Drop Sets for Increasing Intensity

Drop sets are a simple technique to increase the intensity of your workouts. Or course just intensity is not enough: your diet is critical too! They can be done with machines, dumbbells, and with some difficulty (you may need a helper) with barbells. So, what exactly is a drop set?

A “drop set” is when you perform an exercise to failure, then continue with a lighter weight to failure. You might drop the weight one or more times, continuing to failure each time. Sometimes they are also called descending sets. Triple-drops is a term sometimes used when three different weights are used.

Here are two examples from last week’s workouts:Benchpress and drop sets

Dumbell curls: For my last two sets of dumbbell curls, I used 35 pounds until I couldn’t continue with good form, quickly put down the 35 pound dumbbell and grabbed the 30 pounder and managed a few more reps, then switched to a 25 pound dumbbell and cranked out yet a few more reps. I did this separately for each arm, although I also could have alternated arms with two dumbbells. It was important that I had the dumbbells all lined up so that there was a mere second or two when switching dumbbells.

Lat Pulldowns: I use drop sets a lot with lat pulldowns. I had pre-exhausted with 3 sets of pull-ups (one of my favorite back exercises together with deadlifts), did a set with close to my body weight, immediately moved the pin in the weight stack to remove 20 pounds, cranked out another 3 reps, dropped another 20 pounds, managed 4 more reps, dropped 20 pounds again, did 2 more reps, and then gasped for air for a while.

After both workouts I had a post workout shake and then cooked a quick and easy anabolic meal!

It is harder to do drop sets with barbells, but I will occasionally do them on the benchpress when I have a spotter or two. It is pretty straightforward: one set to failure, then have the spotter(s) quickly remove one weight from each side and continue until failure. Of course you can drop several times as well.

I’m more likely to do negative reps to increase intensity with bench presses, where a spotter helps me raise the bar when I fail for the last (usually 2 or 3) reps, and then I slowly lower (hence “negative”) the barbell myself.

As a general rule, you need to use dropsets sparingly as they can easily lead to overtraining. I only occasionally use them and they’re not a weekly part of my training.

There are plenty of variations as well. For example, some people do not do them to failure. Also the amount of weight change can vary quite a bit. For example, with my dumbbell curls, instead of going from 35 to 30 to 25 pounds I could have done 40 to 30 to 20 pounds.

Workout hard, pay attention to nutrition  , and grow!

The Anabolic Window

The Anabolic Window is a window of time when the body is particularly receptive to ingesting nutrients. It is also known as the metabolic window.

It is commonly accepted by bodybuilders to be the 45 minutes or perhaps slightly less after weight lifting.

This is one reason why you will often see people in the gym consuming various protein shakes immediately or shortly after their workouts.

Sometimes it is referred to as The Anabolic Window Theory and is controversial. Some claim there is no anabolic window, some claim there is and specific nutrients need to be ingested to maximize its effect, and some even claim there are multiple anabolic windows. Some people even believe the window “closes” within minutes of finishing your workout.

Bodybuilding fitness model

John Ivy and Robert Portman in their 2004 book “Nutrient Timing: The Future of Sports Nutrition” define it as “The Anabolic Phase in the forty-five minute window following a workout in which your muscle machinery, in the presence of the right combination of nutrients, initiates the repair of damaged muscle protein and replenishes muscle glycogen stores.”

Other researchers (Rasmussen, Tipton, et al, 2000) found no difference when a carb and protein (amino acid) shake was taken up to 3 hours after a workout. As they wrote, there are “similar anabolic responses” regardless of timing. This contradicts the anabolic window theory.

Another study, commonly referred to as Tipton (2001) although it was Tipton Rasmussen etc. as in the above study, found that ingesting nutrients before a workout was more effective, so maybe there is an anabolic window before your workout?

Wikipedia has a good summary.

One thing is certain. Shortly after a workout I and many others are famished and consuming a protein shake or other foods certainly feels good. Also, it is during rest and recovery, not during your workout, that your body grows. In other words, weight lifting workouts are catabolic but the rest and recovery they induce are anabolic. Proponents of the anabolic window theory often claim that consuming the right nutrients after your workout causes your body to shift from a catabolic state to an anabolic state more rapidly.

Despite the controversy and research conflicting this, most bodybuilders believe the anabolic window is 45 minutes or less after you finish your workout. This is what most professional body builders believe and work with and you can’t argue with success.

