Velocity Training With Landyn Hickmott
I would like to start off this article by saying that the Velocity-Based Training Courses (both the VBT Theory Course and the VBT Application Course) are incredibly comprehensive to the powerlifting athlete, the powerlifting coach, and the strength enthusiast from an applied perspective. The format of the VBT Courses enables you to easily grasp the content and apply it directly into your training that same day! However, I’ve had numerous people reach out to me with some slightly more nuanced questions in relation to some of the free slides that I have shared; therefore, I thought I’d share some of the nuanced answers to those questions here. This article is long, but please feel welcome to read each individual question/answer in a separate sitting or navigate to the question(s)/answer(s) that are most applicable to you. Please also feel welcome to reach out to me on my website: landynhickmott.com. I hope you enjoy!
What Does VBT, LPT, VL, and LRV Represent
And What are the Basic Definitions?
Velocity-Based Training, Linear Position Transducer,
Velocity Loss, and Last Repetition Velocity
Primary Velocity-Based Terminology
For those that may be unfamiliar with velocity-based training, I’ll begin with the four primary velocity-based terminology and definitions that you should be familiar with. Please see Slide 1. There is certainly other velocity-based terminology, but I don’t want to address them as they are not incredibly important in powerlifting programming contexts since they are rarely ever used.
Now, with the primary terminology outlined, let’s address some of the specific questions that I’ve received that require additional contextualization…
Does Low Velocity Loss Correspond to Low RPE and
Does High Velocity Loss Correspond to High RPE?
Velocity Loss and RPE are Separate Concepts and
Must be Conceptualized as Separate Concepts
Velocity Loss and RPE Defined as Separate Concepts
The author and the reader (you) must be referring to the same concepts throughout this article to comprehend and contextualize the contents of this article. First and certainly most importantly, I’ll define proximity to failure and intra-set fatigue in the context of this article. Please recall the terminology and corresponding definitions for the entirety of the article.
Proximity to failure is defined as:
“The number of repetitions remaining prior to momentary muscular failure (concentric failure) measured via actual repetitions in reserve (RIR).”
In the context of this article and for simplicity, I’ll use a one-to-one ratio of RPE-to-RIR [1, 2] (i.e., a 10 RPE = 0 RIR, a 9 RPE = 1 RIR, a 5 RPE = 5 RIR, a 1 RPE = 9 RIR, etc.), and refer to this as RPE throughout the remainder of this article. I’m sure some individuals disagree here with the one-to-one ratio of RPE-to-RIR, and you could also certainly define RIR as a separate concept than RPE, and I would certainly agree with you! However, utilizing this definition is simpler for the contents of this article and when contextualizing and integrating RPE with velocity-based training. Please keep in mind that for the most part, I’ll also be referring to the RPE based on the actual LRV value and indicate when I am referring to an RPE based on the athlete’s provided value. As a side note, in powerlifting program design contexts, I typically recommend utilizing the LRV Model in addition to Mike Tuchscherer’s RPE Scale.
Intra-set fatigue is defined as:
“The magnitude of neuromuscular fatigue accumulated during the set measured via percentage velocity loss (%VL).”
In the context of this article and for simplicity, I’ll imply that the first repetition is the fastest repetition within the set (this is almost always the case) and that the last repetition is the slowest repetition within the set (this is almost always the case), and refer to this as VL throughout the remainder of this article. The concept of employing VL as an objective quantification of neuromuscular fatigue was first introduced in 2011 by Sanchez-Medina and Gonzalez-Badillo . To summarize, it was demonstrated that increasing VL had a strong relationship (correlations of r ≥ 0.91 and R2 ≥ 0.85) between the mechanical proxies (countermovement jump height losses and load at a velocity of 1.00 m.s-1) with metabolite accumulation (lactate and ammonia) .
Velocity Loss and RPE Illustrated as Separate Concepts
The first concept to clarify is that RPE and VL are two separate concepts that have a dynamic inter-dependent relationship (except for when one repetition is performed, the VL will of course always be 0% VL). For example, an athlete can be at the maximum RPE (10 RPE) and at the minimal VL (0% VL) simultaneously if they are performing a 1RM. In other words, low VL does not necessarily correspond directly to low RPE, nor does high VL necessarily correspond directly to high RPE. An athlete can be training at a reasonably high yet ‘submaximal’ percentage of 1RM, a moderate-high RPE, and a low-moderate VL simultaneously, which – as a general heuristic – will typically be commonplace for most powerlifters (and other strength athletes). Certainly, there is considerably more nuance to this topic; therefore, I’ll very briefly address basic generalized training examples within a top-down velocity-based periodized approach later in this article.
In short, VL is influenced by a plethora of factors (these are addressed in extensive detail in the VBT Courses); however, VL is arguably mainly contingent on the number of repetitions performed (i.e., also related to the load employed) , not the RPE based on the LRV  since VL increases relatively linearly with each increasing repetition performed as an individual approaches failure [3, 6]. To best illustrate this concept, I’ll refer you to examine Slide 2. For this example athlete (on this example lift), when the RPE is matched (8 RPE) based on the LRV (assuming an LRV of 0.20 m.s-1 corresponds to an 8 RPE in this example), 8 repetitions corresponds to 51% VL, while 3 repetitions corresponds to 23% VL. As highlighted, 3 repetitions at an 8 RPE is a 5RM, which corresponds to ~87.5% of 1RM on average based on generalized repetitions allowed tables . Again, to re-iterate exactly what I previously stated: VL is arguably mainly contingent on the number of repetitions performed, and that in this example an individual can be training at a reasonably high percentage of 1RM (87.5% of 1RM), a moderate-high RPE (8 RPE), and a low-moderate VL (23% VL) simultaneously. An athlete is likely not performing considerable volume-work at 87.5% of 1RM; however, I believe Slide 2 helps to clarify the disconnect between suggesting that low RPE corresponds to low VL and that high RPE corresponds to high VL.
