Repetition Velocity: The Adaptation is in the Speed

On the Internet, it’s overwhelming with the amount of information that you can find. The hard part is determining what information is correct. That’s why I wanted to make this series on particular adaptations to specific stimuli. Last week, we discussed the Rate of Force Development, which was a lot of fun to research and write. This week, we are talking about the velocity of each repetition because not all velocities are created equal or especially the same. 

I remember learning about the Westside Barbell Dynamic Method many years ago. Louie talked about force being equal to mass x acceleration causing him to believe that everyone should train at high velocities to improve acceleration and at low velocities to improve force. However, it turns out that most powerlifters simply need to push each repetition as fast as possible, and a high velocity isn’t that necessary. However, there are plenty of athletes that need the adaptations that come from high velocity repetitions. Ok I will stop writing in riddles and let you all in on what velocities cause particular adaptations.

In this article, you will learn:

Adaptations from Low Velocity Strength Training

I am sure that most of you are familiar with this type of training as you should be in the first several years of training. You have most likely crushed several sets of five repetitions, three repetitions, or eight repetitions. Early in one’s athletic training, there’s nothing better than training for maximum strength and hypertrophy. Most studies would agree that in the first two to three years of training that absolute strength drives all qualities of strength. That means that when you get stronger, you are probably getting faster and more powerful. However, after those first few years are finished, it’s time to get specific. 

Therefore, let’s learn what happens when you spend the majority of your time grinding out heavy sets of 3, 5, and 8. To get the most out of heavy strength training, you will need to focus on the following parameters:

  • Maximum effort
  • Maximum velocity
  • Come as close to failure as possible 
  • Go to failure as often as possible
  • The barbell will need to slow down for maximum force to be exerted

Simply put, athletes need to lift with maximum intent in regards to velocity and effort, which of course is best measured using GymAware RS or FLEX. We will get into that a bit more later in the article. The trick with programming and training is getting as close to failure as possible as often as possible. I recommend spending the majority of your time at a 7-9 RPE, but sprinkle a maximum set to failure every now and then. For maximum benefit, most of the research would agree that the optimal number of sets is around ten per body part per week. Therefore, if you push to allout failure, you probably won’t be able to reach the optimal number of sets because of an inability to recover. Plus, you should be aware if you are one of those people banging weights out regardless of being recovered or not, you are probably going backwards. 

One thing to consider is that maximum hypertrophy will occur regardless of using light weight to near failure or heavy weight to near failure. The literature would agree that around five repetitions per set lead to maximal hypertrophy. Therefore, you could hit multiple sets of 75-80% for five repetitions, or you could use 30-50% as long as you keep repping until the bar slows down and reaches a near maximal limit. There is one big caveat to all of this especially for athletes. The moderate to heavy sets will yield more strength gains than the light weight multiple repetitions to failure. We will be going over all of this in a later edition of the series on adaptations. 

So what are the adaptations to the typical 5RM grind it out program:

  • Maximum Hypertrophy
  • Improved Lateral force transmission of the muscle fiber to the surrounding collagen layer that transmits force to the tendon
  • Lengthened internal moment arm at the specific joint being worked
  • Shift from less oxidative muscle fiber type to a more oxidative type or Type Iix to Type IIa
  • Coactivation of agonist, antagonist, and synergistic muscle activation for more support but causes slower torque rates

Now for most athletes, an increase in hypertrophy and improved ability to produce force is a great thing. Power is equal to force multiplied by velocity. Therefore, when an athlete’s ability to produce force improves, so does his or her ability to produce power unless something else is making them slower. A lengthening of an internal moment arm of a muscle crossing a joint makes that joint stronger, but it also makes it slower. A longer moment arm means that a muscle has a longer distance to fully contract a muscle. 

A shift to a more oxidative muscle fiber type simply means that the muscle fiber takes a bit longer to establish maximal cross bridges between actin and myosin. If you are a sprinter, weightlifter, or some other explosive athlete, you need to be careful not to spend the majority of your time in training creating slower twitch fibers. It’s really a balancing act between making an athlete stronger and faster. Coactivation of the agonist and antagonist is a necessary adaptation that keeps an athlete stable while lifting maximal intensities. However, in explosive and/or fast athletic movements like sprinting or even a snatch or clean pull, you will want to make sure the antagonist, aka the muscle not performing the specific movement at any particular joint, is inhibited or relaxed to ensure the agonist isn’t being resisted. Think about it like this: if your tricep is trying to extend the elbow while you are trying to flex the elbow with your biceps, you probably won’t be able to perform a biceps curl very quickly.

