Strength training for GS, Part 4. Cluster sets

As mentioned in the previous post ‘heavy circuit training (time saving approach)’, there many ways to structure circuit training. Other than heavy circuit training another of my favourites would have to be clusters sets. The idea behind a cluster set is that you break your set down, allowing for short rest periods between one or more reps. In turn, this will prolong your power production, allowing you to maintain high power outputs for greater than six repetitions. This is as opposed to a traditional set structure, in which power will be significantly lower after the sixth repetition. Cluster sets work best with weightlifting exercises, but can be used with others.

Cluster set options for strength and power:

Cluster options Reps per cluster Total reps Rest between cluster Rest at end of set
Cluster option 1 2 10 30s 3-5mins
Cluster option 2 1 5 10s 3-5mins
Cluster option 3 1 5 30s 3-5mins

Post GS session cluster set. A bit off with the rest periods, but you should get the idea.

Cluster sets work by allowing regeneration of ATP (Adenosine triphosphate) and PCr (Phosphocreatine). ATP and PCr can take 3-7 minutes to regenerate, however a rest of 30 seconds has been shown to restore ATP levels to 70%, and 50% of PCr. The short rests in the cluster set take advantage of this, allowing more chemical energy to be available for each rep.


If you want to make it more specific to GS, you may wish to increase the total reps of the set, but bear in mind that this is general training. As you perform greater repetitions in the set you will move from pure strength or power to strength endurance, or power endurance.

Modified cluster set options for strength endurance and power endurance:

Cluster options Reps per cluster Total reps Rest between clusters Rest at end of set
*Cluster option 1 3-5 30-50 30s 3-5mins
*Cluster option 1A 3-6 30-60 Perform set on the minute 3-5mins
*Cluster option 2 3 15 10s 3-5mins
Cluster option 3 (drop set) (not suitable to all exercises) See total reps 1-3 very heavy, 3-5 heavy, 9-12 medium, 12-15 light. 10-30s 3-5mins

*This protocol will be best suited to loads of 30-60% 1RM

If you train four or five time a week, you can easily tack a cluster set onto the end of a session for strength and power maintenance. It is normally best to focus on one or two lifts such as: back/front squats, deadlifts, barbell snatch, clean or jerk. Generally, you would use 5-15 reps in a set with loads ranging from 50 – 100+% of 1RM value. It is good to rotate the different loads and/or switch exercises each session. If you are trying to increase or maintain strength and power you should always attempt to move the weight as quickly (and safely) as possible. The total number of reps will be determined by the loads being used. When using very heavy loads you may perform roughly 10 reps of two or three cluster sets, whilst with heavy/medium loads you may wish to use 20-30 total reps with four to ten sets. When tacking cluster sets to the end of a GS session you may wish to use only one or two sets.


Effects of different set configurations on barbell velocity and displacement during a clean pull.





My name is James Ross, I’m a qualified personal trainer, strength & conditioning coach and sports scientist. I am a founder and coach at The Richmond Gym in Melbourne and started the website

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