Cluster Sets: The Ultimate Guide!


Cluster Sets

Cluster sets are one of the most effective training methods ever invented for building muscle mass and strength.

Many of the world’s best bodybuilding and powerlifting coaches like Josh Bryant, Charles Poliquin and Christian Thibadeau use cluster sets all the time with their world-class athletes!

Introduction

  • Part 1: Cluster Sets For Strength
  • Part 2: Cluster Sets For Hypertrophy

In this comprehensive guide I am going to teach you the best cluster set training protocols for building strength and size.

A cluster set is an advanced training method where take short 10-30 second rest periods in between the reps of your sets. These short intra-set rest periods let your muscles partially recover so you can produce more force and overload your fast-twitch muscle fibers.

One of the best cluster set protocols for strength gains has you perform 5 sets of 5 reps with 10-20 seconds rest in between each rep. This is called a Poliquin-style cluster set and was popularized by the Canadian strength coach Charles Poliquin. Here is a perfect demonstration:

Cluster sets were invented all the way back in the 1950s by world-class Olympic Weightlifters. They discovered that performing sets of 3-5 reps with short rest periods in between each rep was one of the fastest ways to build maximal strength.

In recent years the scientific literature has shown over and over that cluster sets are superior to regular “straight sets” for increasing strength and power (1-6).

Here are just a few of the scientific reasons why cluster sets work so well for building size and strength:

  • They maximize the amount of force you produce on every rep during a set
  • They let you train at a higher percentage of your 1-rep max for a given number of reps
  • They improve your exercise technique by letting you focus on perfect single reps
  • They speed up your recovery by preventing excessive fatigue build-up in your muscles
  • They increase your training density and let you perform more quality work in less time

In other words cluster sets make you stronger, more explosive, improve your technique, improve your recovery time and improve your workout density so you get more work done in less time. Talk about a powerful way to train! There is no other training method in the world that can match the power of cluster sets.

The best cluster set methods for building strength are Poliquin style cluster sets, Carl Miller style cluster sets and eccentric cluster sets. On the other hand the best cluster set methods for building size are rest-pause sets, hypertrophy-specific cluster sets and muscle rounds.

If you learn how to use these cluster set training strategies in your own workouts then your size and strength gains will shoot through the roof.

Note: if you have any trouble reading the routines presented here then check out this article on how to read a training program. Now let’s get down to business…

Part 1: Cluster Sets For Strength

Cluster sets were originally used to rapidly build strength on exercises like front squats and back squats. Of course they can be used on a wide variety of exercises to build strength throughout your entire body.

Many of the world’s best strength coaches use cluster sets to help their professional and Olympic caliber athletes increase their maximal strength.

There are four strength-based cluster set protocols that you need to know about:

  • Poliquin Cluster Sets
  • Carl Miller Extensive Cluster Sets
  • Carl Miller Intensive Cluster Sets
  • Eccentric Cluster Sets

All four of these methods have their own advantages and disadvantages. I recommend you start off with the Poliquin cluster set method. This is the best option for people new to cluster sets and is probably the best all-around cluster set protocol.

As you gain more experience with cluster sets you can try the Carl Miller extensive and intensive cluster set protocols. These protocols have you train at a higher percentage of your 1-rep max and are great for advanced athletes who have a higher percentage of fast-twitch muscle fibers.

Eccentric cluster sets are probably the most extreme training protocol I will talk about in this article. You need to have a lot of experience before you try them. However, the results are more than worth it.

The strength coach Christian Thibadeau calls eccentric cluster sets the single most powerful training method for boosting strength levels in intermediate and advanced trainees.

Now let’s take a closer look at each of these training protocols.

Option #1: Poliquin Cluster Sets

Poliquin cluster sets were popularized by the Canadian strength coach Charles Poliquin. He used this training method with almost all of his world-class athletes when they needed to get stronger in record time.

Poliquin cluster sets is a training method where your goal is to perform 5 sets of 5 reps with your 3-rep max. In order to do this you are going to rest for 10-20 seconds in between each of the 5 reps. These short intra-set rest intervals give your body enough time to partially recover so that you can produce maximum force during all 5 reps.

