Training the Force-Velocity Curve with VBT… How it Works – Part 2

velocity based training

As far as athletic performance goes, it’s getting clearer and clearer that strength, speed and power are king (click here for Part 1). 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.

But first…

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 particular 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.

Stay tuned next time when we’ll talk about the specific training zones, what they are, what they do to improve performance and how to use VBT to find them.

See ya’ in the gym…

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

    1. Brian Mann-
    3. Brian Mann- Developing Explosive athletes
    4. Graham Lehmen- “Customized Mechanics-How strong &How fast”
    5. Ty Terrell and TonyGiuliano- “Force and Power”

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