The cluster set is an amazing way to build muscle and strength very quickly. They can help you bring up a lagging body part or movement up to speed.
Although they are mostly prescribed for pullups, they can be done on almost every exercise — but it’s advisable to reserve them for less tiring movements such as presses, rows, etc., over squats and deadlifts, with the exception of speed training.
What are Cluster Sets?
A cluster set is a low-rep, high volume style of training with short rest periods between reps.
Let’s assume you can only do 4 pushups, failing on the 5th.
Try a schema of 10 sets of 3 reps, with 15-30 seconds rest between sets. You can even do something along the lines of 20 sets of 2 reps. You can get really creative!
That way you work in a decent amount of volume while training close to failure.
The short rest period between sets while working close to failure will rapidly increase resistance.
Don’t forget to progressive overload each session by adding more reps or total resistance.
One of my favorite 15 minute workouts for my upper back is a pyramid cluster set for pullups adhering to the following rep structure: 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1.
But most people structure cluster sets in 10 sets of 3, 8 sets of 4, for example.
Novices that lack proficiency in bodyweight exercises would benefit enormously from the use of cluster sets in their training regimen.
Attempting to implement cluster sets for hitting Deadlifts and Squats close to your maximum output wouldn’t just be exhausting, taxing, and destructive, but it would also be dangerous as you run the risk of your form breaking down.
Some strength athletes — my self included when I trained for powerlifting — would adopt cluster sets for speed days.
This would require picking a weight roughly 40-70% of your max and executing the movement quickly, with good form, and fluidly.
For my speed days my favorite working scheme was 10 sets of 3 reps at around 65% of my max on each lift.
Best speed exercises for cluster sets
- Bench Press
- Box Jumps
Increasing Total Volume
Another reason to incorporate cluster sets into your training is to increase total volume — especially with a view to maximize total strength output.
From experience, it’s a lot easier to do 10 sets of 3 reps at 80-85% of your one rep max in, say, the Bench Press than it is to do 3 sets of 10.
The best exercises for clusters sets to increase total volume:
- Overhead Press
- Bench Press
- Incline Bench Press
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