The Ultimate Guide to VBT for High Schools

Coach Travis Mash

Introduction:

The other day I read a post on Twitter from a well-known Strength Coach referring to velocity-based training (VBT) as an advanced form of training that should be reserved for elite athletes only and only after exhausting every basic method prior to beginning. That was a major lightbulb moment for me as I realized that a lot of people simply don’t understand the concept of VBT. VBT isn’t some sort of method like maximum effort or dynamic effort made popular by the late Louie Simmons founder of Westside Barbell Club. However, I believe that’s the birthplace of the confusion at no fault of Louie Simmons.

Louie was one of the first coaches to inform the world about the benefits of VBT. However, he mainly referred to VBT in reference to his infamous dynamic effort method. Before I start getting hate messages, I realize that plenty of Strength Coaches and sport scientists wrote and lectured about the usefulness of VBT. However, Louie was simply turning out content faster than anyone else, and Westside Barbell was quickly becoming the icon it is today. The fact is more people were listening to Louie. Therefore, he’s one of the people that brought VBT to the world. Dr. Bryan Mann credits Louie for inspiring him to do the research that so many of us enjoy reading and applying to our athletes.

Louie referred to using mean velocity mainly when discussing the dynamic effort. I’ve heard him reference 0.75m/s to 1.0m/s for the optimal velocity range when applying dynamic effort. Of course, he has talked about applying speed-strength ranges between 1m/s and 1.3m/s, but he most frequently advised the strength-speed range (0.75m/s to 1.0m/s). After hearing him refer to this strength-speed range countless times over the past three decades, I admit that I too had come to equate VBT with the dynamic effort method.

When I first started hearing other coaches and Sports Scientists talking about VBT, all the many benefits, I assumed that it was just another concept borrowed from Louie Simmons. I probably rolled my eyes and mumbled to myself something along the lines of yeah, yeah, I’ve known about the Dynamic Effort Method before you were born. I remember several Strength Coaches writing articles and recording podcasts scolding the Coaches and Scientists that were putting out content about VBT as if they invented the “dynamic effort method”. Today I hope to once and for all bust that myth.

What Velocity-Based Training Isn’t:

First, I want to tell you guys what VBT isn’t. It’s not the dynamic effort. It has nothing to do with bands and chains. It’s not squatting 55-65% for 10-12 sets of 2 reps with 60-seconds rest between sets performed faster than .75m/s. It’s not bench pressing 65% bar weight and adding some bands for 8 sets of 3 reps. VBT isn’t deadlifting 12 sets of 1-2 reps at 75%. Also don’t come at me with what you believe is Louie’s actual recommendation for the sets, reps, load, and perfect combination of bands, chains, and weight releasers in reference to the dynamic effort. This isn’t an article about the dynamic effort, and Louie’s view on the dynamic effort changed throughout the years and was individual in nature as all things should be.

Velocity-Based Training isn’t plyometrics or some sort of jump training. VBT isn’t some method only used in Columbus, Ohio. VBT isn’t a powerlifting thing or a weightlifting thing. It’s not some miracle method that’s going to take elite athletes to the final 1% required for greatness. It’s not some lab experiment reserved for nerds in lab coats. Relax all of you nerds in the world, I am that guy in a lab coat, but of course I am making the lab coat sexy. So if velocity based training isn’t any of these things, what is it?

 What is Velocity Based Training?

What if I told you that everything you just read is false? Stay with me for just a second and don’t kill me just yet. VBT is a part of the dynamic effort in so far as measuring to make sure you are in the proper velocity zone. However, VBT measures the intent of all methods. For example, the max effort method created by the famous Bulgarian Weightlifting Coach Ivan Abadzhiev from 1968-1989 and again from 1997 to 2000 and made famous by Louie Simmons can be measured for velocity as well. The goal of the max effort method is to work to a daily maximum. If you are a strength athlete or simply want to get stronger, eventually you have to spend some time with maximum effort. A.S. Prilepin, the famous Soviet weightlifting coach and statistician, collected data from over 1,000 elite weightlifters between the years of 1960-1970. Prilepin used that data to develop the widely used Prilepin’s chart. Prilepin’s chart recommends the optimal number of repetitions per set and the optimal number of total repetitions. It was Prilepin that wrote about using 90+% to get stronger. However, 90% and above is hard on the body, but working to absolute failure in major compound movements like back squat or deadlift is not only hard to recover from but also dangerous.