Individualized Last Repetition Velocities (LRV) as a Novel Solution
Slide 2 also demonstrates the concept that has largely inspired my PhD, termed Individualized Last Repetition Velocity (LRV) also known as Individualized Last Repetition Velocities (LRVs). It also demonstrates another concept: LRV Decay (potentially relating to metabolite buffering capacity and motor unit fatigability, but certainly requiring additional research to support or refute). LRV Decay is addressed extensively in the VBT Courses and is of less importance for the context of this article; therefore, I’d like to turn your attention back to LRV. I’m typically not a large advocate whatsoever of introducing new terminology unless it
simplifies the understanding for the reader and the application for the athlete.
I believe that the concept of LRV is more precise and easier to comprehend than ‘absolute velocity’ or ‘average concentric velocity (ACV)’ for those that may be less familiar with velocity-based training. Why? ‘Absolute velocity’ or ‘average concentric velocity (ACV)’ is what has been used in the scientific literature thus far [6, 8], and I very frequently receive similar questions to the following examples:
Question: “Does absolute velocity refer to average concentric velocity, peak velocity, or (insert example velocity metric here)?”
Answer: “Absolute velocity can technically refer to any velocity metric as it is unclear what exactly ‘absolute’ means; however, typically it refers to the last repetition average concentric velocity in powerlifting contexts.”
Question: “When integrating average concentric velocity with RIR-based RPE, should I be averaging the average concentric velocity of all repetitions within the set?”
Answer: “Average concentric velocity certainly has endless applications; however, the most common method of integrating average concentric velocity with RIR-based RPE involves simply cross-refencing the last repetition average concentric velocity with RIR-based RPE.”
Finally, although the concept of RPE has endless applications, arguably the most common application of RPE involves providing an RPE value upon conclusion of the set. Typically, the athlete will obviously be referring to the last repetition, right? Hence, why the athlete will also be referring to the last repetition velocity (LRV). I’m not going to pretend as if this is an incredibly novel strategy; I know several athletes and coaches have been utilizing velocity-based training for much longer than I have and implementing it with RPE. Mike’s been using velocity-based training since 2009, and several of the RTS athletes have been using it for quite some time as well. I utilized it towards the end of playing hockey about 8 years ago, didn’t have access to it for a few years, and then re-gained access to it a few years ago towards the beginning of my graduate work and for powerlifting.
Nonetheless, I like to remind individuals that there have been numerous concepts that had remained to be supported or refuted, and until only recently has evidence emerged regarding the utility (particularly the reliability/consistency) of last repetition velocities (LRVs) [6, 8-10]. Perhaps the “first and best” study to date regarding their utility was conducted in 2019 by Moran-Navarro et al. , in which it was demonstrated that the ‘absolute terminating velocities’ were reliable/consistent at 2, 4, 6, and 8 RIR across 65, 75, and 85% of 1RM in the back squat, bench press, shoulder press, and seal row. However, please be cognizant that these ‘absolute terminating velocities’ were lift-specific  and must also be athlete-specific . I’ll admit that these ‘absolute terminating velocities’ in this study  were the mean propulsive velocities; however, based on a more recent study  and knowledge of some data, average concentric velocity is also reliable across different RIR-based RPE values regardless of the percentage of 1RM on the bar, and average concentric velocity is more reliable than mean propulsive velocity in the bench press  (and anecdotally also in the squat and the deadlift); therefore, supporting the utility of last repetition average concentric velocities, or simply Last Repetition Velocities (LRV). You may ask, “what about the reliability/consistency across multiple sets within a session, across multiple sessions, at different percentages of 1RM…?” I fully elucidate those answers and provide comprehensive contextualization in the VBT Courses.
The key takeaway is that if you determine your individualized LRV values at each RPE for each lift (i.e., separately in the squat, bench press, and deadlift), you can start to integrate LRV with RPE. For example, your individualized LRV in a lift at an 8 RPE for 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 repetition sets will be the same. For example, in Slide 2 the athlete had an LRV of 0.20 m.s-1 corresponding to an 8 RPE in the squat. Based on the literature, the only scenario to be cognizant of is that the LRV at a 10 RPE during a single repetition set (LRV at 1RM) is slightly slower than the LRV at a 10 RPE during a multiple repetition set (LRV at 10 RPE during a set of 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 repetitions) ; hence, why the LRV Model also has a location for that V1RM (velocity at 1RM) [12, 13].
Since Velocity Loss is a Percentage Decrease, Do Velocity Loss Thresholds
Correspond to the Same Percentage of Repetitions Completed with
Respect to the Repetition Maximum for Each Athlete and Each Lift?
