Mythbusters: Velocity Based Training Edition
I am excited to write this ‘Mythbusters: Velocity Based Training Edition’ because this is long overdue in our industry. I didn’t start using velocity-based training (VBT) because I am smarter than other Coaches. I started using VBT to make sure that I am doing everything possible to keep my athletes safe and to ensure their progression as athletes. The most important fact that I have learned over the last three years is that as coaches we are either measuring or guessing. I coach some of the best weightlifters in the world, so they didn’t come to me for guessing. I have to assume your athletes don’t want you guessing either…
My point is that velocity isn’t some new age form of coaching. It doesn’t require a PhD to figure it out. If coaches will take the time to understand it, which doesn’t take long at all, they will find that VBT makes their lives easier. That’s what this article is all about. Without further ado, here are some of the biggest VBT myths I aim to demystify :
- VBT is reserved for Advanced Athletes Only aka not for High School Athletes
- VBT is complicated to implement
- VBT will slow down practice
- LPT (Linear Position Transducer) Tech is outdated
- VBT is the same as Speed Training/Dynamic Effort
- VBT tech is expensive
- Coaches that think VBT will turn the training room into a video game
- Tech like VBT isn’t durable enough for the weight room
1. VBT is reserved for Elite Athletes
I hear this one the most. A lot of coaches believe that VBT is some advanced form of training reserved only for the elite athletes in the world. This couldn’t be further from the truth. VBT simply accentuates and quantifies every level of coaching. If I am coaching a beginner in high school, VBT helps athletes understand the actual intent that I am trying to get them to express. For example, if I am trying to teach compensatory acceleration (attempting to push maximally throughout a range of motion), I can put a velocity on a weight that encourages maximal effort. If I want to keep them safe, I can apply a ‘velocity ceiling’ to their sets. For example, I can have them work to a 3-repetition maximum staying above 0.45m/s, and then I can rest assured there will be no misses.
If your athletes struggle with attention disorders like I did, this style of training is easier to communicate. You can express an intent verbally all you want. However, if they see the actual velocity on the IPAD while receiving your affirmation, the process isn’t only easier but will stay with them forever in most cases. Involving as many senses as possible makes learning so much easier. I have applied this method to my graduate studies resulting in a current 4.0. Where was this when I was an undergraduate at Appalachian State University? Not to mention, velocity makes the sessions fun for the athletes. This is more important than most realize. When these athletes are smiling and having a good time competing with each other on velocity, they’re also associating exercise with a good time. That means they are much more likely to continue exercising in the future, which leads to a healthier and more productive future.
2. VBT is Complicated to Implement
If this were true, I can promise you that I would not be using VBT. It’s easier than prescribing percentages, and that’s for sure. For example, is it easier for a 16-year-old to look at a workout prescription of ‘5×3 at 85%’ and realize that means 5 sets of 3 reps at 85% of their one-repetition maximum (1RM), remember their actual 1RM, and then calculate 85% of that 1RM, or is it easier simply to say work up on triples until the screen says 0.5m/s and then stay there for 5 sets? Velocity is easier every time.
What if you are one of those coaches that like bands and chains? Now you have to buy a meat scale to measure the load at lockout and at the end range of motion to calculate the proper loading parameters. Not me, I just tell my athletes to add straight weight and bands until they reach my desired intent for his or her workout. Once again, the prescription will be the same: work up on triples until the screen says 0.5m/s (or whatever velocity I am after) and then stay there for 5 sets.
My favorite way of prescribing comes from one of our GymAware Flex‘ High School Coaches. He told us that when his athletes start back after long breaks that he tells them to work to a 5RM staying above 0.65m/s in the first week. Then he drops the velocity to 0.6m/s the next week, and continues with this progression to ensure they are receiving the minimal effective dose. This is brilliant! It’s a great way to avoid a dangerous acute to chronic threshold, which means avoiding giving them volume too high above their current trends. Not adhering to suggested acute to chronic thresholds is a recipe for early injury, which is why so many injuries happen at the beginning of a season. Sadly, not every athlete performs the take home workouts like you coaches prescribe.
Here’s a new chart that I made for you guys that will help:
With this chart, you can easily prescribe using velocity ceilings. Let me know your creative ways of workout prescription at Travis@GymAware.com. I would love to see what you are doing, and then I can pass on to the other coaches using VBT with your permission of course.
For some other practical methods of implementing velocity, check out 5 Practical Uses of VBT.
3. VBT will slow down practice
I have heard this a few times from coaches. As a collegiate coach, I have major empathy for coaches. Some of you are coaching 30-50 athletes every hour, so change can be overwhelming. Luckily, it’s summer time, so most of us can breathe as we read informational articles. The key to velocity-based training rolling smoothly at practice is the same as getting any program format implemented and rolling. The first few days have to be instructional. For example, if you are a percentage-based coach, you have to explain that ‘5×3 at 85%’ means 5 sets of 3 repetitions at 85% of one’s 1-repetition maximum. Then you will have to show them where to store his or her 1RMs, and you will have to show them how to calculate the percentage on their phone or with a sheet you might have created. You will also have to show them where to keep a log of all this information if you want to have any means of monitoring progress. Without monitoring progress, what are we really doing?
