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The best strength training method ever

Story Time

Twenty years ago I attended a Charles Poliquin seminar in Montreal. I was 19 years old and was participating in weightlifting (Olympic lifting) at that time. As a fairly average lifter, I was looking for ways to cover up my bad technique and get into this sport late by getting as strong as possible. Charles was the man when it came to strength.

During the lunch break, I took the courage to approach him. I asked, "Mr. Poliquin, what's the best training method to get stronger?"

At first he looked at me in confusion. How dare someone like me interrupt their lunch break? "I'm a weight lifter and I really need to get stronger," I continued.

That changed his behavior considerably. Trainer Poliquin generally respected strength athletes, weightlifters even more.

"Clusters are the best way to get stronger," he said.

Cool, that was promising. Clusters, never heard of. Sounds exotic. It must work!

Side note: A cluster is an ensemble of several individual repetitions with short to moderate rest intervals. For example, a cluster set could be a series of 5-7 heavy singles.

He said: "You do one repetition, rest for about 1

5 to 20 seconds, do another repetition, rest for 15 to 20 seconds, and then do another rep. You do that until you weigh up five come, which you normally only lift three times. "

I'm not sure if he could see my immediate disappointment. After all, weightlifters pretty much trained the competition lifts: grab the bar, drop it, put it back (which would take about 15 seconds), raise it, etc.

Turned out to be me ? with the best method without knowing it? Did that mean there was no other way to quickly get the strength I wanted?

He added: "You are doing this for your squats, front squats, and deadlifts. This will quickly increase your strength."

Okay, that was new. I never thought of doing it on the big basic strength exercises. The next week, half empty, but still hopeful, I tried my squats.

The rest is history. I had my fastest strength gains ever crouched. I went from £ 455 to £ 525 in about six weeks. I know it sounds too good to be true and it is probably not a typical result. But I was hooked.

In the following months, my squat became even heavier and finally reached 595 pounds. This technique also brought my front crouch from £ 395 to £ 485. My printing press also rose from 275 pounds to 325.

Years later I would apply it to the bench press. This is one of the main ways that I was able to reach a maximum of 445 on Dave Tate's EliteFTS compound. I became a lifelong champion of clusters and have used it with many professional athletes, international amateur athletes and strength athletes. The results are always impressive.

The only problem? The "traditional" poliquin approach didn't always work well. Some athletes (the stronger, more advanced lifters) often couldn't get five cluster repeats with a maximum of three repetitions. Some would burn out. In fact, some had to use less weight than their 3RM.

As a cluster fiend, I started to investigate the topic and found various options that allowed all lifters to benefit greatly from the approach. We'll cover these options, but first let's talk about why clusters work.


Why cluster at all?

If you want to take a closer look at it, see question 60 where I share the details. If you're already an expert on clusters, go ahead, but here's a quick refresher on the benefits:

You recruit and tire of twitching muscle fibers.

Recruitment is maximized when the bar load is at least 80-82 percent of your maximum strength. In a cluster set, all of your repetitions fall into this zone.

This means that each repetition stimulates hypertrophy to the maximum and increases strength. You can do this without "garbage volume" as all repetitions are most effective in recruiting the fast twitch fibers.

They develop the ability to "twitch" the fast-twitch fibers as quickly as possible.

This is called the "high shot rate" and is the real key to strength. The faster your fibers can fire (firing more often in a given unit of time), the more power you generate. This rate of fire increases exponentially when the load is more than 85 percent of your maximum.

With clusters, each repetition is also in this zone. The more of these repetitions you have in relation to your total number of repetitions, the better you can program your nervous system to fire your fibers at high speed. As a result, you become stronger.

You build muscle mass.

The stimulation of growth is largely a question of mechanical stress on the maximum possible number of muscle fibers. First you have to recruit these fibers and every time you elongate these fibers under load (eccentric / negative part of the repetition) you trigger the mechanisms that lead to growth. The heavier the weight, the greater the mechanical stress on the fibers.

At maximum load there is a lower number of repetitions per set, which means that fewer opportunities are required to apply the mechanical stress as the fibers lengthen. With a cluster set, however, you get more repetitions in one set while maximizing the load. This makes cluster training a powerful hypertrophy method.

They desensitize the Golgi tendon organs (GTOs).

The GTOs are sensors in your tendons. You inhibit further power production if you feel that you are already producing too much for your own structural integrity. You limit how much of your power potential you can produce.

Heavy lifting can desensitize the GTOs over time. This way you can use a larger percentage of your potential. Using a relatively large amount of heavy work – as you would do with clusters – is an effective tool to desensitize these sensors.

You will become more familiar with the elevator.

Clusters are ideally suited to get used to handling heavy weights. Nowhere is this more noticeable than when you get in a crouch or when you break up with a bench press. These actions are often performed poorly when the weight is poor.

