Training with VBT… Understanding and Training in the Zones (Part 3)

In Parts 1 (click here) and 2 (click here), 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 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 please see Part 1). 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)

(Chain Push-ups)

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 really 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 a majority of 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)

So what kind of numbers should you be aiming for in the gym?  The answer to this question is that it depends on the type of athlete you are and where you are in your season. Stay tuned next time when we’ll have a look at another piece of the puzzle to see what type of athlete you are.

See ya’ in the gym…

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

    1. Pedro Jiminez-Reyes, Pierre Samozino, Matt Brughelli and Jean- Benoit Morin – “Effectiveness of an Individualized Training Based on Force-Velocity Profiling”
    2. 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”
    3. 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?”
    4. Brian Mann – “Developing Explosive Athletes”
    5. “Researched Applications of Velocity Based Strength Training”, Mladen Jovanović(1) & Dr Eamonn P. Flanagan(2)
    6. Brian Mann – “Developing Explosive athletes”
    7. Graham Lehmen – “Customized Mechanics – How Strong and How Fast”
    8. Daniel Baker – “Using PUSH to Measure Velocity in the Weight Room”
    9. Ty Terrell and TonyGiuliano – “Force and Power”

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