Training with Cluster Sets

The term “Cluster sets”, or “Clusters” refers to intra-set rest. This is not a new concept, yet widely misused, or completely disregarded as a training method.

Here is why you should be using cluster sets in your training.

In simple terms, cluster sets are using small bouts of rest (anywhere from 10-30 seconds) in between reps to provide recovery and avoid movement deterioration which would normally occur during a straight-set with appreciable loading.

Olympic lifters use clusters regularly, most without realizing it.

In “Super-training” Cluster training is categorized two ways: 

Extensive Clustering, which involves 4-6 repetitions with ones 4-6 rep max load, with a 10 second rest interval between each cluster.

Intensive Clustering, 4-6 reps of only 1 repetition, between 75-90% of 1 rep max load, with about 20 seconds of rest between repetitions. 

Both have their own place, for purposes of hypertrophy where the intent is to have greater time under tension, extensive clustering usually works best.

Especially if you are using movements that you’d normally fatigue much quicker.

Using Cluster Sets In Your Training 

Cluster sets work actually work quite well when used for general strength purposes.

In particular, intermediate to advanced athletes can benefit from using intra-set rest.

In my experience, for beginner and intermediate athletes, having small bouts of rest between sets for beginner athletes can help instill efficient movement patterns. Which I also refer to as “foundation” which will be discussed a different time. 

A few basic reasons to use clusters that we have spoken about so far:

• Increased time under tension
• Improves movement patterns / mobility
• Heavier loading, increasing neural drive
• Efficient and easy to learn safely.

Some Variations:

Let’s get into some examples of how to actually USE a cluster set. 

Squat Variations for Cluster Sets:

Using cluster sets for the squat can be very effective to improve your ability to perform higher amounts of VOLUME with heavier loads.

Volume, meaning number of reps and sets. 

Examples Include:

  • Barbell Back Squat: 4 x 3.2.1 (20 sec rest) @75-80% 1RM-Rest 2 mins. 
  • Barbell Front Squat: 4 x 2.2.2 (15 sec rest)@75-80% 1RM-Rest 2 mins.

You can build to a heavier weight set over the course of 6-7 sets. I like doing this method personally, as well as with athletes because I’m not a big believer in the “1 Rep Max”… Conversation for a different time.

So, when I personally train with cluster sets, I build up to a heavy weight that I can get a rep range with, and when I feel like I'm done, I’m done. 

When To Use Cluster Sets

  • Choose a compound movement like a squat, bench, deadlift, or even pull-ups or pushups. I have even done them with loaded dips, or dip with a load that you can perform 5 solid reps for multiple sets.
  • SUB-MAXIMAL— around 2-3 reps shy of failure.This keeps us away from failing movement patterns, again the foundation for athletic training
  • Hypertrophy is the goal here. Total volume should between 20-30 reps. 

Additional Examples

  • Pull-ups: 3 x 5.3.2 (10 Seconds rest between). Rest 2:30
  • Bench Press: 4 x 2.2.2 (15 seconds rest)@ about 80% 1RM- Rest 3 mins.
  • Weighted Dips: 3 x 4.3.3 (10 seconds rest between) Rest 2 mins.

Try incorporating cluster sets into your training programs. Start with a few exercises like I spoke about here.

It may be what you need to bring your training to the next level, and I promise it will only benefit you.