Here is what the Poliquin cluster sets protocol looks like in practice:

The Poliquin Cluster Sets Training Protocol

  • Perform your 1st rep, rest 10-20 seconds
  • Perform your 2nd rep, rest 10-20 seconds
  • Perform your 3rd rep, rest 10-20 seconds
  • Perform your 4th rep, rest 10-20 seconds
  • Perform your 5th rep, 3-5 minutes and perform your next set

Here is a perfect demonstration of this training method on the close grip bench press:

As you can see the athlete’s coach is encouraging him to explode the bar up on each and every rep. When you accelerate the bar as fast as possible you produce more force and activate more fast-twitch muscle fibers than you could with slow and controlled reps.

This is known as “compensatory acceleration training.”

If you want to get the most out of Poliquin cluster sets then you have to focus on exploding through the concentric range of each rep! Don’t worry, the short rest periods before each rep will make this much easier to accomplish.

When Charles Poliquin used cluster sets he had his athletes perform antagonistic supersets. For example his athletes might alternate between overhead presses and chin ups, squats and leg curls or bench presses and preacher curls. Performing antagonistic supersets has many advantages but the short answer is it increases the effectiveness of this training method even further.

Here is a sample Poliquin cluster sets routine that you can use to strengthen your upper arms. Check it out:

Poliquin Cluster Sets Arm Workout

  • A1: Bench press (shoulder-width grip), 5 x 5**, 4/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • A2: Preacher ez-bar curl (wide / supinated grip), 5 x 5**, 4/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • B1: Seated DB french press, 3 x 6-8, 3/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest
  • B2: Seated DB zottman curl, 3 x 6-8, 3/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest

**Performed as a Poliquin-style cluster sets protocol. Use a weight that is around your 3-rep max and rest for 10-20 seconds in between all 5 reps.

Here are the exercise videos: exercise A1, exercise A2, exercise B1, exercise B2.

This workout may look simple but it is an incredibly powerful way to strengthen your arms. One of the trickiest things about this routine is picking the right weight for your sets. For optimal results you want to use the exact same weight for all five of your sets.

I recommend you pick a weight that is slightly below your estimated 3-rep max for the first workout. For example if you can close grip bench press 300 pounds for 3 reps then perhaps you use 290 or even 280 pounds for your first workout. If you can use this weight for all 5 sets then go ahead and bump up the weight for your next workout.

If you perform Poliquin cluster sets correctly then I think you will be shocked at how effective they are for boosting maximal strength.

Option #2: Carl Miller Extensive Cluster Sets

Carl Miller was a world-class Olympic Weightlifting coach who worked with some of the strongest athletes in the world. Carl Miller was an absolute fanatic when it came to cluster sets. He was the first Olympic Weightlifting coach to use cluster sets as an official training method and has more experience with clusters than almost anyone else in history.

Carl Miller was so passionate about cluster sets that he actually invented two cluster set training protocols to help his athletes make faster progress:

  • Carl Miller Extensive Cluster Sets
  • Carl Miller Intensive Cluster Sets

Let’s talk about Carl Miller extensive cluster sets first. The world “extensive” just means that this method stresses your muscles slightly more than your central nervous system. This training method boosts your strength by making your nervous system more efficient AND by increasing the size of your fast-twitch muscle fibers.

Here are the loading parameters for this training method according to the strength coach Christian Thibadeau:

Carl Miller Extensive Cluster Sets Loading Parameters

  • 5-7 reps per set @ 85-92% of your 1-rep max
  • 30-45 seconds rest in between reps
  • 2-3 minutes rest in between cluster sets
  • 3-5 total cluster sets per exercise

The big difference between Carl Miller extensive clusters and Poliquin-style clusters is that you are resting for 30-45 seconds in between each rep. This means you can use a slightly heavier load while still completing all of your reps.

You also have the option of performing as many as 5-7 reps in a single set as long as you rest for 30-45 seconds in between each rep. This is a slightly more advanced protocol than Poliquin-style clusters and should be reserved for more advanced athletes.

