What is Cluster Training?

29 May, 2020
There are currently lots of different forms of strength training, but one of the lesser known is cluster training. This method aims to increase your strength in a shorter period of time.
 

There are currently various strength training methods, and one of the newest is cluster training. It’s not the most used in the gym, but in the professional world, the very best athletes use it to improve their performance.

In today’s article, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about cluster training, including what the science has to say.

What is cluster training?

Cluster training is very similar to interval training in that it focuses on smaller sets of reps to increase the quality of your training.

Grouping your repetitions like this will allow you to take brief pauses and helps the muscles to do much more than if you were just to do a single set.

The aim of cluster training is to delay the onset of fatigue, giving you the chance to work at high intensity and perform more repetitions than with traditional methods.

The key is in the rest periods in between each mini-set, which should be between 10 to 30 seconds long. And if you’re a bit older, you should take a minute’s rest after each main set.

Types of cluster

There are various different ways of categorizing cluster training, but today, we’re going to stick with the categorization proposed by Siff and Verkhoshansky. These authors set out two types of cluster training:

  • Extensive: performing 5-6 sets of 5-6 repetitions of your 6-rep max, with 10 seconds of rest between each set.
 
  • Intensive: performing 5-6 sets of 1-2 repetitions with 80-90 percent of your 1-rep max, with 20 seconds of rest between each set.
A man doing supervised bench presses.

The benefits of cluster training

When looking at the benefits of cluster training, it’s important to mention fatigue. If you’re able to stave off fatigue, you’ll be able to perform more repetitions and therefore prolong tension time.

This tension time will allow you to be more efficient when it comes to strength training, which is why it improves your training quality. All in all, the benefits can be summarised as follows:

  • Delays the appearance of muscle failure with high repetitions. This means you’ll be able to do more reps and improve your technique without fear of failure.
  • Achieve higher peak speeds in terms of power. Therefore, it’s ideal for disciplines where the main focus is power.
  • For exercises such as squats or bench press, it increases strength and power more than the traditional method.
  • It plays an important role in sports that require muscle gain without gaining weight because of the improvements in intramuscular coordination.

How to adapt the method based on your goals

When using the cluster training method, it’s important to adapt it to your training goals. The structure of your training won’t be the same when you’re aiming for hypertrophy as when you’re training for strength or velocity. Here are some practical examples:

 
  • Hypertrophy cluster method: Perform 4 mini-sets within each main set. The intensity should reach 80-85 percent of your 1-rep max. Take a break of 15 seconds between each mini-set.
  • Cluster training for strength-speed work: Perform 2 mini-sets within each main set. The intensity will be between 60-65 percent of your 1-rep max. Take a rest of 15-30 seconds between each mini-set.
  • Cluster training for maximum strength work: Increase the number of mini-sets possibly up to 10, with very few reps. The intensity also increases, working over 90 percent of your 1-rep max. Your rest periods will be short: 6 to 12 seconds between groups of mini-sets.

What does science say about cluster training?

As with any training method, and especially with strength training, there has been a fair amount of research with contrasting results.

Lawton’s work, for example, shows us the importance of clusters in sports where power gain is essential. His works show a very significant increase in muscle power due to the increase in peak velocity when performing cluster sets instead of traditional ones.

A woman lifting weights in a gym.

On the other hand, other recent research focuses on the importance of rest periods. In one piece of research, Hardee shows that longer rest periods between mini-sets delay the onset of fatigue but fail to achieve the same high peak velocities that short breaks do.

 

Last but not least, another group of researchers has focused on the differences between cluster training and the traditional method. These studies conclude that the cluster method should be used if you want to gain power but the traditional method should be used when the goal is muscle activation or hypertrophy.

Conclusions

As you can see, cluster training can become an important part of strength training, but if you’re aiming to develop maximum strength or hypertrophy, the traditional method will be more effective.

As a result, exercises such as squats, bench pressing, or deadlifts will benefit since they involve large muscle regions, where exercises such as curls won’t be so suitable for cluster training.

 
  • Hardee, J., Triplett, N., Utter, A. & Zwersloot, K. (2012). Effect of interrepetition rest on power output in the power clean. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Association, 26(4), 883-889.
  • Joy, J., Oliver, J., McCleary, S.,Lowery, R. & Wilson, J. (2013). Power Output and electromyography activity of the back squat exercise with cluster sets. Journal of Sports Science, 1, 37-4
  • Lawton, T., Cronin, J. & Lindsell, R. (2006). Effect of interrepetition rest intervals on weight training repetition power output. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 20(1), 172-176
  • Stiff, M. y Verkhoshansky (2000). Superentrenamiento. Barcelona: Editorial Paidotribo.