VBT and Javelin Throw – with the McEntyre brothers
When Australian throwing coach Angus McEntyre first introduced Velocity Based Training (VBT) his athletes enjoyed immediate and significant improvements. In particular, his 21-year-old brother and Olympic possible, Cameron McEntyre, who achieved a 5 metre personal record off the back of his first GymAware based VBT strength program.
Cameron threw his new personal record – 78.75 metres – in December 2019, backed up by another 78.63m effort and a win at the Sir Greame Douglas International in Auckland, New Zealand, in February 2020. The pivotal change to his program came only two months prior to the December 2019 meet when Angus first attached GymAware to the bar.
The promising results have continued into 2020, with Cameron’s bar speed and load both increasing across key lifts in the gym. Critically, Cameron’s arm velocity (a key metric in javelin) measured 29 m/s in testing in January 2020 – the same speed as athletes who made the podium at the World Champs in 2019.
While Angus is excited about Cameron’s results, he maintains a strong focus on a long-term development pathway.
Do you recall when you first came across VBT and can you explain why it’s relevant for throwing, and in particular javelin?
I first came across VBT in 2012 or so, but wouldn’t have fully understood how the concepts were beneficial or how to apply it appropriately until later. I have always given myself a rule to be 10 steps ahead of my athletes so I can coach them to the best of my ability, so when they were reaching levels of success that required more specific training, I needed to get on top it.
This would have started in 2015 and over the past four seasons I’ve modified and expanded my concepts, assisted by consultation with others. In 2015, my athletes were reaching new levels of success. It became important that my understanding of VBT was adequate enough to apply better strength training programs to ensure they peaked and improved their performance.
The throws events require substantial force development, the more powerful you are the further you will throw. Strength programs targeting power development will increase the throwers potential. Therefore, VBT training becomes essential for force development.
Force = Mass x Acceleration; the more acceleration or speed applied to a weighted implement (mass), the more force developed, the better the performance. The javelin throw in particular is reliant on explosive power, and applying VBT to the strength program is vital to improving performance. I have seen this application be incredibly successful.
Was there anything you needed to learn, consider or change to be confident in developing and implementing a VBT program?
Yes! I have gone through a lot of trial and error over many years with many athletes across different sporting programs. I have consulted coaches, sports biomechanical staff, athletes and immersed myself amongst different sporting codes to learn how they program and execute VBT programs.
I thoroughly enjoy reaching out to people and discussing their ideas and concepts. I’ve learnt many different ways to program/apply VBT. All of which have a specific purpose in achieving a certain goal or outcome with an athlete. I think being versatile is really important when understanding VBT.
The main consideration I’ve had to understand thoroughly is the purpose of VBT and what it will achieve. Do I want my athlete more ballistic to throw a javelin? Do I want my 400m runner to exhibit a frequent and consistent fast motion for 45s? Or do I want my athlete as powerful as possible to make contact in rugby and drive a player 3m backwards?
VBT can be applied differently once the desired outcome is established. It is specific, and is generally closest to or during competition season as it requires development to maximize the outcomes.
Once I gained an understanding of VBT and it’s place in strength training, I would apply different methods, then build upon that. As I could see results, I think that’s where my confidence has grown.
What I like about track and field is the results are objective. You either improve on your personal best or you don’t. And if the athlete becomes more powerful as a result of VBT, then we have success and there are noticeable changes in an athlete’s performance.
A couple of years ago I made a simple change to VBT training that had a major effect on performance. Everything used to be executed just with free weights – e.g. Barbell Speed Squat at 60kg. After ready/watching/seeing bands being used as an accommodating resistance to develop strength I thought to myself, ‘if I attached bands to the bar with minimal weight then got the athlete to move it as fast as they could, it would recoil back faster, then they would have to react faster to move it. Therefore, the whole process is faster!’.
So, instead of doing a Rapid Bench Press with 50kg on the bar and almost throwing it through the roof, then having to decelerate to bring it back to the chest; a barbell with the weight and bands equivalent to 50kg is pressed, returned with speed elastically due to the bands, and the body will react with speed to press it again. This concept has been applied to our programs since.
What steps did you take when first introducing Cameron to VBT and how has he taken to the fresh tactic?
Cameron has had many years of VBT training. In the 2014/15 season Cam was throwing the Javelin 73m (700g) as a 15 year old and represented Australia at the World Youth Championships. That was his first year of strength training and the year I really took an understanding/appreciation of how strength training would translate to improving performance.
During this stage, the use of med balls, plyometrics, throwing weights were always part of his program. In the gym, he was introduced to VBT training with the likes of Squat Jumps (3×6), Speed Squats and Speed Bench (3×8 reps as fast as possible) using minimal weight.