Velocity Loss Thresholds Correspond to Different RPE Values
Depending on the Individualized Velocity of the Initial Repetition
and the Individualized LRV of the Final Repetition within the Set
Average Velocity Loss Values for Each Repetition and RPE Combination
The VL value for each specific repetition and RPE combination must be individualized for each athlete and for each lift [4, 5]. This concept is similar to what many of the readers may be familiar with: how the percentage of 1RM value for each specific repetition and RPE combination must be individualized for each athlete  and for each lift [7, 15]. You may ask, “what VL values correspond to each repetition and RPE combination?” As a general heuristic, I have illustrated the typical universal VL values for each repetition and RPE combination so that you can understand this relationship by conceptualizing the Individualized Last Repetition Velocity Autoregulatory Model (LRV Model). This has largely inspired the ‘foundation’ for my PhD work. Slide 3A illustrates a blank LRV Model, Slide 3B illustrates a simplified average LRV Model. Please be cognizant that the LRV Model must be INDIVIDUALIZED for each athlete and for each lift! However, these average values remain a reasonable general heuristic. In the VBT Courses, I explain new methods (a novel unseen method to devise all components of the LRV Model in a single session) to establish your typical and actual VL values for each repetition and RPE combination. I also address individual subtleties and limitations with respect to VL’s mutually exclusive application; hence, why LRV and RPE are the gold standards.
Please skip this paragraph if you aren’t interested in how I’ve established these average VL values. Specifically, 20% VL corresponds to ~50% of the repetition maximum for most athletes on most lifts (i.e., the squat ~20% VL; the bench press ~25% VL) . I want to make it entirely clear that although ~20% VL typically corresponds to ~50% of the maximal number of repetitions performed within the set , these are average values, and I’ve provided average values for the sake of simplifying examples as I proceed throughout this article. These VL values are based on the preliminary VL study (when the concept of VL was first introduced) , a study by Pareja-Blanco et al.  cross-referenced with a separate study by Pareja-Blanco et al.  (40% velocity loss corresponded to ~56% of the sets taken to failure, so 20% VL is typically ~50% of 40% VL), three Pareja-Blanco studies [16-18] cross-referenced with Rodriguez-Rosell et al. , my own training data, my athletes’ combined training data, from my own research, and from discussion with other velocity-based training researchers. The repetitions allowed (i.e., repetitions able to perform prior to failure) at each percentage of 1RM in the smith machine exercises in most of these longitudinal VL studies is actually minimal [16-23]; thus, the participants in these low-moderate VL threshold groups (i.e., 0 – 25% VL) are typically training at higher average RPE values (true RIR values based on the velocity) than what I believe has typically been conceptualized outside of research settings.
Advantages of the LRV Model
To summarize as much as possible, the primary advantages of LRVs are precise quantification of RIR-based RPE and percentage of 1RM for autoregulatory and monitoring purposes [6, 8]. The primary advantages of the velocity loss zones are to “optimize” proximity to failure based on the percentage of 1RM employed with respect to neuromuscular fatigue [24, 25] and neuromuscular adaptations [17, 18]. The velocity loss zones (i.e., green zone, yellow zone, red zone, and blue zone) are beyond the scope of this article and are explained in extensive detail in the VBT Courses as they relate: 1) primarily to neuromuscular adaptations (i.e., early and late rate of force development, motor unit recruitment, rate coding, etc.) [17, 18] and neuromuscular fatigue [24, 25]; 2) secondarily to hypertrophy adaptations (i.e., ‘type’ and ‘sub-type’ phenotypic adaptations, prime mover and synergist adaptations) [16, 26], and strength adaptations [16-23, 27, 28]. Please also keep in mind that although the green, yellow, and red zones are termed maximal, moderate, and minimal, respectively, this certainly doesn’t imply that athletes shouldn’t be performing any training in the red zone. Rather, it’s simply to highlight that the red zone is likely where the least amount of training will be performed for most athletes on average, and to illustrate the velocity-loss specific adaptations continuum . In the VBT Courses, I address allocations, distributions, how to establish your own individualized VL zones, but also how these VL zones may adapt to you if you utilize a bottom-up framework (i.e., a green zone may not be 0 – 25% VL for you and may correspond to slightly different VL values).
I have purposefully highlighted 20 – 25% VL in dark green within the green zone in Slide 3B for two reasons:
1) There may be a minimal VL threshold of ~20% required to optimize hypertrophy adaptations when set volume is equated between groups (Gantois et al. 2021).
2) Although there was no significant between group differences (nor meaningful between group effect sizes reported) for 1RM strength outcomes in this very recent systematic review and meta-analysis on VL thresholds by Gantois et al. 2021, a VL threshold of ~25% appears to optimize the neuromuscular adaptation of increased late rate of force development shifting on the force-time curve, whilst managing neuromuscular fatigue .