VBT is a measurement to ensure your athletes are working in the zones that you, the Coach, intend while keeping them safe. This is one of the most important uses of VBT, and this is why I recommend VBT to High School athletes. I remember the crazy athlete that I was in High School. If the coach turned his back, I was maxing out. Heck, I am still that idiot. The next article will reference VBT for general population folks, specifically master aged athletes.

When parents send their children to High School, they want to know that Coaches are keeping their loved ones safe. Let me explain a bit more how VBT keeps athletes safe while allowing for massive strength and athletic improvement. Early on in an athlete’s training age, the most important velocity zone for overall improvement is absolute strength. For the first two years of training, when an athlete’s absolute strength improves, the same improvement will be realized in the other strength zones (accelerative, strength-speed, speed-strength, and starting strength). Athletes will also notice direct correlations to athletic qualities like sprint times and vertical leaps. However, now we have a conundrum. We want to get their absolute strength higher, but that means 90% and over loads. Didn’t I just tell you that 90%+ can be dangerous? This is where GymAware or Flex Stronger come in.

It doesn’t matter how you program, which is another reason I love VBT. I have watched Coaches improve their athletes with linear periodization, undulated periodization, Westside Barbell’s conjugate method, and everything in between. You can also use any form of load prescription: repetition maximum, percentages, reps-in-reserve, and/or rpe. You can use velocity to either replace these load parameters or to enhance them. By enhancement, I am referring to taking away the subjectivity of these parameters. In high school, the prefrontal cortex of the average young man or young woman hasn’t quite finished developing. The ability of the average high school athlete to discern danger or risk simply isn’t at a level that it will soon become. I am laughing while writing this as I think back to my younger days. I am so lucky to be alive. 

Top ways to use VBT for high school athletes:

  • Minimum Velocity
  • Proper Zone for prescribed %
  • Daily Readiness
  • Estimated 1RM

Minimum Velocity

I use a minimum velocity for my university athletes all the way to my Olympic hopefuls. It’s the simplest way to prescribe that I can think of, which is another reason that I laugh when people talk about VBT as complicated. If you use a repetition maximum, this is a way of preventing misses keeping your athletes safe. You can use this method for any exercise, and I will give you a few examples below. 

If you are like most Strength Coaches, you probably like to prescribe some sort of squat, press, and pull. Here is a sample eight week program for the squat bench and deadlift:

Free velocity based training program

The percentages that I have prescribed above shouldn’t take your athletes anywhere near failure. My athletes can go quite a bit heavier than 89% for three reps, but that’s the point. I coach weightlifters trying to make their way to the Olympics. You don’t need to ever take your athletes to failure on the strength movements to yield progression. You need to know the following things:

  1. Total Volume
  2. Average Intensity
  3. Finally, you need to know how much weight they lifted per velocity zone

Then, you will want to slowly increase the volume over time, and make sure the average intensity is creeping up on the important multi-joint movements. Finally, the main key performance indicator is making sure the load per velocity is increasing. For example, if an athlete squats 150kg/330lb for three repetitions at .42m/s, you will want to make sure they squat 155kg/341lb+ for three at .42m/s on the next cycle. You don’t really need to hit a 1RM ever to ensure the athletes are improving.

One more option is to have them work up to a 1RM, but set a minimum velocity of .35m/s in the squat (back or front) and 0.25m/s in the dead and bench press. These velocity zones are well above potential failure, so you should still be safe. However, no one knows your athletes better than you, so you can take all of my estimates and lower all of them. With velocity, you can have an athlete progress in many ways. The key is keeping them safe while moving forwards. 

Intent: Proper Zone for prescribed Percentage

As you can see in the table above, there should be a specific velocity for each percentage prescribed. All lifting isn’t created equal. By that I mean that it’s how you lift each rep that ensures maximum adaptation. For example, I can easily lift 75% for three repetitions. However, if I focus on hitting a maximum velocity each repetition aka compensatory acceleration, I ensure that a maximum rate of force development is being improved. I will also ensure a maximum number of motor units are being activated. Finally, I am maximizing hypertrophy. All three of these benefits are crucial for athletic development. 