Here’s what I recommend. One, the first day of class or in your first training session go over the IPAD, how to change loads, and how to set velocity parameters. If you have the cloud, which I recommend, you can set up predetermined groups, use auto-skip, and boom you are rolling in order. If the weights are the same each set, you literally don’t have to touch the screen again during that specific exercise. Here’s a video demonstrating this feature.
The best part is that the athletes don’t have to keep up with a log or get out their phones to write down the workouts. It’s all tracked in the GymAware Cloud. Then, if you are a data nerd like me, the sky’s the limit for all the things that you can track like: acute to chronic thresholds, effect size, strain & monotony, relative intensity, and more. Heck, you will never have to max out again to track improvement because you can constantly estimate 1-repetition maximums with the loads you are tracking. As you can see, GymAware or Flex Units are practically doing the job for you and your athletes in the tracking department.
4. LPT Tech is Outdated
Anyone that performs research at all knows that this isn’t true. Velocity is measured by knowing the distance an object travels divided by the time. The only way to do that accurately and precisely is with a Linear Positional Transducer (LPT), which is the string or tether based units that GymAware produces taking precise measurements of both the x and y axis making the GymAware perfect for bar path as well.
Accelerometers are electromechanical devices that measure changes in velocity by responding to vibrations and using algorithms to come up with proposed velocities. They have zero independent studies validating the accuracy of any accelerometer units, and the anecdotal evidence isn’t favorable if accuracy matters. If you have athletes that matter to you like I do or are performing research, this isn’t an option.
Camera systems are fancy looking and very expensive. Once again, these high speed cameras are taking measurements to estimate velocity. Ghost reps are common, and the accuracy simply isn’t there. They look cool, but I am about performance. One of my colleagues talked to me about a certain camera system when I was choosing my own source of velocity tracking. It was his experience that completely pointed me in the direction of GymAware. My athletes are the Gold Standard of weightlifting, and they deserve the Gold Standard of VBT. Ghost reps, estimates, and poor accuracy isn’t an option.
The GymAware FLEX unit is also LPT tech but without the string. The laser acts like a tether, more suitable for those who don’t prefer the tether, or for those on a budget. I have used the GymAware and the Flex side by side for two years now, and I can say from experience and from my own documented data that the Flex is very close to the GymAware in accuracy. It’s close enough that I feel fine using the Flex with my athletes or with research.
5. VBT is the same as Speed Training/Dynamic Effort
This one drives me crazy. Velocity-Based Training didn’t come from the conjugate method or anything else that was created by Louie Simmons. Louie was one of the first people that spoke to the masses regarding VBT, but the works of Roman outdated his by a decade or so. Louie coined the term Dynamic Effort, which referred mainly to the strength-speed quality of strength and sometimes speed-strength. Velocity-Based Training is simply a measurement of whatever zone you intend or intend for your athletes to express. Therefore, VBT could refer to speed-strength, but it could also refer to absolute strength. VBT isn’t a training method. It’s a tool to ensure that your intended method is being met. That’s all.
6. VBT tech is expensive
Coaches like me, will spend thousands of dollars on squat racks, barbells, and plates without blinking an eye. Therefore, when a coach tells me that VBT equipment is too expensive, I realize at that moment they probably don’t understand the uses of VBT. If you read my articles VBT for High School Coaches, VBT and Mental Health, VBT and Women, or any of the rest, then you will understand that VBT is the most versatile tool in the weight room. That’s why I spend the majority of my professional life studying, testing, and using VBT with my own athletes. VBT keeps my athletes safe, quantifies every aspect of their training, and keeps them process focused versus performance focused. This leaves me with a physically and mentally healthy athlete for performance, and more importantly they leave their sport the same way.
Once you understand that, then you are going to love the rest of what I have to say. Since I started assisting GymAware with education, I have had the opportunity to speak with users that have units over decades old that are still the same gold standard. If you are a coach like me that is concerned with data collection, the cloud feature is one affordable rate no matter if you have a thousand athletes unlike the other devices in the industry. GymAware wants lifelong customers that trust them for their VBT and data solutions.
When it comes to the GymAware FLEX unit, it is the most accurate scientifically validated device under USD $500. If you follow me, you know that we use the GymAware Flex as much as our GymAware. Like some of you, we are a small operation. However, my athletes are still some of the best weightlifters in the world, so they deserve the Gold standard on a budget solution. The Flex has proven to be accurate, easy to use, and the app is simply fun to use.
