What is a Cluster Set?

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Okay…let’s step up this workout….

You’re always looking for ways to improve when you hit the gym. Every day is a chance to do better than you did yesterday. You can correct a mistake you made yesterday, or push yourself to complete a new challenge.

You grow physically and mentally as you work out.

This is not just a challenge to those who lift. It’s a requirement that you push yourself. One way to do this is by learning and executing cluster sets. This article shows you the basics.

Let’s Get Started

Increasing the volume of weight you lift increases intensity and is a great way to start making improvements on how much you lift. Cluster sets are a great way to do this.

You might hear this referred to as cluster training, also.

What is a cluster set? It is a smaller set that is built right into a larger set, and included are rest periods of 10-30 seconds.

If you follow the regiments of pro athletes, you may have found some of them use this method to see how much they can handle at certain amounts of weight, as lifting these amounts in a traditional set can limit the amount of work that athletes can perform.

What Will I Do During Cluster Training?

Cluster sets will look different for every athlete. Your set will not look like the person training next to you. Every coach, trainer and bodybuilder has a different take on what a good cluster training program looks like.

However, the end goal is the same: To accomplish endurance, strength, greater power and hypertrophy.

No matter which of these goals are yours, cluster sets can help you.

They are mostly used when executing compound movements, and you might even see them used for accessories, but that’s uncommon. More often than not you will see them used on the accessories that come after compound movements.

So before we take a look at some cluster set examples, let’s look at the variables of a typical cluster set. Understanding them will make your training much easier as you incorporate this into your regiment.

Variables Of Cluster Sets

Total Reps Per Set: First, we will examine the total reps you would like to do per cluster set. You will notice right away that these sets look a lot like what you already do when it comes to your everyday training with traditional reps.

Here is an example:

Power Training:

5-6 reps total, cluster could be 3, 3 and 1, or 3, 1, 1

Strength Training:

5-6 reps total, sample cluster could be 2, 2 and 1 or 3, 2, 2

Hypertrophy Training:

8-10 reps total, sample cluster could be 3, 3, 2 or 4, 3, 3

The pattern you should notice in the above rep examples is that the work you have to do is a relatively small amount, but they equal the work that goes into a bigger set.

This, in turn, corresponds with the goals you work toward in a traditional set. You are doing more intense moves in smaller doses.

How To Rest

As we mentioned briefly, the normal rest period for people doing cluster sets is anywhere from 10 to 30 seconds. Of course, your rest will depend upon your personal goals, work and intensity of training. You can use the example below to get an idea of how to rest:

Strength Training:

10-30 seconds of rest

Hypertrophy Training:

10-20 seconds of rest

Power Training:

10-20 seconds of rest

Total Amount of Rest

How much rest should be taken between cluster sets? After all, one key component of cluster sets is getting a certain amount of work done in a certain amount of time. That being said, your rest is important so that you execute movements correctly, avoid fatigue, and fail to complete reps as planned.

Power training: Take 2-3 min of rest.

Strength Training: Take 1-3 min of rest.

Hypertrophy Training: Take 1-1.5 min of rest.

Your rest in between sets should look like what it does when you perform traditional sets. You take the rest that you need in order to execute your movements with good form, no missed reps, or lowered intensity.

Intensity Level

The last factor we will discuss is intensity. This is probably the factor that has the most variability.

When you perform your training at a higher intensity, it becomes harder to provide you with a number that suits you as everybody’s ability level varies.

Here are some examples:

Power Training:

8-9 RPE/90% plus 1 RM

Hypertrophy Training:

6-8 RPE or 70-80% plus 1 RM

Strength Training:

7-8 RPE or 75-85% plus 1 RM

These are simply examples and the numbers will vary based upon your abilities and goals. They are meant to provide a general look at what intensity levels look like.

Sample Cluster Sets

We have included a sample of what Cluster sets and training could be when it comes to hypertrophy, strength and power training.

Hypertrophy Training:

4 sets of 8 at 3, 3, 2, take a ten second rest between each of the subsets, aim for 77% plus 1 RM. Shoot for 2 min total of rest.

Strength Training:

4 sets of 6 at 2, 2 and 2, take a 15 second rest between subsets, aim for 90% plus 1 RM. Shoot for a total of 3 min rest.

Power Training:

2 sets of 4 at 2, 1, 1, take a 20 second rest between your subsets, aim for 90% plus 1 RM intensity, shoot for 3 min total of rest.

