You MAD?


When you first begin training for size and strength, you pretty quickly learn that just about everything works:

Training by instinct works…

The basic 3 x 8 approach works…

5 x 5 training works…

And even circuit training helps…

However there soon comes a time when your body requires more. What used to give you almost instant rewards is now starting to lose its effectiveness. So you experiment – you begin adjusting the weight, tempo, volume and exercises as you piece together what works best for you.

Progress now becomes harder. What’s needed now is for you to introduce advanced training methods to continue to progress.

One of the best advance methods is something called a drop set.

Drop Sets - Whaaaat?

The goal with any drop set is to allow you to extend the set beyond traditional failure. The most common form is to drop the weight by 10% or so, and continue to smash out a few extra reps [this usually involves making weird grunting noises at the same time.]

The theory with this method is that the muscle receives additional overload, causing greater damage and subsequent muscle growth. And that’s awesome. However here’s my issue with traditional drop sets:

The weight decreases.

The goal of training needs to be to place an increased demand on the muscle. With increased demand, comes more stress. And from there, more demand results in more muscle.

So: More load = more demand = more muscle.

The problem is that drop sets force you to use lighter weights as you extend the set. So although you’re performing more volume, the quality of that work decreases, and you’re not making progress.

If only there were a way to keep pushing heavy weights as you fatigue…

There Is!

So how can you continue to lift heavy weight whilst at the same time go beyond technical failure on each exercise? The answer lies in the mechanics of the movement.

By mechanics I’m referring to the position of the body, and how the position either increase or decrease difficulty.

The Betterer Drop Set

I want to introduce you to a really fun technique called Mechanical Advantage Drop Sets, or MADS. These are a type of advanced drop set however the variable is not the weight, but rather the exercises you perform. The weight remains constant.

Here’s what I mean. You’ve probably noticed that it’s easier for you to perform a bench press with a really low incline, and harder to see it with a high incline, right?

As the incline increases, the leverage changes unfavorably, as your muscle recruitment changes.

What’s happening here is that once the angle changes to a higher incline, the bigger, stronger chest muscle perform less work and the smaller, weaker deltoid muscles do more of the work.

So with MAD training, you make a tweak to the movement or the angle to manage more reps. You’d normally stick with the one exercise. The change of mechanics will allow for more repetitions, and hence more progress.

MADS are similar to traditional drop sets, as you’re still focusing on extending the set to go beyond typical muscle failure. However with MADS, the weight doesn’t increase.


[That’s example, for my non-Spanish friends]

Let’s say little Johnny was curling 10kg dumbbels. It’s Friday – International Arm Day – and he wishes to look his best for the beach tomorrow. He squeezes out 8 reps, and then immediately reduces the weight for another 5 reps. Which is cool – it’s a great short term method to extend the set.

The MAD method relies on the same principle, but instead, we’re going to change the mechanical advantage. SO…

Johnny is going to start by performing bilateral [both arms at the same time] seated dumbbell curls with 10kg dumbbells. When Johnny is too fatigued to continue with good technique, he will pause for a few seconds to perform seated unilateral dumbbell curls (one at a time).

This means that the non-working arm can get some rest. When Johhny is then too fatigued to perform seated bilateral curls, he will stand up, and continue onto set #3 with standing unilateral curls.

This new standing position is slightly easier than the seated variety, so Johnny can continue with another 5-10 extra reps per arm at the same weight.

So we’ve taken three similar movements – bilateral seated, unilateral seated, and unilateral standing – curls and placed them in order of mechanical advantage.

Here’s another example, one using pull-ups.

And – considering it is Monday aka International Chest Day – here’s a chest variation you can try. 

  • High incline chest press, choose your 10RM. 8-10 reps, Rest 10-20 secs,
  • Immediately lower the bench to a low incline, perform AMRAP, Rest 10-20 secs,
  • Immediately lower the bench again to either flat or a slight decline, perform AMRAP. Rest 2-3mins, repeat 2-4 sets.

Closing Thoughts

MAD cam be used with just about any body part and is – in my opinion – the best advanced training method. Be warned: it’s tough. But don’t take the easy way out by reducing the weight.

Instead, change the mechanics of the movement and keep the load constant.


Let me know how you of in the comments below. 


  • James Sali

    At what stage of your workout would you best consider this method? Obviously not your first exercise otherwise you would be fatigued for the rest of the session, however is drop sets most effective towards the end or middle of that muscle groups set exercises. e.g. Chest and triceps (if this is what you are completing) Would it be beneficial to complete it as your last chest exercise before moving to the more tri oriented exercises are save it until you have finished the whole session?

    • It could be either. You could do it fresh, to gain max benefits. Or it could be done as a finisher. I’m currently using a T-Bar row set as a finisher to chest/back workouts. BE WARNED: they suck 😉