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Adaptations from High Velocity Strength Training

Louie Simmons made the Westside Barbell Dynamic Effort famous amongst strength and conditioning coaches. However, I don’t think that it worked quite the same way that Louie explained. Will the dynamic effort make you stronger in regards to a 1RM? Probably not, but there are plenty of other adaptations that are important to athletes in search of improving power production. Let’s look at them:

  • Increased rate coding or in simpler terms the rate at which the brain sends the signal to the muscle to contract
  • Improvement in single fiber contractile properties to contract at higher rates, so all fibers regardless of twitch rates get faster
  • Most importantly, an improved ability to produce force at higher velocities

There are still some of the same requirements to ensure that these adaptations are happening. You still need to utilize maximum effort with maximum velocity to force the neuromuscular system to adapt to higher velocities. That’s where GymAware RS and GymAware FLEX come into play. Intent shouldn’t be assumed if you want to ensure results. 

When an athlete improves their ability to produce force at higher velocities, now they have force production that leads to increased power. If you think about most athletic endeavors like throwing a punch, swinging a bat, or performing a clean, athletes have a short distance and time to produce maximum force production. This is why strength coaches pay attention to power output so closely. Improved power out in similar planes of motion leads to knockouts, homeruns, and Olympic records being shattered. Obviously, to my athletes this is the most important trait that I can hope to affect. That’s one of the reasons we use bands so often because bands naturally allow athletes to execute particular loads at higher velocities than they could with straight weight. I am at the point where some of my athletes might spend 85% or more of their time with bands with that percentage moving to 99% six weeks out from a competition. I simply don’t see the importance of those grinding repetitions. 

We already stay away from velocity losses over 20% for the majority of time. We are after hypertrophy, but we are looking to increase faster twitch fibers. At minimum, we don’t want increased slow twitch muscle fiber percentages in relation to faster twitch fibers. This is another use of my GymAware RS and GymAware FLEX units. If velocity loss reaches 20% or greater, we simply shut it down. 


Where Does Velocity Help

Whether you are trying to get jacked with those 5RM grinds or trying to increase power output with higher velocity training, you will need to ensure maximum effort and maximum velocity are being utilized. Dr. Fred Hatfield told us about the importance of compensatory acceleration several years ago. However, if you believe that your athletes understand what compensatory acceleration is or that they utilize compensatory acceleration during all training sessions, I have trouble believing that you are engaged with your athletes. When I talk with other coaches, we all agree that athletes simply don’t understand intent. How could they? 

If they are constantly striving to beat particular velocities at similar loads, they will quickly understand the difference between maximum velocity and submaximal. If you know that an athlete can back squat 85% at 0.5m/s, then you also know that they are either sandbagging or overly fatigued with a 0.42m/s velocity at 85%. This is why I always say that you are either measuring or guessing. I could also say that you are either teaching intent or guessing intent. Maximum effort should be measured to ensure maximum adaptations are taking place.

Lastly, we’ve already talked about velocity loss a little bit, but I want to make sure that all of you understand the importance and how to utilize velocity loss. If you are shooting for higher velocity adaptations and increased power production, you need to minimize any velocity loss over 20%. However, if you are simply trying to get bigger and stronger, you will probably experience velocity loss of over 40% quite frequently. If you are performing light weight 30-50% for maximum repetitions, you might experience 60% or higher velocity loss especially if you are performing all repetitions at maximum velocity.

In Conclusion

There’s a time to grind, and there’s a time to push those barbells very quickly through space. The amount of time that should be spent on one or the other will depend on the genetics of the athlete and the particular sport. If you are strong but naturally slower playing the sport basketball or baseball, you will probably want to avoid slower repetitions and velocity loss greater than 20%. However, if you are naturally fast but weak in the area of force production, you might want to spend some significant time grinding to improve your ability to produce maximum power. Either way, you will want to measure to ensure the particular intent is being met. Let me know if you have any questions regarding the different adaptations produced by particular repetition velocities by emailing me at

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Coach Travis mash

Travis Mash

Being a World Champion in powerlifting, Travis competed at a world-class level in Olympic weightlifting and has coached professional Olympic weightlifters alongside Don McCauley and Glenn Pendlay at Team MDUSA. Now Travis coaches the most successful weightlifting team in the USA.