Everything has advantages and limitations. Ultimately, the ‘overarching theme’ of the LRV Model is to conceptually integrate each currently employed method (i.e., percentage-based training, RPE-based training, VL, LRV, etc.) as a strategy to harness the advantages of each method, whilst simultaneously rectifying the limitations of each method. I typically almost always hierarchize VL below LRV and RPE for prescription; hence, why I’ve established typical VL values and VL zones to rectify mutually exclusive VL stops. How do we expand the scientific literature? We synthesize the advantages of what has been previously investigated and identify the limitations in the current work, appropriately cite those individuals, and hope that others will do the same in the future. Take for example a fellow autoregulation researcher: Leon Greig. He integrated readiness as a fourth component into Banister’s 1975 fitness-fatigue model . Although the concept of LRV may not be incredibly novel in practical settings (i.e., largely inspired by what Mike has been doing for quite some time), it is reasonably new to the scientific literature per say (although it’s typically been called ‘absolute velocity’ or ‘average concentric velocity (ACV)’) [6, 8]. However, perhaps most novel, to my knowledge the collated VL literature [16-23, 27, 28] had yet to be synthesized, analyzed, and integrated into such a theoretical individualized model, whilst also contextualizing how to rectify the limitations of VL as a standalone prescription strategy with the application of LRV until now.
Advantages of Integrating LRV with RPE over RPE Alone for Load Prescription
I’ve been asked if there have been any longitudinal studies directly comparing velocity to RPE. To date, there has only been a single study, which demonstrated both significantly greater and large between group effect sizes in favor of velocity over RPE in the bench press (p = 0.003; effect size = 0.98) and in the back squat (p < 0.001; effect size = 1.37) after a 12-week intervention . Upon contacting the authors, the velocity group also increased the bench press and the back squat to a considerably greater magnitude during each 6-week training block.
Changes in 1RM for Velocity and RPE groups from Shattock and Tee 
|Block||Lift||Velocity Group||RPE Group|
This is only a single study; therefore, it would be great to see more investigations in the near future to support or refute these findings. However, this data does support that velocity-based training results in considerably greater 1RM strength adaptations than RPE-based training regardless of the block-type and RPE range employed. Perhaps most importantly, this also highlights an important practical point to consider, why did the velocity group result in significantly greater strength adaptations than the RPE group? Although the differences in load were not reported in the manuscript, upon contacting the authors, it appears that the velocity group was training at a significantly higher RPE than the RPE group; thereby, training at a significantly higher relative intensity (since sets and repetitions per set were matched between the velocity group and the RPE group).
In other words, if for example in practical powerlifting programming contexts, during a “more hypertrophy-focused session”, 30 total repetitions at 70% of 1RM were prescribed, and it was decided that 5 sets of 6 repetitions at a 5 RPE based on the LRV (which is ~25% VL) would be prescribed to accomplish 30 total repetitions, ideally LRV with RPE should be utilized as the prescription strategy; not RPE in and of itself. Why? Individuals tend to under-estimate their RIR-based RPE values with significant heterogeneity (Q(261) = 3060, p < 0.001, I2 = 97.9%) based on this recent systematic review and meta-analysis , particularly when far from failure (i.e., particularly when training at lower RPE) . In support, at 70% of 1RM in the back squat, it has been demonstrated that individuals provided intra-set RPE values 5.15 ± 2.92, 3.65 ± 2.46, and 2.05 ± 1.73 repetitions below the actual RPE, when they believed that they were at a five, seven, and nine RPE, respectively . Specifically, when the individuals believed that they were at a 5 RPE, they were at ~10 RIR . Therefore, if we go back to our example of 5 sets of 6 repetitions at a 5 RPE, although lifters reading this are likely more accurate than those in the literature, who can accurately gauge these lower RPE sets (i.e., 5 – 6 RPE)? I would argue very few lifters; even those that have been using RPE for a considerably long period of time. Therefore, individuals may utilize a considerably lower percentage of 1RM than prescribed or intended if utilizing RPE rather than utilizing objective LRV values.
Why is this of importance? With reference back to the study comparing velocity to RPE , in all autoregulated load prescription studies to date that compared groups matched for sets and repetitions per set that had differences in relative intensity [31, 34, 35], the groups that trained at higher percentages of 1RM (by virtue of higher RPEs) resulted in significantly greater 1RM strength improvements [31, 34] or favored small-to-moderate effect sizes . However, all autoregulated load prescription studies to date that compared groups matched for sets and repetitions per set that had NO differences in relative intensity [36-40] resulted in no significant between group differences in 1RM strength improvements. Based on the collated autoregulated load prescription literature, this certainly isn’t any surprise as strength adaptations have been well supported to be load-dependent [41, 42].
Top Sets and Back-Off Volume Work
Outlined below I have some further common scenarios related to the above that some individuals have asked related to top sets and back-off volume work:
If an athlete performs a top set (i.e., single repetition at an 8 RPE) and prescribes say during a “more strength-focused session” 5 sets of 3 repetitions at 85% of 1RM (8 RPE/25% VL) based off that top set e1RM, the percentage of 1RM and RPE on the back-off work is of less importance.
Certainly, evidence supports that load-velocity profile 1RM prediction accuracy improves when higher percentages of 1RM are employed [13, 43]; however, this doesn’t rectify the limitation that an athlete likely wants to be reasonably precise with their RPE values on the subsequent back-off volume work to ensure the desired training effect and to aid in accurate monitoring (i.e., I suggest approximately within ±0.5 RPE; thus, say 7.5 – 8.5 RPE in this particular example). If you are using some form of autoregulation, it’s likely even more important to utilize LRV when the RPE is lower (i.e., 5 – 7 RPE) than higher (i.e., 8 or 9 RPE) .
