January 21, 2024 2 min read

By Shane Robert

Cluster Sets, also known as cluster training, are a type of rest-pause training that involves breaking a traditional set into shorter blocks or “clusters” of reps with intermittent rest periods between clusters. This allows for partial recovery within the set, enabling the lifter to perform more repetitions with a given weight than they would be able to do in a single continuous effort. Cluster sets are primarily used to build strength, but are effective for hypertrophy due to the higher amount of reps performed with a heavier load. 

Cluster sets allow lifters to use heavier weights than they might be able to handle for a continuous set. This enables the lifter to accumulate more volume with high-intensity loads, while the brief rest intervals help maintain power output, making cluster sets effective for power-focused exercises. The interset rest of cluster sets help manage fatigue, allowing for higher-quality repetitions and maintaining good form throughout the set. Clusters are also a time-efficient way to incorporate heavy lifting and volume into a training session and are best applied to various compound exercises such as squats, bench presses, deadlifts, and Olympic lifts.

Cluster sets are not taken to failure, as rest-pause training typically is, as that would limit the amount of subsequent reps that could be performed. Typical reps range from 1-5 per cluster.

Here's how cluster sets typically work using an 8RM:

  1. Use your 8RM that allows for all reps with proper form.

    • Perform 3-4 reps
  1. Rest 10 to 30 seconds

    • During this rest interval, the lifter partially recovers, allowing for a reduction in fatigue.
  1. Perform 3-4 reps

  1. Rest 10 to 30 seconds

  1. Repeat the process of performing the same amount of reps, followed by a short rest, until the desired number of total repetitions is achieved or technical breakdown occurs

In this case, if the lifter used their 8RM and performed 3 clusters of 4 reps, they completed 12 reps with an 8RM weight. That’s 50% more reps than a straight set would allow. 

As with any advanced training technique, it's important to gradually introduce cluster sets and pay attention to individual responses. Start with one set per workout and add sets slowly over weeks and months. Keep in mind that the additional volume that is completed at high intensities comes with greater recovery demands.

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