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Using Cluster Sets to Develop Strength & Capacity

August 5, 2022 by

What are Cluster Sets?

Let’s take a look at a cluster set that I’ve written probably a few dozen times in programs over the last few years…

Snatch (5 x 1.1.1) 74%
*rest 5s b/w clusters, rest 2min b/w sets

In other words, you would perform a rep of Snatch, drop & reset for about 5s, another Rep, drop and rest about 5s, and then perform your last rep. Rest 2 minutes and repeat 4 more times.

Why Not Just Do a Triple?

Go for it. There’s nothing wrong with writing things that way, as long as you make the intention clear.  

Some athletes will see "Snatch (5 x 3) 74%" and assume that means Touch-N-Go reps. Others will see it and do 3 singles with a quick drop & reset.  Another might rest 10 seconds between singles.  

Writing clusters in this way ensures as I coach I’m getting the stimulus I want out of an athlete.

Cluster Sets for Weightlifting

The most common way I use cluster sets are with the Olympic lifts, in a similar fashion to the example above.

This allows an athlete to accumulate more high-quality work at moderate intensities.  The short break allows the athlete to take a few clearing breaths and then refocus and reset for the next cluster.  The goal is to make each rep look the same.

I do something similar in lighter conditioning-oriented battery settings…

1) 1.1.1 Power Clean & Push Jerk @ 65% of Weaker Lift
2) 12 Bar-Facing Burpees
3) 30 Double Unders; As Fast As Possible

Pieces like this are written where movement quality can stay high even at a higher systemic work rate.

Other times, the goal is to drive as much fatigue into the system as possible, and cluster sets can be a great tool for doing this as well…

E6M x 3 Sets:
- Back Squat 70%
*rest as little as possible b/w clusters to be successful

Cluster Sets for Gymnastics

I usually will take a similar capacity based approach to developing gymnastics movements with cluster sets.

Let’s take an athlete with a Strict Pull-Up rep max of 8 in their initial testing.  Their work in week 2 or 3 of a progression may look something like this…

Strict Pull-Up (5 x 4.3.2)
*rest 15-30s b/w clusters, rest to good recovery b/w sets

For a higher level athlete, I may use clusters to note how I want them to attack a particular piece of work…

Every 10:00 x 3 Sets:
-16 Cal Row
-8 BBJO 24”

-4.3.3 RMU
-8 BBJO 24”
-16 Cal Row

Cluster Sets for Cyclical

Here’s a video explaining an example of how you could use cluster sets for developing cyclical power.

In the example in the video the work was “straight sets” meaning the clusters were all 20 calories.

I personally really enjoy doing cyclical cluster sets that are descending, meaning you start with the biggest chunk of work and then move to smaller chunks as you approach the tail of the set…

AirBike (6 x 18.14.10 Cals) 
-rest 30s b/w clusters, rest 2:00 b/w sets

Next Steps

This was by no means an exhaustive look into the ways cluster sets can be programmed, but I hope it has given you some new ways to encourage the highest, most quality output, while doing so in a means that is repeatable.

Now go to work.

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