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Cluster Training?

I’m asking this question since I’m asked by lots of people how I manage to work every muscle at least 5 times a week while getting stronger and bigger - in a hypocaloric diet (provided that my protein intake is high enough) interspersed with a high carb refeed once a week.

Now, I’m not trying to be a smart ass - that’s just how it worked out for me in the last three years.

The only two downsides I could detect were time consumption and injury (no big surprise if you’re not properly warming up/down and stretching).

-each workout (including warming up and down) takes me about 2 - 2.5 hours
-I’ve torn 2/3 of my ulnar collateral ligament (due to idiocy on my part)
-I’ve fucked my patalla tendon pretty hard (again: idiocy)

I’ve also convinced three friends of mine to apply cluster training - albeit without dieting - and they overcame their plateaus and developed some serious beef (compared to their previous flat progression curve). But they dropped out after about a year due to time considerations.

So, your experience on clustering your reps while minimizing fatigue and CNS exhaustion are appreciated.

I am currently doing cluster training and I’ve been busting plateaus like a bat out of hell. However, I only do 3 sets of 5 reps with a 2 RM weight and 15 seconds pause between reps per body part. I rest 3 minutes between sets.

Basically, I followed Thib’s HSS-100 program and did my clusters on the “H” part. It takes me only an hour and 20 minutes to finish my workouts.

Using too much cluster training (by too much I mean 2 cluster exercises for a body part) will lead to CNS overtraining. Furthermore, proper form is integral. Lifting your 2 RM 15 times with bad form is a sure way to injure yourself.

Well, it seems to me that cluster training isn’t very popular over here, too :wink:

Thanks for taking the time to post your experience on it, undeadlift.

I don’t agree with that. Applying proper fatigue management (i.e. avoiding concentric muscular failure in each cluster) will spare your CNS. In my experience there’s nothing wrong with using squats, dead lifts and bent-over rowing in a cluster session - 5 - 6 times a week.

That’s absolutely right.

Come on, fellas: there must be someone else beside undeadlift and me who’s successfully been using cluster training in the past or is still thriving on it. Don’t be shy.

[quote]Rawbread wrote:

Come on, fellas: there must be someone else beside undeadlift and me who’s successfully been using cluster training in the past or is still thriving on it. Don’t be shy.

[/quote]

I used it quite extensively in the past with myself and many of my athletes/clients with nothing but stellar results in strength. Of course I wrote an article and created a DVD about it so I might be biased :wink:

Seriously though, I find clusters to be especially effective for mass retention/gain purposes when you are in a state conductive to muscle loss. Two such cases are when you are on a hypocaloric diet and when a bodybuilder is ‘‘cleaning house’’ (stops using anabolic steroids). I’ve worked with some steroids users who decided to come clean and most of them were able to maintain, even gain some, mass during the all-important immediate post-cycle period.

It is a powerful method BUT it IS CNS-intensive EVEN if you don’t go to failure. The thing with CNS fatigue is that you don’t feel it until it hits you hard. The early symptoms of CNS fatigue are so slight that they are often dismissed and blamed on work, stress, personal relationships, etc. But don’t be fooled: doing to much clustering can lead to CNS burnout.

Yeah. Clusters are CNS intensive. I did clusters earlier with my deadlift (while achieving a new RM of 255 pounds). Since I have a cold and I jumped from 245 from last week, I was only able to do 4 reps on that weight out of my target 15.

Even if I rested for about 3 minutes between my last succesful rep and the next, I could no longer lift the bar.

I’m pretty sure it wasn’t muscular failure because of the fact that I rested adequately (enough time for my CP to replenish and all lactic acid to get the hell out) and the presence of my cold (as far as I know, colds affect the CNS more than muscles). It had to be CNS failure.

(I just hope I didn’t make a mistake by doing 7-second overcoming isometrics on the 255-pound bar 11 times cluster style to make up for the other 11 reps I missed. I wanted to be stronger on the bottom ROM, after all.)

And if you think it’s just the cold, think again. Last week, I experienced the same thing with 245 pounds but I only made 8 reps out of my target 15. I still didn’t have a cold back then.

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Hi Christian,

No wonder there: with the high frequency and volume made possible by clustering strength progression is pre-programmed.
What DVD and article are you referring to? I must have overlooked both by accident, since I usually read all your publications here on T-Nation.

Thanks, I didn’t know that.
What are the early symptoms of CNS fatigue?

-Irritability?
-Tired eyes despite seemingly enough sleep?
-Cold symptoms (congested nose)?

Currently I have those symptoms, but I blamed them on my work schedule and didn’t suspect anything CNS fatigue related, since I’m still performing very well (increase in work loads, decrease in body fat, increase in muscular circumference).

undeadlift,
your reasoning sounds sound, but I have to admit that I’ve never experienced anything like that since I’m clustering (and I think that three years constitute quite a representative time frame).

I’m not going easy with my loads, though.
(for example: 330 lbs bent over barbell rowing @ 198 lbs body weight).

[quote]Rawbread wrote:
undeadlift,
your reasoning sounds sound, but I have to admit that I’ve never experienced anything like that since I’m clustering (and I think that three years constitute quite a representative time frame).

I’m not going easy with my loads, though.
(for example: 330 lbs bent over barbell rowing @ 198 lbs body weight).

[/quote]

I see. 330 lbs is what % of your 1 RM? When clustering, I always lift my 2 RM, or about 97% of my 1 RM.

BTW, the nature of bent over barbell rows is different from that of deadlifts.

undeadlift,

330 lbs is 95% of my 1 RM.

I don’t know about you, but before clustering (i.e. ordinary volume training) my lower back didn’t permit me to effiently perform bent-over barbell rowing and dead lifts in the same session.

[quote]bushidobadboy wrote:
I use a method I call ‘alternating rest/pause’, however the term ‘alternating cluster sets’ would be MUCH more appropriate.

I pick 2 ‘complementary’ exercises, eg deadlift and shoulder press, or bench press from pins and barbell row. Or, I might just use 1 total body exercise like barbell snatch or OH split squat.

After a couple of warmup sets, I cluster train, but alternating between the two exercises.

This has worked well for me over the last month or so.

Generally, I don’t work my delts/pecs in anything like a 1-5RM continuum, as I want healthy shoulders when I’m 80yrs old, and still training, BUT this method has allowed me to rapidly increase max strength, without (seemingly) causing any microtrauma or pain in the shoulders.

Bushy[/quote]

I’ve thought about doing something like this but I’ve always wondered how form holds up in the two lifts (for instance, I’d be afraid to do it with deadlifts.)

[quote]Rawbread wrote:
I don’t know about you, but before clustering (i.e. ordinary volume training) my lower back didn’t permit me to effiently perform bent-over barbell rowing and dead lifts in the same session.[/quote]

Their difference in nature is that it’s nearly impossible to cheat on a deadlift but it’s not that hard to cheat in barbell rows. That’s why if my barbell row never recovers for that day of clustering, I can use a little body english to complete the rep.

And yeah, it’s hard to perform both on the same day because it tires the erector spinae too much (at least in my case). I actually do barbell rows on back day and deadlifts on leg day.

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