As he has developed in the gym, his training has become more advanced each season learning variations of Olympic lifting that become specific to the movements of his Javelin and then applying them at a high-power rate to mimic the throw. Exercises have progressed to loading squat jumps/speed squats with similar volume, to performing exercises like a Hang Snatch or Hang Clean, pressing on time (i.e. 4 reps in 6 seconds).
For four years now Cam’s VBT focus has been on applying only a few specific exercises in a program (Banded Rapid Squats, Split Jumps, Rapid V-Sits, Rapid Pull Downs etc.) towards his javelin throwing. We perform this with reduced loads (approx. 30-50%) on his core lifts (Snatch, Clean, Jerk) pursuing PB strength.
The new tactic that was introduced in October 2019 was to focus on the velocity of movement with his core lifts using Maximal Velocity (m/s) as the outcome measure, rather than the weight (kg) of the barbell.
We also introduced GymAware to determine our outcome measure of Maximal Velocity. Now, instead of pursuing a Split Snatch to reach 100kg or a personal best, the exercise became about maximizing velocity with each repetition in a set. That is, improving the power output potential.
Cam was instructed to lift as fast as he could through the entire set, irrespective of weight. Each goal was to increase the peak velocity with a weight that allowed him to consistently move as fast as possible.
What resulted from this style of training was that Cameron was clearly becoming more powerful. Each week, we could increase the weight on the bar and he would still improve Velocity and Power Output in the lift. In fact, he progressed to the point where he was lifting between 65-70% of 1RM and still producing more than 2.3 m/s. After 6 weeks of this training Cam threw 78.75m, and it looked fast and ballistic. I put down the improvements of this season to his Strength and Conditioning components.
Cam showed improvement to all his VBT lifts in velocity and weight. He has now finished this season due to COVID-19. We tested his lifts and interestingly found that he has improved his 1RM on the back of doing this style of VBT training. I am very excited with the changes in Maximal Strength as a result of VBT.
Why did you make the change in your Strength program?
Due to the ballistic nature of the javelin throw and its reliance on absolute power I decided to place more focus on Power development through Velocity of Strength Movement versus Maximum Strength training during the pre-season and improve it throughout the season.
In Cameron’s case, Maximal Strength was not an area he would shine compared to his peers. However, velocity of movement and power output is. Lifting heavy weight (i.e. 200kg Squats, 150kg Cleans) is not his forte. We could continue to strive for PB’s but due to its slower nature of movement, Cam not excelling greatly with this type of training and its lesser relevance to improving his javelin, I thought a change in training was necessary.
I recognize that Max Strength training will increase our power production potential, but it was getting to the stage for me where I had to weigh up what was more important to gain greater improvements in his Javelin performance. I kept thinking that pursuing maximal strength training would make him perform better as a stronger athlete, but the reality was that for Cameron he needed to be a more powerful athlete rather than strong.
What did you gain from having GymAware available, as opposed to implementing VBT concepts without a measuring device?
Having done VBT training without a measuring device until October 2019, it changed our training performance significantly, both physically and mentally. When going off the basis of ‘feeling’ speed for so long, to have constant feedback right in front of us motivated improvement every session.
Each repetition was measured, training load could be monitored and improvement to Velocity and Power output could be observed each session. I could see the hunger to improve and put that extra 10% in based off the feedback that we would get. The concept couldn’t have been executed without GymAware technology. And none of this feedback could have happened beforehand by just going off ‘feel’. It brings a real High-Performance environment to our training sessions.
Are there any specific features of GymAware that made VBT easier for you as a coach?
The outcome measures of the GymAware made it easier for me to manage and record VBT. We use Peak Velocity (M/S) and Peak Power (W). We also use the Athlete % dial to ensure all lifts are within 20% of Personal Best Velocity or the peak velocity of each set. It has made it easier to gauge where performance is at, as well as monitoring fatigue.
If the velocity performance of his training was dropped below 20% consistently, I knew that Cam was fatiguing. Therefore, I could make changes accordingly.
I have also been playing around with Dip on some exercises such as the Back Squat, Bulgarian Squats and Pull Overs when applying Strength at Range concepts.
What lifts do you focus on with Cameron and what sort of progress has he made on them? Has the way you program these exercises changed (and how)?
His core lifts focus around variations of Olympic Lifting (Clean, Snatch, Jerk) that are specific to the Javelin motion. The major focus has been around Split Snatch, Split Clean, Back Jerk (Split) which are 3 of my Javelin throwers core lifts. Other core lifts include different series of Pull Overs and variations of Squats (Back, Bulgarian, Split, Jumps, Banded etc.).
Programming changes towards core lifts has changed slightly. With the maximal velocity outcome, I kept between 3-6 repetitions depending on the exercise and what I was trying to achieve.