This single study by Lima et al.  is always cited as it is the sole study to date to support this statement, and I don’t think it’s that compelling of evidence. To summarize, participants performed the Scott curl and the bicep curl for 3 sets each, 3 days per week, for 16 weeks. Group 1 used a 10RM load, group 2 used a 10RM load on set 1 with a 5% load reduction on subsequent sets, group 3 used a 10RM load on set 1 with a 10% load reduction on subsequent sets. The pre- to post-test change in 10RM was not significantly different between groups. I’m not that surprised. A 5 – 10% load reduction in these exercises (Scott curl and bicep curl) with their 10 RM load (~30 kg) on 2 sets is certainly not a considerable load reduction at all (i.e., only 1.5 – 3 kg). Moreover, group 1 was using a 10RM load and therefore likely accumulating more fatigue than the groups training sub-maximally , and training to failure or very close (i.e., 10 RPE – failure) has been supported to be inferior for strength than training not to failure [27, 46, 47].
However, based on this single bicep curl study, I don’t think training should be polarized extensively (i.e., very low percentage of 1RM and very low RPE back-off volume work) as some have asked or else – simply aligning with the relationship between chronic strength adaptations and percentage of 1RM/load [41, 42] the principle of specificity  and chronic adaptations (not acute responses) to the force-velocity curve , and the force-time curve [17, 18] – training in such a manner will result in shifts towards more velocity-oriented force-velocity profiles [50-52] (powerlifters want force-oriented force-velocity profiles), and if all of the repetitions are close to the velocity of the first repetition (near 0% VL) it will result in significant increases/shifts towards more early rate of force development-oriented force-time profiles  (powerlifters want more late rate of force development-oriented force-time profiles).
As a side note, perhaps a top set is not performed and the RPE on the first set at 85% of 1RM is gauged as considerably higher than what it actually is; therefore, resulting in a considerable load reduction on all subsequent sets, which in the long-term if this very consistently occurs will likely result in most of the adaptations to the force-velocity curve primarily at that specific relative intensity location of the paradigm [49, 53]. Finally, when training at the lowest end of RPEs that I typically prescribe (i.e., 5 or 6 RPE) anecdotally the LRV values at each RPE value are reasonably close (hinting to LRV Decay); therefore, making monitoring incredibly more difficult, particularly if not employing LRV. In other words, integrating LRV with RPE may also help to “increase ease and reduce noise for monitoring” once you get the hang of it!
Within an Integrated Periodization Model, Based on the Velocity Loss Literature,
Should the RPE be Higher During the Hypertrophy Block
and Should the RPE be Lower During the Strength Block?
Within an Integrated Periodization Model, Based on the Velocity Loss Literature,
the RPE Should be Lower (VL Higher) During the Hypertrophy Block
and the RPE Should be Higher (VL Lower) During the Strength Block
Top-Down Velocity-Based Periodized Approaches
Although I advocate for a bottom-up framework (i.e., an RTS Emerging Strategies framework) for most athletes, this section will address a top-down periodized approach. Please keep that in mind as you read this section – this section is in reference to a more traditional “integrated” periodization approach for ease of answering the question and to highlight that some of the advantages of top-down approaches can still be integrated into bottom-up approaches. Despite the evident limitations with traditional integrated periodization models (i.e., lack of considerable individualization and malleability) [54, 55], I don’t think we need to completely ‘re-conceptualize’ what has been traditionally advocated for athletes that employ an integrated periodization model , and what has been suggested by velocity-based training researchers with respect to velocity-based periodization models . I think concepts are rarely – if ever – ‘re-conceptualized’ as much credit belongs to those that have conducted pre-liminary work on different topics. Rather, concepts are primarily supported, refuted, clarified, and expanded or “built” upon. To my knowledge, I believe that suggesting higher RPE during a hypertrophy block and lower RPE during a strength block is due to a lack of clarity with respect to the concepts of RPE and VL (again, highlighting why it is crucial to distinguish RPE and VL as separate concepts and to clearly define them). From a practical perspective, if relative intensity is increasing towards a competition, it’s “nearly impossible” to simultaneously decrease RPE (please re-visit Slide 3B average LRV Model from Section 3 for contextualization). Certainly, blocks may be employed that may not increase RPE towards a competition (i.e., RPE is static) during bottom-up approaches (i.e., a minor component of the IAPP Hybrid Block Strategy); however, for those that utilize a traditional block periodized model approach, over the course of a macrocycle this is likely rare (most will likely be increasing RPE towards a competition).
Velocity-Based Periodized Recommendations from Lead Researchers
To conceptualize the relationship between RPE and VL within periodized models, I’ll first address the literature and refer you to a recent review on velocity-based training published by Weakley et al. . Anyone can access the PDF of this review on Research Gate by searching the title (please access the PDF if you’d like, but I provide example explanations below). To provide reference, there were several authors on this review that have performed a considerable amount of work in velocity-based training and are well-recognized and well-respected researchers in this field (Bryan Mann, Jonathan Weakley, Harry Banyard, Amador Garcia-Ramos). Although the authors did an excellent job, there are endless nuances with respect to applying velocity-based training in powerlifting programming contexts that I have a different take on – please keep that in mind if you end up sifting through the manuscript.
