Dan John's rule of ten

(but using a velocity based training system)

Back in 2015, Core Advantage hosted Dan John for a three day workshop.

As hosts, we were lucky enough to attend the seminar and spend a great amount of time with Dan, absorbing some brilliant lessons, from the crazy uncle of strength and conditioning.

From a time before 2020....

One of the most valuable pieces I took from the entire event, was a small passing comment regarding strength training volume. Dan called it the rule of ten.

The idea is that ten reps, give or take a couple, is the sweet spot for maximal strength development* for a given exercise in a given workout.

It could technically be "the ballpark of 8-12 reps for work rep volume".

But that's not as catchy as the rule of ten.

How you structure these ten reps is up to you, but sticking to ten high quality working reps for an exercise tends to give you pretty good results, with more reps not being that helpful, and less possibly leaving some gains in the tank.

  • 3x3
  • 2x5
  • 5x2
  • 3x4
  • 4x3
  • Ascending work sets of 5, 3, 2
  • Or RPE determined sets of 4, 3, 3

These are all great examples of sessions that might fit into this rule of ten for developing maximal strength.

This idea has stuck with me ever since then, and I continue to use it as a foundational component of my program design.

*These are strength guidelines, hypertrophy or volume guidelines are clearly going to differ.

Integrating with VBT

As a VBT enthusiast I naturally started to think if this same rule might apply in a velocity based training model. Here is what I came up with.

The rule of ten for velocity zone & fatigue

Using velocity loss is a really useful way of dialling in the volume on a given day.

This can be as simple as setting the velocity window for todays working sets, then giving the athlete a number of reps to complete inside that zone.

Example:

Back squat at 0.5-0.4m/s for 10 total reps with maximal intent. Keep adding load until a set falls into this window. Then once you find that weight that puts you under 0.5m/s complete 10 total reps, never letting any set go slower than 0.4m/s.

This is effectively a less than 20% fatigue window, so the rep numbers will be determined by how well the athlete can maintain output. So a 12 rep total work reps session might look something like this:

Set 1: 100kg x4

Set 1: 100kg x3

Set 1: 100kg x3

Set 1: 100kg x2

As the sets progress, the athlete fatigues quicker so the work to rest ratio increases. But this session ends up having more high quality reps (as judged by a higher average velocity) and stays away from technical failure by accumulating less total fatigue than a more classic 3x4 prescription.

The rule of ten for power development

This could be measured in peak power (which would help autoregulate the load) or just good old  jump height/distance.

Examples:

1. Take your jumps, cleans, or throws and complete 10 reps above 90%* of your all time best** for that movement.

*You could use power output for this number, although I still prefer to use mean propulsive velocity. — Just make sure it is a value relative to that exercise and the load used

**You could use last session values, or a 30 day rolling average, but I like all time best. The goal with power training is to increase neural drive, intent and explosive contractile capacity, So tying your performance to your best ever output gives a great way of chasing new personal records, and benchmarking your workouts.

2. Power clean clusters.

Complete 10 singles (for a power clean, or trap bar jump) every 30 seconds maintaining XX Watts. If power drops below XX Watts for a single rep, break the cluster and take a longer three minute break before resuming clusters. This method could be done anywhere between 8-12 reps and is a great time efficient way of getting high quality work in.

Every couple of workouts add a few watts to the score, so week one might be 300W, then 305W, then 310W and so on.

3. Vertical/broad jumps.

A vertical jump or broad jump test can also be a great training activity. Athletes are to complete 3x3 on the given jump protocol, however, the jump sets are cut short if any of the following occurs:

  • A new all time PB is reached. Job done. No need to do any more jumps today, we already achieved our goal
  • A single jump falls below 90% of your all time best. To improve your jumping ability, any jump efforts have to be maximal. If you are having a less than springy day, or fatigue is setting in, it's better to cut the set short and continue with the rest of your session than to try push through. The same principle could be applied to throws for height/distance or any plyometrics where contact time is emphasised.

Play a round and experiment here, but the general idea is this: when developing technical and demanding neural qualities like strength and power, tracking and focusing on the quality of your reps is crucial. And remember more is isn't always more beneficial.

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