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Using Cluster Sets To Spice Up Strength Programming

Using Cluster Sets To Spice Up Strength Programming

By Sarah Rippel, Author of “Home Program Design Mastery,” “The Ultimate Group Training System,” “Build ‘N Burn 2.0,” & “Build ‘N Burn


I have been asked more than a handful of times by fitness professionals what I do to “keep my clients from getting bored” with their programs. All too often, I get the feeling that many fit pros out there are attempting to constantly change things up with the assumption that their clients will quickly grow tired of doing the same routine consistently. The problem here is that we must have consistency if we want to make progress, and too much “mixing it up” basically leads to mediocre results in terms of strength gains and body composition improvements.


I get it. We want our clients to enjoy their workouts and look forward to different ways of getting the work done…BUT…the bottom line is that they are paying us to achieve certain goals, and to reach any goal you must have a plan. Are you sure your clients are going to get bored, or are YOU the one who is getting bored? If you are finding yourself constantly stressing out about making each workout “different” and/or are assuming your clients do not want to do the same workout twice, hopefully I can help you breathe a little easier!


You simply must have consistency within a program. If every workout is different, then you do not have a program and instead have a stack of workouts. You are not mapping out a plan to help a person achieve a specific goal. Instead, you are attempting to “wow” them with constant innovation and not delivering a service that facilitates results. In addition to consistency, you must have progression within a program. Progression can be made possible by increasing load over time, increasing the difficulty of the movement, increasing the range of motion, increasing the volume of reps/load, or working from a slow to a faster rep tempo. There are numerous other means of progression, but that gives you the idea.


The bottom line is that there must be a structure and a progression within programming to get someone from point A to point B! Within this framework, you can employ a variety of techniques to keep things interesting!


A great way to inject some variety into a basic training template is to use cluster sets instead of standard sets. A cluster is essentially a set of X reps that is split into smaller sets separated by a specific amount of rest.


Clusters are a great way to get in more rep volume! I recommend them for intermediate/advanced lifters. You can use cluster sets for hypertrophy or for a strength focus.


To bias strength, use a load that is roughly 90% of your 1-rep max, or a load with which you can hit a heavy triple. Aim for a total of 4-6 reps for an entire cluster set by hitting single reps with 10-20 seconds of rest in between each.


For a hypertrophy focus, use 75-85% of your 1-rep max and aim for a total of 8-10 reps for each cluster. Hit two reps, rest 10-20 seconds, then repeat to reach 8-10 reps per set.


So, instead of 3 x 3 @ 87.5%, you could program 3 x 4-6 as cluster sets of single reps using the same load. Instead of 3 x 8 @ 77.5%, you could program 3 x 8-10 as cluster sets of double reps using the same load.


Programming clusters in group training programming is no different! My groups use the basic barbell lifts. It is easy to work with the appropriate loading using clusters with a strength bias for the front or back squat, bench press, deadlift, and overhead press. I recommend hitting one main lift per training day, and you could make clusters the focus for any or all of the main lifts within a “block” of programming (4 weeks).Obviously within this block of programming, there will be a progression in terms of percentage of 1-rep max utilized from week to week.


Here is an example:




WARM-UP – 2-3 Rounds:

  1. Box Jump x 5 
  2. GHD Hip Ext x 5 
  3. Marching Bridge with Sandbag Rotations x 8 ea 
  4. Row 200m



A1) DEADLIFT CLUSTERS – 3 x @85% (3 cluster sets of 6 reps ea, with 15s rest between single reps)

A2) ½-KNEELING KB BOTTOMS-UP PRESS – 3 x 6-8/side @31X1 tempo

*45-60s rest between A1 and A2, and 60s rest after completion of A2

*Allow for several warm-up sets on the deadlifts prior to cluster sets

*Use linear progression for the deadlift clusters for the next two weeks (ie: 87.5-90% x 3 x 4-6 for the following week, then 90-92.5% x 3 x 4-6 for the next, then deload with regular sets in week four)



B1) RNT SPLIT SQUAT – 4 x 6-8/side @31X1 tempo (KB racked at opposite side of working leg; band below knee creating a “valgus” force)

B2) SUSPENSION TRAINER ARCHER ROW – 4 x 4-6/side @20X1 tempo




C2) 10m SLOW BEAR CRAWL  -(demo w/ explanation) or regular bear crawl

C3) 30s WALL SIT

*30-60s rest between rounds

* Emphasis on continuous movement! This is not a “gasser!”


Check out top level programming by Sarah Rippel :


Home Program Design Mastery plus Done for You programs,templates and more!











The Ultimate Small Group Training System”  The most Comprehensive Guide to Semi-Private and Small Group Training for Fit Pros.











Build N’ Burn  – Done For YOU 16 Wk Metabolic Group Training Program for Fit Pros











Check out The Done-for-You 12 week Build ‘N Burn 2.0 for Fit Pros:















Other articles by Sarah Rippel:

Wall Ball Conditioning Workouts+4 Tips to Improve Wall Ball Technique(Videos)

Using a Tempo Focus with Build ‘N Burn Workouts

Speed Ladder + Static Core Continuous 30-Second Circuit Version 2.0


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