Force-Velocity Profile

The how, the why, & what to do with it

If you read any of my VBT training articles or watch my educational videos, you have heard me talk about performing Force-Velocity Profiles. In this article I hope to help you understand this strength test even more. I will teach you how to perform a force-velocity profile and how to interpret the results. Most importantly, I will teach you what to do with the information. Data without action is a great waste of time. My friend and mentor, Coach Joe Kenn, taught me that.

Coach Travis Mash

Force velocity curve

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What is a force-velocity profile

A force-velocity profile shows the relationship (curve) between the strength (force) and speed (velocity) of an athlete. Since power is a combination of force and velocity, the force-velocity profile also tells you something about athletic power (Power = Force * Velocity).

Force-velocity profile vs Load-velocity profile

A force velocity profile is not exactly the same as a load velocity profile. A force velocity profile looks at the relationship between force and velocity on a muscular (sarcomere) level. This curve or relationship is hyperbolic, as you can see in the image above.

A load velocity profile on the other hand, looks at the relationship between load and velocity “in the gym”. It’s a more practical approach. The load velocity curve or relationship is linear:

Squat velocity depending on %1RM, including minimal squat velocity (1RM velocity)
The load velocity profile of an athlete shows a linear relationship between the (relative) load and the (bar) velocity.

Since there is a high correlation between the force-velocity and load-velocity relationship, I’ll use the terms interchangeably.

Why is force-velocity important

Force and velocity are the parameters required to produce power. In athletic performance, power is the attribute that an athlete must possess to perform the incredible athletic achievements that leave the rest of mankind cheering in awe. When an athlete swings a club, throws a punch, or makes a devastating tackle, massive amounts of power is required. Each athlete on earth possesses certain amounts of force production and certain amounts of velocity producing abilities. Power requires an equal amount of each, which is why power training often combines strength and speed work.

Force velocity profiling

Force velocity profiling is the act of gathering data to create an individual force-velocity curve or profile. Let’s dive right into the practical steps to create a force velocity profile.

How to perform a Force-Velocity Profile test:

Force velocity profiling: exercises

Some exercises are more suitable for force velocity profiling than others. I recommend using movements like back squat, front squat, strict press, bench press, and trap bar deadlift. The reason that I don’t list the barbell deadlift is because of the friction caused by the bar dragging along the leg. This makes it a bit difficult to perform the lift at maximum velocity. Trap Bar Deadlifts are a bit more accurate in my experience. However, if you want to use the barbell deadlift, go ahead.

Force velocity profiling: equipment

To create a force velocity profile, you need three things:

  1. Weights that range between 15-100% of 1RM
  2. A tool that measures velocity. GymAware RS is the gold standard tool to measure performance. Its reliability makes it the system of choice for scientific research, elite teams and athletes worldwide.
  3. A notebook or spreadsheet, where you can write down the results. Download our free spreadsheet that automatically highlights what an athlete should work on based on the force-velocity results.

Force velocity profiling: test protocol

Now that we have the movements and measurement equipment, let’s look at the force velocity profile test protocol.

Here’s the way we normally conduct a force-velocity profile:

  1. Start with a standard 10-20 minute warm up. 
  2. 15% 1RM: 3-4 repetitions
  3. 25% 1RM: 2-3 repetitions
  4. 30% 1RM: 2 repetitions
  5. 40% 1RM: 2 repetitions
  6. 50% 1RM: 1-2 repetitions
  7. 55% 1RM: 1-2 repetitions
  8. 60% 1RM: 1 repetition
  9. 65% 1RM: 1 repetition
  10. 70% 1RM: 1 repetition
  11. 75% 1RM: 1 repetition
  12. 80% 1RM: 1 repetition
  13. 85% 1RM: 1 repetition
  14. 90% 1RM: 1 repetition
  15. 95% 1RM: 1 repetition
  16. 100% 1RM: 1 repetition

A few things are important to get proper readings:

  • Keep the warm up standardised to ensure consistent readings over time.
  • Avoid deceleration, especially when the load is still low. Maximum velocity is key! As a result, at low loads, exercises normally end in a jump (e.g. in a squat) or in a throw (e.g. in a bench press).
  • Don’t worry if you perform some plantar flexion during the squat movements or pull movements
  • The higher repetitions are important in the lighter weights because it takes a couple of reps to feel comfortable applying maximal force at the highest possible rates.

Force velocity profile results (example)

Now that you finished the protocol, you should have a combination of several loads (%1RM) and their corresponding velocities.

Here’s an example force-velocity profile for a Back Squat or Front Squat:

force-velocity profile for a Back Squat or Front Squat
Example force-velocity profile (or: load velocity profile) for a back squat or front squat.

