Yesterday on T-Nation they publushed my article “The Magic of Cluster Sets.” I didn’t name it that–I actually sent it in without a title–but it’s cool that they called clusters magic. It makes me feel like a wizard–or at least like a dude that knows card tricks.
I don’t know any card tricks.
What I do know is that I got a few questions about planning assistance exercises when using a cluster strategy.
Size Cluster Assistance
The size cluster progression I outlined in the magical article is designed to be used as a main lift. It can also be used for a first level assistance exercise.
If you choose to use to load your first level assistance lift, then your main lift needs to be strength based. This loading consists of three to five sets of three to five reps at an intensity around @8. Strength based loading has a post-activation potentiation nervous system effect–heightening it’s activity and preparing it to handle cluster loading. In this case, though, cluster reps would be your assistance training.
Using a higher rep strategy for the first lift before employing cluster sets for the second lift is too fatiguing. Your strength is diminished and the clusters won’t be as effective because you won’t be able to use heavy enough loads.
Assistance and accessory loading after using the hypertrophy cluster strategy needs to accentuate the cluster’s combination of intensity and volume. Big exercises that progress in sets in reps up to five sets of five or four sets of eight have worked best for me. The total amount of lifts for the session falls between three and five. If you load the movements well, and do complete them with focus and intensity, you’ll not feel the need for more.
Strength Cluster Assistance
The strength clusters from the article I now know only as “The Unicorn” are based around sets of five. They are used as secondary loading to the main lift–which is loaded first by using heavy straight sets.
The accessory lifts that follow the strength clusters are loaded with heavy straight sets using reps between four and six. Volume accumulation with these lifts is based on what’s necessary–autoregulation is the key. (Mel Siff called this cybernetic training).
Building absolute, and relative, strength doesn’t require the overall training volume that building mass does. Therefore, if you’ve gotten good work in with your main lift, clusters, and a few sets of your first accessory lift, call it a day. Strength building is nervous system intensive, so the last thing a lifter should do is destroy the nervous system–their means to adaptation.
Skill Cluster Assistance
Skill clusters are employed for two reasons: someone is new to an exercise and they need a ton of technique work, or because someone is soon peaking on an exercise and needs a ton of technique work.
These two factors must be considered when planning subsequent accessory exercises and loading.
Newbys need volume. After completing their skill cluster, they return to doing exercises in the five to eight rep range.
Those peaking need intensity. They return to heavier straight sets of an exercise that improves upon a weakness after they complete their skill cluster. Once that exercise is completed another exercise in the four to six rep range is done. Again, this is based on the minimum effective dose mindset. Do what’s necessary to build strength and no more.
If you had questions, I hope this little piece clears them up for you. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, go to T-Nation and read “The Unicorn” right now.