In this day and age, it’s hard to find a coach who doesn’t want their athlete to get stronger, faster and more explosive - sport has evolved in such a way that power is king. We’ve had the opportunity to talk to hundreds of strength coaches over the past 2 years and although strength is necessary and important, there seems to be common theme, they don’t necessarily care if their athletes can lift a million pounds. In fact, if a pro athlete was only looking at getting stronger, this could hinder their performance rather than improve it.
3 Ways Strength Coaches Use Speed with their Athletes
Two individuals with the same 1RM, meaning a similar strength level, may move relative loads at different speeds. If you read this post, you’ll know that speed (or velocity) is more closely related to power than strength is. Let’s use figure 1 as an example.
Figure 1 - Load-Velocity Profile for Bench Press
In the above figure, you’ll notice that both athletes have a 1RM on their bench that’s about the same - let’s call it 240lbs. At this load, their velocity is quite similar, 0.3 m/s, but you’ll notice that as the load decreases, athlete 1 has a higher velocity output than athlete 2. Even at 200 lbs, athlete 1 can move the bar at close to 0.5 m/s while athlete 2 moves the same load at just under 0.4 m/s.
What does the coach do next? Instead of matching these 2 athletes based on their 1RM, he’ll match them on their velocity output. The coach may ask that these athletes maintain a velocity output that stays above 0.75 m/s but below 1.0 m/s (check out this post to learn why). If that’s the case, athlete 1 will probably max out at about 150lbs vs 100lbs for athlete 2. This load adjustment could be huge for an athlete who needs to work on his ability to generate power.
Another way to compare 2 athletes and their speed qualities could be by looking at a specific set. Take a look at figure 2 as an example. In this scenario, both athletes are squatting with the same load, let’s call it 200lbs, and performing the same amount of reps, five.
Figure 2 - Rep-Velocity Profile for Squat
In this scenario, it looks like they’re grinding out a set that’s taking them to failure (Jovanovic and Flanagan noticed that for both bench and squat, the velocity output on the last rep of a set to failure will be the same regardless of the load). So both athletes get to the same velocity on the last rep but their mean velocity across all reps is quite different - 0.57 m/s for athlete 1 vs 0.48 m/s for athlete 2.
You’ve probably already guessed it - it’s quite clear that athlete 2 should decrease the load and if try to increase power by working in a more similar velocity zone to athlete 1.
It can be important to revisit the load-velocity profile of an athlete at various times throughout the season - this can provide valuable insight as to whether or not the athlete has become more explosive, less explosive or no change. Appropriate adjustments can be made thereafter. Look at figure 3 as an example.
Figure 3 - Load-Velocity Profile Pre and Post
Let’s say for a moment that we’re looking at athlete 2 from above. You’ll notice that after a primarily power focused phase, two changes occurred. First, at every load, the athlete can move the bar at a faster rate - this improves his power output in the gym and likely has better transfer to the field. Second, his 1RM actually improved as well. How is this possible? Even if your focus is power, you’re working on other qualities as well, just not at the same degree. In this case, some strength qualities will still be targeted, hence the improved 1RM for this athlete. So not only did he get more explosive, he also became more powerful - now who doesn’t want that.
This is obviously a best case scenario but it’s not always the case - it becomes more realistic if you’re constantly looking at velocity output rather than just working with 1RMs and percentages. So if you want to be a fast and powerful athlete (or you’re a coach seeking this for your athletes), take a look at your load-velocity profile, you may learn why you’re some athletes are slower than others - that kind of insight is invaluable.
Jovanovic and Flanagan 2014. Researched Applications of Velocity Based Strength Training. Journal of Australian Strength and Conditioning.