Look, I am not in sales for GymAware. I am simply here to educate coaches. If you have read my articles up until now, you know this to be the truth. I just want to take this opportunity to help all of you both big and small teams and operations. For teams and orgs with lower budgets, there is also the latest FLEX x GA software integration. You will get the same data collection and athlete organization as our users with unlimited budgets. It’s a really cool time for all VBT users. When you look at the long term benefits of VBT, it was a no brainer for me.
In my sport, weightlifting in the United States has advanced more in the last six years than the prior fifty. All of the top coaches like me are using VBT because we can’t afford to guess when competing against the Chinese. I started using VBT in 2019, and by 2020 I was using it everyday with all of my athletes. When Ryan Grimsland started using VBT in 2020, he was just one of my athletes. He was good, making youth and junior International teams, but he wasn’t the top youth or junior. Now in 2022, he’s not only the top Junior athlete in the country, he’s arguably the top male weightlifter in the country, period. He’s now attempting world record numbers in training, and it’s greatly attributed to VBT. I know exactly how much stress to prescribe without going overboard. He can get stronger, and still have the energy to focus on the competition lifts.
Lastly, GymAware RS can be repaired at home. We also have ‘how to’ videos. If my men and women haven’t broken one yet while slamming 400 pound jerks from overhead, I can’t see anyone. I am sure some athletes out there will find a way. If so, fixing them is no problem. I love VBT. If you have followed me at all in the last five years, you know that to be true. I strongly recommend finding a way to add them into your budgets. Ok this is where my salesmanship ends. I just wanted to make a point because your athletes deserve it just like mine.
7. Coaches that think VBT will turn the training room into a video game
This might be my favorite myth especially in the way that the coaches are thinking. It’s quite the opposite actually. When using GymAware or the Flex Stronger unit with the cloud, the athletes have no business on their phones. This ensures they stay off video games and social media. The IPADs are used in a group setting, so no one is using the IPAD alone to get on a video game. Like I explained above, once you set the groups and use the auto-skip feature, the athletes stay completely off the App unless they have to set a new load. The screen is simply used as a second pair of eyes giving instant feedback of a job well-done, a need to try harder, a need to lessen the load, or a need to add some weight. That’s it really. There are no games to be played. As a matter of fact, if you add rest intervals, you are ensured the athletes keep working in an orderly fashion.
8. Tech like VBT isn’t durable enough for the weight room
Anyone that watches the videos of my athletes realize why I am laughing at this one. The GymAware FlexUnit and especially the new Rugged GymAware RS were both designed for the weight room. The new tethers are 30% stronger having been upgraded from 250lb to 180lb, 20% longer to 12ft, and GymAware made the tethers much easier to change out yourself as well as the batteries creating less downtime. Plus I have to add that I love the new magnetic speed clip for the tether attachment that comes standard along with the integrated velcro strap.
The unit itself now comes with a rubberized shock absorbing base coming standard with magnetic feet. It got its name from the ruggedised housing that includes a circular body design and thick-walled housing, and they placed the electronics deep inside the unit making it much harder to injure. I like to refer to it as bomb-proof.
My athletes are lifting more weight and moving that weight faster than any other university weight room in the world, and this I am certain of. We have arguably the best weightlifter in America, Ryan Grimsland, clean and jerking over 190kg/418lb weighing in at 73kg/160lb not to mention slamming the bar down on the ground from overhead. We have Tank Lunsford squatting 320kg/705lb raw at 19-years-old, and these are just a few of our great athletes. I have lost count of the athletes that have placed over 182kg/400lb over their heads.
I am not just talking about the GymAware RS either. The FLEX units have endured bar slams with over 182kg/400lb loaded, and haven’t even been shaken loose at all. Those Flex Units are quite remarkable. Once you have tightened them around the bar, those things are on there for good. What I am trying to say is that you can rest assured that these pieces of equipment are more than sturdy enough for you in any weight room.
I hope that I put to bed all of those myths that surround the velocity-based world. The era of throwing some weight on the bar and hoping for the best is over. If you want to create athletes as good or better than the ones I as well as other practitioners are creating, you will need to put aside any preconceived notions or fears and start using VBT. It’s effective, fun, and informative with the data tracking. It will not only show you the improvements of your athletes, but it will also help you show administration the real picture of your program. At the end of the day, if the administration isn’t happy, nobody is happy. That’s one thing I have quickly learned in the university setting. Reach out to me with any topics that you would like to see covered.
Coach Travis Mash
Senior International Weightlifting Coach
Check out the video below:
- Kasovic, Jovana; Martin, Benjamin; Fahs, Christopher A. The Comparison of Velocity between Front Squat, Back Squat, Sumo and Conventional Deadlift, Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise: June 2019 – Volume 51 – Issue 6S – p 46 doi: 10.1249/01.mss.0000560630.14465.64