Note that some results are marked red. These velocities are below what you would expect based on the load. In other words: the athlete has room for improvement in this area of the load velocity profile. Also note the “quallity of strengt” or velocity zones. We’ll talk about these zones in a bit, but first: you can download the interactive chart that I made for you:

Download the free Force-Velocity spreadsheet!

Download Force-Velocity chart

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How to interpret the force velocity results

When it comes to athletic development, it’s important that athletes have the ability to perform each of the strength qualities (e.g. accelerative strength, speed-strength, absolute strength) in a very equal and linear fashion. You can see the qualities of strength in the spreadsheet table on the right.

If an athlete has incredible ability to express absolute strength but comes up short in the speed-strength and starting strength qualities, you have a strong but slow athlete. Not many sports wouldn’t benefit by making that athlete a bit faster and more powerful. The key is defining each individual in a way that presents a clear picture of each athlete, so that the coach knows which qualities to target for maximum improvement. Learn more about the strength qualities or velocity zones via this article.

Most athletes fall into three categories:

  1. High velocity and low force
  2. Low velocity and high force
  3. Powerful

Of course, athletes range in between all three spectrums, but the force-velocity profile helps you define the athlete. We know that velocity decreases as load/mass increases from the relationship between momentum and impulse [Σ Δt = m(v f − v i)]. In a perfect world, the velocity of a barbell should decrease in a linear fashion as load is added to the barbell.

If you are working with explosive athletes like football players, volleyball players, or Olympic weightlifters, the spreadsheet should easily guide your decisions. If you are working with powerlifters, you might want to dig for some common velocities associated with that group of athletes (see example image below).

As soon as I put the velocity readings in the spreadsheet, I am looking for athletes to be outside of a 7% standard deviation up or down. With the chart that I made for you, it will automatically light up red to alert you if any velocity deviates outside the acceptable range. 

If the result lights up red, then this quality of strength is lacking for the individual athlete. In the above example, this athlete is having trouble with starting strength and strength speed. That helps me to understand what this athlete needs to work on.

Actions to take after creating the load velocity profile

Now that I know what my athlete needs to improve, I can think of a training program.

Since most athletes fall into the three categories. It makes sense to at least create 3 training programs, based on a force velocity (or load velocity) profile:

  • One for Fast and weak Athletes
  • One for Slow and strong athletes
  • One for the Power Athlete

In my example case, the athlete needs to improve starting strength and strength-speed. I can do this by focussing on: rate coding, rate of force development, and elastic properties. This is a very important quality for sprint speed, change of direction, and first step speed. I can think of a few athletic endeavours that might find these traits important. 

Here’s a chart we designed from the data of our own athletes:

Force-Velocity Profile: mashelite athletes chart
Estimated velocity zones based on a %1RM for the squat, bench press and strict press.

I also noticed dysfunction in the strength speed quality, which is very important for weightlifters. This quality is also very important for athletes that need to exert maximum power to be successful like baseball hitters, linebackers, and rugby athletes. I will probably put into play the following suggestions:

  • Contrast training pairing squats with jumps
  • Quality time spent training in the strength speed quality  
  • Bands are great for eliciting improvements in velocity and power

Final thoughts:

I love to get strong. Who doesn’t? However, heavy grinding sets aren’t the answer to all dysfunctions. There are multiple adaptations to consider if you are trying to develop the perfect athlete to match with the corresponding sport. Here are just a few adaptations that we can hope to elicit in the training room:

  • Elasticity- tendons, ligaments, efficiency of the neuromuscular system, and certain qualities at the cellular level within the muscle fiber (especially titin protein filament) all contribute to an athlete’s elasticity. When you watch Usain Bolt run, you are watching the best elastic qualities on earth in action. Bounding, high velocity eccentric training (flywheel), and higher velocity exercises are all important for this characteristic.
  • Hypertrophy- most coaches will have perked up ears when they hear the word ‘hypertrophy’. We all love getting jacked, but not all hypertrophy is created equal. If you only focus on hypertrophy, there will be other adaptations that might very well cause an athlete to get slower. For example, most athletes will notice shifts of fiber type to more oxidative in nature, which is a slower fiber type. Internal moment arms will lengthen causing a joint to be stronger but slower, which I wasn’t aware of until just recently reading Chris Beardsley’s work. 
  • Higher velocity exercises especially with bands will create adaptations for higher velocity movements in general. Some of these adaptations are higher rate coding, which allows athletes to create higher levels of force in the presence of higher detachment rates of  actin-myosin cross bridges. All of these adaptations lead to greater power production and speed. 

My point is that individualization is a must if you want to improve athletes based on their strengths and weaknesses. There’s a reason that some athletes get very little from a particular method while others seem to explode with results. I have given you a very simple way of individualizing to fit individual athlete needs. If you are writing a one-size fits all program, you are leaving some gains on the table.

Force velocity profile video presentation:

Coach Travis Mash

Travis Mash

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.