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.
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 set volume".
But that's nowhere near as catchy.
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.
- 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.
Applying the rule of ten and Velocity based training
As someone who regularly trains with velocity I naturally started to think how this same rule of ten might also work within velocity based training systems. Here is what I came up with:
#1 - Using velocity loss to end sets
Velocity loss, or the percentage fatigue across a set is a really useful method for optimising volume on a given day. Proximity to failure is a key variable in training, where we try to avoid working too close to this point when peaking or in-season but try to exploit more fatigue to increase training volume in a hypertrophy phase for example. For most exercises above a 6RM load, 40% fatigue is associated with the point of failure or a 0-RIR (reps in reserve), while 20%-25% is frequently used as a more moderate exertion cut off linked to a 2-RIR.
Today's session calls for three sets of four on the back squat, at a 2-RIR. With this methodwWe know this is going to be 140kg (barring a readiness disaster), but we are going to use velocity loss during the sets to determine the actual reps completed. So the instruction is to complete four repetitions or stop the set earlyif the third rep has a velocity loss above 20%.
So while we planned 3x4, the actual rep numbers will be determined by how well the athlete can maintain output and how fresh they are:
Set 1: 140kg x4
Set 2: 140kg x4
Set 3: 140kg x3
Set 4: 140kg x1
As the session progressed, the athlete fatigued faster in set three, so we ended that set early, took a minute rest and then finished the full 12 working reps with a nice fast single to end. This protocol means the session ends up having more high quality reps (as judged by a higher mean velocity) and stays away from technical failure than had they tried to grind out that last set of four.
It's a subtle change but making this change on a regular basis can have an accumulated positive impact on recovery and strength gains.
#2 - Using velocity zones to determine training loads
The fixed velocity zones you commonly see promoted are a mess. However, I still think using some sort of velocity target or bandwidth to work within can be highly valuable, encouraging high intent on every rep and putting an emphasis on quality training with goals other than just load on the bar.
Today's bench press session calls for ten working reps above 92% of 1RM, but al sets are to be done at a 1-1.5 RIR. This prescription has no set sets or loads, as these will be determined by velocity. All ten of the working reps must be completed below a velocity of 0.3m/s but above 0.2m/s.
So as the warm up sets progress, the velocity of each set will determine if the set is another warm up or if the working sets have started. Once a set has a mean propulsive velocity of 0.3m/s or slower, the load is sufficiently heavy to be a work set. The athlete then completes as many sets as is needed staying at a 1-RIR until they have completed all tenreps.
So a full session including warm ups might look something like this:
Set 1 (w): 40kg x6 @0.82m/s
Set 2 (w): 80kg x5 @0.60m/s
Set 3 (w): 100kg x3 @0.45m/s
Set 4 (w): 110kg x2 @0.33m/s
Set 5: 117.5kg x3 @0.27m/s
Set 6: 117.5kg x3 @0.28m/s
Set 7: 120kg x2 @0.24m/s
Set 8: 120kg x2 @0.22m/s
Using a velocity window like this gives the athlete some room to make their own training decisions, all the sets have a starting velocity range that ensures the intensity is high, and the volume is controlled by the rep total but how they construct the work sets is up to them.
#3 - Training for power development
The rule of ten was originally designed for use with strength training prescriptions, but the same idea of ten high quality reps can also apply nicely to loaded power exercises like the Olypmic lifts.
A great way to increase workout density without compromising power output is to use cluster sets.
A training session could call for ten singles on a hang power snatch with 45 seconds rest between them. However, we can use a peak power metric to ensure the quality is maintained. If at any stage during the cluster power output drops below 92.5% of the best rep so far the cluster should be broken for a longer three minute break before resuming the cluster protocol. This method could be done anywhere between 8-12 reps and is a great time efficient way of getting high quality work in.
So the 10x1 plan may turn into:
These two longer breaks will maintain power output, technical quality and ensure that no reps are wasted across the session.
There is no right or wrong here, and remember that the rule of ten is a rough guideline,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 much more important than the quantity of work that you do. There may be times that you need to stray away from it if you are tapering or looking for a deliberately high volume training block. Good luck!