The easiest way to use velocity measures to monitor changes in strength

Traditionally, without testing (or even with testing) there were only two ways to tell if you were getting stronger across two time points.  Didn't matter if those time points were a week, a month, three months, a year or multiple years apart.  Method One, you could lift more weight for the same amount of repetitions.  So if your bench press was 100 kg x 5-reps and three months later, it was 105 kg x 5-reps, clearly you had gained strength, 5% in this instance.  Method Two, you could lift more repetitions with the same amount of weight.  So if your bench press was 100 kg x 5-reps and three months later, it was 105 kg x 7-reps, clearly you had gained strength ~ also/maybe about 5% in this instance, given that in many trainers, 5-reps is done with about 86%1RM and 7-reps with about 81%1RM for the key big lifts (Squat, bench, deadlifts etc).  So the cut off to see improvement is typically either to lift 2.5 kg for the same amount of reps as previously or to lift one more rep with the same amount of weight as previously. And one rep is usually worth or equal to about 2.5-3% 1RM, for sets with reps below 6-reps and about 2% for sets of 7-10 reps.

But now, with velocity measures we have Method Three and Four.  When the athletes lifts the same weight with maximal intent, while maintaining technique and the velocity is increased above a minimal improvement threshold, we can infer a gain in strength has occurred.  So Method Three, lifting the same weight but with more velocity now also equals a gain in strength.  An example would be if doing pull-ups with bodyweight and the first or best rep improves from a mean/average velocity of say, 0.5 m/s to 0.55 m/s across a month.  This is NOT A 10% IMPROVEMENT IN STRENGTH.  This level of velocity change equals about a 2.5% increase in 1RM.  Remember that.  A 0.04 to 0.05 m/s change in velocity equates to about 2.5% 1RM for STRENGTH exercises (not jumps or cleans or snatches etc). Another example, heavy deadlifts around 85%1RM typically have a mean/average velocity for the best rep of about 0.37 m/s (+/- 0.04).  So if you could deadlift 150 x 5-reps, not going to failure, with a best rep velocity of 0.37 and three months later it had improved to a consistent 0.42 m/s, then we could infer a 2.5% increase in deadlift 1RM may have occurred.

Also, Method Four, which is lifting more weight but at the same velocity as was previously attained with lighter weights would infer a change in strength has occurred.  For example, using the heavy deadlift and not going to failure example.   If you could deadlift 150 x 3-reps, with a best rep velocity of 0.37 and three months later you could lift 155 kg with a consistent best rep velocity of 0.37 m/s, we could infer a 5kg strength increase.

Simple.

Why this is great is that for certain exercises, we often don't train to failure or their biomechanical nature makes it easy to cheat on them a bit, so true changes in rep performance can be "hidden" to some degree.  For me, this is rows - bent over or seated.  I don't train to failure on them and even if I did, I could possibly use a little bit of extra leg drive and get 1-2 more reps and pretend I am stronger, when that might not be the case.

So by using velocity and RPE, I can just do my prescribed sets and reps at the prescribed RPE and monitor the velocity scores for feedback.

You can see the bent row comparison below between sets of 10-reps with 65 and 70 kg, one week apart.  I attained the same velocity scores with 70 kg as I did the week before with 65 kg with no change in technique or RPE.  Therefore I think I am improved.  This is a Method Four example - same velocity but more weight lifted!

 

 On the left is 10-reps with 70 kg and on the right is the set of 10-reps with 65 kg performed the previous week. The best rep is identical for both weeks and the set average for the entire 10-reps is essentially the same, despite a poor first rep with 70 kg which lowered the overall set average! So if velocity is the same, but more weight was lifted, I am stronger! No 1RM or 3RM or 5Rm test was required!

On the left is 10-reps with 70 kg and on the right is the set of 10-reps with 65 kg performed the previous week. The best rep is identical for both weeks and the set average for the entire 10-reps is essentially the same, despite a poor first rep with 70 kg which lowered the overall set average! So if velocity is the same, but more weight was lifted, I am stronger! No 1RM or 3RM or 5Rm test was required!

In this next example, I will use an example with more disparate weights being lifted and where there are larger changes in velocity, making comparisons more difficult.  After bent rows, I perform Incline DB rows (chest supported) ~ no leg drive and hard to cheat. 

For incline DB rows, 10-reps with 25 kg DB's versus 15-reps with 20 kg DB's, one week apart.  Best rep velocities of  0.75 m/s and 0.91 m/s respectively and overall set averages of  of 0.68 and 0.76 m/s.  How do we compare, because we expect the heavier weight to be lifted with less velocity?  Well we could go to the Power function...but I will let you in on a secret!  There are at least five different ways power is being calculated by the different device makers.  Most device makers measure acceleration directly but by some different means or parameters.  This is fine for most sports movements but when you lift weights that are not power exercises or not really heavy, you need to decelerate near the end of range.  So I believe this direct (or indirect) acceleration measure is a bit corrupted in some cases.  If we are lifting weights UP, we are trying to overcome GRAVITY.  So overcoming the acceleration due to gravity is most important to me, for gym exercises (different for true sports movements like throwing or kicking). So you cannot compare power scores between devices anymore (velocity yes).  This is why I never report Power scores anymore...there is too much debate and crap about how it is measured.  I just use velocity scores.  

I am Old School and the formula used 20-years+ ago was:  

Power = Force x velocity

The force measure was Mass x Acceleration (due to gravity)...so Mass x 9.81 m/s to convert to Force in Newtons...

So basically, Power = (Weight Lifted (Mass in kg) x 9.81) x velocity

For my own personal training or to compare to scores that I have from say, 20+ years ago, I just plug the velocity score into the old formula.

So for best rep for the Incline DB rows example:

(20 x 9.81) x 0.91 m/s = 179 watts versus (25 x 9.81) x 0.75 m/s = 184

For overall set average:

(20 x 9.81) x 0.76 m/s = 149 watts versus (25 x 9.81) x 0.75 m/s = 167

So by either measure, the 10-reps with 25 kg shows improved muscular function compared to the week before of 15-reps with 20 kg, by the way I like to measure it.

 

 Incline DB rows with 10-reps performed with 25 kg on the left and 15-reps with 20 kg on the right.  By using the Old School power formula, I believe a better (for lifting weights) power comparison can be attained that is then used to determine if a change in muscular function has occurred.

Incline DB rows with 10-reps performed with 25 kg on the left and 15-reps with 20 kg on the right.  By using the Old School power formula, I believe a better (for lifting weights) power comparison can be attained that is then used to determine if a change in muscular function has occurred.

So for me Velocity is a key training measure along with the weight lifted and RPE. We now have four ways of assessing or monitoring strength changes in the gym if we also measure velocity.  We don't have to train to failure or close to it to assess improvement.  We can use velocity measures to gauge strength or energy or "intent" levels in every training session. I do. I measure all my KPI exercises, it is so simple.

So go the my Order Page and get yourself a Push band and bring your training into the 21st century.

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Dan Baker