Velocity based training exercises and workouts

Let’s talk about specific velocity based training exercises, including the squat, bench press, deadlift and Olympic lifts. Learn how to implement them in your VBT workouts and VBT training programs. BONUS: download free VBT training program.

By Loek Vossen

Velocity Based Training exercises, workouts and programs

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Velocity based training exercises

Not all exercises benefit from using VBT. If you’re about to enter the gym for a yoga / core stability training with bodyweight only, you can leave your VBT device at home. 

On the other hand, there are probably some exercises that you didn’t link to VBT yet, that actually fit well together. For example: (unweighted) vertical jumps, pull ups and hip thrusts.

In this article we dive into the velocity based training workouts that benefit from measuring velocity and power. Examples are: 

  • Traditional exercises: squat, bench press, deadlift, hip thrust, military press, lat pulldown, etc.
  • Ballistic exercises: bench press throw, vertical jump, etc.
  • Olympic lifts: clean, jerk, snatch.
  • CrossFit exercises: overhead squat, barbell row, pull up, push press etc.

Let’s start with a well-documented velocity based training exercise: the squat.

Velocity based training Squat

Squats are an effective way to improve leg power and strength. Since a squat is such a fundamental exercise, it’s implemented in training programs of all kinds of athletes.

In some sports like powerlifting and Olympic weightlifting, improving the squat is a goal in itself. In other sports it’s important to transfer weight room gains into athletic field gains to improve performance.

In both cases, measuring velocity (zones) is an effective way of monitoring training and progress.

Squat velocity

When looking at a squat exercise, you’ll notice an acceleration (propulsive) phase and a deceleration (braking) phase. As a result, there’s first an increase and then a decrease in squat velocity. When the peak velocity or maximum velocity occurs, depends on the relative load. The higher the load, the later you’ll reach maximum velocity.

Squat velocity and acceleration
Fig. 1.: simplified velocity- and acceleration-time curves during the squat.

Squat jump (vertical jumps)

If you want to focus on explosiveness, you can perform a squat jump. In this case, you keep accelerating throughout the entire squat movement. There is no active deceleration. Squat jumps or (loaded) vertical jumps are obviously performed with higher velocities than normal squats.

1RM squat velocity

Regardless of the squat variation – front squat, back squat, overhead squat, etc. – the more weight you squat, the slower your movement will get. This is due to the so-called Force-Velocity Relationship.

In practice that means the closer you get to your 1RM weight, the slower you move. Makes sense, right? The exact velocity at e.g. 90% of 1RM differs per exercise, but not so much per person.

According to this scientific paper, the relationship between your %1RM and velocity for a full squat looks like this:

Squat velocity depending on %1RM
Fig. 2: %1RM Mean Velocity for a squat exercise (N=80)

This means that when you perform a full squat with the intent to move as fast as possible, with a velocity of 0,8 m/s, the weight equals 70% of your 1RM. Again, these velocities are quite similar between individuals.

It also means that there is a minimum velocity threshold that you need, to complete a full squat. The 1RM squat velocity is 0,32 m/s. If you try to squat a weight as fast as possible, but you’re not able to reach the minimum velocity, then you’re probably not going to be able to finish the full squat.

Using VBT for squats – in practice

Let’s take it one step further. Imagine you pick a load that equals 80% of 1RM. Your first squat velocity will roughly equal 0,67 m/s (see fig. 2). During the set, when you perform multiple reps, you’ll start to fatigue. As a result, velocity will decrease. When doing reps until failure, your very last successful squat repetition will have a velocity close to the 1RM squat velocity: 0,32 m/s. This means you can predict the number of reps in reserve (RER), simply by looking at the velocity trend:

Velocity fatigue trend squat, until minimum velocity threshold (1RM squat velocity).
Fig. 3: The full squat minimum velocity is 0,32 m/s. By looking at the decrease in velocity during a set, you can predict how far away you are from failure.

Determine your 1RM squat velocity

Literature shows that the 1RM squat velocity, or Minimum Velocity Threshold (MVT), does not differ a lot between individuals. However, if you want to determine your own MVT without lifting your 1RM, this is how you can do it:

Pick a sub-maximal load and perform squat repetitions until failure. Your last successful repetition is a good indication of your 1RM squat velocity.

