I love cluster sets.
Research says cluster sets are better for gaining strength, power, and velocity than traditional sets.
What are Cluster Sets?
Cluster sets are simply intra-set rest periods.
Instead of 1 set of 6 reps, we can break those 6 reps into two or three. Taking a 15-30sec rest between each cluster.
Cluster Set Sessions:
Most people will skip the research and “why” behind cluster sets, so I’ll get to the point.
Here’s some sessions you can try immediately:
Strength: Back Squat x 6 reps (2 reps, rest 20s, 2 reps, rest 20s, 2 reps) @ ~87.5% of max
Hypertrophy: Bench Press x 15 reps (5 reps, rest 30s, 5 reps, rest 30s, 5 reps) @ ~70% of max
Power: Trap-bar Jump x 4 reps (1 rep, rest 20s, 1 rep, rest 20s, 1 rep) @ 30% of max
But, why do Cluster Sets work?
What’s the mechanism behind these superior gains?
1.Higher Power Output
Image back squatting 6 reps @ 85% of your max. Those last few reps will be a grind.
Now image squatting 2 reps, rest 30s, 2 reps, rest 30s, 2 reps with 85% – not so bad.
The inta-set rest period allows faster bar velocity and higher quality of reps, thus leading to greater improvements in power and technical mastery.
2. Bonus Heavy Reps
You probably can’t do 1 set of 6 reps with 90% of your 1RM, but you might be able to do 6 reps @ 90% if you have a 30s break mid-way through.
Allowing greater volume with a higher % of your 1RM. More work = more gains.
What does the Research say about Cluster Sets?
Cluster sets aren’t pure bro science, there’s some hard data to back them up:
1.Extra Volume (but less stress)
Oliver et al (2015) found clusters allowed greater total volume load, greater average power, similar anabolic hormonal response, and less metabolic stress.
2.Strength Gains (even without the added volume)
Oliver et al (2013) compared traditional sets (4 x 10) and intra-rest interval sets (8 x 5). They found the intra-rest set group saw greater increases in strength, despite similar volume.
Potentially due to greater bar velocity and technical mastery.
3.Rapid Bar Velocity and Greater Power Gains
Antonio et al (2018) found that 3 weeks of muscle power training including cluster set configurations are more efficient at inducing velocity and power adaptations than traditional sets.
They aren’t perfect
Any training method has pros and cons, that’s where a good coach comes in (link in the bio…).
Cluster sets are not for beginners, the primary mechanism by which they work is higher volume at a heavier load (not the case with power versions). That comes with an additional injury risk.
If you’re going to use clusters sets, we’d recommend an accumulation block prior, to slowly adjust to higher volumes of training.
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