What are Clusters in CrossFit? (With Examples)

If you perform CrossFit on a regular basis, you may have heard about a specific exercise called a cluster. A cluster is an exercise that puts two complex exercises from Crossfit together.

The first is a regular clean using weights. Then, you’ll perform a thruster.

If you perform clusters, you can put both of these exercises together to increase the effectiveness of your workout.

If you want to get the most out of your CrossFit workout, you need to learn as much as you can about clusters. That way, the next time you go to the gym for CrossFit, you can be ready to do your best!

What Is a Cluster Workout?

There are certain exercises that scream CrossFit when you see them. One of the biggest examples is a CrossFit cluster.

CrossFit clusters use movement found in Olympic weightlifting. Clusters are actually combinations of two very popular exercises in the CrossFit Community.

Then, when you put the two exercises together, you work nearly every muscle in your body.

When you perform CrossFit clusters, you need to start low and go slow. Before you increase your weight, you need to make sure you can perform the exercise safely and effectively.

Essentially, the CrossFit cluster is going to put two movements together known as the clean and the thruster.

The clean movement takes place when the participant lifts the barbell off the floor, settles it into a rack, and drops into a squat.

Then, the thruster movement takes place when you hold the barbell across your deltoids in the rack position. Then, you drop into a squat.

Finally, you press the barbell over your head before you return the barbell to its starting position for another repetition.

In a cluster movement, you will put each of these movements together to create a full-body exercise.

If you want to see this movement and action, take a look at this YouTube video:

How Are Cluster Workouts Structured?

When it comes to structure and cluster workouts, there are several steps involved.

The most important thing you need to remember is that you have to stay safe. Similar to other exercises that involve heavy weights, you could hurt yourself if you don’t perform these exercises properly using the correct technique.

Some of the most important steps you need to keep in mind when executing the cluster workout include:

  • Before you perform any part of this exercise, the barbell needs to be placed on the floor. Then, make sure your knees are facing forward comfortably.
  • Next, pull the barbell up to your hips. Thrust the barbell upwards so it sits comfortably in your hands. The barbell should be just underneath your chin.
  • Once you have settled the barbell at the height of your shoulders, do a front squat.
  • Next, press the weight above your head. Make sure you lock out your elbows.
  • Finally, to complete the lift, drop the barbell back underneath your chin. Drop the barbell to hip level next. Then, make sure the barbell rests on the ground before you do another repetition.

If you want to focus on building strength and muscle mass, you can perform a low number of repetitions at a very high rate.

If you want to focus on conditioning and cardiac endurance, then you can perform a lot of repetitions at a relatively low weight.

The Benefits: Why Do Cluster Workouts?

There are a lot of reasons why you should consider performing a cluster workout; however, one of the biggest benefits of this type of workout routine is that you can work a large number of muscles with a single exercise.

If you perform cluster workouts, you will work your back muscles, glutes, hamstrings, triceps, shoulders, core muscles, and quads.

As you go through the different motions, there are different muscles that you will work at different times. The muscles engaged at different times during the cluster workout include:

  • When you arrive at the base of the left, you will work your quads, hamstrings, glute, and back to get the barbell off the floor.
  • Then, when you move the barbell underneath the chin, you will need to fire your glutes and back muscles again.
  • When you deepen into the squatting motion, you’ll need to use nearly every muscle in your legs. Then, you’ll need to fire your core and back muscles to keep the barbell stabilized.
  • When you press the barbell over your head, you will need to fire your shoulders and triceps to get the barbell to that point. You will also need to keep your core and back tight to stabilize the weight over your head.

Clearly, as you go through this routine, you will work a wide variety of muscles throughout your body. Therefore, this is an exceptional exercise that can help you build muscle tone and train throughout the entire body.

In addition, this is a high-intensity movement that will dramatically increase your heart rate. Therefore, it is ideal for interval training.

This exercise routine can also help you burn a lot of fat.

It can be easy to start at a low weight as you try to do as many repetitions as possible; however, you need to make sure you use proper form and technique to avoid getting hurt.

That is why this exercise is best performed at a CrossFit gym with a lot of other people who have experience.

How To Do a Crossfit Cluster Workout

If you would like to learn how to do a CrossFit cluster workout, remember that this is a combination of a clean and a thruster.

It might be helpful to take a look at how to perform a clean and thruster separately before you put them together. Therefore, take a look at a video of a clean here. Then, take a look at a thruster here.

