The timeless desire for what happens in the weight room to improve what an athlete can do on the court or on the field is the “Holy Grail” of strength training. Using bar tracking technology, coaches can start refining their programs to ensure that what is done off the field is improving an athlete’s capacity to produce force qualities into the game. General or gross explosiveness is often talked about, but some programs seem to consistently work while other programs fail miserably. I have made some major mistakes copying other coaches programs or trying to adapt my program from research studies, but the biggest mistake was not learning from my own record keeping. Now that technology is enabling more reliable answers with data that matters, we can start modeling an approach that will help everyone drive their power up.

Without oversimplifying things, strength training usually tries to solve three needs in sport: size, durability, and speed. The need to reduce injuries and increase momentum from larger and or faster athletes is hardly new, but it’s not easy with long competitive seasons and trends that often forget the tried and true effectiveness of conventional weight training. Looking back from my own days as an athlete in the early 1990s to my years now working with different sports, I managed to identify useful lessons I learned the hard way. Here are four benefits of using Velocity Based Training (VBT).

Peak Velocity and Peak Power Perspectives

Some noted coaches have suggested that peak power is not as useful as other metrics, and some of those arguments are indeed right. On the other hand, let’s not throw away the baby with the bathwater and completely dismiss the measurement. Instead of showing the limitations of metrics such as bar velocity, and indices of force like peak power, it’s good to see how those measurements can be interpreted and used better.

Peak Power is simply a snapshot of time referencing the highest power output the athlete is producing. This calculation summarizes the load of the bar in some circles and attempts to include the load of the body with others. Matt Jordon correctly explained that the time frame one is creating forces is very limited in many sporting actions, so measuring power with much narrower durations is wise. Peak power is useful for strength coaches to get a fair summary of how their training may be trending. Use more advanced metrics for performance modeling and peak indices for training feedback and modest monitoring.

Peak Velocity is simply pure maximal bar speed during an exercise. This is extremely valuable in improving athlete training output live. The classic study from Dr. Gil highlighted that giving athletes instant quantified feedback will elicit a better training response over the same program that didn’t include any feedback. Instant feedback without much analysis will get results, and the science supporting it is decades old. Using peak velocity one can see if the load and output are expressing what athletes are able to do, peak power ensures the output is compared properly with an athlete’s current anthropometry.

Coaches and athletes should use peak velocity to ensure the training session is being tactically executed, and use peak power to see how the weight training is strategically being managed and improved. Peak velocity has some relationship to takeoff velocity with explosive jumps, Peak power can connect an athlete’s body mass and or what they can create with moderate to heavy loads. Some calculations include both the load of the bar and athlete and call it system power, but those calculations are still estimations and are not direct measures.

Balancing Maximum Strength in Planning

At the NASE Conference Dr. Young from the Athletic Lab showed the connection between maximum strength and speed in his presentation. His talk pointed out that the higher the maximal strength, the faster the athlete is in early acceleration, based on research from Norwegian soccer athletes. Unfortunately what we all know to be true, training strength in a team setting requires very precise prescription. Maximum strength has crystal clear benefits, but the cost of doing business is acute fatigue and sometimes soreness. If not implemented properly, many athletes detrain from avoidance and find it hard to add back strength training when the season starts.

Adapted from Wisløffet al. (2004), this chart illustrates the relationship between maximum half squat strength and acceleration sprint time for soccer athletes.

Adapted from Wisløffet al. (2004), this chart illustrates the relationship between maximum half squat strength and acceleration sprint time for soccer athletes.

Another challenge is the risk of injury with any maximal strength exercise, thus placing the athlete in a holding pattern of submaximal work that tends to tire the athlete but not make them better. Another expert in athletic performance, Derek Hansen, explained the fear of loading an athlete is common in professional sport, mainly due to the fear that any injury in the weight room means a direct implication of the strength coach. So the clear antidote to injuries, strength development, can also be a poison when job security is so volatile. This, coupled with excessive youth competition and poor team coach collaboration, means sports at all levels have problems accessing the benefits of strength training.

A practical use of using VBT is to reduce grinding reps and estimate appropriate “maximal safe doses” with heavy strength training. Go as heavy as possible without going too slow, as the benefits of the heavier load don’t outweigh (no pun intended) the cost of neuromuscular fatigue afterwards. A simple way to use velocity zones is to ensure that bar speed is sharp and adjusted every session, instead of forcing the athlete to hit loads that are too conservative or inappropriate. Volume may taper off in-season, but intensity must stay up and VBT ensures the work done is matching the current readiness of the athlete.

Modeling and Monitoring with the Push Portal

When bar and body output drops after strategic rest and fails to recover, those not looking at hormones, subjective recording practices, and HRV (Heart Rate Variability) monitoring may benefit from something more integrated and of course invasive. The combination of direct measure barbell tracking, daily HRV with wellness questionnaires, and repeated blood or saliva screening has enormous value. When looking for ways to get better, a wide holistic approach can remove much of the stagnation by looking at the big picture, not just at the barbell outputs. Mark Langly already shared a nice primer on monitoring with his article on the Push blog, and this article provides additional recommendations by explicitly showing quick and dirty decision making from objective data.

Simple bar charts of total work done each session can help estimate if training monotony could be factoring in stagnation. After the cumulative load is scored, the lifts can be analyzed for further interpretation with regards to bar velocity.

Implementing Power Development over a Phase or Season

The closing advice is rather blunt, choose something to improve on and find a way to manage it better with simple measurements or deeper analysis. I recommend refining one part of a program and sharpening up both the strategy of planning and the tactical side of training by making a subtle change that isn’t painful but the effort is purposeful. Results from the recommendations above will show up later, but the process needs to be the focal point. If not, one is just measuring for the sake of getting numbers rather than measuring the right things to improve what matters. Just one solid change to the weight training will make a difference over time, so improving a repeated process is better than investing into something radical but rarely repeated much. Consistent training is never sexy but over time it will do more than the one magical session many get fooled into chasing.