Here is how you might set up a Carl Miller extensive cluster sets workout to boost your back squat. Check it out:

Carl Miller Extensive Cluster Sets Squat Workout

  • A1: Back squat (medium stance / heels flat), 3-5 x 5-7**, 2/1/X/0, 240 seconds rest
  • B1: Front foot elevated DB split squat, 2 x 6-8, 2/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • C1: Romanian deadlift, 2 x 8-10, 2/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • D1: Reverse hyperextension, 2 x 12-15, 1/0/1/0, 120 seconds rest

**Rest for 30-45 seconds in between each rep and use 85-92% of your 1-rep max for each set.

Here are the exercise videos: exercise A1, exercise B1, exercise C1, exercise D1.

Once again it is absolutely critical that you use the same weight on all of your sets. This encourages your body to make the right neurological adaptations to this workout so that you come back bigger and stronger.

You can use whatever accessory exercises you want for this workout. The important thing is that you put 100% of your effort into the extensive cluster sets. If you are saving your energy for the accessory work then you are wasting your time!

Option #3: Carl Miller Intensive Cluster Sets

This is an even more extreme version of cluster sets than anything we have discussed so far. Carl Miller used his intensive cluster sets protocol when he needed to boost an athletes maximal strength as fast as possible or to peak their strength on a particular lift.

The word “intensive” just means that this method is overloading your central nervous system much harder than your muscles. Your muscles will not get much of a “burn” using this method. Instead you will feel like you are grinding against each and every rep.

Here are the loading parameters for this training method according to the strength coach Christian Thibadeau:

Carl Miller Intensive Cluster Sets Loading Parameters

  • 2-3 reps per set @ 87-95% of your 1-rep max
  • 45-60 seconds rest in between reps
  • 2-3 minutes rest in between cluster sets
  • 3-4 total cluster sets per exercise

The big difference with the Carl Miller intensive cluster sets is you are performing fewer reps per set and resting longer in between each rep. This allows you to train at a much higher percentage of your 1-rep max. In fact you can train as high as 95% of your 1-rep max using this training method!

The Carl Miller intensive clusters tend to work best if you are already very strong and/or have a large percentage of fast-twitch muscle fibers. Here is a sample workout that you may want to try to boost your incline bench press. Check it out:

Carl Miller Intensive Cluster Sets Incline Bench Press Workout

  • A1: 30 degree incline bench press (medium grip), 3-4 x 2-3**, 3/2/X/0, 240 seconds rest
  • B1: Seated DB overhead press, 2 x 6-8, 2/0/2/0, 120 seconds rest
  • C1: Dead stop skull crusher, 2 x 8-10, 2/1/1/0, 120 seconds rest
  • D1: Seated band pull-apart, 2 x 8-10, 2/0/2/2, 120 seconds rest

Here are the exercise videos: exercise A1, exercise B1, exercise C1, exercise D1.

In an ideal world you want all of your repetitions using this method to feel heavy but still move relatively fast. These are near-maximal singles, not all-out singles. In other words you want to feel like you are still accelerating the weight reasonably quickly without having to “grind out” a lot of reps.

The Carl Miller intensive cluster sets method works because of the high volume of near-maximal singles. You do not want to burn yourself out on any one rep or set. Instead you want to perform a large volume of high-quality work to get stronger.

If you think you are ready for this advanced training method then go ahead and give it a shot! It is a very powerful way to train.

Option #4: Eccentric Cluster Sets

And now for something completely different! Eccentric cluster sets are like a hybrid between two incredible training methods:

I first learned about eccentric cluster sets through the writings of Christian Thibadeau. Christian is a huge fan of using weight releasers to help intermediate and advanced trainees break through strength plateaus.

Weight releasers are giant metal hooks that hang on either end of a barbell. They make the weight heavier when you lower the weight down to the bottom position of an exercise.

However, in the bottom position the weight releasers hit the floor and fall off the barbell. This means weight releasers make the weight heavier on the way down and lighter on the way up.

Here is Josh Bryant giving a perfect demonstration of weight releasers on the bench press:

One of the problems with weight releasers is it is very difficult to perform more than 1 rep in a row. You have to physically pick the weight releasers up off the ground and re-rack them on the barbell.

So how do you perform multiple reps with weight releasers? Christian Thibadeau’s answer to this problem was eccentric cluster sets! You just re-rack the weight releasers while you are resting in between your reps. Voila!

