Cluster sets can be defined as a unique and specialized form of strength training to help elicit higher quality of muscular contractions across each repetition. Traditionally, an athlete or client would perform continuous amounts of prescribed repetitions across a work set.
For example, if someone were to perform 85% of their 1RM in say 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 6 reps were finished, followed by a prolonged rest period of 2 minutes.
Here is a great video compliments of Joe DeFranco which concisely explains this training topic:
As Joe mentioned in the video above, 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 mean1. 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 their maximum effort. With this comes a natural state of de-conditioning 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 mover’s 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.
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.
And here is an example of how to utilize Cluster sets in a strength workout for any exercise:
|A1: Squat or DeadLift 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 45-4-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.