Training Velocity in the Weight Room with VBT

By Nunzio Signore (BA, CSCS, CPT, NASM, FMS)

VBT Top 1

Athletes who are able to recruit higher ratios of Type II “fast twitch” muscle fibers have shown to be able to produce more power.  For ballplayers, this means that they are more likely to throw harder off the mound or have a higher exit velo at the plate.  Genetics do come into play, but many times they only give us a better “starting point”.  By no means should they dictate a definitive “end-point”.  After reading a copy of Dr. Bryan Mann’s book on velocity-based training (VBT) a light went off in my head as to how elements of VBT could be implemented here at RPP.   Velocity-based training can help enhance the recruitment of Type II muscle fibers and in turn, improve first step quickness, throwing velocity, exit velocity and on-field performance in our athletes, regardless of their genetic starting point.  Simply put, VBT can help improve velocity.

Warning: This article can be a bit geeky.  You have been warned!  Lol.

What is VBT?

In the world of physical rehabilitation and sports training, the SAID principle states that the body will adapt to the Specific Adaptation of the Imposed Demands. Moving the barbell, dumbbell or even just the body in some cases at appropriate velocities (measured in meters / second) allows the athlete to train different qualities along the strength-speed continuum (click here for more on this topic) thereby maximizing performance.

VBT, which incorporates this principle, is a training protocol being used by many professional teams including baseball, football and ice hockey among others.  The training specifically allows athletes to select weights based off the movement speed quality that the athlete is attempting to train on any particular day.  By using products such as GymAware, and more recently linear transducer sensors such as the PUSH Band (click here for more details), we can visually monitor bar movement velocities and body movement speeds which correlate to a % of an athlete’s 1RM (more on this in a later blog) from rep-to-rep and set-to-set. During the session, if the athlete goes below or above the desired movement speed, adjustments can be made by either adding or subtracting the load to make sure we are training at the optimal velocity prescribed in the program for that day.

VBT Joint Image MIddle

What are the benefits?

Aside from making an athlete more explosive, there are many other benefits to VBT, including:

Ability to Monitor Over-training – Over-training, nutrition and lifestyle (lack of sleep) are just a few of the daily stressors placed on our nervous system. Using VBT allows us to get an idea of how these stressors affect an athlete on any given day in the gym by showing up as lower readings in bar speed (velocity).

By displaying these lower velocities, VBT informs the athlete (and/or coach) through objective data as to what type of adjustments need to be made based off how the athlete is performing and/or feeling on any given day. This, commonly referred to as “auto-regulation”, is generally where the classic percentage-based system falls behind. This can also lead to a great discussion with the athletes about making better lifestyle choices or the possibility that they are over-training and need to either lower the weight or take a few days off completely.

Ability to Monitor Under-training – Training with maximal intended velocity on each rep shows greater improvements in strength and power than slower, controlled training.  Although there are always coaches present on the RPP floor to supervise our athletes, VBT will also let our athletes know if they are not putting enough “force into the ground” on every rep, or getting a bit lax when no one is holding them accountable in the weight room.

(VBT Deadlift)

Ability to Monitor Fatigue (% of velocity loss within a set) – There are very distinct relationships between fatigue and muscle damage and their impact on, not only throwing / exit velocity but also, sports performance in general. A study by Pareja-Blanco et al. (2016) demonstrated that there was a significant decrease in Type II muscle fiber recruitment when velocity losses of 40%+ were present. With VBT devices such as the PUSH Band showing us the percentage of velocity loss between the fastest and slowest reps of a given set, we can monitor how much muscle damage and fatigue is being produced. Coaches can therefore choose the level of these fatigue and damage markers based on whether or not the athlete is in-season or off-season. These numbers can range anywhere from 5-10% when training explosiveness and during the season to 30-40% in the off-season and when training for hypertrophy (muscle mass).

Makes Training in the Weight Room Even More Specific – The weight room should help enhance performance; it should never take away from it.  For example, once throwing volume or reps at the plate start up for an athlete, the amount of weight (% of 1RM) being lifted should come down so that intensity and bar speed in the weight room can go up as well. This “dynamic” method was popularized by Louie Simmons at West Side Barbell and based off of the works of Vladimir Zatsiorsky (The Science and Practice of Strength Training, 1995) and Mel C. Siff (Supertraining, 2000), just to name a few.

VBT Power RackProvides for Immediate External Cuing During Training – By positioning their iPhone or iPad where they can see the immediate results from the PUSH Band, the athlete receives immediate information on parameters such as bar speed (velocity), percentages of loss or whether the rep was successful or not. By having this external focus, the athlete has constant feedback and competition with himself to move more weight faster.

This creates a healthy culture in the weight room where athletes get to work and push themselves.  Frankly, the numbers won’t lie. Questions like, “did I move the weight faster this week” or “is my percentage of loss lower than last week” now have an objective number attached to them where the athlete can ask himself these questions and have immediate answers.