There are several steps involved in performing the cluster exercise. They include:

  • Start with your feet shoulder-width apart. Make sure your weight is located on your heels. The bar should be located directly in front of your shins, and your back should be charged with a solid lumbar curve.
  • Reach down and grab the bar with a hook grip. Keep your hands outside of your knees, and ensure your arms are locked out.
  • Pick up the bar and accelerate through your heels to buy full leg and hip extension. Keep your legs extended as your shoulders and hips move at the same time.
  • Make sure your legs, shoulders, and hips are fully extended before using a slight arm pull. Retreat under the bar, and assume a full front squat position.
  • From this front squat position, drive up word. Use your momentum to get the bar as high as you can.
  • Lock out your arms with active shoulders.
  • Then, return the barbell to the floor once again.

It might be helpful to read through these steps as you watch the videos above. That way, you can see how the text coordinates with the individual movements of the exercise.

Example Sets That Include Clusters

You might want to take a look at a few example sets that include cluster workouts. A few sets you may want to keep in mind include:

Cluster Conditioning

This workout is designed to help you work your cardiac endurance to get in better shape. It includes two separate exercises:

  • 15 clusters
  • 15 hand-release push-ups

Perform this rotation 10 times at a weight that is appropriate for you.

The Clusterf*ck

This workout is designed to push you to your limit. The exercise routine includes:

  • 5 ring dips
  • 5 clusters
  • 10 box jumps

Again, perform the Clusters at a weight that is appropriate to you.

Clusters OTM

OTM stands for on the minute. You perform the clusters at the start of every workout before jumping into an AMRAP section, which stands for as many reps as possible.

  • Perform two clusters on the minute for ten minutes.
  • Then, perform 10 push-ups and 20 lateral plate jumps. Do as many rotations as you can for ten minutes.

This is another step that is designed to push you to your absolute limit.

What Is a Dumbbell Cluster?

A dumbbell cluster is designed to be similar to a traditional cluster that uses a barbell; however, instead, you are going to use a dumbbell instead.

During this exercise, you will start with your feet shoulder-width apart. Place the dumbbells on the ground in front of you.

Then, grab the dumbbells with both hands. Launch them up into the air and assume a squatting position.

Then, use your legs, back, core, and shoulders to drive the dumbbells directly into the air until you get them over your head.

Gradually lower the dumbbells back down to the starting position.

Try to keep your chest straight and your shoulders directly over your knees. That way, you can keep yourself balanced and stable during the exercise.

You can watch a video of a dumbbell cluster here:

What Is the Difference Between a Cluster and a Thruster?

A thruster is one of the two components that come together to perform a cluster, with the other being the clean. A thruster is a front squat combined with a push press.

This exercise should be performed with continuous momentum.

In contrast, a cluster is a combination of a squat clean and thruster.

Both exercises can be beneficial. Even though a thruster already works a variety of muscle groups, you can combine it with a cluster to work even more muscles and gain more out of each repetition.

You can watch a helpful video that explains the difference between the two here:

How To Perform Clusters Without Getting Hurt

Even though cluster workouts can provide you with a wide variety of benefits, it is important to make sure you perform them safely without getting hurt.

Some of the most important tips to keep in mind include:

  • You should try to perform the individual components separately before you put them together. Make sure you can perform a clean and a thruster properly before you jump into a full-blown cluster.
  • The first time you perform a cluster workout, you may want to do so with an empty barbell. Even if you are an experienced weightlifter, you need to ease into a new lift. Once you perform this properly with an empty barbell, you can add weight to it.
  • The goal should not be to perform these repetitions as quickly as possible. When you are performing clusters for the first time, make sure you go slowly. Think about the position of your shoulders, hips, knees, and feet. Make sure you tighten your core and back to keep your body stable as you go through the different steps in the lift.
  • If you feel any part of your core or back starting to give out, you could lose your balance. Therefore, make sure you understand how to put the bar down safely before you fall over, drop the weight, or otherwise get hurt.

If you can keep these tips in mind, you should be able to perform clusters safely. It is not unusual for men to lift 135 lbs and women to live 95 lb repeatedly during cluster workouts. It may take some time to work out to this weight, but clusters can provide the phenomenal workout that works nearly every muscle in your body.

Get the Most out of Your CrossFit Workout

There are several types of exercises you’ll perform regularly during your CrossFit workout, and one of them might be the cluster.

The cluster is a combination of a clean and thruster. It is usually performed with a barbell, but you can also perform it with a dumbbell.

Some clusters are designed for low repetition and high weight while other clusters are designed for low weight and high repetition.

Do not shy away from clusters if you see them as a part of your workout of the day!

Tim Rollins, Editor

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