Baseball is an explosive sport where things happen fast and hard. This requires massive amounts of power and finding the best methods to get our athletes there is our number one priority. In this article, I will be reviewing force-velocity profiling in athletes which I believe to be a “game changer” in programming. I will also highlight how you can pinpoint and train the specific strength zones needed with Velocity-Based Training to help maximize the potential in not only baseball players but all athletes to create power / explosiveness.
I’ve always considered myself a life-long student of the art of exercise science, always looking to learn and add to my knowledge base. Studying the works of Dr. Brian Mann, Dr. Vladimir Zatsiorsky, Dr. Yuri Verkhoshansky, Dr. Mel Siff, and more recently Ty Terrell and Tony Giuliano to name a few, have produced many “ah-ha” moments on a daily basis. This E-book is designed to give you a brief and more importantly USEABLE means to get athletes more powerful. Hope you enjoy it.
But, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. First, we need to go over a few things so let me say this. Developing strength, speed and explosiveness in athletes is purely physics. Applying these traits to basic anatomical attributes can get a bit complicated but at the end of the day it’s all about Force, Velocity and Power. So, let’s talk some basic science first before we get into how to train it with VBT.
What are Force, Velocity and Power?
Let’s review each one at a time.
Force – The equation for force is mass times acceleration.
All movement is initiated and driven by force. This makes it (along with velocity) the most important quality to focus on when training for power. The good news is, along with being the most important it is also the most trainable.
Strength training, which requires the muscles to produce force against an external resistance is really the common name for force training. However, since there is a time component (acceleration) in the force equation, the greatest amount of weight lifted may not always be the ideal intensity to use since more weight will obviously take longer to move.
Finding the sweet spot between intensity and time to completion is where using a device such as a GymAware, Tendo or PUSH unit that measures acceleration and force output helps take a lot out of the guesswork. It helps by telling us if an athlete is using the optimum weight in order to maximize the stretch-shortening cycle (SSC) and produce the greatest peak force, so programming can be adjusted accordingly. The main takeaway here is more force is achieved by getting stronger.
Velocity – The equation for velocity is distance divided by time.
Simply put, velocity is the amount of distance traveled in relation to the amount of time it took to do it. This is directly related to how much force an athlete can produce (strength), as well as how quickly they can produce it (elasticity). For example, if I throw a baseball to the plate at 50% intensity, I’m not putting much force into the ball and that is reflected in the velocity at which the ball gets to the plate. However, if I throw the ball full throttle (peak force) it will obviously travel at a much higher velocity. The main takeaway here is that the velocity at which an athlete moves his body or an implement (ball, racket etc.) is a direct product of his ability to produce force as well as his ability to use his SSC.
Many more elastic “velocity-driven” athletes rely on the SSC to create most of their power. These athletes need to maintain those elastic qualities while focusing on bringing up the force side of the equation with a good dose of strength training in order to reach their individual sweet spot to produce more power.
Power – Let’s get into Power, which can be expressed as follows:
Traditional strength training increases our ability to apply a maximum amount of force which takes care of the top half of the above equation (Force * Distance). But for power to be maximized the time component (bottom portion) must also be optimized. This is the aim of power training – to reduce the amount of time it takes to apply a set amount of force over a specific distance.
More isn’t always better. The amount of force an athlete produces can decline as the movement gets faster if the amount of weight is much lower and vice versa. Somewhere between these two extremes is an optimal point (I call it the “sweet spot”).
For power development, get this… it’s different for every athlete! When training to specifically optimize power being skewed one way or the other from this sweet spot can have a negative effect on results. This explains why an athlete can be exceptionally strong but lack significant power if they are unable to apply much of their strength over a short period of time and likewise why an exceptionally elastic athlete lacks power because they are not strong enough to produce an adequate amount of force. This brings to the Force-Velocity Curve.
What is the Force-Velocity Curve?
The Force-Velocity Curve is a physical representation of the relationship between force and velocity (or Power said differently). Understanding the interaction between force and velocity and their influences on exercise selection is vital for any strength and conditioning coach seeking to optimize peak power production in their athletes.