Here is an eccentric cluster sets bench press workout that you may want to try. Don’t worry, I’ll do my best to explain this workout in more detail. Check it out:

Eccentric Cluster Sets Bench Press Workout

  • A1: Bench press (shoulder-width grip), 5 x 5**, 10/0/1/0, 120 seconds rest
  • A2: Pull ups (narrow / neutral grip), 5 x 5**, 4/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • B1: V-bar dips (forward leaning torso), 3 x 6-8, 3/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest
  • B2: Seated cable rope face pull, 3 x 6-8, 2/0/1/2, 60 seconds rest

**Rest for 30 seconds in between each rep. I recommend you use 80% of your 1-rep max on the barbell and an extra 5-20% of your 1-rep max on each weight releaser. The total weight on the eccentric range should be 90-120% of your 1-rep max and the weight on the concentric range should be 80% of your 1-rep max.

You can click right here for a video of the eccentric cluster sets on the bench press. The video features one of Christian Thibadeau’s athletes so you know he is performing them correctly.

Eccentric training has been shown to stimulate more size and strength gains than more conventional training methods. It overloads both your central nervous system and your fast-twitch muscle fibers to an incredible degree.

When you combine eccentric training with cluster sets you get an unbelievably potent training stimulus. If you are an advanced trainee and stuck at a strength plateau then you have to give this training method a shot!

Part 2: Cluster Sets For Hypertrophy

cluster sets

Sometimes it feels like cluster sets for strength get all of the love and attention.

It’s true that cluster sets were originally designed to boost maximal strength in Olympic Weightlifters and they are one of the best ways to train for strength. However, cluster sets are also an awesome tool for building muscle mass!

Many world-class bodybuilding coaches like Josh Bryant and Dante Trudel have used different types of cluster sets to help their bodybuilding clients break through hypertrophy plateaus.

There are four cluster set hypertrophy protocols that I want to teach you:

  • Rest-Pause Sets
  • The 5 To 8 Method
  • Hypertrophy-Specific Cluster Sets
  • Muscle Rounds

In my experience these are four of the most effective ways to use cluster sets to build muscular size. All of these methods are very unique from one another and will appeal to different types of trainees.

Rest-pause sets were popularized by Dante Trudel, the creator of DC Training and co-founder of True Nutrition. The basic idea is to perform 3 sets to failure on an exercise with 20-30 seconds rest in between each attempt.

The 5 to 8 method was invented by Charles Poliquin and is very similar to Dante Trudel’s rest-pause sets. You are going to perform 5 reps with your 5-rep max and then perform extra singles with the same weight until you perform 8 total reps.

Hypertrophy-specific cluster sets are very different from anything we’ve discussed so far. The basic idea is to perform multiple sets of 4-6 reps with only 10 seconds rest in between each set. Your goal is to perform as many total sets as you can on that exercise in 5 minutes.

Finally we have muscle rounds as popularized by Dr. Scott Stevenson. The basic idea is to perform 6 sets of 4 reps with 10 seconds rest in between each set. Muscle rounds are very similar to Josh Bryant’s hypertrophy specific cluster sets. The main difference is they let you use a heavier load to build more myofibrillar hypertrophy.

I hope you found this overview helpful. Now let’s take a closer look at these cluster set hypertrophy protocols.

Option #1: Rest-Pause Sets

If you have never heard of rest-pause sets then you must be living under a rock! Rest-pause sets were popularized in the early 2000’s by Dante Trudel and his DC Training bodybuilding program.

Rest-pause sets are basically a series of three sets performed to failure on an exercise with only 20-30 seconds rest between exercises. Here is the exact protocol:

  • Train to failure in the 7-10 rep range, then rest 20-30 seconds
  • Train to failure a 2nd time with the same weight, then rest 20-30 seconds
  • Train to failure a 3rd time with the same weight, done!

Here is the rest-pause connoisseur Dusty Hanshaw showing us how it is done:

Rest-pause sets are technically a form of higher-rep cluster sets training. You are “clustering” three sets together with relatively short rest periods. Most of the time you will get far fewer reps on your 2nd and 3rd attempts with the same weight.

For example here is what a typical rest-pause set might look like:

  • Attempt #1: 9 reps
  • Attempt #2: 3 reps
  • Attempt #3: 2 reps

The 2nd and 3rd attempts are very taxing on your central nervous system. It feels like these are near-maximal reps even though you are still using a weight that is around your 7-10 rep max.

