How to build a bigger lower body with only one set.
By Vince Del Monte
PQ: “When you do too much volume, you have a big disparity between protein synthesis and protein breakdown. The more volume you use, the more you break down protein.”
I know what you’re thinking: “There is no way you can build bigger legs with just one set.” And that’s exactly what I thought myself. But for the past eight weeks I’ve been employing a very specific technique that has made my legs bigger and stronger with just one all-out set per workout per bodypart.
The technique is called “mechanical advantage drop sets” or MADS. Before diving into MADS, let’s give this subject matter some context so that you don’t think this is some sensational clickbait type of article. For everything to make sense we must discuss this one issue:
In my opinion, the number-one mistake that natural lifters make is doing too much volume. The key is to trigger muscle protein synthesis and then stop training. When done properly, this can sometimes be done in as little as one to two sets per bodypart. I know that sounds crazy, but it’s exactly what I’ve been doing in my latest training cycle with amazing results. I’ve been hitting every bodypart three times per week with only one to two sets per bodypart and a lot of you have noticed some decent changes in my body if you follow me on Instagram (@vincedelmonte).
When you do too much volume, you have a big disparity between protein synthesis and protein breakdown. The more volume you use, the more you break down protein.
This means you must avoid drug-enhanced programs that work for your favorite bodybuilder and action movie star (who’s also on tons of drugs). In short, I hate to say this, but if you have average genetics, you can’t train or eat like a genetic freak. Trust me, I know how tempting it is to copy these training programs of the guys you admire, but this will get you nowhere. In fact, you might even lose muscle.
You see, when a natural guy goes to the gym, the training session is the stimulus to trigger protein synthesis. In short, it’s the workout that puts you into anabolic mode. Enhanced bodybuilders don’t need to use the workout as a trigger, because the drugs leave them in anabolic mode 24 hours a day.
With increased frequency training, a natural athlete stays in that anabolic mode resulting in more muscle growth. But don’t forget that frequency and volume are inversely related. So don’t even think about doing high volume and high frequency at the same time.
How To Apply MADS
Before diving into MADS, let's define these specific drop sets so we’re on the same page. You are likely familiar with drop sets that include decreasing the weight once you hit fatigue so that you can chase some extra reps with a lighter load. This is a good technique in my opinion, but not a great technique. Drop sets are likely one of the first mass gaining techniques you’ve experimented with during your early days of your muscle-building journey. However, as the years go on, the “gains train” starts to slow down and we start looking for more advanced methods to continue our quest for a bigger and stronger body.
That’s where MADS comes in. When I use the word “mechanical” I am referencing the change in body position that applies to increasing or decreasing leverage. For instance, you’ve likely noticed it’s easier to do a squat with your feet wider versus narrower. It’s easier to perform a bench press on a decline instead of incline. It’s easier to perform a narrow-grip underhand lat pulldown versus a wide-grip overhand lat pulldown. With each of these examples, muscular leverage changes unfavorably, so the exercise becomes harder.
To set up MADS properly, you would always give yourself the least amount of leverage or advantage before fatigue/failure sets it. Then you give your body more leverage and advantage to recruit new muscle fibers that were weakened in the previous position, further extending beyond the initial fatigue/failure stage.
Here are some examples out of my own eight-week training cycle that incorporates MADS:
Hamstring Mechanical Advantage Drop Set:
1. Lying leg curls with toes pointed and turned in
2. Lying leg curls with toes pointed and turned out
3. Lying leg curl with toes flexed and neutral
Quads Mechanical Advantage Drop Set:
1. Narrow-stance leg press with feet low on plate
2. Narrow-stance leg press with feet high on plate
3. Mid- to wide-stance leg press with feet high on plate
Unilateral Quad Dominant Mechanical Advantage Drop Set:
1. Dumbbell split squat with rear foot elevated four to six inches
2. Dumbbell split squat with both feet on ground
3. Dumbbell split squat with front foot elevated four to six inches
Posterior-Chain Mechanical Advantage Drop Set:
1. 45-degree back extension with dumbbell held overhead
2. 45-degree back extension with dumbbell held under chin
3. 45-degree back extension with dumbbell held under sternum
Calves Mechanical Advantage Drop Set:
1. Toe press on leg press machine with toes narrow and turned in
2. Toe press on leg press machine with toes narrow and turned out
3. Toe press on leg press machine with toes wide and neutral
Eight-Week Lower-Body MADS Program
When you do this workout you are starting each exercise in the most mechanically advantageous position, which basically means where you are strongest. And although you will take the set to failure, you get a greater mechanical advantage with each drop.
Week 1: 1 x 15 + Failure + Failure
Week 2: 1 x 12 + Failure + Failure
Week 3: 1 x 10 + Failure + Failure
Week 4: 1 x 8 + Failure + Failure
Week 5: 1 x 15 + Failure + Failure
Week 6: 1 x 12 + Failure + Failure
Week 7: 1 x 10 + Failure + Failure
Week 8: 1 x 8 + Failure + Failure
• Take multiple sets to warm up to find your first work set. To make this low-volume approach most effective, you must select a load that gets you to failure so that you’re unable to do a 16th rep even if your life depended on it. If you think you can do a second set, then you didn’t go hard enough. When this is done properly, you will be thankful there is only one all-out set per bodypart.
• Take 10 seconds’ rest between each position.
• Increase weight every week and use more weight in the last four weeks than you did in the first four weeks.