However, with reference to the question, I’d like to refer you to Page 13 Figure 9 (please read the caption in Figure 9 in the PDF). As illustrated, their figure highlights how relative intensity increases and relative volume decreases, whilst VL decreases and RPE increases (LRV decreases) over the course of a macrocycle. I certainly agree with them on this, and I’ve also had the privilege of discussing this with other VBT researchers that also certainly agree. This simply aligns with the principle of specificity  (i.e., a 1RM is the competition lift, 100% of 1RM, 10 RPE, LRV at 10 RPE, 0% VL, single repetition, etc.). Therefore, as the athlete approaches competition, relative intensity is increasing towards 100% of 1RM, RPE is increasing towards 10 RPE, LRV is decreasing towards LRV at 10 RPE, VL is decreasing towards 0% VL, repetitions are decreasing towards singles (by virtue of decreasing VL – remember VL is largely related to the number of repetitions performed within the set as highlighted in Section 2).
Velocity-Based Periodized Examples from the Individualized LRV Model
I’ve designed Slide 4 to illustrate an over-simplistic example of a typical velocity-based periodized approach. Certainly, an athlete can include some ‘undulation’ into this periodized example; however, I think depicting a linear model is simpler to conceptualize the relationship between RPE and VL (our focus in this section). You can also think of Slide 4 (and the example scenarios outlined below) as the average intensity values, average VL values, and average RPE/LRV values from microcycle-to-microcycle if incorporating some form of undulation. I also haven’t included any pivots or transitions or whatever approach you utilize between blocks; however, week 12 is simply single repetitions at 90% of 1RM. The dark blue line refers to the microcycle, the relative intensity, and the LRV on the initial repetition (velocity of initial repetition). The light blue line refers to the microcycle, the VL, and the LRV on the final repetition (related to the RPE). I’ll be completely honest, although these are realistic LRV values, I have selected LRV values for this individual that result in a 2.5% of 1RM increase per 2.5% VL decrease from microcycle-to-microcycle starting at 70% of 1RM and 35% VL in microcycle 1 for ease of interpretation. Notice how VL decreases and RPE increases (LRV decreases) over the course of the macrocycle. I’ll refer to Slide 3B average LRV Model from Section 3 to provide additional over-simplistic examples below.
Scenario 1 – 1st Recommended
(When I state, “1st Recommended”, I mean most recommended from the following 3 examples. I certainly wouldn’t recommend this exact approach for any single athlete. It should be: 1) exponentially more individualized even within top-down approaches; 2) I’d typically advocate for a bottom-up approach (while potentially integrating some of the advantageous components of top-down approaches). Please don’t take this as Landyn is recommending this to follow!)
Repetitions decreases, % of 1RM increases, RPE increases, VL constant
|Microcycle||Repetitions (decreases)||% of 1RM (increases)||RPE (increases)||VL (constant)|
|1 – 2||6||70||5||25|
|3 – 4||5||75||6||25|
|5 – 6||4||80||7||25|
|7 – 8||3||85||8||25|
|9 – 10||2||90||9||25|
|11 – 12||1||95||9||0|
Scenario 2 – 2nd Recommended
Repetitions decreases, % of 1RM increases, RPE constant, VL decreases
|Microcycle||Repetitions (decreases)||% of 1RM (increases)||RPE (constant)||VL (decreases)|
|1 – 2||6||70||5||25|
|3 – 4||5||72.5||5||20|
|5 – 6||4||75||5||15|
|7 – 8||3||77.5||5||10|
|9 – 10||2||80||5||5|
|11 – 12||1||82.5||5||0|
Although I would advocate for a bottom-up framework, of the scenario 1 and scenario 2 top-down approaches, I’d typically opt for scenario 1 for most athletes if I had to (with 2.5% load increases over 12 weeks rather than 5% load increases and appropriate transitions), simply because the relative intensity increases closer to 1RM, the RPE increases closer to 1RM (the LRV decreases closer to 1RM), and the average VL is at ~25% (which I would argue may potentially have a small advantage over other VL thresholds at ~70 – 85% of 1RM for optimizing late rate of force development on the force-time curve  and for optimizing hypertrophy when sets are equated compared to approximately <20% VL (Gantois et al. 2021)).
Scenario 3 – Not Recommended (not recommended from VL literature, by VBT researchers, nor by Landyn)
Higher RPE during Hypertrophy Block and Lower RPE during Strength Block
4-Week Hypertrophy Block of say 7 reps at 75% of 1RM (8 RPE and 40% VL)
4-Week Strength Block of say 3 reps at 80% of 1RM (6 RPE and 15% VL)
4-Week Peaking Block of say? In practice, it simply doesn’t ‘work’ in most scenarios
But then what does the athlete do during the 4-week peaking block? Does the athlete perform say singles only at 82.5% of 1RM (5 RPE and 0% VL) to go from a 6 RPE to a 5 RPE? That is essentially the only prescription the athlete can perform if the RPE is lower during the peaking block. The RPE is very non-specific and the LRV is very non-specific (5 RPE and LRV corresponding to 5 RPE). The VL is as specific as possible; however, 0% VL training at 70 – 85% of 1RM significantly increases early rate of force development, not late rate of force development , potentially because the RPE is very low (i.e., <5 RPE) and the LRV is thereby very fast (i.e., force is performed over too short of a time period in powerlifting contexts) [51, 52]. Late rate of force development is arguably one of the primary chronic neuromuscular adaptations that has been investigated in the longitudinal VL studies that powerlifters should potentially primarily be seeking to increase for the most part . It’s also “nearly impossible” to train at reasonably high percentages of 1RM (i.e., ≥80% of 1RM) without also training at reasonably high RPE values (i.e., ≥6 RPE), unless the athlete is solely performing singles. If you decrease the RPE below a 5 RPE and perform multiple-repetition sets, the sets will comprise of doubles at 77.5%, and triples at 75%, which essentially returns the athlete to the same relative intensity employed during the hypertrophy block. Maybe if the lifter is “more of a novice athlete” and is making considerably good progress the load will be increasing from microcycle-to-microcycle, but most reading this are likely “more intermediate-advanced athletes” and are not making that rapid of progress from microcycle-to-microcycle. And certainly, if the athlete is following a bottom-up approach they’re likely keeping the relative intensity and volume the same (or very similar) from microcycle-to-microcycle within a block (with the exception of hoping that load will be trending upwards); however, I’d suggest that relative intensity should be higher during a “more strength-focused block” than during a “more hypertrophy-focused block” aligning with the relative intensity-specific training zone adaptations [41, 42], and autoregulated load prescription literature findings [31, 34-40], which is typically going to be associated with a higher RPE (and that’s also what the lead researchers in velocity-based training suggest as well) .
