cluster sets

Cluster Sets: More Intensity, More Growth

If you’re trying to put on size, the typical bodybuilder style programming would call for something like 3 sets at 8-12 reps. From a volume perspective, this should be sufficient for growth. However, from an intensity perspective, this type of training misses the mark.

Enter cluster sets.

Cluster sets are basically similar reps spread out over more sets with drastically shortened rest times. Instead of the typical 3 sets of 8, cluster sets would be 8 sets of 3 with 15-20 seconds rest in between sets.

Okay, it ends up being the same amount of volume, so what makes cluster sets more effective then?

Muscular growth is best achieved at higher training intensities. In other words, bigger weights equal bigger muscles. No brainer right?

Dealing with straight sets of 8-12 forces you to dial down the weights, otherwise you would fatigue prior to completing the set. With cluster sets you’ll be able to use heavier weights since you won’t be reaching fatigue after just 3 reps.

A typical cluster will look like this:

Tricep rope pushdowns:

  1. 3 reps x 8 sets x 15 seconds rest in between sets

cluster sets

Another added benefit of cluster sets besides being able to use more weight is that you will get far more work done in a shorter amount of time. In the example of above, your entire cluster will be completed in a little over 2 minutes. If you were just doing straight sets that required 90-120 seconds of rest in between sets of 8, you’d be over 6 minutes.

Heavier weights. Less training time (that could be used for more volume?). More muscle gain.

Over time, you can progress your clusters by adding more resistance, or adding an additional rep or two per set.

Need more muscle building strategies? Check out Primal’s muscle building archives.

2 thoughts on “Cluster Sets: More Intensity, More Growth”

  1. Love this and I think this is exactly what I need to add to my training. My only question is should we use a weight we can only do 3 reps with or given the shorter rest periods should we use a little less weight to prevent the break down of our form?

    1. Hey Derrick. I think the answer is both. The idea is to use heavier weights, and since you are only doing three reps at a time, you should be able to do each set without a breakdown in form. It may be a bit of trial and error the first time, and it will be movement dependent. You won’t necessarily be doing a 3RM for 8 sets at 15 seconds rest, but you should definitely be pushing the intensity while maintaining strict form.

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