How Strength Coaches can assess athletes’ daily readiness using velocity
In the previous blog, I explained the need for assessing daily readiness in a world filled with stressed out athletes. I explained the negative effects of social media, smart phones, wearables, and impaired sleep from the blue light before bed. Young and old athletes alike are stressed out from fear of missing out, social media bullying, social media fatigue, social media stalking, and online social comparison. Athletes are coming into the gym already fatigued, but the fatigue isn’t from the workload prescribed by their coaches. This fatigue puts the athletes at risk of injury, impairs performance, and can lead to long term health issues. In this blog, I aim to explain how Strength Coaches can assess athletes’ daily readiness using velocity and monitor for this fatigue, and I will also dive into what to do with the findings.
If coaches can objectively monitor for stress along with subjective daily questionnaires, interventions can take place to: 1. Drop training loads to avoid injuries, and 2. To teach athletes to properly deal with stress. The long-term and short-term benefits could potentially increase the life-span of an athlete, improve overall health, and more certainly prevent injuries improving performance without disruption (Lavallée L, Flint F., 1996.).
Measuring Fatigue with Velocity
Fatigue is a measurable side-effect of stress. It’s a way of measuring all the different forms of stress that an athlete might experience. There are two ways that coaches can easily measure fatigue: 1. Velocity of the day’s first movement or a standard movement such as a hang clean pull. I will explain both, so that you can easily implement, and 2. Reactive Strength Index (RSI), which is a depth jump with a look at height divided by ground contact time. The RSI gives a better look at the central nervous system, while the lifts look closer at the peripheral nervous system.
Velocity is the simplest way to measure fatigue. If you are using VBT already, it doesn’t require anything extra. Most programs have certain base exercises that are frequently performed such as the: clean, squat, deadlift, or trap bar pulls. It doesn’t really matter the exercise. The key is to test your athletes on a day where they are fresh mentally and physically. You will need to test your athletes at loads between 80-85%. Anything lighter than this can lead to false results due to the perception of the CNS on lighter loads being slightly different than the higher loads of 80%+( Werner I, Szelenczy N, Wachholz F, Federolf P., 2021). It’s mainly because athletes don’t have to expend as much force on lighter lifts, so subconsciously they might not. This could throw off the readings.
If you don’t want to measure all the core lifts of all the athletes, you could pick just one to be performed daily. I recommend the hang clean pull to be performed at 85% of the athletes’ 1RM hang clean or clean. I like the hang pull due to the counter movement present in a hang pull, you and the athlete get a better look at the neuromuscular system. The lengthening experienced during the initial eccentric contraction preceding the dynamic concentric pull of the barbell activates the neural mechanisms of the muscle spindles and golgi tendon organ (GTO) which are types of encapsulated proprioceptive sense organs used to make up the stretch reflex that is so commonly discussed amongst coaches. The key is consistency. Therefore, even though I am giving you multiple variables in ways to perform the test, pick one to apply and stick with it. Consistency in testing equals reliable results.
Once you have the base velocities, now you have a measurable variable. The problem with prescribing athletes based on a percentage of his or her one repetition maximum is that an athlete’s 1RM can vary 15% in either direction. Therefore, the training effect intended by the strength coach may be off by a mile or right on. The problem is that coaches are just guessing with percentages, and guessing in a world of competitive athletics gets a coach fired.
Here’s what I recommend based on the daily velocity tests. If an athlete comes in and tests at a velocity 5% less than normal, you will want to consider lowering volume and intensity 10-20% each. At 10%+ less than normal, my recommendation is to scrap what you have planned. Instead consider having your athlete perform some bodybuilding that is high in metabolic stress and low in muscle damage. In layman’s terms, I recommend picking a couple of movements for your athletes to catch a pump, and then sending them home to recover. Some examples of bodybuilding movements that would be permissible are dumbbell lateral raises, leg extensions, leg curls, machine rows, triceps pushdowns with bands, and/or front deltoid raises. As you can see, I am avoiding movements like RDLs or dumbbell flyes. These movements increase in intensity as the muscle is lengthened, which causes maximum muscle damage. Muscle damage is fine under normal circumstances for bodybuilding and general strength, but the goal here is to create a hormonal response to aid in recovery. The bodybuilding session should be no more than 20-30 minutes in length. Then I have my athletes go home and get some rest.
Of course, the opposite end of this scale is demonstrating a velocity higher than normal. If our athletes perform an initial movement at 5% greater than normal, we often increase volume or intensity slightly possibly 5-10%. We sometimes look to set new velocity records confirming the efficacy of the current plan. This is a way of predicting if a new 1RM is in the cards without putting the heavy weight on the bar and risking injury. You can read more about that in my article, How Strength Coaches can use Velocity Based Training to monitor progress’.
If our athletes register 10-15%+, we normally move to add to daily load or use the day to test. Remember, you can test in multiple ways:
- Pick an Absolute to test for Maximum Velocity (see prior article and video)
- 1RM with a Velocity Minimum (example 1RM at .4m/s+)
With the GymAware, the Gold Standard in the velocity world, you can also measure a daily Reactive Strength Index (RSI). RSI is a measurement gathered from a depth jump. The score is gathered by dividing the height of the jump (measured in inches) by the ground contact time (measured in seconds). An example of a score would like something like this:
- Height 36” inches
- Ground Contact Time .32 seconds
- RSI Score= 36”/.32 seconds= 112.5
I recommend a height somewhere around 30-45cm. We use 45cm because it’s high enough to get a good look at the Neuromuscular Junction (NMJ), but not high enough to risk unnecessary damage to the system. The RSI score is a look into an athlete’s elasticity compared to the athlete’s ability to produce force. We will potentially look into this a bit deeper in a future article.
My entire thesis was on this topic. I compared the daily RSI, to the Velocity measurement of the first movement, and the results of a daily questionnaire. The daily questionnaire will give the coach a better look at the athlete’s ability to autoregulate. It will also give the coach clues into the cause of velocity or RSI measurements. A simple questionnaire that a coach might choose to use could look like this:
As you can see from this questionnaire, the athlete is trending downward in regards to bodyweight, sleep, and nutrition quality. Therefore, if this athlete’s velocity measured out at 8% lower than normal, you could take a look at the questionnaire with the athlete showing them potential reasons that are within the athlete’s control to alter. Low velocity days are going to happen to all athletes eventually, and that’s ok.
Remember this one important suggestion: measuring is worthless without an action plan for response. I hope this article was informative and helpful. Implementing Velocity Based Training is a lot easier than most coaches like to admit. If you have any questions, email me at Travis@GymAware.com.
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.
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