5 Practical Uses of Velocity Based Training

Coach Travis Mash

Introduction

I have narrowed down to practical uses of Velocity Based Training (VBT) from numerous uses of VBT. For the last two years, my entire life has revolved around VBT, since my thesis is all about daily readiness measured with velocity. To clarify, I am referring to the five most practical uses in regards to Coaches not necessarily Researchers, but I am sure these five are great for everyone. One last clarification, these five practical uses are incredible for high school, college, pro, and all private coaches, for which I will explain application as we go along. 

The top five most practical uses of velocity-based training are as follows:

  • Creating a force-velocity profile
  • Measuring daily readiness
  • Ensure daily intent
  • Progressing safely
  • Hypertrophy specific to the sport

The way I introduced the list, I feel there should have been a drumroll before dropping the list. As mentioned before, there are several other uses, but these are the five I apply on a daily basis. I use velocity with my elite athletes all the way down to my beginners, so please understand that VBT isn’t just for elites. Hopefully after I explain each use, you will see the uses for all athletes. Let’s take a look at each use.

  1. Force-Velocity Profile

When I talk about strength, I am lumping many qualities of strength into one group. That’s a bad mistake because there are actually five qualities of strength that are each important to athletes. Dr. Bryan Mann pioneered a lot of information in this field where he identified the five qualities of strength as: 

  1. Starting Strength- anything greater than 1.3m/s or 0-25% intensity
  2. Speed Strength- 1-1.3m/s or 25% to 45%
  3. Strength Speed- .75-1.0m/s or 45-65%
  4. Accelerative Strength- 0.5-0.75m/s or 65-85%
  5. Absolute Strength- anything less than .5m/s or >0.5m/s

Velocity Zones by Dr. Bryan Mann

Figure 1 Velocity Zones Dr. Bryan Mann

Each of these zones possess important qualities necessary for maximizing athletic ability. The first thing we do with our athletes is have them work up heavy in all the exercises that we consider base movements in the following fashion:

  1. 20% x 3  (goal 1.3m/s+)
  2. 30% x 3  (goal of 1.2-1.3m/s)
  3. 40% x 3 (goal of 1.0-1.15m/s)
  4. 50% x 3 (goal of .85m/s +/- .1)
  5. 60% x 3 (goal of .75m/s +/- .05m)
  6. 65% x 2 (goal of .7m/s +/- .05m)
  7. 70% x 2 (goal of .65m/s +/- .05m)
  8. 75% x 1 (goal of .6m/s +/- .05m)
  9. 80% x 1 (goal of 0.55m/s +/- .05)
  10. 85% x 1 (goal of 0.5m/s +/- .05)
  11. 90% x 1 (goal of 0.45m/s +/- 1.0)
  12. 95% x 1 (goal of 0.4m/s +/- 1.0)
  13. 15-20% x 3 jumps (goal of >1.3m/s)

I am looking for major discrepancies or if there is a significant drop in velocity from one percentage to another. If there is a discrepancy, I will attack that intensity and velocity zone to bring it up. In our experience, if one quality improves, the others will follow suit. For example, Ryan Grimsland, my top Olympic hopeful in weightlifting, tested poorly in the Strength Speed Zone, so we focused on that zone primarily. 12-weeks later his 1RM jumped 10kg/22lb, which is a significant jump for an athlete with ten years of training and bodyweight remaining the same at 67kg/148lb. What’s even better news is that he didn’t have to lift heavy, so I was able to spare the wear and tear on his body. Even better is that his competition total in weightlifting jumped 10kg to 297kg making him the strongest 67kg in America. 

  1. Measure Daily Readiness

On any given day, an athlete’s 1RM can vary 15% up or down, which is a 30% swing. That means 80% on any given day can actually be somewhere between 65-95%. There’s no way that a coach’s intent can be realized like that. Why is there such a swing?

Back in the ‘70s when the Russian Sport Scientists were doing all the research that most of us base our programming decision upon, their athletes basically trained, ate, slept, and recovered. Nowadays our athletes are going to school, working, and experiencing stressful relationships, but that’s not the most stressful part of their lives. Now athletes deal with social media, smart phones, and wearables. They can never get away from bullies and stressful relationships. When I was young, I could go home and feel safe. There’s nowhere to hide anymore. 

Stress causes fatigue, and fatigue is responsible for slower velocities. Luckily GymAware has VBT devices for all of us to measure that velocity loss. I recommend that each of you monitor your athletes by measuring at least the first exercise of the day at 80-85%. If the athlete is 5% slower than normal, I recommend a reduction in volume and load. On the other hand, if the athlete is 10% or more slower than normal, I have them perform some easy bodybuilding to elicit a helpful hormonal response, and then I send them home to relax. A subjective questionnaire is good for understanding the cause and for making correlations. Check out this blog from our VBT Education series to dive deeper into this topic.

