Cluster Sets: Pump Up Your Hypertrophy Workouts

Maik Wiedenbach
Written By: Maik Wiedenbach
January 9th, 2014
Updated: June 13th, 2020
56.1K Reads
Time to train for the pump. Cluster sets are an excellent bodybuilding technique that allow you to break up training monotony and pack on the muscle size you are after.

Clusters - not just for breakfast anymore. Since this is the season to get huuuuge, one might as well try something new.

We have all heard ad nauseam that we need to lift heavy in order to grow. And that is, to an extent, true. The pump also plays a role in muscle hypertrophy with regards to cellular water accumulation, so a drop set at the end might be a solid idea.

Lifting heavy weights causes muscle protein synthesis rates to increase, strength levels to improve. Heavy resistance also creates an overall anabolic environment within the body.

The problem is that progress eventually stalls. Once we hit the 2 year mark of training we do not gain all that much strength doing straight sets anymore.

Cluster set training is a good way to break up the monotony. Here is your set up:

  • Exercises - Pick a basic exercise such as the incline bench.
  • Sets - Use your 5 RM max weight for a set of 9-12 reps , broken down in 3 or 4 rep clusters.
  • Rest - Breaks would be around 10-15 seconds, having a spotter is gold.

By breaking the set into smaller pieces you can extend the set beyond the regular work capacity of the muscle without running the risk of an injury. The breaks are too short for a complete recovery, but just enough to help you get through the set.

I usually add some stretch or pump exercises to take advantage of the CNS stimulation. I am a wimpy bodybuilder who will always chase the pump.

Cluster Set Training

Sample Cluster Set Workout

A sample workout could look something like this:

  • 4x(3x4) bent over rows, rest bar every 4 reps for 15 seconds
  • 50 pull ups
  • 3x20 dumbbell pullovers
  • 3x(3x3) high incline presses, parallel grip
  • 3x 10 standing overhead extensions with a rope attachment, double up on rope length
  • 3x (3x5) hack squat (the barbell squat can be tough to rack and unrack)
  • 3x10 sissy squats
  • 2x25 leg extensions, lean back all the way
  • 3x (3x4) stiff legged dead lifts
  • 3x8/8 laying down leg curls. First 8 keeps the hips flat, second 8 elevate hips about 3 inches from the pad
  • 4x (3x3) military press or Arnold press
  • 3x10 Poliquin raises
  • 3x10 lat pull downs behind the neck or rear delt flyes
  • 3-4x (3x12) leg press calf raises. When doing calves I shoot for a higher rep number
  • 3x25 donkey raises or anything that will allow for max contraction
  • 4x(3x3) incline dumbbells or hammer strength press
  • 3x20 push ups where you keep an inward intention with the hands aka try to push the floor together
  • 3x(3x3) barbell curl or narrow grip pull up, depending on forearm length
  • 3x10 incline curls

Cluster training can be tough on the CNS, so try supplementing with choline and l-tyrosine before the workout and ZMA for a better sleep. After 4-6 weeks, switch back to your old routine.

Posted on: Wed, 07/02/2014 - 18:54

This looks promising and I ' d like to give it a try. Could you please comment on what is in the parenthesis when you write eg 4x(3x4)?

Thank you.

Posted on: Sun, 01/19/2014 - 00:52

Could this safely be summarized as rest pause? I've typically thought of rest pause in a higher rep range. I like the idea of taking it into a lower rep protocol. Thanks for the tip.

Posted on: Fri, 01/17/2014 - 09:48

This is nothing new but I and many other ppl call them "pause sets", same exact thing though.

Kenny Croxdale
Posted on: Sat, 01/11/2014 - 13:01

Cluster Sets

Research show that Cluster Sets are an effective tool for developing power.

However, Traditional Training that takes a set to failure is more effective at increasing muscle mass due to the "Metabolic Stress" placed on the muscle.

Any pause between reps (Cluster Rep Set) disrupt this hypertrophy process. While you can increase muscle mass with Cluster Sets, the Traditional Training Method elicits a greater training response.

The same is true with increasing "Limit Strength" (1 Repetition Max). To fully maximize your strength potential, a max set need to be pushed to failure during a training (Periodization) cycle.

Kenny Croxdale

M&S Team Badge
Posted on: Thu, 01/16/2014 - 17:06

The Carpinelli meta-analysis shows that sets only need to be pushed to the brink of failure for quality recruitment. The next rep - the failure rep - adds no additional value but does increase the stress placed upon the muscle and connective tissue.

Posted on: Thu, 01/16/2014 - 18:04

thanks for linking that 'research'