As a result, many heavy lifts are overlooked before you even try them. With a cluster set you "practice" these actions up to seven times per set with an almost maximum weight. You can become much more stable with this phase of the elevator in practically no time.

You get a higher quality of hard work.

Due to the set recovery phase, your ability to generate strength is better preserved from rep to rep. This leads to better maintenance of the technology.

The 5 Types of Clusters

Now let's look at some solid ways that they can be done for maximum strength development. There are other options that are better for hypertrophy, but that's for another day.

1 – The Poliquin Cluster

Coach Poliquin has made clusters popular. His approach is the best known and most widespread, but he did not invent the cluster concept.

His cluster approach is solid for both strength and size increases in intermediate lifters. With advanced lifters, it's a great way to build muscle, but may not be the best option to maximize strength gains.


  • Number of singles in a set: 5
  • Break between singles in a cluster: 15-20 seconds
  • Loading: 87-90% or your 3RM
  • Number of cluster sets: 3-5
  • Break between sets: 3-4 minutes

If you are very strong (or have a high percentage of fast-twitch fibers), the 15th a break of up to 20 seconds is not sufficient to use the potentiation effect. The sub-optimal sleep time reduces the performance capacity enough to mask the performance increase caused by the neural activation by the strong repetition.

Some people may need at least 30 seconds of rest to take full advantage of clusters for strength gains. However, if your goal as an advanced lifter is to achieve both size and strength, poliquin clusters are very solid.

I also think the poliquin cluster is superior for women because they don't seem to require the same amount of rest

2 – The original: Carl Miller Clusters

Carl Miller trained weightlifting for over 50 years, even at the highest level (for example the 1976 Olympic Games). He was the first to use clusters as the official method. Miller used two main types of clusters. An extensive (higher volume) method and an intensive (higher load) method.

The weight used depended on the type of movement chosen. For example, a technically complex movement such as snapping or cleaning and jerking would use a lower percentage than squatting, pressing or deadlifting.

Guidelines (extensive)

  • Number of singles in one sentence: 5-7
  • Break between singles in a cluster: 30-45 seconds
  • Stress: 85- 92% for power movements, 80-85% for Olympic lifts
  • Number of cluster sets: 3-5
  • Break between sets: 2-3 minutes

Note: The rest between singles in a cluster could be increased in the last two sets if 4-5 sets were used.

Guidelines (intensive)

  • Number of singles in one sentence: 2-3
  • Break between singles in a cluster: 45-60 seconds
  • Loading: 87- 95% for all movements (Clean & Jerk can only be 82%)
  • Number of cluster sets: 3-4
  • Break between sets: 2-3 minutes [19659050] These types von clusters a are more suitable for very strong athletes or those with a high percentage of fast twitch fibers. Very strong lifters need a longer pause between repetitions to take advantage of the potentiation effect of clusters. Miller clusters are a pure strength method. They result in less muscle growth than the Poliquin cluster.

    3 – The Eccentric Overload Cluster

    This method was born out of my love for weight releasers as a training tool. Weight releases are hooks on which you can add weight. These hooks are attached to the bar and overload the eccentric (lowering) phase of the elevator. When you reach the floor, they are released from the bar, reducing the weight you need to lift.

    Here are two examples of lifting with weight releases. The first is used to overload the eccentric; The second is used to create an isometric overload.

    Due to the nature of the weight releases, you have to use a cluster approach. You must reset the triggers on the bar before each repetition. This takes at least 15 seconds (unless you have two partners). It is therefore advisable to always rely on a cluster setup when using weight releases.

    Here is an example of the bench press:

    You can use the same work to rest ratio as the Poliquin or Miller clusters. The burden would obviously vary depending on the approach.

    Guidelines for Eccentric Overload (Poliquin)

    • Number of singles in a sentence: 5
    • Break between singles in a cluster: 15-20 seconds
    • Stress: 75 -80% on the pole, a total of 100% on the eccentric (additional 20-25% on the triggers)
    • Number of cluster sets: 2-4
    • Break between sets: 3-4 minutes

    Guidelines for Eccentric Overload (Miller Extensive)

    • Number of singles in a sentence: 5-7
    • Break between singles in a cluster: 30-45 seconds
    • Stress: 75-80% on the pole, 100-105% on the eccentric (additional 20-30% on the triggers)
    • Number of cluster sets: 2-4 (19659046) break between sets: 3-4 minutes

    Guidelines for Eccentric Overload (Miller Intensive)

    • Number of singles in one sentence: 2 -3
    • Break between singles in a cluster: 45-60 sec onds
    • Load: 80-85% on the pole, 105-115% on the eccentric (25-35% on the Triggers)
    • Number of cluster sets: 2-4
    • Pause between sets: 3-4 minutes

    Note that the number of sets is reduced due to the requirements for eccentric accenting.

    What are the advantages of this eccentric accentuation? Eccentric overload is the method that leads to the greatest increase in the firing rate of muscle fibers – the real key to power production.

