Breakdowns – An Advanced Training Technique

There are several advanced training techniques that you can use to make your workouts just that bit more effective. These techniques aren’t tricks or gimmicks or “body hacks”–there are no silver bullets available to you in the gym. These advanced techniques are just tools that you can use to get over a strength plateau, or make more progress with each workout. They all focus on reaching a deeper muscular fatigue in some way than you would normally be capable of. Practicing breakdown sets are one way to squeeze the last drops of gasoline out of the tank, as it were. Check out our master list to see all of the advanced techniques that you have at your disposal. This week, we’re going to take a look at the Breakdowns training technique.

What is the Breakdowns Training Technique

A breakdown set is performed immediately after you reach momentary muscular failure. After performing a sufficiently intense set to maximum effort, you start a new set as soon as possible by decreasing the weight by 20-30%. The book “Maximize Your Training; Insights From Leading Strength and Fitness Professionals” by Matt Brzycki recommends reducing weight by 20-30%, while some other sources recommend between 10-20%. If you were working with 100 lbs, you would perform your full set with good form to maximum effort. As soon as you were done, you would decrease the weight to about 80-70 lbs, and perform another set. You will likely only be able to perform 3 or 4 good reps (with proper form) during this set. After the second set, you would drop the weight again by about 20-30% to 60-50 lbs, and repeat another set. These breakdowns can be performed about 2 or 3 times, and they result in a very deep fatigue in more muscle fibers.

Why Do Breakdowns

Breakdowns help you perform more work. When fatigue causes you to temporarily lose some strength, you can recruit and fatigue more muscle fibers by lowering the resistance and get a few more reps out of your workout. The principle is somewhat similar to Forced Reps, which also allows you to do reps after momentary muscle failure.

The book “Building Strength and Stamina” by Wayne Westcott, PhD details how much more effective breakdowns can be than a typical strength training routine: “Researchers recently examined the effects of breakdown training on strength development. All 45 adult subjects performed standard training (one set of 8 to 12 repetitions) on 11 Nautilus machines for the first four weeks of the study. During the second four weeks, half of the subjects continued their standard training, while the other half performed breakdown training on two of the machines (seated leg curl and abdominal). The participants who performed breakdown training experienced over 30 percent more strength development during the eight-week exercise period.”

To learn more about Breakdowns, talk to a trainer at Vertex Fitness.


Read more about the other Advanced Training Techniques:

Forced Reps

Super Slow

Negative Accentuated


Manual Resistance

Negative Only




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