Over the past few years, velocity-based based training (VBT) has gathered considerable interest in the athletic community. With veteran coaches like Bryan Mann and Dan Baker at the forefront, many strength and conditioning coaches are using velocity as a biometric feedback tool to regulate training load on a day-to-day basis. Every week there seems to be a new article published online explaining why prescribing training intensity based on velocity data is superior compared with the traditional approach of using a percentage of one repetition maximum. While research tends to lag behind strength and conditioning practises, empirical data is now emerging that back up these claims. Providing athletes with objective velocity feedback has been shown to improve qualities like motivation and competitiveness (1), and can keep athletes accountable for their performances in the gym. Velocity feedback has also been used to effectively monitor fatigue and the intensity of effort during resistance training sessions (2).
An important aspect of VBT is to perform the concentric phase of each resistance exercise as fast as possible. This helps to maximise concentric power production (calculated as the product of velocity and force), which is a crucial metric for successful performance in contact sports. For example, in rugby league, more successful players are able to generate greater levels of muscle power than less successful players (3). While using VBT to enhance power production has clear benefits for competitive athletes, it may also be beneficial for non-athlete or clinical populations.
Can velocity-based training be used effectively in non-athlete populations?
Consider exercise prescriptions for older adults. The main objective of resistance training programmes for the majority of this population is to increase functional performance, such as the ability to rise from a chair and climb a flight of stairs. Subsequently, this will help the older person to maintain an independent lifestyle. Recent research has recognised the importance of skeletal muscle power in the performance of functional tasks. In fact, as we get older, power declines earlier and to a greater extent than muscle strength (4). Muscle power is also a superior determinant of physical function compared to muscle strength (5). Therefore, utilising VBT as a strategy to improve functional abilities in older adults appears logical. Indeed, performing resistance training exercises with maximal concentric velocity has been shown to be more effective at improving functional performance in older adults than traditional slow-speed resistance training (6).
Although there is still much more research required on the safety and efficacy of VBT in older adults, it is clear that maintaining or improving muscle power in this population is important for the performance of functional tasks. This not only relies on the successful implementation of effective training strategies, but also the development of instruments to accurately measure power production in movements that are relevant to everyday activities.
How do you measure expressions of power in older adults?
Isokinetic dynamometry has typically been used to assess power in older adults and clinical populations. However, this technique involves single-joint extension and/or flexion movements under constant velocity conditions, which do not mimic functional daily activities and therefore are non-transferable to many real-life settings. The isokinetic dynamometer is also expensive, requires trained personnel to use it, and generally not available for use within a practical setting.
In sport, mechanical power is typically assessed using measures such as the Wingate Cycle test, variations of vertical and horizontal jumps, stair climb tests, and Weightlifting movements. Unfortunately the majority of these tests are contradicted for use with many older adults because of a lack of technical proficiency and/or minimum strength requirements.
In the Sport, Health and Exercise Science laboratory at the University of Hull, UK, sport scientists are currently using PUSH devices to measure velocity and power in the elderly and in adults with severe obesity (body mass index of ≥40 kgm/2).
Obese individuals commonly experience a range of functional deficits and movement difficulties related to the carriage of excess body fat. Therefore, developing and quantifying muscle power is also of critical importance in this population.
We are currently delivering a VBT intervention and evaluating the amount of power that individuals can generate while rising from a chair as fast as they can (commonly called the sit-to-stand movement) (Figure 1). This measurement is relevant to everyday activities and takes a matter of minutes to complete, which is particularly important in a busy research environment.
In this individual example, peak power (mean value of five sit-to-stand repetitions) increased from 1079 Watts at baseline (Figure 2) to 1480 Watts at the end of the intervention (Figure 3). This represents a 37% increase in peak power production and was also associated with improvements in functional performance tasks such as the six minute walk test (the greatest distance you can walk in six minutes) and the timed up-and-go test (the time it takes you to rise from a chair, walk three meters before turning 180° and returning back to the chair).
Furthermore, because PUSH is worn and the forearm and is completely portable, we have been able to measure power in multi-jointed resistance machines such as the shoulder press and seated row (Figures 4 and 5). The PUSH device is easy to put on and comfortable to wear, which is particularly beneficial for clinical populations who can sometimes perceive exercise testing as daunting. The data are certainly promising and we look forward to sharing our research findings in 2018.
Measuring power is not only beneficial for elite athletes. Maintaining or improving muscle power in the elderly and in clinical populations (such as those with severe obesity) is important for the performance of everyday tasks and therefore helps in maintaining an independent lifestyle. PUSH offers an easy and practical way of measuring power and velocity in non-athlete populations during activities that are relevant to everyday life.
About the authors
Sam is a PhD researcher at the University of Hull and a former professional rugby league player. Also a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist, his research focusses on applying fundamental strength and conditioning principles into exercise interventions for clinical populations. We are currently investigating the effects of velocity-based training on strength, muscle power, functional performance and anthropometrics in adults with a body mass index of ≥40 kg/m2.
Phil Marshall is a lecturer in strength and conditioning at the University of Hull. He has also worked as a strength and conditioning coach for over 20 years and is a UKSCA Accredited Strength and Conditioning Coach and an NSCA Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist. His research interests are in the field of strength and conditioning and include the application of appropriate exercise programming for clinical populations.
Dr Leigh A. Madden
Dr Leigh A. Madden received a PhD from the University of Hull, UK in 1997. He then continued this work in biodegradable polymers for a further 2 years in a position funded by Monsanto Inc. After this he moved into the medical field at the Postgraduate Medical Institute at the University of Hull conducting research into a range of diseases with a primary focus on cancer. Now working in the new School of Life Sciences at the University of Hull, his current research interests include the investigation of cellular microvesicles in cancer related coagulation, exercise response, decompression sickness and diabetes.
Dr Rebecca V. Vince
Rebecca Vince is a health physiologist with specialist interests in exercise programming for clinical populations. Her specific interests revolve around being able to design and implement exercise programmes for a specific clinical purpose that are feasible, and promote both longer-term good health and positive future health behaviours. Our work includes a focus on the impact that structured strength training programmes can have in improving patient quality of life and recovery from surgery.
1. Weakley JJ, Wilson KM, Till K, Read DB, Darrall-Jones J, Roe G, et al. Visual feedback attenuates mean concentric barbell velocity loss, and improves motivation, competitiveness, and perceived workload in male adolescent athletes. J Strength Cond Res. 2017. [Epub ahead of print].
2. Morán-Navarro R, Martínez-Cava A, Sánchez-Medina L, Mora-Rodríguez R, González-Badillo JJ, Pallarés JG. Movement velocity as a measure of level of effort during resistance exercise. J Strength Cond Res. 2017. [Epub ahead of print].
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