Because Power is the product of Force and Velocity, Peak Power sits right in the between the two on the Force-Velocity Curve. This is where the real magic can happen.
Every athlete relies on either force or velocity more than the other to produce power so, by performing a few quick tests, we can find out which side of the power line either force (“Y” axis) or velocity (“X” axis) the athlete leans on to produce power and focus our training more on bringing up (optimize) the more deficient side.
For example, only training maximal strength may lead to improvements in force production, but it may also result in a reduction in muscle contractile properties (velocity) due to the thickening of the muscle fibers. We’ll talk about this a bit later but for now, just know that both
“force and velocity are needed to produce optimal power, but the key is finding the right amounts of each as it pertains to each individual athlete.”
How do we test for it?
Finding which trait, force or velocity, is deficient and making it the focus of your training block is the concept behind creating force-velocity profiles for any athlete. While creating a profile with various weighted jumps will give us a more detailed look at an athlete’s profile, this is not often practical in a team or large setting. For this reason, we will be looking at what is called a “Bosco Jump” Test.
The Bosco Jump Test is a series of jump tests for the assessment of leg muscular mechanics and power, developed by Carmelo Bosco, a leading Italian sports physiologist. The Bosco protocol includes various jumps, but for our uses in training quick, explosive bursts such as throwing a baseball sprinting or hitting, we’ll only be testing two jumps for our profile. They are:
- CMJ Jump (hands fixed)
- Squat (static) Jump
Note: These tests can be performed in different degrees by using anything from a Vertec Jump Tester to a Fushion Sport Jump Mat or ultimately a force plate. Obviously the more advanced methods of gathering data are far more expensive than a Vertec but for our studies we found that using a jump mat https://www.fusionsport.com/ is a great and generally affordable way to get incredibly precise results without the costs of a force plate.
CMJ Jump – This jump is performed to test the athlete’s ability to utilize their SSC and relates to the “velocity” side of the power equation. The hands are kept on the hips to test pure lower body recruitment. The athlete goes into a squat position (at or near 90 degrees), and immediately jumps as fast and as high as they can. This allows the athlete to utilize their stretch shortening cycle to help produce power.
Squat (static) Jump – This jump is performed to test the athlete’s ability to use muscular force and relates to the “force” side of the equation. Once again with the hands on the hips the athlete gets into the bottom position of a squat position (roughly 90 degrees) this time for 3-5 sec before jumping. This removes the athlete’s ability to use the SSC by causing the energy built up in the muscle spindle to dissipate as heat and forces them to use mostly “muscular contraction (force) to produce their power.
Reading the results?
Based off countless studies, a countermovement jump (CMJ) in a well-balanced athlete should always be higher due to the use of the stretch shortening cycle. Through testing, the difference (percentage) in jump height between the two jumps tells us how well you utilize elasticity (SSC) and whether you are a force or velocity deficient athlete. However, the question is “by how much?”
Reviewing the results of hundreds of athletes at our facility as well as reports out of I-Fast by Ty Terrell and Tony Giuliano we have found that a CMJ jump should be roughly 10% higher than a squat jump.
Velocity Deficient: CMJ jump is LESS than 10% higher than the Squat Jump – We are more than likely looking at a “Velocity” deficient athlete. Looking at a curve it would look something like this:
For this athlete, moving faster and increasing the rate of force development and staying on the lower side of velocity of each special strength zone is key in order to shift the curve more horizontal (velocity) to get closer to peak power output.
Force Deficient: CMJ jump is MORE than 10% higher than the Squat Jump – We are more than likely looking at a “Force” deficient athlete. Looking at a curve it would look something like this:
For this athlete, getting stronger in low positions and staying on the higher side velocity of each special strength zone is key to shift the curve more vertical (force side) to get closer to max power.
Improving either of these components, force or velocity, whichever is deficient in the athlete’s profile, can lead to increased power production and therefore optimize the explosiveness of the athlete. Once an athlete is considered “Well-Balanced” (between 90%-100%) the primary objective of strength training is to shift the Force-Velocity Curve to the right evenly (see chart below), resulting in the athlete being able to move larger loads at higher velocities and becoming more explosive.
