By: Noah Bryant
Whether you are a bodybuilder getting ready for the stage, an athlete looking to increase force production, or a bouncer at the local kick and stab 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 intra-set 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 intra-set rest.
Basically, it lets you lift more weight for more reps which leads to more potential growth and strength gains. I think we can all agree that we want to be bigger and stronger!
One of the beauties of using cluster sets is that there are an almost infinite number of variations you can do to tailor them to your specific goals. You can manipulate sets, reps, intra-set rest, and inter-set rest depending on your desired outcome.
Cluster set training can benefit bodybuilders, strength athletes, Olympic lifters, or anybody looking to solidify their position as king of the gym hierarchy.
Cluster Set Training for Bodybuilders
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 intra-set rest. That’s more weight for the same amount of volume… that equals explosive muscle growth!
Cluster Set Training for the Strength Athlete
Whereas the bodybuilders focus is on hypertrophy and number of reps, 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 600 pounds; but lets do 4 sets of (2+2 reps) with 30 second intra-set rest instead and bump the weight up to 615-620 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. Intra-set rest periods allow the mind and body to prepare for the next rep.
I advocate always using the cluster set method in Olympic lifting. You can adjust intra-set 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 intra-set rest to 30-45 seconds.
Because there are so many ways you can manipulate cluster set training it can be used to achieve almost any goal. Including cluster set training in your routine can give you that extra push you need to reach your size or strength goals.
Cluster sets helped popularize Metroflex Gym Powerbuilding Basics.
Noah Bryant, CSCS, is a 2-time NCAA Champion and 4-time All-American in the shotput, with a personal record of 20.80m. He holds the school record in the shotput at the University of Southern California. Noah represented the United States in the 2007 World Track and Field Championships and the 2011 Pan-American Games. He was regarded as one of the strongest shotputters in the world, with a 210 kg. Clean and 150 kg. Snatch. Noah provides online and in person training specializing in Olympic Lifting and sport performance. Visit his website at www.noahstrength.com.
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