CLUSTER SETS FOR BREAKING STRENGTH PLATEAUS

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CLUSTER SETS FOR BREAKING STRENGTH PLATEAUS

Postby Orinoco on Wed Aug 20, 2008 11:40 am

I used to rely on this method alot when I was PT'ing...it's probably the simplest method to increasing strength (i.e the laziest from a PT's perspective :? ) and getting passed a sticking point.

From Poliquin's Modern trends in Strength Training Vol 1.

CLUSTER TRAINING

In the pursuit of training athletes to achieve high levels of relative strength, over the years I have used a great number of training methods. One of the most effective methods for that purpose is cluster training, which I first saw in Carl Miller's weightlifting textbook.

In traditional relative-strength training the athlete is often prescribed a workout using the following loading parameters:

- 5 sets of 5RM sets
- muscular failure achieved on the last repetition of every set
- rest intervals of 4 minutes


Thus, the athlete executes a total of 25 repetitions at 85% of their 1RM (90% or more) in roughly 25 minutes of work. With cluster training, the athlete will select a higher percentage of their 1RM (90% or more) and perform a workout using the following parameters:

- 5 intermittent repetitions with 90% of 1RM load, resting 10-15 seconds between repetitions. The athlete gifted with a higher percentage of fast-twitch fibers would use the longer rest interval (15 seconds)
- multiple sets (typically 5 sets)
- rest intervals of 3-5 minutes between sets


The athlete would execute a total of 25 repetitions at a mean intensity of 90% of 1RM in roughly 25 minutes. Note that these repetitions are performed at higher forces and lower velocities than the ones performed in the traditional method. Therefore Cluster training would provide the following advantages for the athlete:

- Increased total training time under tension (TUT) for the high-threshold fast-twitch fibers; a prerequisiste for reaching hypertrophy of these selected fibers. This may seem contradictory to the concept of relative strength, but hypertrophy can be beneficial if it is done in the right motor units.
- Higher force/lower velocity repititions - a prerequisite for inducing maximal strength gains.


When using Cluster Training, success in all sets and reps is critical. It is better to use a weight that is initially too light than a weight that is too heavy. Let's say your athlete's best close-grip bench press is 300 pounds and the 3RM is 270 pounds. Normally you can start the first cluster at the 3RM weight: 270 pounds. But I would suggest starting the cluster as 255 pounds; move up if it is too easy. Use your best judgement to adjust the load, not the athlete's ego. Increase the load 1-3 percent when all repetition goals are achieved.

Although the rest interval between repetitions in a series is an extemely important loading parameter, it has received very little atttention from the strength training community.
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Re: CLUSTER SETS FOR BREAKING STRENGTH PLATEAUS

Postby health4ni on Wed Aug 20, 2008 11:47 am

Poliquin talked about Cluster training on the Level 1. I haven't done it myself although will do soon. It does look very good at what it is meant to be used for.

Nice post.
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Re: CLUSTER SETS FOR BREAKING STRENGTH PLATEAUS

Postby simon m on Wed Aug 20, 2008 12:49 pm

health4ni wrote:Poliquin talked about Cluster training on the Level 1. I haven't done it myself although will do soon. It does look very good at what it is meant to be used for.

Nice post.

This looks very good.

I think Alex and I will use this soon.
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Re: CLUSTER SETS FOR BREAKING STRENGTH PLATEAUS

Postby Alex on Wed Aug 20, 2008 1:28 pm

Definately one I'll be trying out for Flat Bench and look to start at around 130kg.

Would the protocol be to increase the weight by small amounts each week?
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Re: CLUSTER SETS FOR BREAKING STRENGTH PLATEAUS

Postby Orinoco on Wed Aug 20, 2008 2:53 pm

Alex wrote:Definately one I'll be trying out for Flat Bench and look to start at around 130kg.

Would the protocol be to increase the weight by small amounts each week?


There's a temptation to deviate in too great an increment from your 5RM initially, but in practice I'd always go to a 4RM rather than a 3RM to make sure you can complete a full 5x5 in this style of training. It's particularly good with benching or any exercise where you can rack the bar (or put down on the floor).

If you're currently using a 5x5 and have increased the weight recently so that you're only hitting less than 20 reps total, then just use that weight as a starting point, but in a cluster.
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Re: CLUSTER SETS FOR BREAKING STRENGTH PLATEAUS

Postby Alex on Wed Aug 20, 2008 3:54 pm

I'm going to try this out with Pendlays this evening and see what gives.

My thoughts were to try and increase weight by say 2.5kg on a weekly basis if possible.

