Cluster Training: When to apply this Training Technique?

Cluster Training: When to apply this Training Technique?

Cluster training or cluster sets is a slightly different methodology to the training sets we’re used to.

They are of interest to athletes looking to optimise their sporting performance, gaining strength and power.

What is Cluster Training?

This is a training technique in which within a given exercise set, “chunks” or intraset pauses are performed, with a very short rest.

So, if you find yourself “squatting”, you’ll release the bar during the main set, rest, and then put it back on to continue doing squats.

Cluster Squat

For example: 5 sets of 2 repetitions of squats at 90% load with 30″ pause.

Through this process it’s possible to perform a lot more repetitions for a submaximal weight than would otherwise be possible to “move” more times.

The need for this type of set is that, as studies have shown, the total volume of training is the main factor for muscle growth.

How to do cluster training

This training methodology is most suitable for those exercises that are aimed at gaining strength and power.

The method is most useful when applied to multi-joint exercises.

Barbell exercises, for example: squat, deadlift, bench press.

Clean and Jerk

Olympic athletes can also benefit from this type of work, in their two movements: the clean and jerk and snatch.

A “problem” with certain exercises, such as the squat or bench press, is having to drop the bar in the rack and reload it, because as you progress through the cluster, you will feel more tired.

Unilateral training

For unilateral movements, this system is a perfect fit, as you can rest on one side while performing the other.

Dumbbell work is another fantastic option for implementing cluster training.

Cluster Training Sets

There is no set pattern for cluster training.

We can manipulate them according to the objective, varying the intensity, the number of repetitions and the breaks.

Generally, you’ll find: sets of 1-4 repetitions with 10-30″ rest.

It is possible to find diverse information where each author/trainer interprets this type of training in a different way, although they are generally quite similar.

Depending on the target (load setting), we can configure this training on rest times:

ObjectivePowerStrengthHypertrophy
Repetitions/Cluster4-65-78-10
Cluster2-1-1 / 2-2-12-2-1 / 3-2-2-23-3-2 / 4-3-3-3
Cluster Sets2-33-43-4
Intensity40-70% RM>90% RM70-80% RM
Intra-set rest15-30″10-30″10-20″
Inter-set breaks2-3 min1-3 min1-1.5min
If at any time you’re not able to meet the times, you have to readjust the load.

Example

ObjectivePowerStrengthHypertrophy
ExercisePower LoadedDeadweightUnilateral Row
Intensity60%95%75%
Total sets554 (per side)
Repetitions/Cluster658
Cluster2-2-2-21-1-1-1-1-1-1-13-3-2
Intra-set breaks15″20″10″
Inter-set breaks90s3min1min
For Power: Power Loaded
  • 5 sets with 90s rest of 6 repetition clusters (2 repetitions with 15″ rest).

What are the benefits of this training?

One of the mechanisms involved in being able to perform more repetitions is that rest time allows the body to resynthesise phosphocreatine.

If we think of a set of 10-12 repetitions that we do without rest, we see a decrease in these deposits as we reach the end of the set.

On the other hand, if we perform 5 blocks of 2-3 repetitions with a rest of 20 seconds, we would not be “as empty” as in the first case, and we would be able to imprint higher quality to the movement (without loss of speed and with better technique).

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Strength

In this case, “heavy lifting” is more important than heavy lifting.

However, a minimum amount of training will be necessary

It is also important to note that another factor to bear in mind is to internalise the movement pattern, which is achieved by repeating the gesture many times.

Therefore, cluster sets can be an effective way to train strength by performing more repetitions at high intensity (very close to RM).

Do you know how to calculate your RM? We leave you this article to get it.

Power

You can establish or plan the repetitions to be performed and the rest periods within sets.

In this way, we can achieve more repetitions with the same weight, before we feel fatigued and see how the speed of the movement slows down.

Cluster power training

These will also generate less fatigue than conventional sets, including by applying a higher volume.

The cluster sets are suitable for power training
.

When to do Cluster Training

Cluster sets or cluster training does not claim to be a better training methodology than sets limited in number of repetitions.

However, it may be of interest to sportsmen and sportswomen who are looking for:

  • Heavy training: by applying a percentage close to the RM (>90%) to perform a higher training volume.
  • Power training: “moving” a weight of a medium intensity faster before losing speed of execution.
Leaving too much rest within sets can lead to a decrease in muscle activation.

Not to be confused with the Crossfit Cluster

Although they are called by the same name, they are not the same, as the Cluster is an exercise “born” from CrossFit, which is performed by grouping two exercises: front squat + push press.

You can, however, plan the cluster exercise for cluster sets, and with great results.

Bibliographical sources

  1. James J. Tufano, Lee E. Brown, G. Gregory Haff (2017). Theoretical and Practical Aspects of Different Cluster Set Structures: A Systematic Review.

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About Javier Colomer
Javier Colomer
Under the motto “Knowledge Makes me Stronger”, Javier Colomer clearly expresses his intentions to share his knowledge and experience within the world of Fitness. His BPT training system is proof of this.
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