Training programs in this type of profile should combine both strength and power training to improve athletic performance instead of just strength or speed training alone. By only training on one part of the force-velocity curve it is likely that the athlete will only improve their performance at that section on the curve.
While jump testing is the gold standard for testing power, we also know that power in the frontal plane has shown to provide the greatest carry over to sport in baseball players, especially pitchers and for this reason we have devised a test we call the “Lateral RSI” (click here).
Training with Velocity-Based Training (VBT)
This is where the fun begins as every athlete has a “unique” Force-Velocity Curve, this also requires their own specific “roadmap” to shift the curve out in order to be produce more power and become more explosive.
As far as athletic performance goes, it’s getting clearer and clearer that strength, speed and power are king. That’s why maximizing training protocols for a sport with movements as quick and explosive as baseball is paramount. Increasing strength and power involves:
- Increasing muscle fiber size and structure
- Increasing the activation and rate of firing time of motor units
The two main training methods used to increase these parameters are moderate resistances and higher repetitions to improve muscle hypertrophy, and very heavy weights and lower reps to improve neural activation. Until now we as an industry have been relying on calculating percentages of an athlete’s 1RM (one rep max) or RPE (rate of perceived exertion).
More recently a different strength training concept based upon measurements of velocity during bar and body movements has emerged… The great work by individuals such as Dr. Brian Mann and the Spaniards have revealed a few key findings:
- Those training with visual; external cuing push to maximal velocity and attain better strength and power results than those who do not train with maximal intended velocity
- Velocity decreases fairly linearly across a set of traditional strength training exercises like bench presses and squats
- Velocity is closely related to %1RM
While measuring velocity during resistance training is not new, it was previously restricted to elite athletes and typically only done on explosive power exercises such as jump squats and ballistic bench presses because of the expense and lack of portability.
Now, companies such as GymAware, Tendo and even more “affordable” units such as “Push Bands” (which by the way we have used with great success) have now made this info visually attainable immediately by displaying a velocity metric (m/s) that correlates to a specific percentage of the athlete’s 1RM.
What is Velocity-Based Training?
Velocity-based training (VBT) is a training method in which bar speed is monitored to help an athlete train in a specific “zone” to help create a specific training adaptation (more on this later). By getting external feedback on the speed of the lift, athletes can get immediate feedback on power and intent which goes hand and hand with great performance on the mound and field. It also allows us to adjust the weight either up or down to match the strength zone we are chasing.
We, as strength and conditioning coaches all, have used velocity-based training long before linear transducers were even available. Whenever we train at different percentages of our 1RM it directly influences the velocity we are moving that specific weight.
For example, if we squat 100 lbs. in our first set and 150 lbs. in our 2nd or 3rd set, that velocity in which we move the bar at 150 lbs. will be slower than at 100 lbs. It’s pure physics.
While there are standard speeds that correlate to a particular percentage of a 1RM, it’s really best to create your own zones based on your clientele. These work for my guys who generally range from 16-24 years old.
How is velocity-based training different from percentage-based training?
Don’t get me wrong percentage-based training works and we use it with great success but there are certain aspects of VBT that allow us to “dial-in” certain information/methods more efficiently than percentage-based or RPE methods. Here are a few:
- Dependability – RPE based (standard) training is not dependable and can be a cause of injury when performed incorrectly by novice lifters who don’t really know what a “6” or an “8” or “easy” / “difficult” feels like.
- Time Consuming – Finding a 1 RM can take up to 20 min which is perfectly fine if you’re training one athlete but trying to assess 8 athletes in an hour becomes not only time consuming but impractical for large groups.
- Rapid Progression of the Novice Athlete – A 1RM can change quite rapidly after only a few training sessions, especially with novice athletes where often, the obtained values are not the athletes’ true max.
- Auto-Regulation – Changes in day-to-day readiness that are caused by a normal biological variability, training related fatigue or life-style factors, like sleep, stress and nutrition.
Percentages of 1RM can fluctuate as much as 15-20% day-to-day, based on any or all of these parameters. Which brings me to our next variable that makes VBT so efficient.