Below is a table I created with data from my university athletes. You can either use it as a guide, or you can create a force-velocity profile for all of your athletes using the same percentages as you see in my table starting with 3 reps until 50%, 2 reps from there until 65%, and then single on up. Then you would take all the data and figure a mean for each percentage. If you have enough sample size, it would give you a clearer idea of the population that you are working with. That’s a lot of work and math, so feel free to use the one below. 

top uses of VBT for high schools (intent)

Daily Readiness:

I have talked about daily readiness almost daily for the past year. I have already published two articles with GymAware about why you need it and how to implement, so you can see those here:

Importance of assessing daily readiness

How Strength Coaches can assess athletes’ daily readiness using velocity

I will simply reiterate that our young people are under more stress than ever before with social media. They are struggling to sleep thanks to blue light, so they aren’t recovering. Plus our world is a mess right now with war in the Ukraine and political arguments everyday. Using a jump squat or a clean pull to make sure your athletes are ready to perform the prescribed loads is a wise move especially for high school athletes. 

Estimated 1RM Maximums

Ok this is going to be a fun section because I have some cool sheets for you to easily figure you or your athlete’s 1RM without maxing out. At the end of the day, all you really need is four velocities from four different percentages. I will have to explain minimum velocity thresholds and the way these charts were created from the work of the folks cited at the end of this article because this is a massive article in itself. I really want to write this one because it’s not that hard, but most of the articles I read today really tried to make it seem hard. I get it though. Most of the articles were research articles, and that’s the deal. I like to make things seem simple like they actually are, so busy Coaches can use them more quickly. 

Simply put, the relationship between percentages and related velocities are linear in nature. Therefore, as you get stronger, 60% is slower than 50%, 70% is slower than 60%, and so on. It’s easy to write a formula demonstrating the relationship with slope, intercept, and a constant minimum velocity threshold(MVT). MVT the slowest velocity at which a repetition can be completed for a certain exercise. I have made this relationship easy for you in the sheet below.

The benefit is that you coaches will never have to risk injury with your athletes maxing out. You can estimate the 1RM in one of two ways:

  1. Keep the same loads and the formula will use the improved velocities to estimate the new 1RM.
  2. Plot the percentages of the new 1RM. This will be the more accurate estimate.

There are a couple of things to keep in mind. You will need to have at least one velocity at 0.5m/s or slower for accuracy. The lower velocity you can record will yield a closer 1RM prediction. Other than that, it’s up to the coach to get creative. Here’s an article from GymAware that will explain this topic in detail: https://gymaware.com/mladen-load-velocity-relationship/

Estimated 1RM Maximums

Google sheet link here

Conclusion:

I hope that coaches will be able to see how easy velocity based training can be, and more importantly I hope all of you see the value. It’s not some space aged program that takes a NASA PhD to implement. I know several hard working High School Coaches that have applied VBT, and continue to use it keeping athletes safe and progressing. I use both the FLEX Stronger from GymAware, and the actual GymAware. For high school coaches and private coaches, the Flex is awesome. It’s easy to use, and it’s affordable. It’s where I started, and I can promise that I will never go back. If someone is sitting there shaking their head because I work with GymAware, you can look at any of my content over the past three years with me loving my Flex Stronger long before I started writing for the company. Let me know if you have any questions.

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. Jovanovic, M and Flanagan, EP. Researched applications of velocity-based strength training. J Aust Strength Cond 22: 59-69, 2014.
  2. Weakley, Jonathon PhD1,2; Mann, Bryan PhD3; Banyard, Harry PhD4; McLaren, Shaun PhD2,5; Scott, Tannath PhD2,6; Garcia-Ramos, Amador PhD7,8 Velocity-Based Training: From Theory to Application, Strength and Conditioning Journal: April 2021 – Volume 43 – Issue 2 – p 31-49 doi: 10.1519/SSC.0000000000000560 
  3. https://gymaware.com/mladen-load-velocity-relationship/
  4. Sportsmith. “An Applied Guide to Velocity Based Training for Maximal Strength” by Tom Turner https://www.sportsmith.co/articles/an-applied-guide-to-velocity-based-training-for-maximal-strength/