When designing a strength and conditioning program to improve performance, the most important aspect is to introduce appropriate training variables in a systematic and logical order. This ensures that we stimulate the improvement of specific physical capacities. Planned variation is an important factor for the program to encourage adaptation, avoid overtraining, potentiate subsequent training phases, promote recovery and elevate performance.
Methods such as cluster training, drop sets, and rest pause sets offer ways to introduce variation in a training program. Typically, strength and conditioning coaches have a large toolbox they can draw from for incorporating variation into training. The toolbox may include exercise selection, training intensity variation, volume manipulation, training session density, and even rest periods. Specific changes in training can lead to more rapid improvements in performance and minimize the monotony often associated with training. A good rule of thumb states that the higher the individual’s training age, the more quickly he or she will adapt to the current training program, and the more important systematic variation becomes.
Manipulating set structure can be a powerful way to add variation. I have previously written on rest pause training as a way to manipulate set structure. Manipulating the rest pause structure to facilitate strength and power gains is typically referred to as cluster training.
Cluster training is performed with lower rep ranges and heavier intensities than typical rest pause configurations. The goal of cluster training is to perform more reps with a heavier load at a higher speed to increase the overall intensity of the workout and promote increased strength and power development.