Cluster Sets for Serious Strength, AND Size.

Cluster Sets for Serious Strength, AND Size.

Cluster sets are capable of giving you significant gains in size and strength in a short period of time.

When programming for my athletes in the Swole Town Program, I’m constantly looking for ways to make my training cycles as effective as possible.

I don’t want guys (or girls) following my program in the gym wasting time with 20 different Bicep curl variations.

I want them to be big, strong and functional beasts. I can’t have it any other way.

If you’re interested in getting stronger, this will be a great read for you.

At the end I’ll give you a full sample training day with cluster sets.

*Note: Heavy Cluster training is on the advanced side. Don’t attempt this method if you’re a beginner.

The “More is Better” Trap

Most people in the gym believe that more is better.

Work harder, spend more time, do more reps, and your results will improve, right? Not so fast..

Your body does not have endless energy to expend.

Training requires a lot of energy, and what people forget is that recovering from training also requires a massive amount of energy.

No matter what you do, there is only so much you can recover from.

If you cannot recover, your body does not adapt to the training.

That means you work hard and get little results, especially if you’re trying to get stronger and/or build muscle.

How Does The Body Get Stronger?

If you’re stronger today than you were a month ago.. Why is that?

What caused you to be able to exert more force?

Is it simply that working out builds muscle, and more muscle = more strength?

While it’s true that more muscle mass will generally correlate with greater strength, there are plenty of examples of people who you wouldn’t even know worked out who can lift superhuman amounts of weight.

My brother-in-law looks like a regular 170lb guy, and has more than once casually stepped into my gym and pressed 275lbs over his head, while I stand at a solid 240lbs and cannot perform that on my best day.

Is it not a fascinating question?

How can someone with less muscle exert more force than someone with considerably more? The answer lies in the nervous system.

The Nervous System Controls Strength

get strong get stronger with cluster sets.  build muscle

When you lift, you are not using all of the muscle available.

Your nervous system is much smarter than you, and its job is to protect the integrity of the structures within its control (among other things).

Trying to lift something very heavy could hurt you, and to protect you from injury, the nervous system will not allow you to recruit all of the muscle fibers at once.

An untrained person will be able to recruit only about 40-50% of the available muscle fibers at once.

A highly trained strength athlete can recruit well over 90%, and the strong guy in the gym is probably in the 70-80% category.

So How do you train the nervous system to allow you to recruit more muscle fibers and get stronger?

Strength is a Skill

I think it’s most useful to think of strength as a skill.

You have to view training as an opportunity to “teach” the body how to be stronger.

With that in mind, it becomes obvious that the way you set up your training is extremely important when your goal is to become stronger.

You cannot just go do your usual 3 sets of 10 on the bench press and expect to get dramatic results.

Unless you’re a new lifter, this simply will not work for very long.

If you’ve been training that way for a long time, your body has adapted already and has no need to take any further action.

Cluster Sets

Cluster sets are basically heavy singles performed on short rest periods, generally around 20 seconds long.

So, you hit one heavy rep, rest 20 seconds, and repeat for the prescribed number of reps.

The benefit here is that you’re lifting very heavy weight relative to your max.

If you’re able to get 5 reps normally with 225lbs, you can use clusters to get 6 or more reps in one set by spacing the reps out with very short rest periods.

How Cluster Sets Make You Stronger

get stronger faster and build muscle with cluster sets

When lifting loads at about 85% or higher relative to your max, you’re recruiting the maximum amount of muscle fibers that you’re capable of.

With lighter loads/higher reps, this is not the case until the end of the set when you’re fatigued.

Recruit the Highest Threshold Motor Units/Muscle Fibers

Heavy loads are forcing the nervous system to call upon the highest threshold muscle fibers.

The ones most capable of producing force.

As the load increases (relative to what you’re capable of), these high-power motor units must fire at a faster rate to keep up.

Thus, you’re teaching your nervous system to fire those high-impact muscle fibers faster by repetitively hitting them with heavy loads.

This alone will make you stronger. Every rep you hit in a cluster set is an impactful rep, from the first to the last.

Turn off The Governor

Like a governor on a vehicle that slows it down when it reaches a certain speed, your muscles contain organs called Golgi Tendon Organs (GTO’s) that are constantly monitoring tension.

The GTO’s will basically turn muscle fibers off when tension gets too high, in an effort to protect the structure.