Auto regulation refers to a system that manages volume to regulate INDIVIDUAL differences in an athlete’s work capacity. This goes a long way in helping to avoid “over” or “under” training due to stress. Whether it be from training, practice, relationship issues, family issues, night life etc., all have a profound effect on an athlete’s recovery.
By utilizing VBT we can take these parameters into account by locking into a percentage of bar or body speed rather than a percentage of a 1RM. By receiving a daily number after each rep and set, we can see if the weight needs to be decreased due to fatigue that day or increased due to new strength gains.
What are some other training benefits of using VBT?
- Keeping the Athlete Honest – As with anything, athletes can cheat the system with VBT by purposely moving the bar slowly to achieve a slower starting point. As a result, in order to make athletes more accountable for their performance in the weight room, we limit the use of VBT only to those who demonstrate leadership and have “earned” the coach’s trust that they will push others to be better while training in our facility.
- Healthy Competition – Great athletes are competitive by nature. We see it all the time with VBT. Two players are working out together. Athlete #1 moves the weight (bar) at a slightly faster speed than athlete #2. This prompts athlete #2 to be more explosive on his next rep and before you know it these guys have both hit PR’s that day. Feedback works and, in many cases, can improve work quality day-to-day.
Earlier in this E-book, we talked about what the Force-Velocity curve is and why it’s important. We also introduced VBT (velocity-based training), discussing how it’s different from conventional 1RM testing and some of the benefits in using it to train your athletes. Today, we’ll dive a little deeper and talk about the specific “zones” used to train different traits on the Force-Velo curve as well as how they relate to specific movements on the field.
Why use training zones?
The best way for me to get into the “why’s” of training using strength zones, is to introduce you to the S.A.I.D principle. So, here goes.
The S.A.I.D. Principle – SAID is short for “Specific Adaptations of Imposed Demands. This basically means that every training stimulus has a specific physical or neurological adaptation. The only training adaptations made will be the ones directly related to that training stimulus. For example, if I want to sprint faster, I wouldn’t train long distances. Instead I would steer my focus on strength and speed. Nor would I train at high velocities if I were a power-lifter, where time is not an issue to hit my lift.
As this relates to training zones on the force-velocity curve, every zone is associated with a specific bar speed (velocity) and thus produces a different stimulus and corresponding performance adaptations that are proprietary to the zone itself. One advantage to using these training zones and monitoring their associated velocities is to hone in on the trait the athlete is trying to develop to help improve performance at their specific sport.
The athlete must be in the correct zone to effectively develop that specific strength/stimulus. Choosing the appropriate zone should be based on where the athlete is in during their season, so we can achieve “peak” performance at the right time. Below is a chart that displays training zones based on the time of year (off-season) for a typical baseball player.
What are the Velocity-Based “Special Strength Zones”?
The zones below represent the entire “strength-speed continuum” used in training athletes year-round. I first heard of these zones and the velocities associated with them through the work of Louie Simmons at Westside Barbell and Dr. Bryan Mann. If you haven’t read Dr. Mann’s book titled “Developing Explosive Athletes”, I suggest you do so. Although the velocities associated with these zones may not be perfect, I have found that they are very close when dealing with most athletes. They do however give us a great range when training larger groups of athletes to help get us in the ballpark quickly.
I have begun establishing my own proprietary profiles and training zones for my athletes in our facility and I would encourage you to do the same, but for now, let’s use Dr. Mann’s (numbers refer to bar speed):
Absolute Strength (.15 -.50 m/s) – This is strength generally developed between 1 and 4 reps. The adaptation achieved is increasing the cross-sectional area of the muscle fibers to help create better “stiffness”. While absolute strength is the foundation that all faster stimulus sits on, it’s not the only capacity to develop. While every athlete especially younger ones need to start here, there is a point of diminishing returns when elasticity becomes a priority. (85-100% 1RM)
(Deadlift @ 85%)
Accelerative Strength (.50 – 0.75 m/s) – Typically an athlete’s best force output is done in this strength zone. This is due to the fact that we are still using heavy enough loads to get a strength effect, but light enough to allow the athlete to move his body and the bar quick enough to enhance the acceleration side of the force equation (Force = Mass x Acceleration). Utilizing accommodating resistance such as chains allow us to train the acceleration portion of the movement even further. Being able to move the bar/body quicker enables athletes to create more peak force than at heavier loads. During the in-season this becomes the trait that diminishes the quickest (7-10 days) and must be maintained. For ball players, weighted push-ups work great and provide a great close-chain training effect for upper body strength with low risk to the shoulders when done correctly. (65-85% 1RM)
The next two zones deal with training power. This could be a novel within itself but for the scope of this article, I’ll just say that athletes fall into two categories, “velocity” or “force” deficient and knowing which category they are in will tell us at what side of power they adapt to the best.
