Cluster sets can be defined as a unique and specialized form of strength training to help elicit a higher quality of muscular contractions across each repetition. Traditionally, an athlete or client would perform continuous amounts of prescribed repetitions across a work set with the focus of improving strength in the involved musculature and movement pattern.
For example, if someone were to perform 85% of their 1RM in a squat, theoretically, they should be able to muster out 5-6 reps at that particular workload and then rest for 3-4 minutes on average. With Cluster Sets, the trainee would perform 1-2 reps at that same given weight, rest 45-60 seconds and repeat until all six reps were finished, followed by a prolonged rest period of 2 minutes. Everyone’s training profile can carry subtle differences which influence performance. So be sure to utilize Clusters along with traditional work sets, so you satisfy all energy system contributions (i.e. alactic, anaerobic, aerobic) and other unique aspects of one’s physiology that can contribute to maximal performances in your lifts.
Does Experience Play a Factor with Cluster Sets?
Experience will also play a big role in whether or not you should utilize Cluster sets. If you’ve been lifting and under the bar for quite some time, your ability to coordinate movement patterns and generate as much strength as possible will be tremendous, unlike a novice lifter who will need continuous practice and repetitions to really feed their nerves and muscle to act more appropriately and mitigate any and all error in technique and movement performance.
How Cluster Sets Can Help Improve Your Workouts
Cluster sets enable each repetition performed to be completed with the utmost quality and level of force being displayed from the target musculature. If you try this training method, you will immediately see what I mean. (1) This can have a solid impact on producing various strength and power adaptations in the trainee’s neuromuscular system leading to performance gains.
Another reason why I like Cluster training is that it can help offset any current weakness or injury that an athlete or client may be suffering from while still encouraging the ability to train at a relatively high level of maximum effort. With this comes a natural state of deconditioning, so attempting to perform multiple reps across a set or several sets can become difficult to accomplish until the person’s work capacity has improved. Plus, sometimes the nervous system just seems to shut down the prime movers until weaker or lagging muscle groups pick up their game a bit (Tension Effect). Still, focus on strength endurance sets (6-12), but also feel free to combine this with cluster training, so you are achieving strength, hypertrophy, and endurance qualities simultaneously.
Adding Variety with Cluster Sets
Last but not least, Cluster sets can raise temporary psychological appeal in a client or athlete who has been going through the same system or training regime for a prolonged period of time. Adding in some variety here and there can help kickstart more motivation and improve performance rates moving forward.
How to Utilize Cluster Sets in a Strength Workout Example
Sets Reps Intensity Rest
A1: Squat/Dead/ or Bench 2-3 3-rest 45 sec-3 85-90% 180 sec after 3-rest-3
B1: Lunge/pushup/pullup 3-4 4-rest 45-rest-4-rest-45-4 70% 120 sec after clusters…
#1-Tufano, JJ. Cluster sets permit greater mechanical stress without decreasing relative velocity. Int J Sports Physiol Performance, 6: 1-24, 2016.