I did introduce pyramidal loading in January to play around as we were in Peak Mode. I applied this concept to some exercises to see if he could maintain the speed when loading, which was very insightful and successful.
Keep in mind it wasn’t 3 repetitions at 80% 1RM, it was 3 reps of the heaviest he could move quickly. Whether it be 4×6, 5×3 or 5xPyramiding to 2 reps, again, the focus was to move the bar as fast as possible (ie.2.5m/s or above) irrespective of weight. A goal was to not to slow down throughout the set below 20% of the Peak Velocity during a set. 30-60% of 1RM loading became irrelevant, it was about improving Peak Velocity for each repetition programmed.
Exercises were modified to increase the velocity output i.e. Instead of the Split Snatch from the floor, it was executed from the Hang to increase the potential to develop velocity and more specifically to force generation in an upright position.
Cam is challenging the Force x Velocity curve significantly, where he currently has a personal best Peak Velocity in the Hang Split Snatch performing 4×6 in 6 seconds at 3.25 m/s (at 60% of his 1RM being 50kg). We would then add a bit more weight and try and beat the previous velocity, so at 55kg he reached 2.98 M/S. So, we are working in a very specific space.
How are you using the GymAware Cloud to supplement your coaching?
The cloud makes the training week very organized. It provides me with a backup training diary, with very clear statistics so I can monitor loads and see trends or patterns. I am still very new to it, so figuring out the ins and outs of it all but I am really enjoying seeing all the statistics of my athletes with their written entries of their program diaries and analyzing all of it together.
How does your VBT approach differ to your previous programming when it comes to getting competition ready in the week or two before an event?
In Track and Field we might have four major comps within a 3-block period, and at the end of that block the penultimate competition (World Champs/Australian Champs etc.). I have a system that seems to be working for the moment, which involves a smaller taper and then what I would call a penultimate taper toward the end of the season.
Typically, our taper period would involve a de-loading phase the week to 10 days out of the penultimate competition. That varies amongst some of my athletes as some like to taper a bit sooner than 10 days and some of them respond well to less taper. Some of my athletes like to do a bit of lifting the day before competition and some like to lift 3-4 days out of comp, but this is a tapered load, generally an activation session being light and fast.
Regardless, the volume drops and the intensity is maintained coming into a competition. I do tend to follow a 25-33% de-load over the course of a 7-10 day period out of a penultimate competition.
I include an Activation/Comp Week session in their programs which can be substituted for their normal strength sessions to taper when we have competitions sporadically during the season. These activation sessions are highly specific, low in volume and moderate in intensity. The goal is to get the body moving and put a bit of load through the system a few days out before the comp. In a nutshell they are light, fast and not taxing.
Now we have GymAware I can monitor this cleverly and tell them what weight to lift based on their training results. Following a competition week, and pending there isn’t a competition the following weekend, the athletes will return to the normal program.
This concept hasn’t changed but I can have a more organized taper using GymAware and the Cloud. An example I used was with one of the Discus throwers prior to a competition in February, whereby I said to lift 110kg Back Squat, which was 60% 1RM, and move at 1.5m/s for 4 repetitions. This was instead of 3 Heavy repetitions during the comp week.
Short term, what is Cameron targeting next, and how are you structuring your VBT program for it?
The Plan Prior to March 2020 and the COVID-19 restrictions:
Short term Cam had the Brisbane International meet and National Championships at the end of March. We had a goal of throwing 80m, which should be achieved with cleaning some aspects of his throwing technique. His power and velocity output were tracking very successfully, just needed to translate all of it through his javelin technique.
His strength program was velocity based again with GymAware attached on most exercises. Compared to the Oct-Dec 2019 block, this Competition Phase program progressed some exercises and volume changes from the previous program to improve his power as specifically as possible to the javelin throw. Again, Javelin being reliant on absolute power, the specificity of his VBT is Maximal as we were coming into that penultimate competition.
We had to change up some exercises to maintain some Maximal Strength in some lifts to translate into his throw. i.e. due to losing left foot block in the left hip, so we brought back a 5×3 Bulgarian Squat to top up some single leg strength deep in the hip and leg, contrasted with Split Jumps 3×5 each leg in the same set.
I applied some contrast training to a few other areas of the body also, such as the Pull Over exercises, as I wanted to add some more strength with power in the same set, and he responds well to that. Another example was a Multi Bar (Specific to Javelin Grip) Incline Pull over 4×3, with a DB Rapid Alternating Pull Over 3×5:5.
Exercise changes included changes from Rapid Banded Squat Jumps transitioning to an Overhead Alternating Split Jump at speed with depth for 4×10 in 8 seconds. Again, based on a higher specificity to the javelin throw.