The repetition of heavy loads can desensitize the nervous system, relaxing the GTO’s and allowing more force to be produced. Again, every rep in a cluster set is intense, and we’re training the nervous system to allow us to produce more force.

You Become Better at the Movement

When repeating heavy lifts on 20 seconds of rest, you don’t have time to overthink anything.

You simply grab the bar and perform the lift.

This type of training really forces you to be in the moment.

The heavy repetitions will make you more comfortable with the lift, and you will naturally get better at it.

It also alleviates some of the fear of moving heavy weight, as you’re doing it repeatedly.

Sample Training Session Using Cluster Sets

The training session below is directly from the Swole Town training cycle called “Intensity.”

Keep in mind that when using high intensity methods like these, it is imperative that you keep the overall volume low. (volume = the total amount of reps/sets, or “work” that you’re doing.)

You absolutely have to prioritize recovery, as you’re pushing the body/nervous system very hard with the heavy repetitions.

Too much volume and accessory work and you’ll burn yourself out.

Cluster Set Training Sample: Bench Press/Back

swole town

You want to get a solid warm up in, and I prefer a circuit style warm up here as it allows me to sneak in a little low-intensity volume, build work capacity, and prepare for the session.

The weight should be very light, this should not be a struggle.

A.) Prep Circuit:

Perform 2-3 sets, moving continuously with little rest.

MovementReps
DB Incline Bench Press20
DB Bent Over Row20
Band Triceps Pressdown20
Ab Crunches20
*Weight should be LIGHT

B.) Cluster Sets: Bench Press

Take a few warm-up sets of 2-3 reps to build up to about 87-90% of your max on the bench press.

You’ll do 5 total reps per set, hitting one rep every 20 seconds. After 5 reps, rest 4:00 and repeat.

After 2 sets, assess how you feel and hit a 3rd set if you’re feeling good about it. If you’ve never done these, stop at 2 sets.

MovementSetsRepsRest b/w sets
Bench Press2-35 reps at 87-90% of max
20 seconds between reps
4:00

C.) Close Grip Floor Press

We’re choosing a movement complimentary to the bench press to get in some additional heavy volume. We’ll hit 3 heavy sets of 5. Heavy meaning you’re not sure if you’d have gotten another rep or two.

MovementSetsRepsRest b/w sets
Close Grip Floor Press353:00

D.) Bench Supported DB Row

Perform on an incline bench. These are to be performed as drop-sets, hitting 8-10 reps, then dropping to lighter dumbbells to get up to 20 reps per set, for 2 total sets.

MovementSetsRepsRest b/w Sets
Supported DB Row2203:00

E.) Decline DB Pullover

Same as the last block, perform 2 drop-sets, aiming for 8-10 reps, then dropping down to a lighter dumbbell and getting up to 20 total reps.

MovementSetsRepsRest b/w Sets
Decline DB Pullover2203:00

F.) Plank to Side Plank – 2:00

30 second front plank, 30 second side plank, 30 seconds back to front, then 30 seconds other side for 2 total minutes. These are used frequently for endurance throughout the core and to enhance core bracing.

Full Workout Table

I’ll put this session in one table if you’d like to try it out, feel free to screenshot.

MovementSetsRepsRest b/w Sets
Warm up Circuit3200
*Bench Press (Cluster)2-35 (cluster reps)
20 sec b/w reps
4:00
Close Grip Floor Press353:00
Bench Supported DB Rows220 (dropset)3:00
DB Decline Pullover220 (dropset)3:00
Plank to Side Plank12:00 holdn/a

Final Notes on Cluster Sets

As you can see, the overall volume in this session is pretty low. 9 total sets of lifting (warm up sets don’t count).

If we start throwing in all kinds of curls, triceps extensions, etc. we’ll be forcing the body to try and recover from more than it will likely be able to.

Recovery is everything when you’re training for strength and size.

If you’re going to try out training with cluster sets, devote a training block of 4-6 weeks with it.

Give your body some time to adapt and you’ll likely see some nice gains in strength and probably some new muscle to go along with it.

If you’d like to have your workouts programmed for you so you can hit the gym with a solid plan, check out Swole Town, available only the world’s best training app, TrainHeroic.

Thanks for reading! Any questions? Feel free to reach out.

Mike Richardson
Mike Richardson

ISSA Tactical Conditioning Specialist. Creator of Swole Town, Forged Female and Supastrong.net. Coach, Husband, Father, Brother, Friend.

