Cluster Sets for Huge ARMS
In need of a massive boost in size and strength? Those biceps and triceps are lagging behind, growth has stalled, your ideas have diminished and there is a massive lack of stimulus. What can be done to spark big time growth in strength and mass? Is there a way to accomplish the ultimate goal of swole? Let’s find out today!
Building Dead Gains
Frustration is a common factor after 12-14 months of training. Gains come so quickly early in a training career. Athletes have their max bench increase by 10-20 pounds every 2-3 weeks, making training incredibly fun and enjoyable. Around a year of training, those gains start to stall and mental fortitude is tested in all novice lifters. Do they really want to get big? Do they really want to commit to those monster gains?
This was me when I first got into strength training. I was 14 years old and my gains had been rolling incredibly fast. Then all of a sudden, I was struck with a few months of stagnation in my arms. My bench was struggling in the lockout position and my biceps weren’t getting any bigger. This led to a weird discovery in training that later I would learn had a special name.
I am an individual that gets incredibly frustrated and up until a few years ago, that frustration led to weird repetitive bouts, displaying my anger and frustration.
In comes the lifting discovery. I was sick of my small biceps. They were weak and pathetic. One day as a 14-15 year old, I wanted to try to curl the 35’s on the EZ Curl bar. I got smacked. I decided to put the 25’s on and push myself. I wanted to hit 4-5 reps every 20 seconds for as long as I possibly could. This went on for 25-30 minutes while I screamed in anger and rage, frustrated at my inability to curl the 35’s.
The result? I did nearly 100 reps over 25 minutes, my biceps were BLOWN up and the following day my biceps were sore to the touch. In fact, I went 3 days before the soreness dissipated. The gains were real and the following week I smashed the 35’s for a set of 10.
What did I discover? Cluster sets! This is a technique and trick I have used in various arm targeting programming and stimulation I have used to grow stubborn muscles!
Understanding Physiology and Mechanical Stress
The success behind cluster sets typically lies in how much volume an athlete has prior to hitting the programming. It is important to have a very solid training base in a volume phase. This enables the body to replenish the creatine stores and potentially glycogen storage later in the sets. By understanding the time under tension and total mechanical loading, we can see how the work stimulates monstrous growth!
When the athlete uses an ez curl preacher set OR utilizes a close grip bench set, they must focus on a 2-3 second eccentric to stimulate high threshold motor unit recruitment. As the BIG set continues, this will lead to a fatigue of the fiber, making the fiber trained and ultimately stimulating the fiber to regenerate, likely with satellite cells.
This mechanical stress and muscular fatigue stimulates serious myofibrillar growth, creating a strong adaptation that will improve overall general strength of the fatigued muscle. During the eccentric portion, the mTOR pathway is opened which also enhances muscle protein synthesis!
Got it? Perfect...
This workload is incredibly high and very difficult to maintain. It is incredibly important to remain FOCUSED during the intraset rest period to ensure optimal recovery from set to set.
Adding mass to the tricep should ideally come from massive stimulation of fast twitch fibers. Cluster sets do exactly that! The tricep is predominantly fast twitch which is why it responds well to cluster sets. As the eccentric portion of the lift is executed, high threshold motor units are recruited and thus bring in fast twitch fibers to be fatigued. As the triceps is fatigued through cluster sets, they increase in strength and size. This transfers to a bench press lockout as well as lockout for overhead movements!
The closer the grip on the bench press, the more the long head is forced to grow. The more the long head grows, the bigger the entire posterior upper arm becomes and the thicker the entire upper arm will become. Close grip bench along with neutral grip benches are both excellent exercises to use for cluster set training to stimulate growth.
I want MONSTER ARMS! How is it done?
One of the key ingredients behind arm growth with cluster sets relates to what happens AFTER the cluster sets are done. There NEEDS to be at least one drop set to spark the optimal growth of the triceps and biceps. This is a bit different from cluster sets that would be utilized for squats or deadlifts.
Bicep Cluster Set:
The Big Set = (4 reps, rest 20 seconds, 4 reps, rest 20 seconds, 4 reps, rest 20 seconds, 4 reps, rest 20 seconds, 4 reps) rest 3 minutes
Use 75-80% of your best preacher curl!
Ideally, 4-5 BIG sets will be executed. It is very important to stay focused during the rest periods! After the last BIG SET is finished, grab 50% of your best preacher curl.
50% of best for 1-2 sets of 17-25 reps!
These drop sets will stimulate incredible sarcoplasmic hypertrophy through intense metabolic stress.
Tricep Cluster Set:
Close grip bench press
Use 75-80% of your best close grip bench
The Big Set = (3 reps, rest 20 seconds, 3 reps, rest 20 seconds, 3 reps, rest 20 seconds, 3 reps, rest 20 seconds, 3 reps)
Hit those 4-5 BIG sets and then set up with 60% of your best close grip bench for the key drop set.
60% of best for 2 sets of 17 reps
The fast twitch fibers will be fully stimulated and fatigued, this will lead to strength and mass gains! As the drop set ensues, aquaporin-4 will bring in plenty of metabolic stress factors leading to massive gains in hypertrophy.
Cluster sets are incredible for mass and strength gains. They can help burst through plateaus and stimulate growth in the most stubborn muscle groups. They work because of the mechanical stress, the HTMU recruitment, the focus on the mental aspect of rest and the opening of mTOR pathway. Cluster sets can’t be used ALL the time but with proper periodization cluster sets deserve a place in every good periodization scheme.
Dane Miller is the owner and founder of Garage Strength Sports Performance. He works with a select handful of clients on building comprehensive programs for fitness and nutrition. Several times a year he leads a workshop for coaches, trainers, and fitness enthusiasts.