• Evan Schwerbrock

Cluster Training and its Applications for VI

There are many intensity techniques used to program exercises to make them more difficult than your typical 3 sets of 10 straight sets. These techniques range from quick transitions between exercises (i.e. supersets) to transitions between different loads (i.e. drop sets). These can complicate exercise and execution for the visually-impaired trainee, sometimes with a purpose, sometimes needlessly. Therefore, I present one of my absolute favorite intensity techniques for taking the brakes off and let me just work hard: the cluster set.

Cluster sets have been used for decades and of course through all that time, people have decided what they think a cluster set is and isn’t. We don’t have to be so dogmatic. Instead, we will go with the general consensus that cluster sets are relatively low rep mini-sets separated by less rest than with typical straight sets. Notice I didn’t say a mandatory alteration in weight and no switching between exercises. That is the advantage of clusters for those with VI, no taxing transitions. Just work, rest a short bit, work, rinse and repeat until you’ve accomplished what you wanted to. Obviously this leaves a lot of room for confusion, but I’ve got you covered. I’ll discuss several types of clusters and their uses so you can pick and choose what works best for you.

First is heavy clusters. This will consist of very small rep sets separated by about 30 seconds of rest. Less rest would quickly limit your ability to lift a sufficiently heavy weight. More rest would turn into traditional set rest times. An example of this is 85% of your max bench press for 10 sets of 1 with 30 seconds of rest between each set.

Next is lighter reps with less rest but more volume. As opposed to the tough heavy weight previously mentioned, this type of cluster is meant to instigate more metabolic stress and allow you to get more reps. One I use commonly is 10 sets of 5 separated by just 15 seconds of rest. This will accomplish 50 reps in a very condensed time frame.

A variant of the lighter cluster is a timed cluster. In this case, you would pick a rep and rest scheme but perform it on a running clock as opposed to finishing at a given set number. For an example, let’s say you are performing 6 lat pulldowns then resting 15 seconds. Instead of choosing, say 10 sets, you could perform the sets for 6 minutes straight.

Now with these cluster styles, you may find you tire and can’t complete the reps with the strict rest. That is more than okay, in fact it means you weren’t too shy about choosing your weights, particularly for the metabolically stressful clusters. You have two options at that juncture. You can either lower reps (say from 5 to 4) or quickly lower the weight. Remember these styles aren’t a do or die thing, it is just a tool to help you push your body even further so be fluid with the programming to help you push hard.

Sample Cluster Set Workouts

Sample Upper Body Workout

12 sets of 6, 15 seconds of rest between each set for each exercise

Warm-up each movement as needed

1. Lat Pulldowns

2. Overhead Press variant (i.e. dumbbells, barbells, machine)

3. Chest-supported row variant (i.e. seal row, machine, lying facedown on a bench

with dumbbells)

4. Tricep extensions

5. Bicep Curls (i.e. on cable machine, with dumbbells, with EZ Curl bar)

6. Bonus: Pushups

Sample Lower Body Workout

12 sets of 6, 15 seconds of rest between each set for each exercise

Warm-up each movement as needed

1. Romanian Deadlift(i.e. With barbell, dumbbells, kettlebell)

2. Leg Press Machine

3. Leg Curl Machine

4. Lunges or Step ups (6 reps per leg)

5. Calve Raises

Sample At-Home Workout

4 minutes each exercise, 4-6 reps per set, 15-20 seconds between sets, customize for your level.

Warm-up as needed.

1. Jump Squats

2. Pushups

3. Burpees

Don’t be dissuaded by the low number of exercises. With squats and pushups before your burpees, this will probably be enough.

Lastly, I do want to credit Josh Bryant for his popularization of cluster sets. He has involved them in so many of his videos and illustrates just how versatile and effective they are for anyone at any level. Linked below is one of his videos on cluster sets I think will be a great resource for you.

Josh Bryant - Cluster Sets

Get after it!