In the early days of any soundly designed strength training program things usually go pretty well. Muscle is put on, body fat is shed and the lifter gets much stronger.

As time goes by things start to slow down though. The progress becomes much slower (if any progress is made at all that is).

You lose interest, motivation and the general energy to get through the workout.

This is known as hitting a ‘training plateau’ and if you’ve spent any time in the gym, chances are you will have heard somebody talk about it.

The Way The Body ACTUALLY Works

The reason this honeymoon period ALWAYS comes to an end is due to ‘The Law of Diminishing Returns’.

If it weren’t for this law, you’d be able to endlessly add more and more weight making progress in an easy, linear and ongoing fashion.

As reality would have it though, you basically have 2-4 repeats on a workout before the body adapts and no more progress is made.

First workout – Huge stimuli and huge changes to your body

Second workout – Slightly less stimuli and less change to your body.

Third workout – Less response again.

Fourth workout – Marginal adaptation/benefit at all.

Once you’ve completed the 2-4 repeats on a workout, you’ll need to change it up (this is why most well designed programs will consist of 2-4 week cycles, followed by a big change of exercises or rep/set).

This is also why most gym guys/gals will try in vain to chase the same ‘gainz’ they got on a favorite program from yesteryear, but with little to no success.

A great technique that I learned many years ago to smash through such training plateaus is Cluster Sets.

Cluster sets are a form of what we call ‘Intensification’ training. That is a phase of training where we increase the intensity (intensity is measure by the load lifted for each set, not how out of breathe or how much the muscle burns).

The opposite modality to ‘Intensification’ is ‘Accumulation’.

Intensification – Heavier weights. Reps of 1-6. Sets to range between 6-12 with long rests.

Accumulation – Moderate weight. Reps of 7-20. Sets to range between 4-10, shorter rests focusing on the pump.

Whilst most will become addicted to ‘chasing the pump’ in their training, the true gold for the more experienced lifter is in training with intensity.

Heavier weights.

Longer rests.

More sets.

It’ll super charge your nervous system and allow you to do your next accumulation phase at better weights. (Creating better growth).

If you train with enough volume (this will be determined by total sets), you’ll also increase the size of your fast twitch muscle muscle fibers.

For this reason, Cluster Sets are a great option for athletes and gym junkies alike (although it is best reserved for advanced trainees).

The Protocol

  1. Know your 1 rep max for the exercises you be using in the program (Squats, Bench/Inline Bench and Pull Ups work best on this program).
  2. Start the program at week 1 with 87.5% of your 1RM.
  3. Complete 5 reps at the designated weight, with a 10-15 second rest between each rep (rack the bar but manage to stay within the designated micro rest).
  4. Once you’ve completed your first set of five singles, rest for 3-5 minutes and then repeat for a total of five sets.
  5. If you complete all five singles for all five sets, you can increase the weight to 90% in week 2 and 92.5% for week 3.

Check out the video below for an example set that I take Pro MMA Athlete Kahn Sandy through as part of his training.

You’ll notice in the video that as I spot the lifter, I’m also monitoring the time between reps. It’s important to find a way to do this weather training on your own or with a spotter.

Example Session Template

Serial Exercise Sets Reps Tempo Intensity Rest
A1 Back Squat 5 1,1,1,1,1 2.0.X.0 W1 – 87.5%
W2- 90%
W3 – 92.5%
3-5 Minutes
B1 Pronated Grip Chin Up 5 1,1,1,1,1 2.0.X.0 W1 – 87.5%
W2- 90%
W3 – 92.5%
3-5 Minutes
C1 Cable External Rotation 3 8 70 – 75% 90s

So, if you’ve done your time in the gym and you’re struggling to make further progress then give the protocol a go.

Due to the intensity and accompanying neural fatigue, you’ll do best with 3-4 days of lifting, MAX!

If you have any doubts on this or any other training protocol, invest in some time with a qualified/experienced Strength & Conditioning professional.

About the Author

Daniel Lowry

Daniel is a Strength & Conditioning expert and the Co-Founder of the gym concept GTT. He has been in the industry for 13 years, training a broad range of people from Army Special Forces to general populations. He has also worked with professional athletes, specifically in mixed Martial Arts. Daniel has worked with and learnt from the best of the best in the industry, names like Mark Buckley, Charles Poliquin, Dan Baker Phd, Gavin Heward and many more. Daniel considers himself a product of the great mentors he has learnt from.

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