Cluster Set Sample Workout: Arms

If you feel like you’re ready to put the work in and try one of these workouts, we have a sample arms workout you can try if you think you’re ready. First, learn the techniques for cluster training and then try the workout if you feel ready.

The first technique is designed for hypertrophy training, and the second is great for strength.

Hypertrophy Cluster technique:

Find a weight you can lift for a total of 10-15 reps. Lift this weight for 5 reps. Now take a 15 second rest. Repeat the movement again. Rest for your 15 seconds.

Repeat this process for five minutes.

If you cannot complete five reps, drop down to 4. If you cannot do 4, take it to 3. If it becomes impossible to do 3 reps, then increase your rest periods to 20 seconds.

When THIS becomes too much to bear, stop this and go onto your next movement. For your last set, try to do as many reps as you possibly can.

Strength Cluster technique:

Find a weight you can lift for at least 15 reps. Lift it for five reps, and take a 20 second rest. Repeat this sequence until your muscles reach failure. Do not lower the number of reps, and do not increase the time you rest.

You might be able to work beyond 5 minutes, however, this action is based on muscle failure which will vary from person to person.

For the forthcoming exercises, you will alternate exercises of the triceps and biceps. You should aim to do this workout once a week as part of your normal program.

You can do it twice a week if you are seeking to get your arms into shape.

Remember, the intensity is HIGH for these movements. Stick to the program, and make sure you warm up properly before you start the process.

The Workout

Standing barbell curl, Wide Grip:

Choose a weight you can lift for 15 reps. Lift for 5 reps, take 20 sec of rest, then go until your muscles fail. Do not lower the rep count or rest longer than recommended. Remember, you might be able to go longer than others or lesser depending on your ability.

Dip Machine:

Begin with a weight you can lift for 15 reps. Lift it for 5 reps, then take 20 sec of rest. Go until you fail. Once again, do not lower the rep count or rest longer than recommended. You may go longer or shorter depending on ability.

Cable Tris Extension:

Attach the rope fixture to the cable triceps machine. Pick a weight you can lift for at least 10-15 reps. Then, lift it for 5 reps, take 15 sec of rest, and repeat. Go for 5 mins. If you cannot do 5 reps, bring it to 4. If 4 becomes too much, bring it to 3. If 3 becomes impossible, increase rest to 20 sec.

Once you cannot do the movement any longer, go onto your next exercise. Try to do as many reps as you possibly can on the last set.

Preacher Curls (Machine assisted):

Pick a weight you can do for 10-15 reps. Lift for 5 and then take a 15 sec rest. Repeat this for five minutes. Once you can no longer do the movement, go ahead and drop it to 4 reps.

Once 4 becomes too hard, drop it to 3 reps. Once three becomes too hard, rest for 20 sec intervals. Once you cannot do the movement even after the longer rest, move onto the next exercise. On your last set, do as many reps as you possibly can.

Tricep Pull Downs:

Choose a weight you are able to lift for at least 10-15 reps. Lift it for 5 reps, take 15 seconds of rest, and then repeat. Do this for the next five minutes.

Once again, do 4 reps if 5 becomes too hard, and 3 reps if 4 becomes too hard. Once three becomes too hard, allow yourself 20 seconds of rest. When that becomes too hard, move onto your next movement. On your last set, try to do as many reps as possible.

Hammer Curl:

Grab a weight you can lift for at least 10-15 reps. Lift it for 5 reps and take 15 seconds of rest. Then repeat the movement for five minutes. Once 5 becomes too hard, drop it to 4.

Once 4 becomes too hard, drop it to 3. Once 3 becomes too hard, allow yourself 20 seconds of rest. Then when that gets too hard, go to the next movement. Try to do as many reps as you can on the last set.

Why Do Cluster Sets?

  • You may be able to increase your strength.
  • You may be able to shatter those plateaus we tend to hit when it comes to lifting weights. After all, it’s all about being able to work with a higher volume.
  • You can do more work in shorter intervals, increasing the work completed and increasing your power.

Conclusion

Cluster training can be a great way to push past your ordinary limits and reach new heights when you train. They can allow you to put in more work and help you avoid falling into bad form.

They may very well be just what your training program needs to reach that next level.

Got questions? Drop a comment below and I’ll do my best to answer.

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