What are Performance Pins?
What are drop sets?
A drop set refers to the technique where an exercise is performed with a given load as per usual. However instead of finishing the exercise when the targeted musculature has reached MMF in the initial set, the weight is reduced by approximately 10-25% as quickly as possible and the trainee continues to perform the exercise with this reduced load. The person exercising will usually be able to achieve an additional 1-4 repetitions with the lighter load.
Are drop sets useful? When would you use them?
There are three circumstances that come immediately to mind where the performance of drop sets can be beneficial:
- If the trainee fails to get at least 50 seconds time under load in an exercise. This may well occur if the weight increases on the stack of the machine you are using are quite “heavy” so that when a trainee moves up just one weight plate their time under load is dramatically decreased. An exercise set that lasts less than 50 seconds is probably not going to present enough of an overall stimulus for a targeted muscle group for the majority of trainees.
- If the equipment you are using doesn’t have a cam or has a strength curve that is “off” producing a noticeable sticking point in the range of movement. For example, in compound row machines without a cam: after the first 2 or so reps of a set you may find it very difficult to complete a full range of motion repetition. Effectively you end up performing partial range repetitions and while this can work, many find it more beneficial/rewarding to be able to complete additional full-range repetitions before fatigue kicks in.
- An individual relishes the variety (even if purely psychological) provided for by a difference in performance/feel.
In each of the circumstances listed above it can be beneficial to perform drop sets.
The challenges of performing drop sets without Performance Pins
If you are training yourself alone then you may have to get off the machine to be able to reach the stack to change the pin position… by the time that you have done this and then repositioned yourself in the machine more time than ideal will likely have elapsed between your first set and your drop set.
If you are a trainer working with a client then the above is not so much of a concern, but it can still be fiddly to have to access the stack and change the pin position.
How do Performance Pins facilitate convenient drop set performance?
Performance pins are simply self-ejecting weight stack pins- when tension on the Performance Pin is reduced it will eject itself from the weight stack.
To set a machine up for drop set performance with Performance Pins you insert a Performance Pin into the weight stack in the plate that represents your heaviest weight or starting weight for the set, then you place the normal weight stack pin into the load you want to use for the lighter “drop set”.
The moment that the exercise is commenced the Performance Pin is activated/primed, it remains in position holding your heaviest load throughout the first set until the working load firmly touches the resting plates on the stack (after fatigue has been reached with this initial load), at which point the reduction in tension on the Performance Pin activates its spring mechanism to eject itself from the stack. This leaves you with the lighter load held in place by the standard weight stack selector pin immediately ready for use in the drop set.
Performance Pins are sold in twos so it is also possible to perform a double-drop set: Perfomance Pin 1 provides heaviest loading, when this is ejected Performance Pin 2 provides a lower load, when this is ejected the normal pin provides the third and lightest level of loading.
How well do Performance Pins perform?
Performance Pins do what they are intended to do exceptionally well. There are some considerations that you need to take into account when using them, most of which I would actually consider a benefit.
Firstly you must use controlled form and an appropriate speed of movement throughout the set when you use Performance Pins, as the product’s website suggests:
Resistance training should be performed using strict form with controlled motions. NEVER “jerk” or “slam” weights. Movement speed should be: 2 second positive 1 second pause, 4 second negative is recommended for safety, consistent progress and is required if using PERFORMANCE PIN on selectorized equipment. Constant tension must be maintained, never do “speed” or “explosive” movements with PERFORMANCE PIN engaged in any selectorized equipment.
I train myself and my clients with a slower repetition cadence than the Performance Pin website recommends. Typically I will use anything from between 3/3 to 12/12 (with or without a pause in the fully contracted position). The Performance Pin works equally well at these cadences as their recommended 2-1-4, so there are no concerns if you move more slowly than this.
Conversely what would happen if you move too quickly is that you likely wouldn’t have control over the lowering load and you would create a premature reduction in tension causing the Performance Pin to eject before you need it to. This will simply not be an issue if you use a sensible rep cadence and are in control of turnarounds. In fact I actually consider this a benefit of the Performance Pin: if you have a client who is struggling to control their cadence or is sloppy with their turnarounds then pop a Perfomance Pin in as a teaching tool and instruct them that they need to perform the set without causing the pin to eject- they will soon develop the required control.
Infrequently I have noticed that a Performance Pin may fail to eject when you want it to. This however only happens if a client doesn’t put the weight stack down properly when they intend to activate the Performance Pin. Typically this happens when the client touches the weight stack down very gingerly initially without fully de-loading. Doing this can cause the spring mechanism to activate but there is not enough initial contact between the weight plates to create ejection force, so the Performance Pin does not fully eject, even if the client then goes on to properly de-load.
To avoid this from happening all you need to do is instruct the client as to protocol for de-loading at the end of the initial set. Tell the client to touch down under control, but to do so deliberately in one continuous movement- allow the stack to gently touch and then immediately continue to decrease any remaining force calmly and fully without hesitation. When done in this manner I have never had a Performance Pin fail to eject at the point in the set when I want it to.
- Performance Pins are designed to be used with selectorized equipment that uses a +3/8″ diameter stack pin.
- There needs to be two feet of free space directly in front of face of the weight stack for the Performance Pin to eject into.
- If the machines you intend to use the Performance Pins with have shields that cover part of the stack, you must make sure there is adequate space for the width of the Performance Pin through the entire range of motion.
- Check performancepin.com for more details.
Alternatives to using Performance Pins
If you want to perform drop sets in your routines there are alternatives to using Performance Pins. If you train yourself and you have a reliable training partner you can ask them to decrease the load used quickly, by manually changing the position of the standard weight stack pin.
As a personal trainer you could change the standard pin position quickly for your clients or produce a similar effect to a drop set by using manual rep assist/forced rep technique- and personally these are techniques that I do use too.
Performance Pins are clever and well-designed tools that enable the convenient performance of drop-sets on most pieces of selectorized exercise equipment. They are robust, I have been using my pair since March 2015 and they still perform perfectly with no signs of damage. They also represent excellent value for money at USD $49.99 for a pair. I give them an overall score of 9/10 and happily recommend them.