Why Would an Athlete Want the RPE to be Higher During a Hypertrophy Block?
(Scientific Data on VL, Lead Researchers in VBT, and Landyn Suggest Typically Lower)
To summarize in practical terms, volume [45, 57] and VL [24, 25] are the “primary drivers” of fatigue, not intensity  and RPE . However, volume (via mechanical tension)  is the “primary driver” of hypertrophy . I suggest quantifying volume for a given lift via relative volume (with a potential certain magnitude of intra-set fatigue/VL that exists on a dose-response continuum that remains to be elucidated when relative volume is equated). Additionally, all very recent systematic reviews and meta-analyses that I’m aware of to date suggest that you don’t need to train at considerably close proximities to failure (high RPE) nor with considerable intra-set fatigue (high VL) to promote similar improvements in hypertrophy compared to training at lower RPE and moderate VL when volume is equalized [50, 60-62]. Therefore, why during a hypertrophy block would an athlete be required to train at a high RPE if one of the main goals of that block is hypertrophy? Rather, I typically suggest prioritizing volume over high RPE (of course the optimal dosage of volume will be individualized)  and combating the fatigue from volume with moderate VL (i.e., ~20 – 30%), which is essentially going to be at slightly lower RPE (i.e., 5 – 7 RPE; a true 5 – 7 RIR-based RPE from that objective LRV) if performing sets of on average 5 or 6 repetitions to accumulate volume more efficiently than lower repetition sets.
If you prioritize very high repetition sets (to more easily accumulate volume) coupled with high RPE sets the athlete will be training at very high VL values (i.e., ≥40% VL); thereby, accumulating considerable fatigue from both high volume [45, 57] and high VL [24, 25]. Moreover, by training at high VL values, the athlete will promote unfavorable neuromuscular adaptations [17, 18], and reduce “type II” muscle fiber phenotypic characteristics [16, 26] (in quotation marks because there are numerous sub-types, and these are highly adaptable). I’m not stating to never perform high repetition sets at high RPE, but rather if an athlete was prescribed 30 total repetitions at 70% of 1RM, rather than perform 3 sets of 10 repetitions at 70% of 1RM (9 RPE/≥50% VL), I’d typically opt for 5 sets of 6 repetitions at 70% of 1RM (5 RPE/25% VL).
This is NOT because the repetitions in and of themselves will result in greater strength outcomes as two recent systematic reviews and meta-analyses conducted by Davies et al.  and Jukic et. al  demonstrated that there was no difference in strength outcomes when total repetitions and percentage of 1RM were matched between traditional sets (i.e., 4 sets of 8 repetitions) and alternative set structures (i.e., 8 sets of 4 repetitions). Please note the data from Davies et al.  for strength adaptations: effect size = 0.05 ± 0.10 in favor of alternative set structures, 95% confidence interval = -0.11 to 0.21, p = 0.56. Please also note the data from Jukic et al.  for strength adaptations: standardized mean difference = 0.06 in favor of alternative set structures, 95% confidence interval = -0.05 to 0.16, p = 0.291. Finally, please also note that in the sole longitudinal VL study to equate for total repetitions at a given percentage of 1RM, there were no significant differences in 1RM strength between 15% VL and 30% VL thresholds (15% VL performed two-fold the number of sets as 30% VL to equate for total repetitions / relative volume) . Rather, this prescription is to equate for relative volume for hypertrophy [50, 60], equate for relative intensity for strength adaptations [50, 60], promote favorable neuromuscular adaptations [17, 18], and reduce excessive neuromuscular fatigue [24, 25, 65] to potentially enable performance to remain high in ensuing microcycles and to hopefully enable load to trend upwards over the course of the block (and in the longer-term).
