lighter weight and continue down doing as many reps as I can with each lighter weight. I go all the way down to a very light weight where I am doing lots of reps. For example, I might start with bicep curls with 45 lb dumb bells, then 35, 25 and finally end with lots (40+) reps with 15 lbs. I've been doing this for a couple of months and have noticed more muscle bulk and my highest weights have increased.

I am relatively new at doing weightlifting and my goal is for more muscle bulk and increased strength. I'm 63, 6'1", 220; I've done cardio and strength training for a year and a half so I had some bulk and some strength gain before I tried this new technique, but I had hit a plateau and this new routine broke through that plateau for sure. For example on a chest press machine I had gone from doing about 100 lbs to plateauing at about 140 lbs before the new routine and now I can do 180 lbs 2 months later.

So the question is, is the an effective way to achieve my goals?

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More muscle bulk, somewhat, may depend on how big you are already. Increased strength, not really. Better strength-endurance, absofrigginlutely. –  Dave Liepmann Sep 24 '12 at 4:30
    
I have gotten both more strength and bulk. On a chest press machine, 2 months ago I could only do 140 lbs now I can do 180. I have also gotten more bulk (my wife agrees! :-) I wasn't very big before because I am pretty new at this... –  FrankH Sep 24 '12 at 4:36
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Any stress will create adaptation in a sufficiently unadapted individual. That means that 8 pound kettlebell-aerobics DVDs are both effective for some people. It does not mean that the same 8-pound kettlebell DVD isn't highly inefficient and totally boneheaded for most people. –  Dave Liepmann Sep 24 '12 at 4:47
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@michael My criticism is not that it won't work, since that's not the OP's question, and I don't doubt that it will work (he states above that it is working, & I'm well aware of the people who get big & strong with push-ups, despite the greater efficacy of bench press or gymnastics) The issue is whether it's efficient or optimal. This method will certainly make someone a little stronger and a lot bigger, if (as you note) they rest properly. But if strength (not size) is really the goal, I'd say there are better ways. –  Dave Liepmann Sep 24 '12 at 15:02
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In case you were wondering, this type of mini-routine is called "Strip Sets." –  Moses Sep 24 '12 at 16:07
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This process of lifting a heavy weight several times, then immediately doing the same exercise with lower weight for many reps, is called strip or drop sets. (They go by some other names, listed here.) It is primarily a bodybuilding method, since they are geared towards training a muscle group to failure for the purpose of increasing muscle size instead of strength or power. As bodybuilding.com puts it:

Bodybuilders are unique among athletes because they're concerned purely with cosmetic improvements and not athletic performance. That's why bodybuilders prefer drop sets - because they're decidedly geared towards increasing muscle size (hypertrophy). By contrast, you don't see a lot of football players, sprinters or other athletes using drop sets, because drop sets are not conducive to strength, power or speed gains. In fact, most athletes want strength and power without bulk, so drop sets are usually nixed. However, if pure mass is what you're after, then drop sets are ideal!

That said, they certainly can produce strength gain. Nearly any exercise can. If someone is sufficiently unadapted to exercise, something as simple as walking can produce massive strength increases. Does that mean walking is optimal strength training? Maybe for them (or maybe not), but not for most people. It may be effective for a limited time in a portion of the population, but it is not a maximally efficient use of time or energy.

For instance: push-ups are less efficient for increasing strength than gymnastics exercises or bench press, but if someone using just push-ups is dedicated, they can get very big and very strong. That doesn't mean push-ups are best for someone looking for strength and size, but it doesn't mean it won't work. (NB: a sub-optimal strength or hypertrophy program adhered to diligently, is superior to an optimal program executed with poor adherence, or with insufficient rest or nutrition.)

One specific variant of drop sets that might be optimal for you is low-rep drop sets (ibid):

This was a favorite method of Larry Scott, the first Mr. Olympia. Scott used this technique to develop monstrous deltoids and arms, even on a less than genetically optimal frame. Larry believed that heavy weight and low reps (six reps) were the best way to develop size and strength concurrently.

This rep range allows you to use heavier weights, which can help maintain your strength levels and thicken up those muscle fibers without much of a pumping effect. Begin with a six rep max, then drop the weight by about ten to fifteen percent with each drop. Repeat with the lighter weight for six more reps for the desired number of drops.

If your goal is size and strength both, and you like this method (with high reps or low), keep at it. I suspect that your strength increases will taper off fairly quickly, since drop sets rely more on strength-endurance than strength. But even at the point when strength gains decrease, you'll still probably be getting bigger.

One caveat that I would agree with, as I am wary of consistently high-intensity programming for most people (ibid):

Use Drop Sets Sparingly As A High Intensity Method. Drop sets are intense and they require caution and common sense. If you used them all the time, you would quickly burn out and overtrain. One great way to use drop sets is the 3:1 method: you perform three straight sets of an exercise, followed by one drop set.

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The problem here is your comparison of this method to walking (and earlier to an 8 lbs kettlebell). It's hyperbolic, and it makes it hard to pay attention to your more valid criticism. –  michael Sep 24 '12 at 17:59
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What's hyperbolic about kettlebells or walking? They both are able to increase strength for many people, but the increases taper quickly, just like push-ups or sub-optimal barbell strength training programs. This is exactly the point I intended to make. –  Dave Liepmann Sep 24 '12 at 18:22
    
@michael (I meant 8-pound kettlebells) –  Dave Liepmann Sep 24 '12 at 18:52
    
@michael This other answer describes why I am making that point. –  Dave Liepmann Sep 27 '12 at 13:46
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You'll find that there are several options for programming (the combination and scheduling of exercises, sets, and reps that you do), and they all accomplish a set goal. Many successful programming incorporate the concept of As Many Reps As Possible (AMRAP), which only differs from going to failure by saving a rep in the tank.

High volume assistance work like curls, leg presses, etc. is very beneficial for muscle size and joint health. Paul Carter suggests 5 sets of 8-12 for upper body assistance lifts or 5 sets of 12-15 for lower body assistance lifts. But he also has a program which has you going to failure, trying to beat your last week's number, and then following it with trying to get half the reps going to failure again. The high rep assistance work gets blood flowing through the joints and strengthens your tendons which helps remedy inflammation and prevent it.

Another common approach is the pyramid approach which is something similar to what you described. You work up to a top set, and then back down.

Here's some food for thought distilled from books from Jim Wendler, Paul Carter, and Mark Rippetoe:

  • Strength sets require some serious effort, so rest as long as you need
  • Fatigue adds difficulty, so do try to keep the rest as short as you can handle--particularly on assistance work
  • A complete program will address strength, hypertrophy (size), conditioning and mobility. Neglect nothing, but emphasize what you want to focus on.
  • High reps are good for size, endurance, and joint health
  • Biceps curls help prevent tendinitis in the elbow (for all you bench happy people)
  • Performing assistance as a circuit can help alleviate boredom and get through the training session quicker.

Remember that size is a result of the volume of work you put your muscles through. You should aim to get stronger, so that you have the ability to increase your volume.

  • Volume is weight x reps x sets
  • Increasing just 5lbs in the weight can have a marked increase in total volume.
  • Have a plan, execute the plan, and leave.
  • Evaluate after you have done your plan a couple times to see if it needs adjustments.
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