Build Muscle With Swole Town:  Full Workout Sample

Build Muscle With Swole Town: Full Workout Sample

Swole Town is here, and if you’re searching for workouts to build muscle, get stronger and/or just to be a beast in the gym.. you’ve come to the right place. Here’s a full workout from the program and a link to try a free week to see if you want to join the community.

What is Swole Town?

Swole Town is a lifting/training program designed to pack on muscle and strength. It is delivered through the TrainHeroic App and costs $12/month, 97% cheaper than hiring a trainer with all the benefits. Workouts fully mapped out, with video demos and explanation of every movement, plus access to a coach and a community of people with the same goals as you.

What’s Different About This Program?

Swole Town is born out of years of trial and error in the gym. Many different training philosophies are built into a system that is built around 4 week training blocks. This keeps your body in a constant state of adaptation, and makes your workouts more enjoyable and challenging.

Training through TrainHeroic is the optimal way to workout. Trainers are expensive, and going it alone is sub-optimal at best. Letting an expert program your workouts will lead to bigger gains all around. You’d spend more on a Starbucks trip than you would for a month of badass training…

try swole town full workout

Full Workout From The Swole Town Program

Here’s a full training day from the program. This is an upper body training session from a 4 week cycle called “RAGE.” RAGE is a high volume cycle full of supersets and metabolic stress-inducing training blocks. This 4 week block alone could pack muscle on your body.

So here is the full workout. This training session is focused on chest and back.. specifically horizontal pressing and vertical pulling. Try it out, and come take a closer look if you had fun with this one. If you were in the program, I’d be telling you to go crush this one. So for now, GO CRUSH IT!

Coaches Notes: (Directly From Program Session)

Another day on the grind. We’re hitting explosive depth push ups straight into heavy floor presses today. We’re going to keep hammering your pressing power, and by the end of a 12 week stay in Swole Town, I’m banking on many of you hitting PR’s on your pressing movements. It won’t happen overnight, but it will happen. Trust the process and train hard.

Keep in mind that this is a volume cycle.. we have higher intensity cycles coming up where you’ll get to push your strength up and get in some heavier reps and more explosive movements. Everything in its right time. For now, we’re crushing volume.

We’re in week 3 of RAGE. One more week of this high volume cycle, and we’ll begin transitioning into some higher intensity cycles. That is when I usually notice big gains. When the body has started getting used to one training style, and you suddenly transition into heavier loads and more intense methods. Arnold called it the “shock principle.” Stay the course.

Prep Work (Warm Up)

All blocks with the same letter should be performed as a superset, one after the other. For Prep work, don’t aim heavy. We’re prepping the body for the full workout.

A1 – Single Arm DB Bench Press: 3 x 8

8 right, 8 left. Add weight each set, being mindful that this is prep work.

A2 – Inchworm to Extended Plank: 3 x 3

Walk your hands out as far as you can while maintaining the integrity of your posture. Then, walk them back in and back to standing. 3 sets of 3 reps.

B1 – Dumbbell Pullover

Go heavy, and I want a good, deep stretch of the ribcage and Lats. 3 sets of 8.

C1 – Depth Push up: 4 x 3

3 depth push ups, then straight to the floor press. This is a superset. Rest 2 minutes after completing both movements.

C2 – Barbell Floor Press: 4 x 6

Take a few warm up sets to find the right weight to hit for 4 sets of 6 reps. Want these to be heavy, but we’re looking to hit all the reps at the same weight.
I want a 1 second pause when your triceps hit the floor without releasing any tension in the triceps/chest/shoulders. Drive the weight up with aggression.

D – Chin Ups: 4 x Max Reps

Looking for strict chin ups. Come all the way down. 90 seconds of rest between sets. 4 sets of as many chin ups as you can get. Rest 90 seconds between sets.

E – Dumbbell Incline Bench Press: 4 sets x 12, 10, 8, 6

Use a low incline setting.. somewhere around 30 degrees. Rest 90 seconds between sets. Add weight each set as the rep range moves down, ending with a heavy set of 6 reps.

Finisher:

Complete the finisher as quickly as possible, resting only when you have to.

F1 – Barbell Push Ups x 75 Reps

75 Reps of barbell push ups and band pull-aparts. Break the reps up however you need to. Just get them all in. 75 barbell push ups and 75 band pull-aparts. End the day with a pump and some solid burning.

