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Fitness & Health

09th Jul 2018

Try ‘back-off’ sets for more muscle size and strength

This advanced but easy-to-implement trick can increase muscle mass and your one rep max

Alex Roberts

Back-off sets performed at the end of each exercise can boost muscle growth, muscle endurance and even strength

Lifting progressively heavy weights is generally believed to be the best method for gaining new muscle mass, but an advanced trick may help to get you there quicker.

Back-off sets, an advanced but easy-to-implement trick, involve dropping the weight lifted on the final set of an exercise, and then performing reps to failure. This tip is sometimes referred to as a ‘drop set’, as a result.

Here’s how you go about adding back-off sets into your routine:

  • First, work out your one rep max. That’s the maximum weight you can lift for one rep on an exercise
  • Take 90% of that figure – that weight should form the basis for your main working sets
  • Your back-off set is roughly 50% of your one rep max, performed to failure at the end of the exercise

Let’s take the barbell squat as an example. Suppose your one rep max is 150kg. Your main sets on this routine would sit at 135kg, with the back-off set at 75kg.

This doesn’t sound like much, but the results are impressive.

What’s more, there’s data proving this to be true.

Japanese scientists put back-off sets to the test, and had participants follow the plan for a month with two workouts a week.

The subjects performed five sets of leg press and quad extensions at 90% of their one rep max. Half the group added a back-off set to the end of each exercise, at 50% of the weight they could lift for one rep.

They lifted this weight until failure, 30 seconds after the last working set had been completed.

Those who included back-off sets in their routine showed a greater overall increase in their leg press one rep max, quad muscle growth and muscle endurance. In particular, the strength size may surprise you given that lighter (rather than heavier) weights were the difference.

Looking for extra leg growth? Your footwear may hold the key.

Squatting can also boost your brain function – further evidence that skipping leg day is a bad move.