Here is what I do:

I don’t know if there is an anabolic window or not after a workout, but I am hungry, sometimes ravenous, and there is nothing to lose and maybe something to gain by consuming nutrients shortly after my workout. This might be a shake or a meal since I live close to my gym.

Before a workout, if hungry, I may also consume some easily digested nutrients before a workout. I limit this since as a mesomorph, controlling body fat is an issue.

Window or not, your bodybuilding diet and nutrition are important. Do not use your workouts as an excuse to eat junk food, although the occasional “cheat meal” or snack is fine.

Anabolic Cookbook

Anyone can cook awesome steak n veggiesAnabolic is a term that means muscle growth promoting and an anabolic cookbook is just a list of foods that are great for muscle growth promoting. Dave Ruel’s Anabolic Cooking is usually what comes to people minds.

Click Here to See Dave Ruel’s Anabolic Cooking

Dave’s book is great, and highly recommended, but I also suggest that everyone have their own favorite anabolic recipes, whether you physically have them all written down and in a folder or even bound or stored electrically, or maybe just in your head.

Mine contains a number of favorite recipes from Dave’s book, as well as some of my own.

One of the biggest failures with bodybuilding diets is boredom and failure due to lack of tasty variety.

You and your palate get bored. Having a list of easy foods that rock, anabolically speaking, helps avoid this. Hey, if your body demands nutrients and your mind agrees and all you have is potato chips and chocolate chip cookies it may get ugly. Now occasional cheating is fine, but not more than occasionally!

I always keep good ingredients on hand, as well as a few simple and quick recipes to help avoid the train wreck mentioned above . . .

My most commonly made recipe is one of my omelets, which is simple, fast, and only has rough directions. 3 eggs, some extra whites if I have them handy, and whatever veggies I have at hand. I break the eggs into a lightly buttered non-stick pan, add extra egg white, loosely scramble in the pan, and then add veggies. Depending on the veggies I might lightly cook them first, like the mushrooms and spinach I used today, or drop them right into the egg mixture like the onions and red peppers I often use.

I also have a great Chinese black bean scallop dish that is low in fat, high in protein, simple to cook, and always a hit.

Of course you can’t have fresh seafood just lying around like I do with many other ingredients, like eggs (I get mine from a neighbor, they taste better), veggies (usually fresh, I also have some canned or frozen just in case), beans, tuna fish, and a lot more.

Dave Ruel’s Anabolic Cooking has simple simple recipes anyone can cook easily, and I mean ANYONE, that promote muscle growth, discourage cheating, and taste great. Recipes range from 2 dozen great breakfasts to over a dozen anabolic desserts, and include the likes of: apple and cinnamon muffins, classic Denver omelets, Chicken Marsala, Tangy Thai Chicken, Chili, Jamaican Pork, New England Crabcakes, lots of salads, many types of inexpensive and easy to make protein bars, and much more.

Click Here to See Dave Ruel’s Anabolic Cooking

This is a great start, and all most people need, to an Anabolic Cookbook.

You can eat awesome tasting food, healthy muscle-building fat-melting food, that is easy to prepare, and inexpensive.

Or instead maybe you want to eat egg whites, tuna straight out of the can, chicken and steamed veggies, and cheat several times a week and make minimal if any progress? The choice is yours!

What Does Anabolic Mean?

DumbbellThe term anabolic is thrown around a lot, but what does it mean?

Anabolic means related to building muscle

The short answer, with respect to weight lifting and body building, is anabolic means related to building up muscle. The opposite is catabolic, which is breaking down muscle.

For example, lifting weights appropriately and eating properly are anabolic as they help build muscle. Over training is an example of something which is catabolic – it will lead to muscle breakdown and decline.

Now, the longer answer: “Anabolic” is the adjective form of the noun “anabolism,” which is “constructive metabolism,” or building more complex substances from simpler ones in living organisms, such as building muscle from proteins and nutrients. The term was first used in the late 1800s and was created by combining “ana” and “metabolism.” Now if my grammar details are not 100% correct, well, English isn’t my first language, but the meaning is obvious.

In practice we use the term anabolic for anything that promotes muscle growth.

For example, Anabolic Cooking is simply making food that is good for building muscle. Anabolic steroids are steroids that promote muscle growth (there are also corticosteroids which are anti-inflammatory medications).

