When The Rock deigns to record and share his workouts on social media, he rarely leaves anything in the tank. With his latest Instagram posts, the actor known as Dwayne Johnson showed off a brutal routine where he pushed himself to the edge of his limits using drop sets, a tried-and-true lifting technique that takes every shred of effort you can give and rewards you with serious muscle gains.
“Drop sets are a great way to safely take your body to its limit without risking injury, letting you repeatedly work til technical failure,” says Men’s Health fitness director Ebenezer Samuel, C.S.C.S. “The game plan is simple: You do as many good-form reps as possible, but the moment your mechanics fail, you drop to a weight you can handle to do more reps. You’re challenging the muscle further without inviting the mechanical flaws that could lead to injury.”
The chest day workout was filmed specifically to promo Johnson’s latest Project Rock Under Armour drop—but this time around, the actor says that he took a different tack than the usual overblown marketing blitz that surround his product releases. Instead, he kept the crowds of brand workers out of his Iron Paradise gym and barred everyone but a trio of photographers and his strength and conditioning coach, Dave Rienzi, so he could bear down on the muscle building. “My gym time is scared [sic] and it’s a very effective and authentic process for me to keep everyone out so I can focus,” Johnson wrote in one of the post’s captions. “Nothing personal, its business.”
In this post, Johnson burns out his chest with a machine press to Tupac and Dr. Dre blaring in the background. For the drop set, he runs down the weight. He starts with four plates on each side, pushes through his reps, then quickly removes a plate off each side before immediately getting back to the reps. He keeps working until failure, dropping the weight, and moving on until he’s just pushing one plate each, alternating arms for a unilateral chest pump.
The workout also called for a wicked cable fly session, complete with a brief hold and chest squeeze at the end of the set for extra muscle stimulation.
After the flies, The Rock moves straight to dips, which is where the drop sets really get rough. He starts with one of his favorite gym accessories, chains, for an added load. After performing reps to failure, he drops the chains. He follows those up with standard reps—but that’s not the end of his drop set hell. After failure, Rienzi pushes Johnson through a final set of negative reps, counting down as Johnson strains to stay in control.
When we talked to Rienzi about Johnson’s leg day workout earlier this year, the trainer used similar principles to push the actor with a closing drop set of weighted lunges. “We’re aiming for muscular exhaustion here,” Rienzi said. “I’m not trying to load up where he’s lunging an insane amount of weight and he’s only doing 12 steps.” The same goes for this chest routine, which uses Rienzi’s favorite training principles, like pushing muscles to fatigue without undue stress. He does this using time under tension techniques, static holds, and negative reps to pack even more muscle building potential into the lifting sessions.
Want to use drop sets to build muscle just like The Rock? Go for it—just know that you’re not going to be burning out and stripping off weight for every single move you take on. “This is an advanced technique, so use it wisely,” advises MH‘s Samuel. “Avoid using it on every exercise in a body part workout. It’s best utilized as a finisher in a workout.”