It’s no secret that fitness newbies build muscle and boost strength quickly. Seasoned lifters, on the other hand, must get creative in order to break plateaus. If you’ve lifted for at least six months, you’ll likely need to do more work in less time to see progress.
That’s where cluster sets come in handy. This advanced lifting method can give you a full-body workout in about 45 minutes, with only a few challenging reps. And because you’re doing a higher volume of reps at a challenging weight, you’ll see new gains.
The cluster-set approach is best suited for old-school barbell moves like deadlifts, presses, and rows, and is fairly straightforward: Pick the maximum weight you can lift for three perfect reps. (If you’re unsure on the number, go lighter not heavier.) Do one rep, and return the bar to the rack or floor. Rest for 10 seconds and repeat until you complete five total reps. That’s one cluster set. Do five total sets (so you’ll accumulate 25 reps total), and rest for 90 seconds between each cluster set.
You move on to the next exercise after a two-minute break. Here’s how this can work for a three-week program:
The Cluster Set Workout
Before you start, break a sweat and heat up your muscles with this performance-boosting dynamic warm-up. Complete these three moves as a circuit, with no rest in between, for 30 seconds each:
Then perform the following barbell strength routine. You’ll do this three times a week, on non-consecutive days, for three weeks only. Because it’s intense, you’ll want to give your body a break after 21 days. One more thing: sloppy exercise technique combined with heavy loads may result in a strain, sprain, or worse, so always prioritize form over a heavier load.
With your feet wider than shoulder-width apart, roll the barbell up to your shins. Bend forward at your hips and knees and grab the bar with an overhand grip, hands just beyond shoulder width. Without rounding your lower back, pull your trunk back and up, thrust your hips forward, and as you stand with the barbell, squeeze your glutes. Lower the bar to the floor, keeping the bar as close to your body as possible and back flat. That’s one rep. Wait 10 seconds, and repeat, until you’ve done five reps (one cluster). Perform five total clusters. Watch a demonstration here.
Barbell Shoulder Front Press
Hold a bar at your shoulders, hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart and palms facing away, arms bent with elbows up. Stand tall with feet shoulder-width apart. Brace your core and forcefully push the weight straight overhead. Pause, and return to the start. That’s one rep. Wait 10 seconds, and repeat, until you’ve done five reps (one cluster). Perform five total clusters. Watch a demonstration here.
Barbell Flat Chest Press
Lie face up on a bench with feet flat on the floor, and hold a barbell using an overhand, slightly wider-than-shoulder-width grip in the rack. Squeeze your shoulder blades back and down. Lift the bar out of the rack and move it over your sternum with straight arms. Lower the barbell down, pause, then press in a straight line back to the start. Re-rack the barbell. That’s one rep. Wait 10 seconds, and repeat, until you’ve done five reps (one cluster). Perform five total clusters. Watch a demonstration here.
Barbell Bent-Over Lat Row
Stand with feet shoulder-width apart and holding a barbell with an overhand grip, hands slightly wider than shoulder-width. Hinge forward, pushing hips back, until your torso is nearly parallel to the floor, knees slightly bent. Squeeze your shoulder blades together and pull the bar into your upper abs, driving elbows up. Pause, then return to the start. That’s one rep. Wait 10 seconds, and repeat, until you’ve done five reps (one cluster). Perform five total clusters. Watch a demonstration here.