I had a great leg workout tonight. 4 sets of front squats, 3 sets of leg extensions, and 3 sets of leg curls. It was an anabolic workout. For dinner I had a big spinach salad with and a lean steak. An anabolic meal.

Besides bodybuilding, I like to bike and sometimes even run. I’m considering doing a 100 mile bike ride this fall, something I’ve done before and that I enjoy. Both training for this event (a “century” in cycling parlance) and doing the actual 100 mile ride are not anabolic. In fact they are downright catabolic!

As I mentioned, sometimes I run. When running, I usually go about 5K two or three times a week, to help me control my body fat. Now running is not anabolic, but that mild amount of running is not catabolic either. If I were training for a 50 mile running race, as one of my friends is, the training would be catabolic. In fact if I took up serious long distance running, I’d no doubt drop 20-30 pounds of muscle whether I wanted to or not.

Three Anabolic Concerns: Training, Nutrition, and Rest

There are at least three anabolic things we should be concerned with.

The first is our weight training. We want a lot, but not enough to overtrain which is catabolic.

The second is nutrition. We want an anabolic, or muscle promoting, diet.

And the third is rest or recovery. It’s not during weight lifting that our muscles grow, but actually during recovery. And with my heavy squats today you can bet I’ll try to squeak in an extra bit of sleep. I usually sleep more when I can on deadlift and squat days, and I’m going to call that extra sleep “anabolic” because it promotes muscle growth.

The term anabolic is thrown around a lot, but what does it mean?

The short answer, with respect to weight lifting and body building, is anabolic means related to building  up muscle. The opposite is catabolic, which is breaking down muscle.

For example, lifting weights appropriately and eating properly are anabolic as they help build muscle. Overtraining is an example of something which is catabolic – it will lead to muscle breakdown and decline.

Now, the longer answer: “Anabolic” is the adjective form of the noun “anabolism,” which is “constructive metabolism,” or building more complex substances like bone and muscle from simpler substances in living organisms. The term was first used in the late 1800s and was created by combining “ana” and “metabolism.” Now if my grammar details are not 100% correct, well, English isn’t my first language, but the meaning is obvious.

In practice we use the term anabolic for anything that promotes muscle growth. For example, Anabolic Cooking is simply making food that is good for building muscle. Anabolic steroids are steroids that promote muscle growth (there are also corticosteroids which are anti-inflammatory medications).

I had a great leg workout tonight. 4 sets of front squats, 3 sets of leg extensions, and 3 sets of leg curls. It was an anabolic workout. For dinner I had a big spinach salad with and a lean steak. An anabolic meal.

Besides bodybuilding, I like to bike and sometimes even run. I’m considering doing a 100 mile bike ride this fall, something I’ve done before and that I enjoy. Both training for this event (a “century” in cycling parlance) and doing the actual 100 mile ride are not anabolic. In fact they are downright catabolic!

As I mentioned, sometimes I run. When running, I usually go about 5K two or three times a week, to help me control my body fat. Now running is not anabolic, but that mild amount of running is not catabolic either. If I were training for a 50 mile running race, as one of my friends is, the training would be catabolic. In fact if I took up serious long distance running, I’d no doubt drop 20-30 pounds of muscle whether I wanted to or not.

Three Anabolic Concerns: Training, Nutrition, and Rest.

There are at least three anabolic things we should be concerned with.

The first is our weight training. We want a lot, but not enough to overtrain which is catabolic.

The second is nutrition. We want an anabolic, or muscle promoting, diet.

And the third is rest or recovery. It’s not during weight lifting that our muscles grow, but actually during recovery. And with my heavy squats today you can bet I’ll try to squeak in an extra bit of sleep. I usually sleep more when I can on deadlift and squat days, and I’m going to call that extra sleep “anabolic” because it promotes muscle growth.

Your Bodybuilding Diet Plan

bbtrophyWe all know what a plan is. Do you actually have a bodybuilding diet plan? “Just listening to your body” which is often an excuse to eat a lot, means if you are a hard gainer you are not going to gain much, and if you are a mesomorph (like me) you be on the chubby side forever.

You need some type of plan.

Now one definition of a plan (I learned this one from the military):

“A plan is so you know what you are deviating from.”