Most bodybuilders find that rest-pause sets are awesome for building maximal strength but they are also very effective for increasing your strength. They are one of the few training methods that let you train in the more traditional bodybuilding rep ranges while still getting stronger at a reasonably fast pace.

Here is an advanced rest-pause chest workout that you may want to try for some quick growth. Check it out:

Advanced Rest-Pause Chest Workout

  • A1: 30 degree incline barbell press, 1 x 7-10**, 2/0/X/0, rest as needed
  • B1: 45 degree incline DB press, 1 x 10-13***, 2/0/X/0, rest as needed
  • C1: Machine pec-dec, 1 x 20****, 2/1/1/0, rest as needed
  • D1: Flat DB fly extreme stretch x 60-90 seconds

**Performed as a DC-style rest-pause set. Train to failure in the 7-10 rep range, rest 20-30 seconds, train to failure a 2nd time with the same weight, rest 20-30 seconds, train to failure a 3rd time, done!

***Performed as a DC-style rest-pause set. Train to failure in the 10-13 rep range, rest 20-30 seconds, train to failure a 2nd time with the same weight, rest 20-30 seconds, train to failure a 3rd time, done!

****Perform 1 straight set to failure. This is a muscle-intensive movement. It is more important to feel your chest contracting against the machine than it is to use a ton of weight.

Here are the exercise videos: exercise A1, exercise B1, exercise C1, exercise D1.

As you can see you are only performing one rest-pause set or one straight set per exercise. These rest-pause sets are so taxing on your central nervous system that you should not perform more than one per exercise.

You should still perform as many warm up sets as you need to loosen up. However, once you get to your top weight you should perform just one rest-pause set to annihilate the working muscle.

If you are more of a “powerbuilder” and want a nice blend of size and strength gains then I highly recommend you give rest-pause sets a shot. It is one of the most effective cluster set protocols you can use to build size.

Option #2: The 5 To 8 Method

The 5 to 8 method was invented by Charles Poliquin. It is basically a modified version of Dante Trudel’s rest-pause method. Charles used to work with a lot of athletes who needed to build functional muscle mass. In other words they needed to increase the size of their fast-twitch muscle fibers so they could improve their performance in their sport.

The basic idea behind the 5 to 8 method is you are going to perform 5 reps with your 5-rep max, then rest and perform additional singles until you perform 8 reps total. Here is the exact training protocol:

  • Perform 5 reps with your 5-rep max, then rest 15-30 seconds
  • Perform 1 more rep with the same weight, then rest 15-30 seconds
  • Perform 1 more rep with the same weight, then rest 15-30 seconds
  • Perform 1 more rep with the same weight, done!

The 5 to 8 method is kind of like a hybrid between rest-pause sets and the Poliquin cluster sets method.

The extra singles performed at the end of the set are incredibly taxing on both your muscular system and your central nervous system. They “feel” like all-out maximal singles even though you are lifting your 5-rep max.

It’s very important that you DO NOT train all the way to failure on any attempt during the 5 to 8 method. In other words your initial set of 5 reps and the three extra singles should all be completed while maintaining good form and without failing.

This is in contrast to Dante Trudel’s rest-pause method where you do want to fail on each of the three attempts. By avoiding failure you can perform as many as 3-5 of these 5 to 8 method sets per exercise.

Here is a sample 5 to 8 method lower body workout that you may want to try. Check it out:

5 To 8 Method Lower Body Workout

  • A1: Back squat (narrow stance / heels elevated), 3 x 5**, 3/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • A2: Bilateral seated leg curl (Poliquin method / feet pointed out)***, 3/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • B1: Leg press against bands, 3 x 10-12, 2/0/2/0, 60 seconds rest
  • B2: Standing barbell good morning, 3 x 10-12, 2/0/2/0, 60 seconds rest

**Performed as a 5 to 8 method set. Perform 5 reps just shy of failure, rest 15-30 seconds, perform 1 more single, rest 15-30 seconds, perform 1 more single, rest 15-30 seconds, perform 1 more single, done!

***To perform the Poliquin method on leg curls you dorsiflex your ankles (point your toes towards your shins) on the concentric range and plantarflex your ankles (point your toes away from your shins) on the eccentric range. This allows you to eccentrically overload your hamstrings.