Some may ask, “what about hypertrophy of the synergist musculature?” For those that may be unfamiliar, synergists become increasingly activated as VL increases ; thus, resulting in greater hypertrophy of the synergist musculature . First, synergists are arguably less important than the prime movers; hence, why they are called ‘synergists’. Therefore, I’d suggest preserving those favorable neuromuscular adaptations and phenotypic adaptations [16-18, 26] in the prime movers by training at “moderate VL” (i.e., 20 – 30%) which will be “lower RPE” (i.e, 5 – 7 RPE) during the volume block. I’d suggest hitting those synergists with some additional “easy hypertrophy” exercises at the very end of your session and strategically place these exercises when you don’t have a “high priority” session the following day or so, which is also largely dependent on your individual rate of recovery [67, 68]. For example, following a bench press session, perhaps the athlete performs some additional triceps work (but this will of course depend on numerous other individualized factors as well). During the hypertrophy block I may definitely advocate for slightly more training in that red zone and yellow zone compared to what I would typically advocate for during the strength block to optimize total hypertrophy [16-18]; however, this will still be at lower RPE than the strength block.
Finally, if utilizing very low RPE (i.e., ≤5 RPE) during a strength block after training at considerably high VL (i.e., ≥40% VL) during a hypertrophy block, the athlete may likely simply be dissipating excessive fatigue during that strength block from the high VL [24, 25] high volume [45, 57] block and not necessarily have actually made considerable progress, but are rather simply “artificially peaking strength”, which may be effective in the very short-term, but likely isn’t a feasible moderate-to-long-term approach, nor a good approach to consistently be performing (focus on building strength, not necessarily “artificially peaking strength”).
Why Would an Athlete Want the RPE to be Lower During a Strength Block?
(Scientific Data on VL, Lead Researchers in VBT, and Landyn Suggest Typically Higher)
I’m not going to dive into excessive detail here, as I have already done so, and this article is already long enough. However, in short, it’s been well illustrated that on average strength adaptations are “primarily driven” by higher relative intensity training or are load-dependent [41, 42], which is simply typically associated with higher RPE as previously elucidated. Plus, there’s no significant differences nor meaningful between group effect sizes in 1RM strength between traditional sets and alternative set structures in the two recent systematic reviews and meta-analyses [50, 60], and there was no significant differences (nor meaningful between group effect sizes reported) in 1RM strength between different VL thresholds in the recent VL systematic review and meta-analysis by Gantois et al. 2021 (there is no single “magical” VL value for strength). In other words, when equating for total repetitions at a given percentage of 1RM, dividing the total repetitions into additional sets is not promoting greater chronic strength adaptations as sometimes mis-conceptualized from the alternative set structure and VL meta-analytic data [50, 60, 64] (Gantois et al. 2021); however, training with reasonably high relative intensities is promoting greater chronic strength adaptations [31, 34, 41, 42].
In accordance with the potential implications of training with low-moderate VL to mitigate counterproductive neuromuscular fatigue [24, 25], 25% VL significantly increased late rate of force development , and ≥~20% VL was superior to lower VL thresholds on hypertrophy outcomes when sets were equated (Gantois et al. 2021), which I suggest athletes should be attempting to preserve hypertrophy as much as possible during a strength block (particularly when those low repetition sets are primarily performed). To summarize, 20 – 25% VL corresponds to ~7 – 8 RPE at 80%, 8 – 9 RPE at 85%, and 9 – 10 RPE at 90% of 1RM (I probably wouldn’t go up to 10 RPE very often, but I’m sure you understand), which is plausibly where most of the back-off volume work will be allocated during a strength block as a very generalized heuristic. Keep in mind that the athlete should be using LRV as the primary prescription strategy within VL zones of all the aforementioned VL values.
And some may also ask, “you didn’t address top sets.” Although I’d certainly integrate top sets into a velocity-based periodized approach, I didn’t address top sets for simplicity; however, I still don’t think that single study by Lima et al.  in bicep curls that is sometimes cited provides compelling evidence nor supports that the back-off volume work should become “less specific in terms of proximity to failure or RPE” towards a competition (at least for most athletes), and that’s not what has been suggested by the lead researchers in velocity-based training (i.e., the Amador Garcia-Ramos’, etc.) from their review . It’s about striking that individualized balance between peak intensity, average intensity, relative volume, RPE, LRV, VL, and all the other important variables as many reading this likely know! I don’t necessarily think that this is anything incredibly new to the periodized approaches generalized recommendations, but hopefully that clarified the relationship between VL and RPE/LRV.
As a final note – for those that may be interested – I would suggest looking at some of the figures from the VBT review  to further comprehend the relationship between VL and RPE:
1) Page 12 Figure 8 for a daily undulating approach.
You can see here how – as a general heuristic – strength is moderate VL and high RPE, hypertrophy is high VL and moderate RPE, and power is low VL and low RPE (I typically conceptualize this as more so “neuromuscular” for powerlifting; and have this prescribed at considerably higher relative intensities than demonstrated here, whilst integrating LRV Inflection and many other individual subtleties).
2) Page 16 Figure 10 for a linear approach.
In the caption on Page 16 Figure 10, the wording of the final 2 sentences is confusing. I believe it should state something more along the lines of: “A 20% velocity loss threshold is employed for the entire 10-week linear ‘periodized’ macrocycle; however, since fewer repetitions can be performed with a 20% velocity loss threshold as the relative intensity increases, the volume also decreases over the course of the macrocycle.” However, you can also see here how relative intensity rises and RPE also rises based on the velocity.
In summary, based on the VL literature and what has been suggested by the lead researchers in velocity-based training, RPE should typically be lower during a hypertrophy block and higher during a strength block, while VL should typically be higher during a hypertrophy block and lower during a strength block (as a general heuristic) within top-down velocity-based periodized approaches.
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