What Is Velocity Loss?

Learn how adjusting volume based on velocity drop-off can optimize neuromuscular function and tailor strength and hypertrophy gains.
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Velocity loss is the process by which volume (sets and/or reps) are controlled by a drop off in velocity from a given repetition (e.g., first or best) to the final repetition. We can set velocity loss or drop-off in two ways: 

  1. A percentage threshold (e.g., 10 or 20%). Most common.
  2. An absolute drop-off (e.g., don’t go below 0.5 m.s-1)

You can therefore control the volume performed based on these thresholds. For example, an athlete might perform 5 sets of a back squat at 85% 1RM. Instead of prescribing the repetitions for each set, we could set a velocity loss of 20%, and let that dictate set termination.

Velocity loss has several major benefits. Firstly, and most importantly (as previously mentioned), it has a direct link to neuromuscular function and status. Therefore, we can use an individual’s response to lifting a given load, i.e., how quickly they move it and how quickly their velocity drops across a set, to regulate the volume they perform.

For example, if an athlete comes in very fatigued, it is likely that their velocity maintenance across a set would diminish far quicker than if fresh, and thus, the volume they perform is now dictated by their live, daily neuromuscular status as opposed to a predetermined set volume. Much like traditional methods, we can marry up specific velocity loss thresholds to physiological adaptations. By doing so, we can not only tune in to their readiness, but also target mechanisms that facilitate certain adaptations in response to these training stimuli. As we know, all planning, programming, and prescription should be directly linked to the underpinning physiology!

The large spectrum that velocity loss offers allows for flexible programming, with clear links to phases of training. Importantly, we can use velocity loss to tune in to neuromuscular status and readiness to train responses, target specific physiological adaptations, and link thresholds to phases of training and periodisation models all at the same time, providing coaches with an in-depth strategy for controlling volume.

Figure 1 shows the physical responses to the velocity loss spectrum. Understandably, the greater the velocity loss, the greater the volume (number of repetitions performed), and the slower the mean velocity of those repetitions performed. This makes perfect sense when we consider what a greater velocity loss looks like. If a 40% velocity loss is prescribed, there is a larger reduction in velocity output required, meaning there is a greater opportunity to perform more repetitions before the threshold is met than when compared to say, a 20% velocity loss threshold.

Figure 1: Number of repetitions and mean velocity performed at different velocity loss thresholds. Figure taken from (Jukic et al., 2023a)

It is important to notice, however, that the responses to the different velocity loss thresholds from a repetition and mean velocity perspective can be varied between individuals (each data point). However, when we think about the true intent of using velocity loss, this makes sense! If everybody performed the same number of repetitions for a given velocity loss threshold, there would be no sense in using it! 

Now let’s consider some of the physiological responses to velocity loss thresholds…

Figure 2: Standardised mean difference (effect sizes) in strength and hypertrophy responses to different velocity loss thresholds. Figure taken from (Jukic et al., 2023b)

Hypertrophy responses typically increase with greater volume, particularly when the number of “meaningful” repetitions performed (i.e., number of repetitions that stimulate type II muscle activation) is increased. Therefore, it makes sense that a greater muscle hypertrophy is evident when performing larger velocity loss thresholds given this stimulates a higher volume, a greater level of fatigue and muscular breakdown, and an increase in metabolic adaptations at a muscular level.

The same, however, cannot be said from a strength perspective. Figure 13 highlights that a strength stimulus can be generated when applying any velocity loss, with a slightly higher impact in the smaller thresholds. Therefore, it is important for coaches to consider the aim of a strength session and the impact smaller and larger velocity loss thresholds might have. When stimulating a strength response, the aim is often to limit muscular fatigue, and given one of the biggest factors for muscular fatigue is volume, minimising volume to maximise strength seems an obvious option.

If you enjoyed this snippet, keep reading more from our new ‘Ultimate User Guide to Velocity-Based Training' with insights from esteemed thought-leaders in the VBT space, including Dr. Steve Thompson, Chris Tombs, Dan Baker, and Nic Gill: Download now!

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