Here are the exercise videos: exercise A1, exercise A2, exercise B1, exercise B2.

This type of routine works awesome for a powerlifter who wants to take a break from heavy singles, doubles and triples in order to build up some functional hypertrophy. It also works awesome for bodybuilders who want to use lower rep ranges for a few weeks to hypertrophy their fast-twitch muscle fibers.

The 5 to 8 method is an unbelievably effective cluster set protocol for building fast-twitch muscle. I highly recommend you give it a shot!

Option #3: Hypertrophy-Specific Cluster Sets

Hypertrophy-specific cluster sets were popularized by the bodybuilding coach Josh Bryant. He has used this training method with many of his high-level bodybuilders including IFBB pros Branch Warren and Johnnie Jackson.

You are going to pick a weight that you can perform about 10-15 times. You are going to take that weight and perform multiple sets of 4-6 reps with only 10-15 seconds rest in between sets. Your goal is to perform as many sets of 4-6 reps as you can in the 5 minute time period. For example:

Hypertrophy specific cluster set protocol

  • Perform 1 set of 4-6 reps, then rest 15 seconds
  • Perform another set of 4-6 reps, then rest 15 seconds
  • Perform another set of 4-6 reps, then rest 15 seconds

And so on. You just keep performing sets of 4-6 reps until the 5-minute time period is up. Here is a perfect example of hypertrophy specific cluster sets in action:

Josh Bryant likes to design hypertrophy workouts where his athletes perform hypertrophy specific cluster sets on 3-5 exercises per body part. This is a great way to accumulate a lot of training volume in a very short period of time.

Here is the exact shoulder workout that Josh Bryant’s bodybuilding clients were using in the above video. Check it out:

Shoulders Hypertrophy-Specific Cluster Sets Workout

  • A1: Machine lateral raise, sets of 6**, 1/0/1/0, 15 seconds rest
  • B1: Reverse pec dec, sets of 6**, 1/0/1/0, 15 seconds rest
  • C1: Hammer strength overhead press, sets of 6**, 1/0/1/0, 15 seconds rest
  • D1: Bent-over reverse DB fly (30 degree bench), sets of 6**, 1/01/0, 15 seconds rest

**Perform sets of 6 reps for 5 minutes straight with 15 seconds rest in between each set. Use a weight you can lift approximately 15 times.

You can click right here for a training video of this workout.

This workout is much harder than it looks! Most people who try this kind of routine struggle to perform sets of 6 reps for 5 minutes straight.

Here is what your sets might look like on this type of workout:

  • Perform sets of 6 reps until you can’t get the 6th rep
  • Perform sets of 5 reps until you can’t get the 5th rep
  • Perform sets of 4 reps until you can’t get the 4th rep

And so on. Just make sure that you stick with the same weight at your next workout until you can perform sets of 6 reps for 5 minutes straight.

Hypertrophy specific cluster sets are an awesome training method for anyone training in a busy commercial gym. You don’t need to hog multiple pieces of equipment like you do with giant sets and you can get in a great workout in a short period of time.

There is a reason Josh Bryant continues to use this cluster sets method with his world-class bodybuilders and powerlifters to build muscle mass!

Option #4: Muscle Rounds

Muscle rounds were popularized by Dr. Scott Stevenson as part of his new bodybuilding training program called “Fortitude Training.” Muscle rounds are another awesome way to use cluster sets to build muscle mass.

To perform a muscle round you will perform 6 sets of 4 reps with only 10 seconds rest in between sets. Dr. Scott Stevenson recommends that you use a weight that is around your 10-12 rep max for all six sets. Here is the exact protocol:

Dr. Scott Stevenson’s Muscle Round Training Protocol

  • Perform 4 reps with your 10-12 rep max, rest 10 seconds
  • Perform another 4 reps with the same weight, rest 10 seconds
  • Perform another 4 reps with the same weight, rest 10 seconds
  • Perform another 4 reps with the same weight, rest 10 seconds
  • Perform another 4 reps with the same weight, rest 10 seconds
  • Perform another 4 reps with the same weight, done!

Here is a video of Scott performing a muscle round on the t-bar row. Check it out:

Muscle rounds are a lot like Josh Bryant’s hypertrophy specific cluster sets. The big difference is you are lifting a slightly heavier weight and performing fewer sets and reps.

