Awesome Muscle Building Routine!
There’s a whole slew of muscle building routines out there; while some are better than others, most are familiar with the basics. These include 3 x 10, 4 x 8, and 5 x 5- if you’ve spent a few months in the gym, you should have heard of them by now. However those routines are simply just skimming the surface of your potential for muscle growth. If you really want to pack on muscle you have to think outside the box and try things you’ve never done before. Enter cluster sets.
Cluster sets are simply taking a typical set – say 8 reps – and breaking it down into smaller steps. So instead of just knocking out your 8 reps and taking a rest, you actually break the set up into tiny chunks – anywhere from 1 to 4 reps. Perhaps it doesn’t sound earth shattering yet but here’s the kicker: you use a heavier load than normal. Say you can bench press 200 pounds for 8 reps and can press 215 pounds for 5. Instead of using your 200 pound weight and trying to grit your teeth through the 8 reps, you actually use a heavier load (the 215) to stimulate more muscle growth. Here’s how a set would look:
2 reps, rest 15 seconds. 2 reps, rest 15 seconds, 2 reps, rest 15 seconds. 2 reps, rest 90 seconds and then repeat.
You don’t need to PhD in anything to know that 215 for 8 is better than 200 for 8. But the real magic happens because the brief period of rest allows you to maintain bar speed and produce a ton of force for each rep (1). This force output is important because the more force you use, the more you tap into what we call “high threshold motor units.(HTMU)” All you need to know about HTMU’s is that they connect to the muscle fibers that are responsible for the biggest gains in size and strength. So instead of grinding though your set of 8 reps and getting 2 or 3 quality reps out of it, you’re getting 8 awesome reps with your cluster set.
Researchers put cluster sets to the test. Using junior level basketball players and the bench press, researchers discovered that breaking up the set allowed the players to nearly double their power output (from 25 to 49%) over subjects who did straight sets (2)! More power equals more potential for muscle growth.
If you’re tired of the same old routines, and you want to get big and strong, give cluster training a try. Sure, it’s not as traditional as doing 3 sets of 10, but it never hurts to break the rules once in a while.
1. Baker, Daniel. Newton, Robert U. “Methods to Increase the Effectiveness of Maximal Power Training for the Upper Body.” (2005) Strength and Conditioning Journal 27;6. 24-32
2. Lawton, T.W., Cronin, JB., Lindsell, R.P. “Effect of Interrepetition Rest Intervals on Weight Training Repetition Power Output.”(2006) Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 20.1. 172-176