We’ve all been there. Your coach prescribed doubles and you have worked your way up to 10 pounds within your best lift. You summon all your strength and hit a beautiful first lift. As the bar drops to the ground your heart rate and blood pressure are through the roof. You set up for your second rep right away and you either…
A) grind out a pathetic looking rep that makes people watching cringe.
B) miss the lift.
What is there to do? You want to build volume AND you want to lift heavier. Sounds like a fantasy. Almost. It’s called Cluster Sets.
What are Cluster Sets?
Cluster Sets are when you lift a heavy weight, rest briefly, and then do it again. Then after the cluster has finished you rest for a longer period of time. The goal is for the rest between reps to be equal to the time it takes you to do one full rep. Say your coach prescribes a cluster set of 3 reps for clean and jerks at 90% of your max. It would be written like this…
In other words… complete a Clean & Jerk, rest ~10s, C&J, rest ~10s, 1 C&J then you would rest two or three minutes rinse and repeat for 4 sets.
Why are Cluster Sets so Useful?
Cluster Sets allow you to lift a weight that is very close to your max multiple times while maintaining your form and movement quality. That brief rest of 8-10s allows your heart rate and blood pressure come back down so you can properly brace and hold your breath again during your second, third or fourth rep. It makes for a very simple equation…
More weight lifted x more reps = higher intensity & higher volume = you getting stronger.
How Should I Use Cluster Sets for Weightlifting?
Just like everything else in your regime, you want your use of Cluster Sets to change over time. This means you will be following the principle of progression. Here would be a simple outline for a person to increase their 1 Rep Max Clean and Jerk over a period of 4 weeks.
Week 1: 4×2.2 @75% [Volume = 20 Total Reps]
Week 2: 5×2.1.1 @78% [Volume = 20 Total Reps]
Week 3: 6×1.1.1 @83% [Volume = 18 Total Reps]
Week 4: 7×1.1 @88% [Volume = 14 Total Reps]
Week 5: 8×1 ReTest: Start at at 50% and climb to max
How Should I Use Cluster Sets for Gymnastics?
Clusters sets are also super beneficial for building volume in gymnastics movements. Unlike lifting where weights can be changed easily because you are manipulating an external object, gymnastics manipulate your body weight so the load is static.
Yes, you can manipulate loading by using bands to assist or weight belts to resist movement, but often these change to motor pattern. Clusters sets can be another helpful tool in your belt to create variance within your training.
Say you are capable of doing 5 unbroken Ring Muscle-Ups. If you do traditional sets, you volume per set will always be at or under 5 reps. However, with cluster sets you could easily hit more than five reps. Here is an example of this…
Traditional Sets (4×4) [Volume = 16 Reps across 4 Sets]
Cluster Sets (4×3.2.1) [Volume = 24 Reps across 4 Sets]
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Related Read: Rowing for Calories Versus Meters