Use this proven, big-weight method to max out your total gains on your very next session, no matter your goal. BY NOAH BRYANT, CSCS
Whether you are a bodybuilder getting ready for the stage, an athlete looking to increase force production, or a bouncer at the local pub looking to get that edge you need to protect the door; break out the stopwatch and give cluster sets a try.
Cluster sets are sets with built-in, intraset rest periods allowing for more weight, reps, and total tonnage lifted. For example, instead of doing 4 sets of 6 repetitions, you would perform 4 sets of 2+2+2 repetitions with 30 second intraset rest. This would be written as:
4 x (2+2+2) 30 sec. intraset
Simply put, it allows you to lift more weight for more reps, which leads to more potential muscle growth and strength gains. This is, after all, the reason that we sweat and toil and bleed day after day in the gym.
One of the beauties of using cluster set training is that it creates an almost infinite number of variations you can use to achieve your specific training goals. You can manipulate sets, reps, intraset rest, and inter-set rest depending on your desired outcome.
Now, you may be saying to yourself, “this sounds a lot like rest-pause training,” and it is similar; but there are some differences. Both methods take advantage of your body’s explosive energy stores and their ability to replenish quickly but in the rest-pause method of training you have a set load and that load (or more precisely, the fatigue it induces) dictates the volume. In cluster set training you have a set volume and load that are pre-determined. Also, while in rest-pause training fatigue is a big goal, during cluster sets this is not the focus.
Cluster set training presents a technique to decrease some of the metabolic fatigue that is formed during the use of traditional, “no rest” sets.
According to Dr. Greg Haff, a leading sports scientist, “The introduction of a short rest interval between individual or a series of repetitions appears to result in a partial replenishment of PCr (phosphocreatine) during the intraset rest interval which is reflected in a performance enhancement.”
Cluster sets should be used for your core lifts for the day. For example, on upper body day, use cluster sets for the bench press, incline bench and military press. But once you get to your auxiliary work (i.e. tricep extensions, front raises, side raises, etc.), go back to using normal sets and reps.
Cluster set training can benefit bodybuilders, strength athletes, Olympic lifters, or anybody looking to solidify their position atop the gym food chain.
CLUSTER SET TRAINING FOR SIZE
As we know, the heavier the weight lifted the greater the muscular tension and the greater the number of muscle fibres recruited. This means that there is more potential for growth with heavier loads lifted.
Cluster sets allow you to lift more weight for the same number of sets and reps you would normally do. So instead of doing 4 sets of 12 reps at 70-75% you can do 4 sets of (3+3+3+3 reps) at 80% with 30 second intraset rest. That’s more weight for the same amount of volume, which equates to explosive muscle growth!
A sample workout for a bodybuilder on his upper body day may look like this:
CLUSTER SET TRAINING FOR THE STRENGTH ATHLETE
When training for strength we are more concerned with load intensity. Cluster sets allow for more near maximal repetitions per workout.
Let’s look at a squat workout as an example. If you were planning on doing 4 sets of 4 reps, maybe you would use 135kgs. But let’s do 4 sets of (2+2 reps) with 30-second intraset rest instead and bump the weight up to 140-145kgs. Which one would you guess would lead to greater strength gains? That’s right, the cluster set.
CLUSTER SETS FOR THE OLYMPIC LIFTER
Elite Olympic lifters are no stranger to cluster sets, they have been using with them (with great results) since Moses wore shorts. Cluster sets are especially important because of the technical proficiency required in the snatch and clean and jerk. Intraset rest periods allow the mind and body to prepare for the next rep, rather than a high-volume race to failure.
You can adjust intraset rest periods depending upon which phase of training you are in. In the accumulation or volume phase, shorten the rest periods to 15-20 seconds, but when weights get to near maximal efforts increase the intraset rest to 30-45 seconds.
For example, on a Clean day, the workout may look like this:
Since there are countless ways you can manipulate cluster sets, they can be used to accomplish just about any goal. Including cluster set training in your routine can give you that extra push you need to reach your size or strength goals.