Core lifts remained similar with Hang Split Snatch/Split Clean and Jerk moving rapidly, aiming for 2.5 m/s or above. But I kept to 4×6 in 6 seconds to keep the weight of 6 reps a bit lower than a 2 or 3 rep set.
The Plan Post February 2020 under COVID-19 Restrictions:
We are now faced with a real challenge over the next few months as Brisbane International and National Championships were postponed and now cancelled, meaning the season is over. So, we are going to go back into a block of heavier loading and a faster explosive day at the end of the week.
Seeing there is no perspective of when competitions are going to occur, we can start trying to build up his Personal Bests and play around with Max strength and Power output concepts for a training block. I will be using the GymAware using Peak Power Output and Velocity to see what a maximal Strength vs Velocity outcome looks like for Cam.
Dip will be vital to measure seeing a lot of the exercises will be loading adequately to full range. The uncertainty of the competitive season this year means we are just going back into a building phase of training to prepare for late winter/springtime competitions.
And what about longer programming periods with multiple cycles, can you outline how you might be thinking about the next year or so?
The plan had always been to finish the 2019/2020 season and return to a block of heavier loading prior to the possibility of international comps in June/July. After the heavier block we would build towards making the strength training specific to peaking depending on when the next competition period was. In Cameron’s case, as power training was introduced earlier and we were able to still develop it as the season goes on, we will try and do the same thing.
As Track and field is a sport with multiple peaks and troughs, I always try and find a way to keep improving strength and power in a sport which is difficult to periodize. This might look like using a variety of exercises, training volumes, and hybrids across strength/power programs. So, following a multiple cycle approach which varies or transitions between strength/power training I’ve found has worked well.
What would you suggest other coaches consider if they are contemplating a VBT program?
I think the main importance before initiating VBT programs is knowing what you want to achieve from the training and knowing how VBT programs will improve the sporting performance. Having a clear understanding of the physical components of your sport is important when implementing a VBT program. Whether it is speed, power, endurance, agility etc. that you are trying to improve, a VBT program can benefit significantly. The other major contributor will be how you program towards VBT and knowing what forms of strength training have proven greater success prior to implementation.
Within VBT training, knowing exactly what physiological adaptation you are wanting to achieve to translate into your sport. There are different types of power training; Isotonic, Ballistic, Plyometric. How is it that programming will translate to sporting performance? Is it a short explosive motion like throwing or a short continual motion like taking contact and driving a player in rugby, or a Lactate athlete trying to translate into a longer continual motion (40-60s)? Maybe something for a middle- or long-distance athlete that requires an increase of speed over 4-5 minutes where longer VBT methods can be incredibly beneficial.
Point being, there are a lot of different ways to apply VBT training, but my suggestion is knowing exactly what you’re trying to achieve from training such concepts.
What’s Cameron’s competition program look like for 2020, and what do you hope to see from the coming year?
Cam’s results this season have opened him up to different competitions and opportunities domestically and internationally. Currently, he is trying to gain as many points as possible to improve his world ranking. He has just competed successfully in New Zealand at the international meet in Auckland and we had an international meet in Brisbane at the end of March that was to be followed by the National championships. We were considering doing some competitions overseas in the Autumn/Winter months. The current goal is to get over the 80m mark.
Since the coronavirus outbreak, we are unsure on what the international season is going to look like, but we have domestic competitions in Northern QLD in June/July so depending on the restrictions we will have that in the back of our minds to prepare for. 2021 presents more opportunity for Cam, with the World University Games, and now the Olympic games. There is a real possibility for Cameron to compete in Tokyo if he continues to improve and throws between 80-83m.
High Performance Coach, SYDNEY
Angus is a Chiropractor, Performance Coach and owner of AM Health & Performance in Sydney, NSW. He works as a Track and Field/Strength and Conditioning Coach with athletes at both National and International level and is currently a personal coach on Athletics Australia’s National Athlete Support Structure (NASS) and New South Wales Institute of Sport Track & Field programs. Angus has represented as a Team Coach with Athletics Australia’s Junior Teams at the Oceania Championships and been involved with AFL and Rugby Union teams as a Sports Chiropractor and Performance Coach.
Australian Representative Javelin Thrower, SYDNEY
Cameron is studying a Bachelor of Human Science at Macquarie University. At 21 years old Cam has had an exciting career, including representing Australia at the World Youth Championships in 2015 and World Junior Championships in 2018. Cameron is a NSW Institute of Sport and Athletics Australia NASS athlete. He has been the Junior Age Champion from U13-U20 in the Javelin at the Australian Championships. The 2019/2020 season has been his breakthrough at Open level, throwing 78.75m and achieving podium success at Oceania International Permit meets.