How does that sit with you?
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Re: CLUSTER SETS FOR BREAKING STRENGTH PLATEAUS

Postby Orinoco on Wed Aug 20, 2008 4:43 pm

Alex wrote:I'm going to try this out with Pendlays this evening and see what gives.

My thoughts were to try and increase weight by say 2.5kg on a weekly basis if possible.

How does that sit with you?


Poliquin recommends 1-3% increases, as he stresses the importance of completing all 25 reps using clusters. I've always worked from a 4RM so that this isn't a stretch to achieve and can be completed with a little to spare. Then just follow the progression outlined and you'll be surprised how easy you get passed some stubborn sticking points.
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Re: CLUSTER SETS FOR BREAKING STRENGTH PLATEAUS

Postby Alex on Wed Aug 20, 2008 4:52 pm

I assume thats an increase overall for the next session, not within sets.

So complete the 5x5 in the session at desired weight, then increase the weight for the next session of 5x5.
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Re: CLUSTER SETS FOR BREAKING STRENGTH PLATEAUS

Postby Orinoco on Wed Aug 20, 2008 5:03 pm

Alex wrote:I assume thats an increase overall for the next session, not within sets.

So complete the 5x5 in the session at desired weight, then increase the weight for the next session of 5x5.


yep. You'd do better using a 15 second pause rather than 10 due to good genetics/fibre make-up. As an ectomorph in the past i've got results with only a 3-5 second pause between reps (As per Charles Staley's recommendations). It's surprising how much you can recouperate in 3 seconds, which is probably also down to reduction in accumulated fatigue also.
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Re: CLUSTER SETS FOR BREAKING STRENGTH PLATEAUS

Postby Alex on Wed Aug 20, 2008 5:04 pm

To be honest I'll find 3-5 mins between sets a lifetime!
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Re: CLUSTER SETS FOR BREAKING STRENGTH PLATEAUS

Postby simon m on Wed Aug 20, 2008 5:06 pm

Alex wrote:To be honest I'll find 3-5 mins between sets a lifetime!

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Re: CLUSTER SETS FOR BREAKING STRENGTH PLATEAUS

Postby Orinoco on Wed Aug 20, 2008 5:37 pm

3 minutes is usual for rests.

Ultimately once you work upto a few weeks, it's 25 reps @ 90% of your 1RM in 25 minutes (That's alot of intramuscular tension and TUT, but with minimal fatigue).

The equivalent loading would be doing 8 sets of your 3RM to failure...which would be very taxing and hard to do without reverting to doubles. In that light it seems very efficient.
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Re: CLUSTER SETS FOR BREAKING STRENGTH PLATEAUS

Postby upright on Fri Aug 22, 2008 8:06 pm

Noticed this method in a recent "war ready guns in 12 weeks" article. Seems like it can benefit on any lift, not just the big compounds although that is obviously where you're gonna get the most value.

I'm assuming you'd stick this in on chest day for example on something like bench as first exercise and then subsequent exercises would be performed normally, you'd not have time to be doing this for every move unless you were gonna just do 2 moves, or else you're heading well past the hour which is generally not a good thing surely.

I've also seen clusters performed as a drop set in the same article, but I'd find this rather robbing the principle, and looking at that as an option would surely induce a negative mind set.
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Re: CLUSTER SETS FOR BREAKING STRENGTH PLATEAUS

Postby health4ni on Fri Aug 22, 2008 8:18 pm

If it's a drop set (dropping/lowering the weight) then it ain't a Cluster set. Thus someone got it wrong when writing it about.

Whole point of Clusters is to use a weight close to 1RM, but keep that weight for the entire Cluster set (can be 5 reps, could be more or indeed less, but 5 is kind of standard for this advanced training protocol).

A great use of Cluster training is with Olympic lifts. For example, performing power snatches for sets of 10 would negate the effectiveness of the exercises. But doing power snatches Cluster style, with say 10-20secs rest, will ensure you can continue to lift a weight that is closer to 1RM than you would've lifted if it was 10 in a row (although I still wouldn't do 10 reps of Power snatches mind you).
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Re: CLUSTER SETS FOR BREAKING STRENGTH PLATEAUS

Postby upright on Fri Aug 22, 2008 8:24 pm

http://www.t-nation.com/readArticle.do?id=840637

bout half way down, drop set cluster - drop the weight each rep it says...
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Re: CLUSTER SETS FOR BREAKING STRENGTH PLATEAUS

Postby health4ni on Fri Aug 22, 2008 9:08 pm

upright wrote:http://www.t-nation.com/readArticle.do?id=840637

bout half way down, drop set cluster - drop the weight each rep it says...
I see. My understanding of Clusters is as above, and as Orinoco posted. It's about maximal activation of the cross-section involved. Lowering the weight won't allow maximal activation when compared to the 1st rep in the Cluster set.

