Sets and Reps # 6: Clusters for beginners?
So cluster training is an advanced trainee protocol.
Well in the words of Lloyd Grossman lets look at the evidence.
Or actually let’s look at the common sense behind them.
A while ago I wrote an article about training for hypertrophy with clusters. In an nutshell, they allow you to handle greater loads in a given set. So you can do 5 reps with a higher intensity with a 20s in between repetitions than you can doing the 5 straight out. That’s pretty clear.
So whilst beginners might be well suited to a classic 5 sets of 3 or 5 sets of 5 reps, clusters would suit someone pushing for greater intensities or greater velocities for increased power gains. Usually not the beginner trainee.
They work well for all major exercises such as squats, deadlifts, pulls and presses
They are excellent for busting plateaus but do understand that they likely have a neuromuscular emphasis rather than metabolic so beware if you are looking for this in your training or need metabolic adaptations. They might not be the way to go for you in this case.
But what about for beginners?
Typically with beginners the general prescription starts with sets of 10-12 reps and works down to the strength/power zone. That’s what most of us will prescribe.
We tend to use Bodyweight movements and light loads in the early stages to teach people how to move properly and let them feel what it’s all about.
Again, a good way forward.
But does working with a low intensity high volume actually transfer to heavier loads? Does that understanding transfer? The process we need to experience?
It might be that people get really good at lifting light weights.
First things first we need to get past this. We need to get people stronger by lifting heavy weights. This is a given. Working at higher intensities on a regular basis is a must. Drop the high reps, get some load involved.
Once you have this then consider clusters?
Here’s a big positive for all abilities: Clusters allow for coaching to occur.
They keep the quality high with the rest imposed.
For beginners they develop learning as people get to experience higher intensities.
Doesn’t need to be singles. Doubles and triples work very well. I’ve even used 4’s in certain cases instead of a set of 8 reps using 2 clusters of 4.
We used 3 clusters of 4 with the GB rowing U-23’s almost 6 years ago with great effect, granted they weren’t beginners though.
Olympic lifts are excellent done in clusters, most lifters default to this format anyway when pushing themselves. They’ll take 10-20s between reps to recover and reposition.
I like using them with beginners in Olympic lifting sessions. It gives me time to coach and give feedback.
I know Yousef Ziu over at Olympic Weightlifting Academy likes them too.
Give them a go, let me know your thoughts on my Facebook page.
You can also get your free deadlift ebook there too.