"Maximize high-threshold muscle fiber recruitment, increase strength, muscle, and volume with these advanced training tactics."
Since the situation in Covid-19 still involves a number of openings and bans around the world, it means that gyms are open in some places, while in some countries they may have to wait a little longer.
I got a lot of questions, especially from my clients who live in Melbourne, Australia as they are still heavily locked and unable to access the gym and want to have a safe game plan ready for them once those restrictions are lifted.
When I said this I thought it would be a great idea to share the game plan I would do if my goal was to regain much of the strength that might have been lost during the lockdown, muscle coordination on the key lift, and of course my muscles to maximize growth.
Building an aesthetically attractive and masculine body is the goal of 99% of the male population.
Let me introduce you to this Cluster set methodWhile this method isn't necessarily new, I am often surprised how little publicity this great method actually gets, let alone how many trainers actually use this method or know how to use this method in their programming.
Now that I am a man myself, I pride myself on having a commendable strength regarding my big lifts, but building an aesthetically attractive and manly body has been and remains my priority. Let me explain why I find this method necessary to start your training out of lockdown.
Why the Custer Set Method?
Whether you've just come out of lockdown or are waiting patiently, you have most likely done some type of weight, resistance band, or dumbbell workout, without the heavier, more intense barbell work you usually did at the gym.
While you may have been able to perform variations of exercises like the bench press, squat, deadlift, and many others, there will still be some level of inefficiency in performing these exercises and you will expect to be where you are before you were locked.
I know some of you may be in a hurry to build muscle and get back in shape, but it has long been known that muscle growth from an exercise program doesn't actually happen for a while – it takes around 3-5 weeks to get one essential muscle arises growth will occur!
Neuromuscular adjustment is performed for the first 2-3 weeks of a new program before muscle adjustment (growth) occurs. It makes all the more sense to spend time getting this first phase of training right so that once your body is prepared, you can use the muscles that you may not have been able to build if you just took balls out from the start.
Another reason this method is a perfect starting point has to do with your ability to coordinate muscles within exercises, as this is critical to your ability to build muscle.
By doing lifts with a high enough intensity, you can recruit high-threshold motor units, which means that you will stimulate higher numbers of muscle fibers in the muscle of that lift and, over time, improve your muscle recruitment and coordination.
If you just hit the gym again you will open yourself to a new stimulus to which the body can adapt and your motivation will be at an all-time high. The perfect time to take advantage of what you might consider a potentiation phase that prepares you well before moving on to a more muscular hypertrophy-specific plan of attack.
Understanding cluster sets
First, it is important to understand that the central nervous system is responsible for recruiting motor neurons, starting with the smaller motor units before the larger motor units.
This is known as the Henneman size principle. (1)
Keep in mind that I mentioned lifting at a level high enough to recruit high-threshold motor units. It just means that your body is recruiting the smaller motor units and therefore the muscle fibers In front It can recruit the bigger muscle fibers so it is important to make sure that you are really training with the recommended percentage of your exercises that you can find in the following sections below.
Cluster sets are now when you do a certain number of repetitions, let rest for a short time and then do the same number of repetitions or slightly less for a certain number of “intra-set clusters”.
When you lift at this high intensity, you are exposed to larger amounts of volume that are raised at that intensity in one set.
What makes this even cuter is looking at muscle hypertrophy, the intensity of which we play from both a% of your 1RM and proximity to a momentary muscle failure.
So when we use cluster sets, we take care of the intensity side, and when we add the short rest periods between repetitions, or "clusters," your body has just enough time to replenish some energy (ATP) to keep you lifting at that intensity can.
A key point in what I just mentioned is to make sure you are lifting at a high enough intensity that it is advisable to have a solid understanding of your 1RM or even do a strength test before starting this method Your accuracy will determine the exact percentages and weight with which you must lift.
In conclusion, you are not using a weight that is too comfortable to complete each cluster set. This will go a long way towards making you more neurologically efficient within the movements and being able to recruit muscle fibers.
Workout placement for cluster methods
I'm sure you already have an idea of which exercises to use and when, but let's briefly go over the basics. The cluster sets are programmed in the main exercises or "a series" of your training.
The sets that follow the A series are reset in intensity and are within the strengths of functional hypertrophy (6-8 reps) and hypertrophy (9-12 reps). The intent behind these exercises is to further tire each muscle group by focusing on maximum tension, not just strain.
While the cluster set approach can be used over the full spectrum of ranges, it is primarily known to be used with loading patterns of 1 to 5 repetitions per cluster.
For this program, and to maximize the recruitment of high-threshold motor units, we will be using the clusters within a 1-2 repetition loading system.
How to do cluster sets
The general approach is to use a weight heavy enough to do the target number of reps based on the first set. While there are many different ways to do cluster sets, this also changes the percentage required to lift.
In our case, we process 90% of your 1RM. So the perfect approach would be either to know your 1RM already or to do a strength test a week before your actual start to get a better grip on your percentages.
Let's use the bench press, for example. If my first set of clusters is 2-1-1-1 and I know I can lift a maximum of 150kg for 2 reps, I would use 90% of that weight on my first set of clusters.
The first cluster set would look like this:
- 135 kg for 2 repetitions (let rest 15 seconds)
- 1 repetition (let rest for 15 seconds)
- 1 repetition (let rest for 15 seconds)
- 1 rep (let rest 180 seconds)
Now that our basics are covered, let's move on to the rest of the program.
Due to the high intensity that is increased in each session, it is a 4-day intensification phase that rotates between a 4-day focus on the lower and upper body day.
On the days of the lower body, the primary lifts are rotated between a squat and hip joint movement pattern.
A super-set format is used on Upper Body Days, where there is a common focus between push / pull movement patterns in the horizontal and vertical planes.