I'm not saying it won't work, but imo that's not a true representation of Cluster training.
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Re: CLUSTER SETS FOR BREAKING STRENGTH PLATEAUS

Postby upright on Fri Aug 22, 2008 9:17 pm

health4ni wrote:
upright wrote:http://www.t-nation.com/readArticle.do?id=840637

bout half way down, drop set cluster - drop the weight each rep it says...
I see. My understanding of Clusters is as above, and as Orinoco posted. It's about maximal activation of the cross-section involved. Lowering the weight won't allow maximal activation when compared to the 1st rep in the Cluster set.

I'm not saying it won't work, but imo that's not a true representation of Cluster training.


And I agree, I said in the post that I thought it might negate the point of the clusters as it would invoke a negative attitude and have you dropping weight at the hint of struggle if you're inclined that way...

I will be doing clusters in my next chest session on flat bench as I had a loss of strength this week on that and only managed to lift at 2.5k lower than my pb. Frankly that fucked me off completely so I'm hoping I'll be happier this coming monday :D
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Re: CLUSTER SETS FOR BREAKING STRENGTH PLATEAUS

Postby Tall on Fri Aug 22, 2008 10:16 pm

Am I right in thinking this is just Poliquin trying to re-invent Rest-Pause?
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Re: CLUSTER SETS FOR BREAKING STRENGTH PLATEAUS

Postby upright on Fri Aug 22, 2008 10:24 pm

no, it's that christian th something or other...
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Re: CLUSTER SETS FOR BREAKING STRENGTH PLATEAUS

Postby Tall on Fri Aug 22, 2008 10:25 pm

upright wrote:no, it's that christian th something or other...


That guys a joke.
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Re: CLUSTER SETS FOR BREAKING STRENGTH PLATEAUS

Postby health4ni on Sat Aug 23, 2008 1:15 pm

Tall wrote:Am I right in thinking this is just Poliquin trying to re-invent Rest-Pause?
no.

I'm unsure who "invented" it, but I'm fairly certain Poliquin found out about it from European (German, Bulgarian, Russian etc) weight training / Olympic training coaches in the 80s. He then brought it over to the USA etc and so it became more well known.
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Re: CLUSTER SETS FOR BREAKING STRENGTH PLATEAUS

Postby Craig on Sat Aug 23, 2008 2:56 pm

Tall wrote:
upright wrote:no, it's that christian th something or other...


That guys a joke.


Thibaudeau is actually one of the best coaches around, I know OSC has a bee in his bonet cause these guys nick old techniques and present them as their own but IMO taking the best from the new and the old is the way to go.
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Re: CLUSTER SETS FOR BREAKING STRENGTH PLATEAUS

Postby upright on Sat Aug 23, 2008 3:12 pm

Update: cluster sets on BB curls is sick!
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Re: CLUSTER SETS FOR BREAKING STRENGTH PLATEAUS

Postby Orinoco on Mon Aug 25, 2008 4:49 pm

One of the most effective methods for that purpose is cluster training, which I first saw in Carl Miller's weightlifting textbook
.
Poliquin gave credit for the technique as he does with everything he learns from others.

Upright, the technique you're thinking of is also called 'wide spectrum drop sets' by charles staley, and poliquin just calls them drop sets. You need two spotters though but it's another very efficient method of increasing strength. I've only ever done them once, about 8 years ago on the bench. Started with 2RM (but for a single) and worked down. I remember it being tricky to execute, but effective.
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Re: CLUSTER SETS FOR BREAKING STRENGTH PLATEAUS

Postby Tall on Mon Aug 25, 2008 5:45 pm

Craig wrote:
Tall wrote:
upright wrote:no, it's that christian th something or other...


That guys a joke.


Thibaudeau is actually one of the best coaches around, I know OSC has a bee in his bonet cause these guys nick old techniques and present them as their own but IMO taking the best from the new and the old is the way to go.



My main reason for disliking him is in article he states it is impossible to gain 20lbs of muscle in 6 weeks, then in another he states he can take his athletes and get them to gain 45lbs of muscle in 6 weeks without using gear.

Everything with him is either self promotion or IMHO littered with BS in order to self promote.

IMHO :D :D
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