Strength-Speed (0.75 – 1.0 m/s) – This zone is the beginning of “power”. This is moving a moderately heavy load at a moderate speed and sits on the “force side” of power on the curve. This is important because after initiating the pitching delivery, we are in fact moving a moderate load, in the form of your own body weight, at a moderate speed, before moving faster and faster as we climb the kinetic chain and let go of the baseball. For velocity deficient athletes, special equipment such as band assistance can be used in this zone to help develop the contractile properties of the muscle. This is also the zone where velocity deficient athletes will spend most of the time when it comes to power phases late in the off-season. (40-60% 1RM)
(Deadlift Triples @ 60%)
Speed Strength (1.0 – 1.3 m/s) – While some athletes sit on the strength side of power (above) our more “force” deficient athletes live on the “velocity” side of power. This is moving lighter weight as fast as possible. This is also the velocity where weighted jumps and “in-game” movements such as pitching, and batting begin to take place. For force deficient athletes, special equipment such as band resistance is sometimes used in order to allow the athletes to accelerate longer and achieve higher force output while accelerating thru movement at a moderate weight. Exercises include weighted jumps, med ball throws and Olympic lifts such as hang cleans. (20-40% 1RM)
(Med Ball Shovel Pass)
(Weighted CMJ Jumps)
Speed (1.3+ m/s) – This is best described as the ability to overcome inertia from a dead stop such as a pitcher starting down the mound out of his glute load. It is more neurologically based and generally involves some sort of throwing, sprinting or fast SSC plyometrics. Implements such as weighted balls and weighted bats also work great when training this trait. (B.W. – 20% 1RM)
(Lateral Low Box Drill)
To sum it up, we can optimize power production better and quicker by knowing where our athletes are on the force -velocity curve through testing and then utilize VBT to pinpoint the special strength zones as well as using external cuing to get better “buy-in” from the athlete. All in all, it’s all about giving each individual athlete what they need.
See ya’ in the gym…
By Nunzio Signore (BA, CSCS, CPT, NASM, FMS)
For hard-copy print version of this guide on VBT please click here.
- Bryan Mann- “Developing Explosive Athletes”
- Mel Siff & Dr. Yuri Verkhoshansky- “Supertraining”
- Science for sport- https://www.scienceforsport.com/force-velocity-curve/
- Ty Terrell and Tony Giuliano- “Force and Power- Maximizing performance with velocity-based training
- Brian Mann- https://www.elitefts.com/news/bryan-mann-talks-velocity-based-training/
- RESEARCHED APPLICATIONS OF VELOCITY BASED STRENGTH TRAINING Mladen Jovanović1 & Dr Eamonn P. Flanagan2
- Brian Mann- “Developing Explosive athletes”
- Graham Lehmen- “Customized Mechanics-How strong &How fast”
- Daniel Baker- “Using PUSH to measure velocity in the weight room”
- Pedro Jiminez-Reyes, Pierre Samozino, Matt Brughelli and Jean- Benoit Morin-“ Effectiveness of an individualized training based on force – velocity profiling “
- Pedro Jiminez-Reyes, Pierre Samozino, P.Edouard, S. Sangnier, Matt Brughelli and Jean- Benoit Morin-“Force-velocity profile: Imbalance Determination and effect on Lower Limb ballistic Performance”
- PIERRE SAMOZINO1, ENRICO REJC2, PIETRO ENRICO DI PRAMPERO2, ALAIN BELLI3, and JEAN-BENOIT MORIN-“Optimal force-velocity profile in ballistic movements-Altius: Citius or Fortius?