    In an eccentric or sinking action, you prefer to recruit the fast-twitch fibers. As you have to generate more and more power, you cannot rely on bringing more fibers into play, as you would with a concentric (lifting) action, since the stronger, fast-twitch fibers are already working. The only way to generate more power is to fire these fast-twitch fibers faster and more often.

    In this way, you can improve your neuromuscular system over time to achieve a higher rate of fire, which dramatically increases power production. Another advantage? The more a muscle is eccentric compared to its concentric strength, the lower the risk of injury.

    4 – The Mentzer Cluster

    Mike Mentzer and his brother Ray are better known for high-performance training. They were insanely strong bodybuilders, and this cluster variant was one of the tools they could use to build their strength. This approach could be viewed as an expanded version of the Poliquin or Miller cluster.

    You start with a load that is 95 to 97 percent of your 1RM (the highest weight you can lift with a solid form) and you do 3 cluster repetitions. You then reduce the load by 10 percent (85-87 percent from 1rpm) and get an additional 2-3 repetitions, still in cluster format.

    A sentence could look something like this:

    • Repetition 1: 97%
    • Pause 15 seconds
    • Rep 2: 97%
    • Pause 15 seconds
    • Rep 3: 97%
    • pause 15 seconds
    • Rep 4: 87%
    • pause 15 seconds
    • Rep 5: 87%

    You can use the Mentzer approach with either the Poliquin or Miller work. Resting conditions:

    Guidelines for Mentzer / Poliquin clusters (intermediate level)

    • Number of singles in one sentence: 5-6
    • Break between singles in a cluster: 15-20 seconds
    • Stress: 95-97% or 85-87%
    • Number of cluster sets: 2- 3
    • Break between sets: 3-4 minutes

    Mentzer / Miller Extensive (advanced) guidelines

    • Number of singles in a set: 5-7 [19659046] Break between singles in a cluster: 30-45 seconds
    • Stress: 95-97% or 85-87%
    • Number of cluster sets: 2-3 [19659046] Break between sentences: 3-4 minutes

    5 – The Giant Cluster

    I popularized this method here on T Nation twelve years ago and it was developed by Martins Licis, the strongest man the world, deadlift used for him. It differs from the previous methods in that it is a submaximal method and the goal is to develop "strength of power" and resilience under high loads.

    You essentially set a specific time frame: 12, 15 or 20 minutes in most cases. Then choose an intensity zone: 80, 85 or 90 percent and a number of repetitions per set: 1, 2 or 3.

    Then create as many quality sets as possible in the prescribed time zone. The number of sets you can get depends on your level of conditioning, your strength and your muscle fiber ratio.

    Here are the parameters for the three intensity zones:

    80% zone guidelines

    • Duration: 20 minutes
    • Repetitions per set: 3
    • Target number of sets: 12 -15

    85% zone guidelines

    • Duration: 15 minutes
    • Repetitions per set: 2
    • Target number of sets: 9-12

    90% zone guidelines [19659045] Duration: 12 minutes

  • Repetitions per set: 1
  • Target number of sets: 7-10

The progress model consists of selecting an intensity zone. Once you've reached the top of the set, increase the weight.


So which approach should you use?

They have three main categories of clusters (four with the giant cluster):

  1. The Poliquin work-to-rest ratio (15-20 seconds rest)
  2. The Miller work-to-rest ratio (30 -45 seconds rest)
  3. The Miller Intensive Work-to-Rest Ratio (45-60 seconds rest)

All of these cluster approaches will quickly increase strength. However, the stronger you are, the more you should choose the Miller work-to-rest ratio. For larger lifts – such as squats, front squats, deadlifts, and Olympic lifts – the Miller ratios may also work better.

The poliquin ratio of work to rest gives you a little more muscle growth stimulus. This could be an interesting tool for athletes who need to maintain a high level of power production with short breaks. I'm thinking of CrossFit athletes and MMA fighters.

Then you can choose between three main methods for each of the options for the work-to-rest ratio:

  1. Normal sentences
  2. Mentzer cluster
  3. Accented eccentrics

These are in Related to the importance of the strength stimulus, but also appropriate to neurological and physiological requirements.

The accented eccentric clusters provide a stronger stimulus than the normal sets, but cost a much more and will require much more recovery time. Therefore, these more sophisticated options should only be used by people with a high level background. And the volume has to be kept lower.

The giant heap is a different animal and has less influence. The main advantage is that you learn to feel comfortable and efficient under heavy loads. It is great to improve the optimal lifting technique as well as the intra- and intermuscular coordination. Of all the cluster methods presented, it is the one that you can use the longest and which is surely feasible for most people.

If you want to achieve rapid gains in strength, clusters are definitely worth considering. I started using them over 20 years ago and I haven't stopped. It is something that has stood the test of time and has shown that it works for pretty much everyone. Try it when you are ready to gain strength quickly.

Advanced training – cluster sets with maximum growth

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