Comparison of drop sets, supersets and pyramids…

Drop set vs. superset vs. pyramids: What exactly are these, how are they different and what are the benefits of each? 

Drop sets, supersets and pyramid sets are three forms of intensity training, that are also valuable for busting past a performance plateau. They also make better use of time

From my experience, the most common of these is the superset.

This is when one weight routine is immediately followed by another weight routine of a different muscle group.

When it’s the same muscle group, it’s called a compound set (not to be confused with “compound routine,” which means a routine that involves multiple joints, such as bench press and deadlifts).

Examples of supersets:

  • Bench press paired with dumbbell curls
  • Seated dips followed by reverse barbell curls
  • Military press followed by pushups
  • Chin-ups followed by dumbbell squats.
  • Performing supersets offers a dynamic component to your weight workout.

Drop sets hurt more than supersets and pyramids. These can be dreadful. Drop sets are also known as breakdowns or descending sets. They exhaust every muscle fiber to the last fiber.

Do an 8-12 rep max of any given weight routine. Without resting, repeat with a lighter weight.

Without resting, repeat again with a lighter weight. Keep doing this till you just can’t move the muscle anymore, or until you’ve reached the lightest weight.

This can take all day if your starting weight is a lot, such as a heavy bench press.

On the other hand, with dumbbell curls, you’ll be finished a lot sooner, since your starting weight may be, say, 40 pound dumbbells.

Routines in which drop sets hurt like mad include leg extension, leg press, triceps push-downs, military press and biceps curls.

Actually, all drop set routines hurt fiercely, but these here stand out.

As you can see, drop sets don’t quite work with certain routines such as deadlifts, unless you have several pre-weighted barbells lined up for your use.

Pyramids mean that you start with a light weight load that enables you to do maybe 15 reps.

Immediately increase the weight and go again, obviously for fewer reps. Don’t increase so much that your second set is only half as many reps.

The goal is to have a very challenging rep configuration of, perhaps, 15, 12, 10, 8 and 6.

An example of pyramids with dumbbell chest presses might be: 50 x 15; 60 x 12; 70 x 10; 80 x 8; and 100 x 5 or 6.  You get the picture.

Pyramids and drop sets are most easily performed with weight-stack equipment and dumbbells because you can rapidly move onto the next weight increment.

Lorra Garrick is a former personal trainer certified by the American Council on Exercise. At Bally Total Fitness she trained clients of all ages for fat loss, muscle building, fitness and improved health. 



Top image: Shutterstock/Jasminko Ibrakovic