World renowned strength coach and President of the Australian Strength & Conditioning Association (ASCA), Dr. Dan Baker, has been using velocity based training (VBT) to inform his training decisions for over 20 years.
This excerpt from his Essential Guide to VBT covers the 6 most practical ways you can use velocity data to improve your coaching and programming. You will learn how to:
- Easily monitor changes in strength
- Objectively gauge athlete effort
- Determine optimal weights, sets, and reps
- Improve dynamic effort or power
- Hold athletes accountable
- Improve lifting technique
1. Monitor Changes in Strength
One of the great values of measuring and monitoring velocity is it allows coaches and athletes to gauge whether strength changes have occurred without having to regularly test strength.
This does not mean a strength test should not be done, as measuring a spectrum of regularly used training loads as the athlete works up to a Maximum Effort (ME) strength test of either 1, 3 or 5-RM allows the coach to gain information linking velocity scores to absolute weight lifted. Changes in velocity scores with these regular training weights would signify a change in strength.
In Table 1 below, we can see the velocity scores for different athletes in different exercises. However, even though only four relatively heavy loads are shown, the velocity scores for other resistances can be deduced from the fact that a linear relationship exists between velocity and resistance when those points are close. For example, the strong bench presser exhibits a decline of 0.05 m/s for every 10 kg increase in resistance ~ we could assume his velocity with 145 kg would be around 0.37 m/s, even though this resistance was not directly tested. Similarly, for the squat athlete we could assume a velocity score of ~ 0.45 m/s if he trained with 160 kg. For the athlete performing pull-ups, we could assume that if he was to perform sets of three reps with +20kg, his best velocity score would be ~ 0.54 m/s.
Therefore any changes of around ~ 0.04 m/s from these best velocity scores with resistances > 70-80% 1RM would indicate a change in strength of around 2-3% 1RM.
Similarly, Figure 1 graphically depicts the changes in average velocity while squatting 160 kg (~ 80% 1RM) on 35 different occasions across one-year in an advanced athlete. The mean velocity of all these occasions was 0.50 m/s, with a variation of 0.05 m/s ~ typically this meant the athletes strength varied from a 1RM of 195 to 205 kg across this time (+ 2.5% 1RM). It can be clearly seen that the early part of the year was the build up of maximal strength and the rest of the year was more related to trying to maintain strength.
2. Objectively Gauge Athlete Effort
A key reason for using velocity scores is that they reinforce the Effort (RPE) system, especially in advanced trainers. What this means is that any maximum effort (RPE of 10) set has the same final rep velocity. So the velocity of a 1RM or the third rep of a 3RM or the 5th rep of a 5RM all have about the same velocity. If an athlete knows their maximum effort velocity, they can make prudent decisions after each set about whether to add or subtract resistance to the bar or continue training, if their training is aligned to certain RPE scores.
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Figure 2 shows a 1RM bench press test with an velocity of 0.19 m/s and after a 3-minute rest a test of maximum effort for reps was done with 85% 1RM. The sixth rep had a similar score of 0.17 m/s. So for this athlete, any bench press set that finishes with a final rep velocity of ~ < 0.20 m/s will be an RPE of 10. Scores on the final rep of ~ 0.25 m/s and 0.32 m/s will likely be perceived as RPE 9 and 8 respectively, and so on.
3. Determine Optimal Training Volumes
It was shown in the Spanish studies that while higher repetition sets that are closer to fatigue or have a higher velocity decline may be a quicker route to hypertrophy and gaining muscle size, this may also not be the best route for true power athletes like shot-putters, pitchers and so on because of the possibility of fiber type changes or conversions. In Table 2 below, we can see a comparison of 3 x 10 @ 75% 1RM compared to 6 x 5 @ 75% 1RM performed by the same athlete in the same training week in the same total training time, for comparison purposes. Note that the VBT training entailed the athlete lifting 22 out of 30 reps > 0.40 m/s and with an average of 0.41 m/s per rep across the 30 total reps. However, FBT had no reps out of 29 > 0.40 m/s and an average velocity @ 0.28 m/s per rep for the 29 completed reps.
Please note, this does not mean higher rep sets should not be performed, but we should be aware of the consequences. For many athletes, the quicker route to hypertrophy is acceptable or preferable, but for some pure power athletes, the higher velocity route may prove better in the long run.
4. Improve Dynamic Effort or Power Training
Table 3 below depicts some very general guidelines for some key dynamic effort/power exercises like pressing, squatting and power cleans, for both Peak and Average velocity. However, athletes and coaches do not need to be constrained by the number depicted. For example, some elite high jump athletes, whose height and innate explosiveness affords them the ability to generate higher peak velocities than many other athletes, often perform power cleans with as heavy a resistance that they can while still attaining Peak velocities of either 2.0 m/s or 2.2 m/s (General preparation or Peaking phases).
So while general guidelines do exist, the athletes and coaches now have the options of exploring a wider range of training resistances and finding velocities that they associate with success or “peaking”
5. Hold Athletes Accountable
One of the best things about measuring and monitoring velocity scores during resistance training is the fact that it affects the amount of volitional effort applied in each set, as the athletes become accountable for their velocity scores. This may be especially so for exercises that the athlete does not like or where they may “go through the motions”. Below is an example where an athlete performs a set of Romanian Deadlifts (RDL’s) but the coach is not overly happy with the effort the athlete applied and tells them so. In the second set, the athlete responds with a set that is 10% higher in velocity. They have been called into account and have responded.
6. Enhance Your Coaching Cues & Improve Athlete Technique
In the example below, an athlete is performing push press behind the head, but the coach notices that the athletes technique is deteriorating across the first three reps ~ after the third rep, the coach tells the athlete the corrective cue, which the athlete immediately implements. There is a sudden and large change in average velocity for the fourth to sixth reps. This change in velocity, which is shown to the athlete after the set, helps to reinforce the importance of the corrective action that the coach provided them.
In an another example depicted in Figure 3, the athlete is performing explosive strength-speed squats with 50% 1RM + an extra 15% 1RM in band resistance, with a goal of attaining an average velocity of ~ 0.70 m/s every set. However, on the second rep, the coach notices the athlete is not pushing back on the bar enough and is getting pushed forward when coming out of the bottom of the squat. The coach quickly provides the corrective cue of “Push back on the bar” which the athlete knows means to push back on the bar when coming out of the bottom of the squat to reinforce a rigid trunk for effective force transmission. The result is that the velocity increases from a poor score of < 0.60 m/s to 0.75 m/s and again reinforces to the athlete the importance of the corrective action for them to attain technical mastery. Table 15. Change in velocity scores during push press once the corrective cue was provided to an athlete whose technique was deteriorating.
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James et al. The Neuromuscular Qualities of Higher and Lower-Level Mixed Martial Arts Competitors. International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance. 2016. Published ahead of print.
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