Workout Tips

Cluster Set Training for Strength and Size

Use this proven, big-weight method to max out your total poundages on your very next session, no matter your goal.

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The 45-Minute Workout

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 fibers 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:

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Exercise

Sets

Reps        

Bench Press

3

5+5+5 (20 sec. intraset rest)1

Incline Bench Press

3

5+5+5 (20 sec. intraset rest) 1

Military Press 

3

5+5+5 (20 sec. intraset rest) 1

Dumbbell Flye

3 12

Preacher Curl

3 12

Front Raise

3 12

Dumbbell Lateral Raise

3 12

Hammer Curl

3 12

1Perform these cluster set style. Do five reps, rest 20 seconds, five reps, rest 20 seconds, then another five reps. That’s one set. Rest 2-3 minutes between cluster sets.

Rest 60-90 seconds between all other sets and exercises.

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 300 pounds. But let’s do 4 sets of (2+2 reps) with 30-second intraset rest instead and bump the weight up to 315-320 pounds. 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:

Exercise

Sets

Reps        

Clean

4

2+2+2 (30 sec. intraset rest)1

Incline Bench Press

3

1+1+1 (30 sec. intraset rest) 2

Clean Pull

3

1+1+1 (30 sec. intraset rest) 2

Front Squat

4 2

Romanian Deadlift 

3 6

1Perform these cluster set style. Do two reps, rest 30 seconds, two reps, rest 30 seconds, then another two reps. That’s one set. Rest 3-5 minutes between cluster sets.

2Perform these cluster set style. Do one rep, rest 30 seconds, one rep, rest 30 seconds, then another single rep. That’s one set. Rest 3-5 minutes between cluster sets.

Rest 60-90 seconds between all other sets and exercises.

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.

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