Gains stalled? Bump up the intensity with cluster sets and the double rest-pause method using these exercises. Here’s how.
Forget the standard 3 sets of 10 for a while. Get stronger and boost hypertrophy with these challenging (and kinda fun) training methods.
Cluster sets involve planned intra-set breaks between clusters of reps. These mini-breaks typically last 5-30 seconds. They allow you to do more work in a set and often with better technique when compared to an all-out set with no breaks.
For example, when handling 80% of a 1RM in a lift, you might be able to muster out 5-8 reps in a traditional, all-out set. Using a cluster set, you can probably get an additional 1-3 reps at the same weight.
Aside from handling heavier weights for more reps in a set, there are many applications for cluster training:
Increased Training Density: It bumps up the amount of work done in a training session. This improves work capacity and cuts down on overall training time.
Additional Sport-Specific Practice: For powerlifters, the first rep is the only rep that matters in competition. Every first rep is another chance to rehearse the technique for a max-effort lift.
Strength and Hypertrophy: By manipulating the loading, sets, reps, and intra-set rest intervals, cluster sets are an effective tool for strength and size.
Rep schemes for optimal performance:
For Strength: 3 sets of 1 with around 2RM (94-96% 1RM), taking 20 seconds rest. See the deadlift example in the video.
For Hypertrophy: 6 sets of 6 with 10-15 seconds of rest on assistance exercises. See the trap bar row example in the video.
To do the standard rest-pause (RP) method, you also use intra-set rest periods like with cluster sets. The difference is the intent.
With the RP method, your intention is to get as many reps as possible or go very close to failure. In contrast, cluster sets are typically done with a specific number of reps in mind, and the same number of reps is maintained within each cluster. During the RP method, the reps will be different from set to set since the goal is to get a maximum amount of volume and reps in – to the point of fatigue or failure.
And there’s a DOUBLE rest-pause method. (See the JM press and deficit push-up examples in the video.)
Perform a set to failure, or close to it, for three consecutive rounds with brief recovery breaks in between. It’s two (hence double) total breaks of 10-30 seconds. That means there are three opportunities to get as much work done as possible while planning short breaks to provide a slight recovery (while still under a lot of fatigue) to accomplish higher workloads in a very fatigued state.
This is great for both hypertrophy, where you can use lighter loads to achieve more volume, or strength – using heavier loads (85%-95% of 1 RM) to squeeze out a few more reps you wouldn’t otherwise achieve without the rest-pause. Push-ups are great for this method.
You can also employ the RP method with a target number of reps you want to get with a certain weight. For example, triceps extensions for 100 total reps. Perform as many reps as you can at the set weight, rest 20 seconds, and repeat until you’ve hit all 100 reps. This works well as a finisher.
The RP method is a great method for getting more work done quickly, building work capacity, increasing muscular size, and building strength. I use this in 3-5 week training blocks with supplemental or accessory work.
Make any workout work better: