Monitoring velocity scores with Push across Long-term Periods - An example from my squat training
The value of measuring and monitoring velocity scores during resistance training are manyfold. Given the very strong relationship between an individuals velocity scores (with heavy weights) and 1RM strength, one of the best uses is to look at velocity scores across long-term periods, to see what changes occurred and what was the training content and/or life pressures (work, travel, family, study) that affected the velocity scores and strength levels.
First off, we have to accept that velocity scores have some variability not only day to day, week to week etc but also within the training session. You don't have some score that is absolutely concrete and with some small change to this absolute score, a change in strength has definitely occurred. There is some variability to each athletes scores.
So below I will provide a detailed example of variation for velocity scores for my squats across the past year. I will mainly focus on two absolute resistances, 120 kg (last warm-up set) and 160 kg (fairly standard training weight).
I did just under a 100 squat sessions in the year. When lifting heavy, 120 kg is always performed for 2-reps as my last warmup set and could be considered to be circa 60% of 1RM. But as you will see what is my 1RM "floats around a bit" due to training content to some degree but more due to travel related to work and sometimes with this travel, the inability to train at all or with reduced intensity and volume. The 160 kg is a standard training weight (~ 80%1RM), which I lifted during 36 different sessions in the past year (but once I forgot to press the start button on the Push, so I only have data for 35). I went heavier than 160 kg on many occasions, but 160 kg is the heaviest weight that I have a LOT of data for. Some heavier sessions didn't have 160 kg included for the day (eg. I may have lifted 165, 170 or 175 kg etc), so please consider that there were more than 36 heavy squat sessions in the year, but that 36 of the heavy squat sessions entailed lifting 160 kg at some point in the session.
Also so please understand that even within a workout you will get some variation in scores, due to performing better reps technically, due to fatigue, due to feeling stronger or just due to mentally "firing up" a bit more. For example, on 24-4-2016, I did 160 kg for 2 x 5-reps with the best rep of the first set being 0.60 m/s and the best of the second set being 0.56 m/s. Typically a change of 0.04m/s is related to a change in strength of 2-3%1RM. So was I all-of-a-sudden 2-3% weaker, or was I just a bit fatigued? Given that i also did 140/5, 150/5, 155/5 before the 2x5 @160kg, it can be seen that the drop in velocity/strength is just a temporary suppressing of my strength/velocity scores due to cumulative fatigue. During training, cumulative fatigue from within the workout or from the previous sessions or weeks, can affect your velocity scores (and strength levels). When volume drops, the velocity scores can increase more so than the change in absolute strength ~ this is the peaking process!
Some people think you can accurately predict your 1RM levels from velocity scores with lighter warmup sets. The theory is that you do some light warmup weight, look at the velocity scores and that will accurately tell you your 1RM for that day. IT WON'T...you need to be lifting at >80% 1RM for the velocity scores to be close to predicting your daily maximum, in strong athletes at least. Research by Eric Helms and also Harry Baystock has shown that this year. And I will show it below.
Lighter warmup sets are, however, "indicator sets" but they are not strongly enough related to 1RM to predict it accurately enough in an exact amount of kg, for my liking. It is the same as "reps-to-fatigue" tests to predict 1RM. Overall, the lower the rep test (<6-reps), the better its 1RM predictability. Trying to predict 1RM from a rep test with >10-reps is not so accurate across a large group. Again, lower reps means >80%1RM. See the pattern.
Thus the value is knowing the velocity score (in reality a small range) for that individual athlete for certain absolute weights, not just normative data. And know an athletes score with certain weights, under certain conditions such as recommencing training, heavy workload training, reduced volume training, building to a peak training, actually peaking, and maintenance training, for example.
So what is detailed are the velocity scores for 120 and 160 kg squats on 35 different occasions from Jan. 15th 2016 to Jan, 16th. 2017 from my own training. Across those 35 sessions, the average velocity attained with 120 kg was 0.63 +/- 0.06 m/s, with a best of 0.75 m/s (peaking) and a worst score of 0.55 m/s, which was <40 hours after a 35+ hour commute from London back to Australia. So if 0.04 m/s = 2.5% 1RM, then 1RM strength has varied ~ 12.5 % across the year during these sessions! I rarely lift 1RM in training, preferring to hit 3RM and 5RM as my assessment, mainly because I train by myself, but my 3RM and 5RM's changed less than 10% across the year.
I have my own method of daily estimate of 1RM which is not just based on the best rep velocity with light weights but on the velocity with the heaviest weight lifted for that day and the RPE (effort) associated with lifting that weight for whatever reps. So in a session where 120, 140, 160 and 180 kg were all lifted, the 1RM is based solely upon the performance (velocity, reps and RPE) of the 180 kg set! It is RPE, reps and velocity together which give the most accurate assessment of daily 1RM.
So can the 120 kg warm-up lift could "predict" my estimated 1RM for that day? The strength of a relationship and the ability of one measure to predict performance in another measure is assessed by something called correlation (and regression). The closer the correlation score is to 1.0, the stronger the relationship and more accurate the predictability. So what was the correlation between the best 120kg velocity and my daily estimate of 1RM on those 35 occasions? It was 0.41! That is what is called a "significant" but "moderate" relationship. I would call it pretty shit and basically tell you that anyone trying to tell you that you can predict your 1RM accurately from a weight that is ~60% 1RM is just not correct. The velocity performance with 60%1RM is related to 1RM (or estimates of 1RM), but the strength of the relationship is not strong enough to be very accurate. Both Eric Helms and Harry Baystock research this year also supports that.
But what about 160 kg? Is its predictability better? 160 kg was around 80% 1RM of my estimated daily 1RM (which for those 35 sessions was estimated to be 198.7 kg +/- 5.0 kg using my combination method of daily 1RM assessment). But seeing as on my best days my 5RM and 3RM were 185 kg and 190 kg, respectively, (i was scheduled to do 195 kg x 3-reps on a few occasions, but never got to actually do them due to international travel rearing its head), it can be seen that in my peaking and close to peaking phases, 160 kg was probably closer to ~ 75-76%1RM as my squat 5RM is always around 86% of my 1RM. But lets consider it ~80% as the average across the year for those 35 sessions. The average velocity of the best rep with 160 kg for those 35 occasions was 0.50 +/- 0.05 m/s. The correlation between these 160 kg velocities and my daily estimate of 1RM (and remember the estimate is a function of four things - heaviest weight lifted, x reps x effort x velocity) was much stronger, at 0.82! That is a "stronger" relationship but still with room for improvement.
Also consider that in Eric Helms work, 80% squats in powerlifters was associated with a velocity of 0.66 m/s (and I am an ex-powerlifter and still train that way...but I am 51 yrs old and a bit slow). So my average 160 kg squat velocity of 0.50 m/s suggests that (according to Erics work) that 160 kg is about 87% 1RM across the year and therefore my 1RM would be 185 kg (which was my 5RM)! But here is when you need to consider "workload training" "near to peaking training" and "peaking" etc when looking at velocity scores. The Helms data is for powerlifters as they warmed to a 1RM that they were peaked for! Without knowing exactly, I would assume that if they lifted that same 80% weight 6-weeks prior, when still in "workload training" and with it the accompanying fatigue, then the velocity scores would be lower. I actually lifted 160 kg at 0.63 m/s on two weeks in a row, while working up to 180 kg x 5-reps in one workout in late March and the following week (early April) while working up to 190 kg x 3-reps (ie. I was PEAKING, with reduced training workload). So those scores more closely concur with Erics work, that 160 kg with a velocity of 0.63 m/s was around ~80 1RM for me...maybe a little less on those days, but as I mentioned, I am older and slower than the sprightly young Powerlifters in Erics study.
So what then is the ability of the 120 kg WARMUP set to predict exactly/accurately the velocity of the 160 kg TRAINING set? The correlation = 0.63, which is OK, not great, not shit.
That is why I call the last warmup set an "indicator set"...it indicates if I am going to lift the heavier weights with good velocity, but it can't accurately predict the exact velocity score I will get with heavier weights or the 1RM for that day.
For example, in late March and early April, the 120 kg warmup velocities were 0.75 and 0.73 m/s...I knew I was going to lift the heavy weights pretty well that day. But the focus was on lifting 180kg x 5-reps and 190 kg x 3-reps on those days, not focussing on what the velocity score was. Just get the reps out, with good form with the big weights and the velocity score will take care of itself. The velocity scores with 120 kg (and other weights as I worked up) are "Indicating" to me that I should be lifting well and that I am well prepared to lift heavy weights.
So for 100 squat sessions, how many did I reduce training volume or intensity for, based upon the velocities I was attaining during the session? Only one time in a whole year did I modify my planned training session to reduce the planned training weight due to velocity scores being lower than expected. After the long haul travel from London back to Australia, I had planned to squat 175 kg x 5-reps, as my current 5RM that month was 185 kg...so I thought, yeah now worries mate, 175 kg x 5-reps should be OK. The 120 kg velocity was 0.55, yet eleven days before it was 0.68 m/s. I am thinking.."just a bit stiff, being cramped up in planes and buses for the past 40 hours...plus I did have a few beers as soon as I got home, I will be OK as I work up in weight". 140 kg, forgot to press the Push start button. It felt pretty ugly though, but I will go to 150 kg, then 160kg...my velocity scores are way down. I am no chance of lifting 175 kg x 5-reps that day. Ended up doing 170 kg x 3-reps x 2 sets. My velocity scores were telling me that I was not recovered from the long flight. But four more days later, feeling better (and having done some other lighter training) I then squatted 170 kg x 6-reps. Best velocities with 160 kg en route to that 170 kg was 0.50 m/s...my yearly average, not at "Peaking levels" (~0.60 m/s) but at "Maintenance" levels.
So I have established that squatting 160 kg, that 0.45 to 0.47 m/s is typical of my Recommencing Training phase (after missing training due to travel, the effects of long haul travel or sickness on one occasion), that 0.48 to 0.53 is my Maintenance score range, that 0.54 to 0.58 is indicative that I am in good lifting shape, but most likely in a Workload phase and that > 0.59 m/s I am either Peaking or close to it! As for the 120 kg warmup set, I always like to get above 0.65 m/s. Above 0.70 m/s means I should lift really well!
In conclusion, your velocity scores can indicate your performance abilities but not so accurately enough to predict exactly what your 1RM is (in actual kg)...unless you are training around 80% 1RM (or maybe 75% 1RM) and you have data to compare to. Data from "workload training" versus "near peaking/reduced volume" and "peaking".
So collect your data and monitor your scores in relation to training content and life issues. Establish your normal ranges for different training phases.