Cluster Sets: A Simple Way to Add Strength and Power

Add a challenge to your workouts and blast off from a training plateau with cluster sets.

There are hundreds or even thousands of ways you can change a workout to boost your gains. Sometimes a simple swap of one exercise for another does the trick. Other times, changing up the sets and reps is the answer.

There's also a way you can change how you perform your sets by using cluster sets.

In a traditional set, you perform each rep consecutively. You might take a brief pause between reps if you're exhausted, but the only scheduled rest is between sets. For example, you typically knock out, let's say four reps, and then take two minutes of rest before starting the next set.

There's nothing inherently wrong with this approach; however, if you're an advanced athlete looking to eek out every last possible gain in strength, size or power, or if you're stuck on a plateau, cluster sets might provide a much-needed challenge to your muscles.

RELATED: 3 Tips to Burst Through a Plateau

During a cluster set, you rest between reps during a set. It's common to perform one to two reps for up to 10 total reps, resting for 10 to 30 seconds between rep blocks. A typical cluster set might look like  4x2+2+2+2 with 15 seconds rest between rep blocks and 2 to 3 minutes of rest between sets.

In the video above, we demonstrate how a cluster set like this would look during a Deadlift.

According to Dr. Gregory Haff, the key benefit of cluster sets is the extra rest during the set. Your muscles are able to briefly recover when you set the weight down, which allows you to lift more weight for more reps. Also, cluster sets reduce fatigue so bar speed remains high while overall technique throughout the set is superior.

Deadlift

When all is said and done, cluster sets let you perform more high-quality reps with a weight you wouldn't be able to lift for that many traditional reps. This increases the amount of work done by your muscles, which is the key to causing improvement.

Haff's research found that cluster sets appear most effective for developing power with exercises such as Power Cleans. Consecutive reps may recruit more motor units and cause greater fatigue, making them effective for strength development.

WATCH: Simple Steps to Perfect the Clean

However, it's possible to use cluster sets in almost every weight-bearing exercise. Stick to heavy barbell lifts, such as Squats, Deadlifts and the Bench Press, or power exercises, such as Power Cleans or Snatches. Do no more than two cluster sets in a single workout, because they place a ton of stress on your body and they take a long time to complete.

Here are three common ways to structure cluster sets based on your training goal:

Power Cluster Set

  • Sets/Reps: 3x1+1+1
  • Rest between reps: 30 seconds
  • Rest between sets: 3 minutes
  • Weight: 80-90% Max

Strength Cluster Set

  • Sets/Reps: 3x1+1+1+1+1
  • Rest between reps: 30 seconds
  • Rest between sets: 2 minutes
  • Weight: 85-95% Max

Muscle Building Cluster Set

  • Sets/Reps: 1x1+1+1+1+1+1+1+1+1+1
  • Rest between reps: 15 seconds
  • Rest between sets: N/A
  • Weight: 75% Max

OR

  • Sets/Reps: 3x4+4+4
  • Rest between reps: 10 seconds
  • Rest between sets: 2-3 min.
  • Weight: 75% Max

Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock

Topics: DEADLIFT | WORKOUTS | POWER | EXERCISE | CLEAN | LIFTS | FATIGUE