cluster sets, conjuntos de clústeres

The Power Of Cluster Sets For Relative Strength

Cluster sets are probably one of the best methods to get strong without putting on too much size.

Training with cluster sets is also very effective for improving speed and power. In that respect, it typically targets the athletic population. Yet it can be of interest to physique athletes on a strength phase.

This type of workout is extremely demanding but its effectiveness leave no doubt.   

I was first introduced to this method in the 70s by Carl Miller of The Sport of Olympic-Style Weightlifting, Training for the Connoisseur fame. I readily proceeded to apply it to my own training and that of my athletes, with great success.

The general agreement amongst the successful strength coaches is that to achieve strength gains 70% of the 1RM represents the threshold.

The Method Behind The Madness

A time-proven classic of relative strength consists of performing 5 sets of 3-5 reps. And, quite unsurprisingly, it fits the above formula since during such a workout a total of 15 to 25 reps are performed at 85% of 1RM.

With cluster training 15 to 25 reps are performed as well but at 90% of 1RM. The devil is in the details.

How is that possible? The key is the strategic use of rest intervals. In fact,  15 seconds rest periods are interspersed between reps. Basically, cluster training consists of performing 3-5 sets of 5 times 1 reps with 10-15 seconds rest in between reps and 3-5 mins between sets.

Since the athlete is using higher loads this method prevents the expression of maximal velocity. This ensures maximal strength development. Additionally this method allows increased TUT on the HTMU. Hence the training effect is compartmented within selected muscle fibers and strength improves without size becoming an issue for the athlete. It is also a very time efficient method. Here workout density is a remarkable feature indeed.

To recapitulate, the main benefits are: maximal strength development, greater neurological adaptations as well as selective recruitment of fast twitch fibers.

Let’s look at a 3 week leg routine as an example

Week 1

A1- Front Squat, 3 x(5×1), on a 40X0 tempo, rest 120 seconds

A2- Lying leg curl, Plantar Flex, Feet Neutral, 3 x(5×1), on a 40X0 tempo, rest 120 seconds

B1- Back Squat, 4×5-7 reps, on a 3010 tempo, rest 120 seconds

B2- GHR, 4×5-7 reps, on a 3010 tempo, rest 120 seconds

Add 1-3% weight on A1&A2 only if all reps all sets are completed

Week 2

A1- Front Squat, 4 x(5×1), on a 40X0 tempo, rest 120 seconds

A2- Lying leg curl, Plantar Flex, Feet Neutral, 4 x(5×1), on a 40X0 tempo, rest 120 seconds

B1- Back Squat, 4×5-7 reps, on a 3010 tempo, rest 120 seconds

B2- GHR, 4×5-7 reps, on a 3010 tempo, rest 120 seconds

Add 1-3% weight on A1&A2 only if all reps all sets are completed

Week 3

A1- Front Squat, 5 x(5×1), on a 40X0 tempo, rest 120 seconds

A2- Lying leg curl, Plantar Flex, Feet Neutral, 5 x(5×1), on a 40X0 tempo, rest 120 seconds

B1- Back Squat, 3×5-7 reps, on a 3010 tempo, rest 120 seconds

B2- GHR, 3×5-7 reps, on a 3010 tempo, rest 120 seconds

 Wait 12 weeks before doing this method again

After 3 weeks of cluster sets and it is time to move on to another routine that will pose a lesser strain on the central nervous system. A good option would be the stage system. The law of repeated efforts governs the progression. Since all reps are performed 95% short of concentric failure and progression relies on incremental improvements that are success based. Thus, it translates into relative rest for the CNS.

For instance:

A- 2 sets of 1 rep at 2-3 RM, rest 180 seconds

B- 2 sets of 2 reps at 3-4RM, rest 180 seconds

C- 2 sets of 3 reps at 4-5 RM, rest 180 seconds

If muscle mass gain is not an option pay close attention to diet, this will ensure limited gains in size and still leave room for neural adaptations while training with cluster sets.

Enjoy the process,

Coach Charles R. Poliquin