There are a myriad of ways of getting stronger and building some lean muscle mass.Picture  You have powerlifters, bodybuilders, crossfitters, and even Zumba…Ok maybe a slight exaggeration with Zumba. Not knocking it, just not one of the methods I would use to build some serious strength.Everybody has their tools and their methods. All have something to bring to the table. After all, there is no best way to get to your goals, only hard work and sweat!
To get stronger and build mass, use Clusters..


A weight training program should do several key things:

  • make you stronger
  • improve your body composition
  • build confidence
  • improve self image
  • reduce aches and pains
  • reduce muscular imbalances

In order to do these things, one can utilize a variety of tools: barbells, kettlebells, dumbbells, body weight, ropes, sledgehammers, sleds, rocks, wheelbarrows..whatever you want so long as it provides some overload to the body.One can manipulate intensity (% 1RM); volume; TUT, or time under tension; and a variety of rep ranges to achieve their goal.But there is another phenomenal, less-known strategy to build muscle and be more badass than the next guy, or gal, in the gym:
A cluster is a set and rep scheme that allows you to achieve mass, strength, and bust through some training plateaus. They’ll also make you look and feel like a total bad ass. If you’re up for the challenge, here’s how to use them:
For Strength:

Pick an exercise. I like using bench press variations and chin-ups or pull-ups.Pick a weight that you can normally hit about 4-6 times. For this example, we’ll use your 5 Rep Max (5RM).Now, instead of busting through the set and squeezing out your last rep around 5, just do the lift 2 times. Now rest 15-20 seconds. Hit another 2 reps. Rest 15-20 seconds. Repeat a total of 4 times.

Here’s an example:

Let’s say your workout calls for a Barbell Bench press for 4 sets of 5 reps (4 x 5). Normally you barely squeeze out number 5, and you’ve been stuck on the same weight for awhile now, lets say 135 lbs.

Try this: Bench press 135 x 2 reps, rest 15-20 seconds. Repeat for 4 rounds.

It should look like this: (135 x 2). 15-20 second rest; (135 x 2); Rest; (135 x 2); Rest; (135 x 2)

You’ve just hit 8 total reps with a weight you would normally have bonked around 5 reps. Feels pretty awesome right! Now take a big deep breath, collect yourself because you just busted your ass and feel pretty cool, and see if that cute girl on the treadmill over there saw you going HAM just now..

Here’s the catch, that’s just one set: these are mini-sets within ONE set. You’ll rest several minutes before going back to the bench press to hit another cluster set.

You can super-set these mini-sets with another cluster. Don’t go crazy-this is designed for STRENGTH, so don’t go super-setting bench press clusters with push-up clusters or anything of the like. Pick an opposing movement like chin-ups.

Here’s how I would write it:

A1) Bench Press: (4 x 2) x 4
A2) Chin-ups: (4 x 3) x 4

So you would hit a bench press cluster. Pop over to the chin-up bar and hit a chin-up cluster, back to bench press, back to chin-ups, etc. until you hit a total of 4 rounds of each.

In this example you’ll notice that with the bench press, one cluster ends up being 8 total reps. After four rounds, you’ll have hit 32 total reps. That’s an additional 12 reps over your normal 4 x 5 Bench press. Clusters you sly dawg.

NOTE: you should always pull > push in any of your workouts. Trust me. So in this example, one bench cluster yields 8 reps, while one chin-up cluster yields 12 reps.

For Hypertrophy:

Pick an exercise you would normally fail on around 10 reps (your 10 RM). In this case we’ll use Push-ups (or any other exercise really: shoulder press, bench press, chin-ups, inverted rows, bicep curls..whatever brah!)

Try this:
4 Pushups. Rest 10-15s. 4 Pushups. Rest 10-15s. 4 Pushps. Rest 10-15s. 4 Pushups.

You’ve just hit 16 pushups when you would normally peter out around 10! GO YOU!

Another example, Squats (8 RM):
Squat x 3. Rest 15-20s. Repeat for 4 rounds (12 total Reps at your 8 RM).

I hope this was helpful! Next time you’re writing your workout, or bummed about being stuck in a plateau, try using clusters in one of your workouts. I guarantee you’ll bust through your plateaus and dominate the gym like the badass you are!


Andy Van Grinsven

About Andy Van Grinsven

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