Muscle rounds are a great choice if you want to perform a lot of volume in a short period of time while still using a reasonably heavy weight. They work awesome for bodybuilders looking to build some functional muscle mass and powerlifters who need a break from heavy singles, doubles and triples.

Here is a muscle round upper back workout that you may want to try. Check it out:

Upper Back Muscle Round Workout

  • A1: Lat pulldown (narrow / neutral grip), 6 x 4**, 1/0/1/0, 120 seconds rest
  • B1: Hammer strength pulldown (supinated grip), 6 x 4**, 1/0/1/0, 120 seconds rest
  • C1: Barbell bent over row, 6 x 4**, 1/0/1/0, 120 seconds rest
  • D1: Seated cable row (narrow / neutral grip), 6 x 4**, 1/0/1/0, 120 seconds rest

**Performed as a Scott Stevenson style muscle round. Perform 6 sets of 4 reps with 10 seconds rest between sets.

Here are the exercise videos for this workout: exercise A1, exercise B1, exercise C1, exercise D1.

You can click right here for a training video of this workout.

One of the trickiest things about muscle rounds is picking the right weight for your sets. After all it is never easy to predict how many reps you can perform on your 4th, 5th or 6th attempt during this type of cluster set.

Scott recommends that most people start with their 10-12 rep max. If the weight is too easy then just perform as many reps as you can on your 6th set. On the other hand if the weight is too heavy then just perform as many reps as you can on each of the six attempts.

For example here is what your 6 attempts might look like if you overestimate your strength:

  • Attempt #1: 4 reps
  • Attempt #2: 4 reps
  • Attempt #3: 4 reps
  • Attempt #4: 3 reps
  • Attempt #5: 3 reps
  • Attempt #6: 2 reps

If that is all you get then that is perfectly OK. Just stick with the same weight at your next workout and try to improve. When you get 4 reps on all 6 sets then you can bump up the weight at your following workout.

Muscle rounds are a fantastic way to train for hypertrophy. There is a reason Dr. Scott Stevenson used them as one of the core training methods in his Fortitude Training bodybuilding program. Try them for yourself and you will see what I mean!

Conclusion

Cluster Sets

Cluster sets are one of the greatest training methods of all time. They were first used by Olympic weightlifters in the 1950s and and they are still used today by some of the biggest and strongest athletes in the world.

One of the things that make cluster sets so special is they are extremely customizable. Clusters can be used for any training goal if you know what you are doing. In my experience Poliquin cluster sets, rest-pause sets and the 5 to 8 method are three of the best tools you can use to build size and strength.

So go ahead and give any of these training methods an honest try for 2-4 weeks. I think you will be shocked at how fast you can progress with cluster sets as a core part of your training program!

“I’m never going to get somewhere and say, ‘OK, I’m done.’ Success is never final – I’ll just keep on going. The same way as failure is never final – just keep going. I’m going to the stars and then right past them.”

Thank you for reading and I wish you the best of luck in your strength training journey!

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  4. Lawton, Trent & Cronin, John & Drinkwater, Eric & Lindsell, R & Pyne, David. (2004). The effect of continuous repetition training and intra-set rest training on bench press strength and power. The Journal of sports medicine and physical fitness. 44. 361-7.
  5. Lawton, Trent & Cronin, John & Lindsell, Rod. (2006). Effect of Interrepetition Rest Intervals on Weight Training Repetition Power Output. Journal of strength and conditioning research / National Strength & Conditioning Association. 20. 172-6. 10.1519/R-13893.1.
  6. Rooney, K & Herbert, Robert & Balnave, Ronald. (1994). Fatigue contributes to the strength training stimulus. Medicine and science in sports and exercise. 26. 1160-4. 10.1249/00005768-199409000-00014.

Dr. Mike Jansen, PT, DPT

Thanks for checking out my site! My name is Dr. Mike Jansen and I'm the founder of Revolutionary Program Design. If you want to reach your size and strength goals faster then you've come to the right place. My goal is to make RPD the #1 strength training resource available anywhere in the world. So grab a seat, kick back and relax. There's never been a better time to lift weights or to learn the art and science of strength training program design.

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