This creates constant dialogue regarding progression (or regression) between the coach and athlete.  It’s important to note that VBT assists the athlete and coach. It is not a replacement for a coach. Form must always be addressed before any numbers are considered or even tested for that matter.

When should VBT be implemented?

Every sport’s yearly training schedule is different, so for the scope of this article I’m going to use the baseball off-season continuum from September through February:

  • Hypertrophy: Early off-season (Sept / Oct) – High-rep training weeks improve muscle size and morphology
  • Absolute Strength: Mid- off-season (Nov / Dec) – Low reps at slower speeds trains max strength (younger novice athletes will stay primarily in this stage throughout)
  • Strength-Speed: Late off-season (Jan) – Speed trained within a strength base
  • Speed-Strength: Pre-season (Feb) – High sets, low reps, explosiveness

Below are the different types of strengths we train at the bar speeds that correlate to each particular phase and 1RM (%).  These are then based on where an athlete is in their season.  Please note that velocities will change slightly from exercise to exercise depending on the complexity of the movement and the technical ability of the athlete. This is where continued testing and good coaching comes in.  The following is a summary of each phase on the training continuum:

Absolute Strength training is when the athlete is near a max of .35-.50 meters/second (m/s). These reps are difficult, but the athlete is not in danger of failing a rep. These are usually done in the 3-5 rep range (85-95% 1RM) where the athlete is training to improve his absolute strength.

The quality of Acceleration Strength is in the .50-.75 m/s, which constitutes a relatively heavy weight (70-85% 1RM) that an athlete is still able to accelerate. These are usually done in the 6-10 rep range. The weight will be heavy but not too close to absolute strength since the bar will never slow down or stop, as in absolute strength.

The quality of Strength-Speed occurs when the bar is moving from .75 to 1.0 m/s, and it is classified by strength in the condition of speed. It is moving a moderate load at maximal speeds (40-65% 1RM), in which the bar constantly accelerates through the concentric portion of the movement.

The quality of Speed-Strength is achieved when the bar velocity is moving between 1.0-1.3 m/s (20-40% 1RM) and it is classified by speed in the condition of strength. Usually to create this speed, you have to use some type of accommodating resistance-either bands, chains or weight releasers. This allows the athlete to be able to maintain the velocity as he accelerates through the accommodating resistance.

Below is a quick summary of each phase of the training:

Mann Chart

What age group is VBT appropriate for?

Before we get into the specifics, let me first say that absolute strength is still the greatest tool for young athletes to develop high force production, neuromuscular efficiency and lean-body-mass gains. Thus, training with VBT and training rate-of-force production (RFP) is not a training method we implement at RPP with our younger (13-16) athletes.  For them training absolute strength alone will take care of most of what they need. The novice athlete will not have the strength or technique to move a heavy enough weight at a fast velocity. You are more likely to see a novice athlete improve his broad jump, 60-yard dash, throwing velocity, and bat speed through just training with absolute strength alone.

But when it comes to more experienced and developed intermediate and elite level athletes, training absolute strength alone in the weight room will not only cause measurable gains to plateau but possibly could lead to lower work capacity. This is when alternate means of training can be implemented to help improve rate-of-force production. This is also where VBT comes in.

This brings us to what I would like to refer to as the rite of passage.

As with anything, athletes that do not want to work hard can cheat the system by moving the bar more slowly on purpose in order to be assigned a lighter weight. One way we have gotten around this is to limit the use of VBT at RPP to only those that have proven that they want to perform at the highest level. This is displayed by consistent, hard work in the weight room, which in turn earns the trust of myself and my coaching staff.

Summary

Athletes with higher rate-of-force development have been shown to have more success because they can produce more power. Our goal is generally to help athletes become similar to a semi[-truck] in their novice years, so that they can produce a lot of force. Then, we can help transition them into becoming like a dragster, where we are able to take that large amount of force and train them to produce it rapidly.

Having said that, absolute strength never really completely leaves our programming.  We will always make sure that we can continue to increase 1RM, so that their speed-strength and strength-speed continues to increase. I am a big believer that without a strong foundation of strength (force) it doesn’t matter how fast you can apply it.

Putting VBT to work at RPP is yet another tool we’ve added to our tool box in our constant effort to make our training experience, here at RPP, cutting edge.

See ya’ in the gym…

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Sources:

  1. Measuring Velocity in the Weight Room – Fundamental theory and application by Dr. Daniel Baker
  2. Developing Explosive Athletes – Velocity Based Training by Dr. Bryan Mann (2016)
  3. The Science and Practice of Strength Training by Vladimir Zatsiorsky (1995)
  4. Velocity loss as an indicator of neuromuscular fatigue by Sanchez-Medina L, Gonzalez-Badillo JJ (2011)
  5. VBT for Baseball by Jack Scheideman (2017)

 

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