F2 – Band Pull Aparts: 1 Set x 75 Reps

Watch the video for these. Lot of people doing these wrong out there. This is an amazing movement when done properly. I like pulling the band down and back to better mimic vertical pulling and really challenge the Rear Delts. Squeeze every rep and let this one burn.

Swole Town Will Be Waiting

Try this one out, and if you enjoy it, come try a free week of the best muscle building program available.

Keep in mind this is just one training session in the larger context of a 4 week training block, and even further, in the larger context of the programming. This is not a copy and paste program. It’s unique programming, and you will get bigger and stronger if you stick around.

SupaStrong (Mike Richardson)
SupaStrong (Mike Richardson)

Bioforce Certified Conditioning Coach, Trainer. Coach/Creator of Swole Town and Supastrong.net. Currently a federal agent, formerly 11b Infantry in the US Army Reserves. Training and coaching are my passions.

Swole Town.  A Lifting Program to Pack on Slabs of Muscle.

Swole Town. A Lifting Program to Pack on Slabs of Muscle.

Want to look like an absolute beast? Swole Town is live, and residency is earned and paid for with effort. I want to give you a sample training week (scroll to the bottom), and explain why this lifting program is worth paying a visit to if you’re looking to build muscle, get stronger and scare children and small animals with your physique.

3 months on the Swole Town Program and you’ll be buying new t-shirts… and jeans, cuz we don’t skip leg day, and we sometimes do it twice.

Build Muscle Fast

Swole town is designed around 4 week training blocks. Every 4 weeks, we move into a new cycle. When this happens, the focus changes a bit, gradually moving from higher volume cycles full of high-rep supersets and metabolic stress-inducing protocols, to more intense methods such as cluster sets and myotatic reps.

The point of this is to keep your body in a constant state of evolution and adaptation, and to keep things fresh and exciting. When you look forward to your training, your results tend to be a lot better. Swole Town is exciting and you’ll find yourself wanting to know what’s coming next.

You’ll also be marveling at the huge traps and massive back you see staring back at you in the mirror. This isn’t about pretty boy beach muscles. We’re building beasts.

Swole Town Pin

Methods for Strength and Size

The program uses varying methods designed to pack on size and build strength. Proven strategies are taken from many different programs and methods. These are all built in to optimize gains.

You may see elements of 5 x 5, strongman training, and classic bodybuilding techniques all thrown into the mix in different cycles. If it works, I’m going find a way to use it. And this makes training more enjoyable, as you’re exposed to different methods.

Metabolic Stress and Mechanical Load

In the end, only 2 factors lead to hypertrophy…

Metabolic Stress

Metabolic stress is induced through high rep supersets and taking sets to failure at the right time. We also utilize newer methods, such as Blood Flow Restriction Training (BFR), also known as occlusion training.

The physiological environment created within the muscle from this style of training is a huge stimulus for muscle growth. Metabolic stress is what causes the “pump” you feel (and see) when you train.

The current cycle we’re in, called “RAGE,” is full of metabolic stress-inducing methods. The pump is real.

Here’s just one example of extreme metabolic stress from a leg-day session. It’s simple. 100 reps on the zercher split squat without putting the bar down. Similar tactics are employed for upper body work as well.

Mechanical Load

Mechanical load simply refers to the load, or resistance placed on the muscle. Heavier weights cause a higher load to be placed on (and sensed by) the muscle, which leads to muscle growth and gains in strength. Your muscles are organs and can sense the tension being placed on them. The human body is truly amazing.

We take a balanced approach and attack each with specific methods.

What’s a Day in Swole Town Look Like?

Here’s a week from the current cycle, “RAGE.” This is just an example, but if you like what you see, come check out the program and try a free week to get a closer look.

In the app, every movement has a video demo and you have access to a coach as well.

Click on the date to see different days for this week of training.

Your Move

I already know you can get bigger and stronger with Swole Town. I’ve been using this programming for a long time and have trained many people using the same strategies. When you’re ready, come take a tour of the town and let the gainz begin.

Try Swole Town now for free for a week, no questions asked.

SupaStrong
SupaStrong

Bioforce Certified Conditioning Coach, Trainer. Coach/Creator of Swole Town and Supastrong.net. Currently a federal agent, formerly 11b Infantry in the US Army Reserves. Training and coaching are my passions.