Plans often need adjustment based on what is working, what is not working, and practical necessities for example.

Now a plan can be a formal and semi-rigid framework with flexibility build in like the Somanabolic Muscle Maximizer. You get three meal plans to choose from, and can also substitute from over 1000 foods within the framework.

A plan can also be much looser, like the 4 Hour Body Diet, which although not specific to bodybuilding works well with some minor additions such as enduring enough protein intake.

Some diets, like Atkins and other very low carb diets are strict but many people have success following them partially. For example Atkins (and I personally burn fat and build muscle on Atkins) insists on no coffee and no alcohol, but almost no one does that and that includes me!

Perhaps my favorite, and a fun, tasty, plan with lots of variety is based on the meal plans from the very highly recommended by me Anabolic Cooking. The author, Dave Ruel, believes that a bodybuilding and fitness diet “can and should include a lot of variety and tasty foods.” He makes it quite easy with lots of very simple to make tasty and fun foods that promote building muscle and burning fat.

What is the most important part of a bodybuilding diet after decent nutrition?

That you can stick to it!

Even if one diet is theoretically better than another, it is just theory if you cannot or will not stick to it. That is why I say “decent nutrition” not “perfect nutrition.”

Now what kind of diet you can stick to varies a lot. I have made enormous progress on ketogenic diets, very low fat diets. My friend Rocco can’t function or think well on them so he can’t stay on them so there is no way they can work for him. And if they did, he would be miserable.

What diet plan works for you also can and will vary through your life. I used to maintain muscle and lose fat rather quickly on a ketogenic diet while drinking multiple glasses of wine a night. Maybe my body has slowed down, I’m not sure, but that diet without the wine works now.

So, you need a plan that works for you.

And that means a bodybuilding diet plan you can stick too!

Ectomorph Diet and Bodybuilding

Ectomorphs are typical “skinny” guys and gals and find it hard to put on any weight. Some ectomorphs are more “ecto-mesomorphs” meaning they put on muscle a bit easier than most ectomorphs, but training and diet have similar considerations.

Unlike a mesomorph, they are not naturally muscular and lean, just naturally lean. Fortunately, unlike an endomorph (which describes me), fat is not much of an issue and if excess fat is gained an endomorph can lose it quickly and easily.

Hardgainer Prescription: Lots of clean calories, brief intense big muscle workouts
Hardgainer Prescription: Lots of clean calories, brief intense big muscle workouts

Ectomorphs can build great bodies, but it can be harder and slower – read on

An ectomorph is a classic hardgainer. You work extra hard for your muscle and you do not want to back slip as getting it back is slow and hard. You need to stick to your program, with the one exception that if you start eating crap (as long as you keep your nutrients and especially protein up) for a short while it is not a big deal.

Excess calories, whether junk or not, are not as big a deal as other body types.

Ectomorph Muscle Building Basics:

  • An enormous amount of high quality calories. You are eating MORE than 3 meals a day for sure!
  • Short intense workouts focusing on big muscle groups (squats, deadlifts, etc.).

Ectomorph diet must concentrate on getting enough quality calories – you need to eat A LOT. Guides and cookbooks like Anabolic Cooking are great so that you can concentrate on muscle building foods.

Pre bedtime meals, preferable good solid low fat/high protein like a protein shake are highly recommended as you can lose muscle due to catabolic processes while sleeping (basically, muscle breakdown; you need lots of calories to prevent this!).

Supplements are more important than for any other somatotypes.

Fast metabolisms: Need an incredible amount of calories to gain muscle: Fat not much of a worry!

Midnight pizza is not a big deal – and can actually be better than a “standard” non bodybuilding diet!

Workouts? Simple: Short and Intense.

You do NOT want to be a gym rat. Cardio is not your friend. Although some cardio is fine, do not go overboard. As a mesomorph, I also do half marathons and century bike rides – not recommended for ectos! Just enough to stay in good cardiovascular shape!

Exercises need to focus on big muscle groups.

Exercises need to focus on big muscle groups. Think squats, deadlifts, cleans, bench presses. Small muscle group exercises – isolation exercises – minimal if at all. Keep your work outs to 60 minutes maximum, preferably 45 minutes. Short, but intense!

An ectomorph can build a great body. As an ecto, you may actually need less muscle to look awesome as you naturally carry a very low amount of fat year round.