If you switch to each consecutive week, 1 repetition is added to each cluster set. That way, you can finish your final week with cluster sets for repetitions of 2-2-2-2.
- First week – 2-1-1-1
- Week two – 2-2-1-1
- Week three – 2-2-2-1
- Week four – 2-2-2-2
The post-A series exercises are all about maintaining tension. In your B&C series of exercises, it's important to use a weight heavy enough to complete the target rep range while also making sure you can keep up with the required pace.
During the 4-week intensification phase, a total of 22 to 24 work sets per session are displayed in your upper body and a total of 17 work sets per session in the lower body. This will prepare you well for your next phase, where I would suggest a 6-8 week muscle hypertrophy-specific phase.
What do you mean by pace?
The pace at which we train within a particular exercise is called “Time Under Tension” (TUT). This only applies to the 4 phases of lifting seen in each rep. (See picture below)
So if we use the bench press as an example and the tempo used in the 4-2-1-0 image above.
A 4 would lower the bar at a 4 second count.
The 2 would pause at the lower isometric point (hold) for 2 seconds.
With the 1 you would be lifting the weight again in 1 second.
The 0 would see that you have no grip on the above isometric drawing.
As you will see below, I actually used the letter "X" in the third column or in the concentric part of the elevator as well. This simply means that you need to highlight the explosive lifting.
The workouts and schedule
Below is the weekly schedule that you use to start your upper body week. Because of the intensity of this program, the lower body is always performed after the upper body day so that the possibly taxed back muscles and erector spinae have adequate rest and do not interfere with your ability to perform the upper body lifts.
Please note that an active rest day means not just sitting around all day. A simple daily step goal of 8,000 to 10,000 is sufficient.
|Monday||Upper body 1|
|Tuesday||Lower body 1|
|Wednesday||Active day off|
|Thursday||Upper body 2|
|Friday||Lower body 2|
|Saturday||Active day off|
|Sunday||Rest day (take one full day off per week)|
|Upper body 1 – phase 1|
|A1. Pull up the neutral handle||6th||2-1-1-1||40X0||90 seconds|
|A2. Flat DB Press Pronating||6th||2-1-1-1||40X0||90 seconds|
|B1. Bent over one arm. Supported DB row – prone position||3||6-8||30X1||75 seconds|
|B2. Seated one-armed DB Arnold Press||3||6-8||3020||75 seconds|
|C1. 60 Degree Incline DB Curl – Supinated||2||8-10||30X0||60 seconds|
|C2. Ez-bar triceps extension||2||8-10||30X0||60 seconds|
|Lower body 1 – phase 1|
|A1. Trap bar deadlift||6th||2-1-1-1||40X0||180 seconds|
|B1. DB split squat||4th||6-8||40X0||75 seconds|
|B2. Lying hamstrings – Plantarflexed||4th||6-8||30X1||75 seconds|
|C1. BB hip thrust||3||8-10||3020||45 seconds|
|C2. One-sided DB Farmers Walk – 25 m on each side||3||8-10||30X0||45 seconds|
|Upper body 2 – phase 1|
|A1. Incline bench press||6th||2-1-1-1||40X0||90 seconds|
|A2. Barbell bent over row – prone position||6th||2-1-1-1||40X0||90 seconds|
|B1. Flat DB press – neutral grip||3||6-8||30X0||75 seconds|
|B2. Single Arm Lat Pulldown – Supinating||3||6-8||3011||75 seconds|
|C1. French Press rope||2||8-10||20X0||60 seconds|
|C2. Seated DB Hammer Curl||2||8-10||30X0||60 seconds|
|Lower body 2 – phase 1|
|A1. Safety bar back squat||6th||2-1-1-1||40X0||180 seconds|
|B1. DB FFE Split Squat||4th||6-8||40X0||90 seconds|
|B2. Kneeling Hamstrings – Dorsiflexed||4th||6-8||40X0||75 seconds|
|C1. 45 degree back extension||3||8-10||30X2||75 seconds|
|C2. Cable wood chips||3||12-14||30X0||60 seconds|
Sports nutrition considerations
Given that your performance will matter and to tolerate these higher intensities being raised and exceeding nature, I would add 5g of creatine monohydrate along with 5g of beta-alanine before training for more endurance performance benefits and increasing the reps to failure.
However, if you do not enjoy the tingling sensation you are familiar with when using beta-alanine, you can divide your dosage into 1-2 g, taken 3 times during the day. (3.4)
Where to from here?
Once this programming phase is complete and your goal is to maximize muscle growth, I would highly recommend devising a muscle hypertrophy specific attack plan over the next 8 to 16 weeks, depending on how much time you can devote to building muscle.
Whether you are an aspiring competitor or just an avid body, this is the best plan of attack to follow after completing the cluster set method.
1. Culbertson, J. Y., Kreider, R.B., Greenwood, M. & Cooke, M. (2010). Effects of Beta Alanine on Muscle Carnosine and Exercise Performance: A Review of the Current Literature. Nutrients, 2 (1), 75-98.
2. Kreider, R. B., Kalman, D. S., Antonio, J., Ziegenfuss, T. N., Wildman, R., Collins, R., Candow, D. G., Kleiner, S. M., Almada, A. L., & Lopez, H. L. (2017). International Society of Sports Nutrition Stand: Safety and Effectiveness of Creatine Supplementation in Exercise, Exercise, and Medicine. Journal of the International Society for Sports Nutrition, 14 (1), 18.
3. Milner-Brown, H.S., Stein, R.B & Yemm, R. (1973). The proper recruitment of human motor units in voluntary isometric contractions. The Journal of Physiology, 230 (2), 359-370.
4. Robinson, R. (2009). In the mammalian muscle, the axonal wiring takes surprising paths. PLoS Biology, 7 (2)