  1. Ensure Daily Intent

Athletes that are unfamiliar with the weight room have no idea how to express the intent intended by the strength coach. In the past, I have expressed verbal cues to athletes such as  ‘explode’ or ‘move the bar as fast as possible’. Remember, they have nothing to compare bar speeds to because they have no experience. Velocity is a great teaching tool. For example, I know that a 60% back squat should move at around .75m/s+, so I tell the athlete to move the bar at .75m/s. Now they have a measurable goal to hit. They might only get .6m/s on the first set, but after some encouragement, they nail .75m/s on the second set. Now they know what .75m/s feels like. Now they understand intent. 

There’s another aspect to intent. I could squat 75% for 5 sets of 5 reps at .5m/s for a mean velocity. However, if I tell the athlete to squat the weight at .6m/s, they will execute each repetition with maximal effort. Dr. Fred Hatfield told us about compensatory acceleration many years ago, but now we can actually measure it. We know that maximal intent is beneficial for rate of force development, and compensatory acceleration ensures maximal force development, maximal motor unit recruitment, and maximal Type II Muscle Fiber Recruitment. For training top level athletes, intent really is everything. 

  1. Progressing Safely

Unless you are a powerlifter, there really isn’t a reason to max out in the squat or deadlift especially for seasoned athletes. Unless you are a weightlifter, there isn’t a reason to attempt a maximal snatch or clean and jerk. However, I still want to ensure that all of my athletes are progressing. If they are not progressing, you are wasting your time and the time of your athletes. My favorite two ways to progress my own weightlifting athletes in the squat or deadlift are:

  1. Establish a minimum acceptable velocity (example 0.4m/s)
  2. Pick an Absolute

My star weightlifter, Ryan Grimsland will probably never perform a maximum 1RM back squat ever again. However, he will work up to a 1RM at a velocity between 0.35m/s or 0.4m/s. That test will tell me if he’s able to lift more weight at 0.4m/s now than he did 6-8 weeks ago. 0.4m/s is nowhere near failure, but heavy enough that the nervous system perceives the load in the same way it would a true maximum. Ryan will never risk an injury maxing out or accrue unnecessary fatigue that could be better spent on the competition lifts. For over a year, we used 180kg/396lb as the absolute to test, which was around 90%. Still heavy enough to be considered near maximal without risking injury. 

  1. Hypertrophy Specific to Sport

Yes, we all want to get jacked, but not all muscle is created equally. We monitor velocity loss to ensure our athletes are accruing hypertrophy specific to weightlifting. Weightlifters are explosive and incredibly fast. We are after Type II fast twitch muscle fibers. Bodybuilders on the other hand are after huge muscles regardless of fiber type. Now this is a topic that I will one day expand upon, and I will explain the difference in  sarcoplasmic vs myofibrillar hypertrophy. For today’s lesson, I will explain velocity loss in simple terms. 

If you want fast twitch myofibrillar hypertrophy, I recommend a velocity loss of no more than 10-20% on the majority of training days. What is velocity loss? I will explain. If you are squatting 500 pounds with the first repetition moving at a velocity of 0.6m/s, you will set a limit on your GymAware or Flex of 0.48m/s (20% slower than repetition one). If you are a bodybuilder, you can take it as far as 50-60% velocity loss which is almost failure or is actually failure. Most bodybuilders will spend most of their days at 40% velocity loss with a set or two to complete failure. If you are coaching explosive athletes, you will want to minimize their velocity loss to the same as my weightlifters around 10-20%. 

As you can see, it’s really not that hard to implement velocity-based training in multiple ways that are beneficial to athletes. We have over complicated velocity-based training for far too long. At GymAware, we are pulling the curtains back, and opening the benefits to all athletes young and old. These five most practical uses of Velocity Based Training are a great place to start. You can count on me diving into each of these topics in a much greater capacity in the coming months along with videos explaining and simplifying the implementation process. Let’s make our athletes great together.

Watch the video below:


Being a World Champion in powerlifting, Travis competed at a world-class level in Olympic weightlifting and has coached professional Olympic weightlifters alongside Don McCauley and Glenn Pendlay at Team MDUSA. Now Travis coaches the most successful weightlifting team in the USA.

References:

  1. González-Badillo JJ., Rodríguez-Rosell D., et al. “Maximal Intended Velocity Training Induces Greater Gains in Bench Press Performance than Deliberately Slower Half-Velocity Training.” European Journal of Sport Science0 (0): 1–10 doi:10.1080/17461391.2014.905987.
  2. Hatfield, FC., Power: A Scientific Approach. 1989. 1st edition. Chicago: McGraw-Hill.
  3. Swinton, PA., Lloyd, R. et al. “Contemporary Training Practices in Elite British Powerlifters: Survey Results From an International Competition.” Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research23 (2): 380–84. doi:10.1519/JSC.0b013e31819424bd.
  4. Pareja-Blanco F, Alcazar J, Sánchez-Valdepeñas J, Cornejo-Daza PJ, Piqueras-Sanchiz F, Mora-Vela R, Sánchez-Moreno M, Bachero-Mena B, Ortega-Becerra M, Alegre LM. Velocity Loss as a Critical Variable Determining the Adaptations to Strength Training. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2020 Aug;52(8):1752-1762. doi: 10.1249/MSS.0000000000002295. PMID: 32049887.