There’s a million and one different ways to perform a weight training set, and you’ll often see many a (bro science clickbait article) technique used at the gym. Usually with the aim to “confuse” or “shock” the body. The important question is do these advanced techniques actually provide better results?
Multiple techniques were put to the test in a new study which compared strength and muscle size gains using the following protocols:
1. Traditional sets (75%, 3-5 sets, 6-12 reps, failure later sets)
2. Drop sets (Upto 2 drop sets after reaching initial failure)
3. Crescent pyramid aka “Bro sets” (15x65%, 12x70%, 10x75%, 8x80%, 6x85%)
Trainees were Intermediate to Advanced with average of 6.4 years of training. What they found was that drop sets and pyramid sets “do not promote greater gains in strength, muscle hypertrophy and changes in muscle architecture compared to traditional resistance training".
Muscle size and strength was increased significantly but very similarly with all 3 protocols. This is not the first study to come to the same conclusions.
As mentioned in a previous post, volume appears to be king for gainz. One crucial factor that no study including this one will ever really be able to test is the variability in volume increases that come with certain techniques like drop sets. Often advanced trainees will perform drop sets in a fashion where by they instinctively auto-regulate sets based on how they feel. Allowing themselves to truly push to their recovery limits. It's possible that those trainees who have good awareness of their body and recovery, using some advanced techniques could very slightly improve their results. At the top level, every little extra counts.
After training for a period of time you’ll eventually come to the point where gainz are slow. As a natural it’s common to only gain 1-2 lbs of muscle a year once you’re advanced. One of the initial thoughts is that we need to train more intensely or “confuse” the body into submission and get back on the faster gainz train.
The reality is, we all have a natural limit to how much muscle we can build, otherwise we’d see a lot more huge natural bodybuilders. The most important thing is to accept that gainz will slow, while remaining consistent and just enjoying the ride. Knowing that you can always improve aesthetically by working on other areas, such as symmetry, proportions, body fat / conditioning and even mobility (better posture).
Personally I still think the best way to make long term gains is to have a long term consistent training plan which includes periodisation. Focusing more on slow progressive overload by adding weight and reps (volume). This is especially true for beginners.
Only once you have these basics applied and reached closer to your genetic limit should you even worry about more advanced techniques. So often trainees get bogged down by the minutiae, when they don't even have the basics down first.
Ideally if you intend to include techniques such as training to failure and drop sets, you will plan these accordingly to make sure you’re able to recover sufficiently.