Training at Velocity Rather than Percentages
One of the biggest changes between velocity based training (VBT) after relying on percent based training (PBT) is the new metrics that you’re using. Training at a percent-load of your 1 repetition max is pretty straight forward. You have to complete a one rep max test in a given exercise, and then you take some percentage of that weight to focus on what you want to improve, like strength or power.
There are shortcomings to this method, like the difference between training last week’s 1RM versus the 1RM six months ago. You can expect inaccurate percentages to hamper the results of your training efforts. An athlete’s 1RM isn’t entirely stable and is attenuated by day to day changes in readiness, from fatigue or arousal. The 1RM method is so popular because it is an easy reference point, but easy isn’t always best. Below is a %1RM table for training focuses from the NSCA’s Essentials of Strength and Conditioning, and one for velocity ranges by Mann, Siff and Roman.1,6
On the velocity scale, we have the advantage of monitoring real-time velocity to negate the day to day variance in training readiness. The focus needs to shift from just lbs to include velocity. Knowing an athlete performed a 405lbs squat isn’t as actionable as a 405lbs squat at 0.33 m/s. You don’t have to use an output of velocity to prescribe a specific weight, you can use it to derive the language you’re used to speaking: %1RM. There are a few methods of doing this,2,3,5 but I’ve found the PUSH 1RM tests provide enough data to translate a velocity to %1RM. This makes more sense when illustrated.
A 70% 1RM load for one exercise is different for another exercise. Likewise, a given velocity for one exercise is very different than another. Velocity is exercise specific. An example of this is the difference between a bench press and a squat, where one could expect 100% to occur at 0.15 m/s (bench press) and 0.30 m/s (squat). The following table indicates how you can effectively translate your 1RM into m/s. Once the warm up is done, we can roll into working sets at velocity ranges prescribed by the %1RM. You can make a table like this for most exercises with this method, and it’s fairly straightforward.
Achieved velocity can be a good indicator of effort as well as fatigue. Successive reps will see successive losses in velocity, generally, showing fatigue. Retaining that velocity will help manage appropriate repetitions within a set and determine cut off points when work capacity has been reached at a given number of sets. With PBT, this is amended with change in prescription of the planned work out, but with VBT the session reaches a hard stop when appropriate thresholds have been reached for the individual. High quality work is achieved while ensuring the adequate quantity is performed, creating a Goldilocks phenomenon of “just right” training.
Where one’s velocity bottoms out is also relative to the type of athlete. There is no one size fits all method, but understanding velocity explains so much more of an individual’s training and allows a coach to better tailor training to that individual. Pure speed athletes tend to max at a higher velocity than strength athletes, as do many novices to max effort loading. Every athlete type and proficiency level exhibits different variations of the force-velocity curve, with their own unique ceilings and roofs for both force and velocity. The figure below represents how this manifests using the force-velocity curve.
This gives you a good example of how to apply this in a very precise way. Like the %1RM method, making decisions based off velocity becomes intuitive after time. Using the tools mentioned in this article is a great starting point. Any amount of time spent with VBT is going to tell you something new about your athletes and what works best for them.
- Baechle T, Earle R, eds. Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning. 3rd ed. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics; 2008. doi:10.1016.
- Cronin JB, McNair PJ, Marshall RN. Force-Velocity Analysis of Strength-Training Techniques and Load: Implications for Training Strategy and Research. J Strength Cond Res. 2003;17(1):148. doi:10.1519/1533-4287.
- Gonzalez-Badillo JJ, Sanchez-Medina L. Movement Velocity as a Measure of Loading Intensity in Resistance Training. Int J Sports Med. 2010:347-352. doi:10.1055/s-0030-1248333.
- Haff GG, Nimphius S. Training Principles for Power. J Strength Cond Res. 2012;34(6):2-12. doi:10.1519/SSC.0b013e31826db467.
- Jidovtseff B, Harris NK, Crielaard J-M, Cronin JB. Using the load-velocity relationship for 1RM prediction. J Strength Cond Res. 2011;25(1):267-270. doi:10.1519/JSC.0b013e3181b62c5f.
- Mann B. Developing Explosive Athletes: Use of Velocity Based Training in Training Athletes. 2nd ed. EliteFTS; 2013.
- Meijer JP, Jaspers RT, Rittweger J, et al. Single muscle fibre contractile properties differ between body - builders, power athletes and control subjects. Exp Physiol. 2015;100(11):1331-1341. doi:10.1113/EP085267.
- Sanchez-Medina L, Perez CE, Gonzalez-Badillo JJ. Importance of the propulsive phase in strength assessment. Int J Sports Med. 2010;31(2):123-129. doi:10.1055/s-0029-1242815.