Recently, I put out a video and a blog post discussing the Force-Velocity Curve (FVC) and why it’s important to spend time in different ranges along the curve. Essentially, I brought to light how most people only ever do slow and heavy lifts or light lifts with average speed (looking at bodybuilding style training). In my opinion, to make the best long-term improvements in health and performance, we need to have days dedicated to developing the qualities that are derived from training along the curve.
A few days later, a friend commented on an unrelated video of some accessory movements asking how it fit onto the FVC and how my set and rep scheme fit onto the curve. I did my best to explain in the comments, but the choosing of sets and reps for specific adaptations is something I realized may be better explained in the long format of a blog.
When programming accessory work into training sessions that are dedicated to training a different adaptation along the FVC, I find it easier to use standard strength/power/hypertrophy set and rep ranges for the selection of accessories such as rows, DB work, machine work etc. When spanning the number of sets for building strength, power, or hypertrophy you’re looking at anywhere from 3-6 sets of the movement (personally I like to stick on the lower end). For reps, that range would of reps would look like anything from 5-10 reps per set. Honestly, I don’t find that the set/rep scheme matters as much as selecting the weight you use.
When you look at the main adaptations found on the FVC (Speed, Speed-Strength, Power, Strength-Speed, and Absolute Strength), they often have correlating percentage ranges associated with them. These ranges are usually based off of average velocities for each adaptation. But most people don’t have established 1 Rep Maxes for accessory work, so sticking in that line of thought can get tricky when trying to make your accessory work fit the desired adaptation for the day. This is why I like to use a Reps in Reserve (RIR) model for weight selection within the accessory work for each training session. Here’s what that looks like broken down for each of the main five adaptations:
When training speed-strength we want to keep muscle contractions fast, and want to avoid the accumulation of fatigue that causes us to have drop off in movement velocity. I find that selecting a weight for your given set/rep range should have 3-5RIR (meaning that you could do 3-5 more reps with that weight than the prescribed reps you’re doing). This would also mean that you could do the reps unbroken or without stopping.
Power is very similar to Speed-Strength, in that you should be able to do the weight unbroken. But with power being a product of Force, Distance, and Time, going heavier helps manipulate the Force Variable to create more overall power. With the weight being heavier, you’re looking at picking a weight that has 1-4RIR. This, again, is provided that you do the reps without stopping or breaking them up within the set.
Strength-Speed is more force dominant, so obviously heavier weight will be selected. Personally, I find that having 1-2RIR is a good weight selection if you do the set unbroken. Sometimes, especially when it comes to dumbbell work, you may have to break up a set for grip’s sake. In the case that you have to break up your reps for a reason like grip giving out, Strength-Speed would probably look more like having 2-4 reps left in the tank. The one caveat I find worth mentioning here, however, is that if your grip strength is failing with the weight then you may still be working on Absolute Strength and not Strength-Speed.
This probably needs to the least explanation. This is choosing a weight where you have 0-1RIR, but more than likely 0. You may have to break up the set once to get all the reps, because the weight is heavy. If you do find yourself breaking more than once within the set then the weight you selected is likely too heavy. This is due to still wanting to have some time under tension on the muscles being trained.
Now, before I wrap this all up I have to admit to two things.
The first is that most of what I just told you is not backed by anything other than my own personal experience and preference in how I train my athletes and myself. It’s a clear bias, but I haven’t seen any research on such a weight selection for accessory work.
The second is this: I don’t really care as much about sticking to the FVC profile within MOST accessory exercises. Part of this is because I find it harder to ensure that we’re training the right quality without sacrificing quality of movement. It is easier to do within the main lifts such as squats, presses, deadlifts, and Olympic Lifts. These recruit the most muscle fibers and also create the most neural adaptation within a training session. There are some accessories that I find it worth sticking to the FVC, such as rows and dumbbell pressing work, but for the most part I find it beneficial to treat most accessory work as Strength-Speed or Absolute Strength work.
Overall, however, if you are trying to strictly adhere to the FVC and the adaptation you’re chasing within your accessory work, the Reps in Reserve model is something I recommend giving a shot.