Cluster Set Vs. Traditional Set
Is design or intent more important in programming for power?
Our Director of Performance recalls a conversation he had with well know Strength and Conditioning Coach Joe Kenn nearly 15 years ago where they discussed the ins and outs of velocity-based training at that time. One specific comment/term stood out; “concentric acceleration”. Joe Kenn mentioned that no matter the weight the athlete should always focus on accelerating the bar as fast as possible, highlighting the value of intent.
Although there does not seem to be a lot of research exploring the value of “concentric acceleration”, as of last month, there is another positive article to add to the list. The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research published the recent article Changes in Bench Press Velocity and Power After 8 Weeks of High-Load Cluster- or Traditional-Set Structure. The results suggest that how you structure your sets has less value than the intent in which you execute them. These findings strengthen the support of coaching “concentric acceleration” in power focused programming.
When looking to apply this to your own training prescriptions, it is always important to examine the research and the protocols used. One concern voiced by our Director of Performance focused on the 4x5 at 85% of 1-rep max (1RM) prescription. Although this was seemingly achievable by all participants in this study, our Director suggested this is an uncommon prescription. The 5 reps at 85% of 1RM is equal to or exceeds the max achievable reps suggested by coaches such as Cal Dietz, Dan Baker, Mich Tuchscherer, and Prilepin, according to an article by Mladen Jovanovic. In addition, the precise 1RM formula used within Bridge equates the heaviest possible set of 5 to 86.9% of 1RM (more info here). With all of this said, there is concern that well-trained athletes will be able to successfully complete a similar prescription to the one applied in the study.
Cluster and traditional sets have their place within program design, both having increased value with a focus on “concentric acceleration” or the intent to move the weight through the concentric phase of the movement as fast as possible. Dialing in the best set x rep scheme and associated intensity for your population will take some further exploration. To begin your exploration via your own programming, see the video below.