Calculate and predict your 1RM squat, with velocity based training

Since we know the minimum velocity threshold, we can calculate your 1RM load in a submaximal test. The GymAware RS or FLEX algorithm uses a simple protocol that you could incorporate into your warming up. The test takes around 15 minutes and starts with a relatively low load and increases the load to roughly 85% of 1RM.

By looking at the relationship between load and velocity, it predicts 1RM for the back squat.

FLEX stronger app: predict squat 1RM protocol
Fig. 4: The GymAware FLEX app has a built-in protocol that predicts your 1RM load, based on sub-maximal squat efforts.

Velocity measure in squat

So far we talked about mean velocity. This is the preferred velocity measure for front squats, back squats, etc. When performing more ballistic squats like a jump squat, it makes more sense to look at peak velocity instead of mean velocity. More about mean-, peak- and propulsive velocity in this article.

Velocity based training Bench press

A bench press is a popular compound exercise that targets the chest, triceps, and shoulders. It’s a fundamental exercise, implemented in many training programs.

In powerlifting, the bench press is one of the three important lifts. For many other athletes, the bench press is part of their upper body training program.

Since the bench press is such a fundamental exercise, it lends itself well for monitoring training and progress, using velocity based training devices.

Bench press velocity

When looking at a bench press exercise, you’ll notice an acceleration (propulsive) phase and a deceleration (braking) phase. As a result, there’s first an increase and then a decrease in bench press velocity. When the peak velocity or maximum velocity occurs, depends on the relative load. The higher the load, the later you’ll reach maximum velocity.

Mean velocity, peak velocity and mean propulsive velocity in bench press
Fig. 5.: Simplified velocity- and position-time curves during the bench press.

Bench press throw

If you want to focus on explosiveness, you can perform a bench press throw. In this case, you keep accelerating throughout the entire bench press movement, and throw the bar in the air. There is no active deceleration. Bench press throws are obviously performed with higher velocities than normal bench presses. 

1RM bench press velocity

When bench pressing, you’ll notice that the more weight you add to the bar, the slower your movement will get. This is due to the so-called Force-Velocity Relationship.

The closer you get to your 1RM weight, the slower you move. The bench press velocity at e.g. 80% of your 1RM bench press is similar to anyone else’s velocity at their 80% of 1RM.

According to this scientific paper, the relationship between %1RM and velocity for a bench press looks like this:

Bench press velocity depending on %1RM, including minimal bench press velocity (1RM velocity)
Fig. 6: %1RM Mean Velocity for a bench press exercise (N=30).

This means that when you bench press with the intent to move as fast as possible, with a velocity of 0,7 m/s, the weight equals 60% of your 1RM. Again, these velocities are quite similar between individuals.

It also means that there is a minimum velocity threshold that you need, to complete a bench press. The 1RM bench press velocity is 0,16 m/s, which is quite slower than the 1RM squat velocity. If you try to bench press a weight as fast as possible, but you’re not able to reach the minimum velocity, then you’re probably not going to be able to finish the bench press movement.

Using VBT for bench pressing – in practice

Imagine you pick a load that equals 80% of 1RM. Your first bench press velocity will roughly equal 0,44 m/s (see fig. 6). During the set, when you perform multiple reps, you’ll start to fatigue. As a result, velocity will decrease. When doing reps until failure, your very last successful bench press repetition will have a velocity close to the 1RM bench press velocity: 0,16 m/s. This means you can predict the number of reps “left in the tank”, simply by looking at the velocity trend:

Velocity fatigue trend bench press, until minimum velocity threshold (1RM bench press velocity).
Fig. 7: The bench press minimum velocity is 0,16 m/s. By looking at the decrease in velocity during a set, you can predict how far away you are from failure.

Determine your 1RM bench press velocity

Liter ature shows that the 1RM bench press velocity, or Minimum Velocity Threshold (MVT), does not differ a lot between individuals. However, if you want to determine your own MVT without lifting your 1RM, this is how you can do it:

Pick a sub-maximal load and perform bench press repetitions until failure. Your last successful repetition is a good indication of your 1RM bench press velocity.

Calculate and predict your 1RM bench press, with velocity based training

Since we know the minimum velocity threshold, we can calculate your 1RM load in a submaximal test. The GymAware RS or FLEX algorithm uses a simple protocol that you could incorporate into your warming up. The test takes around 15 minutes and starts with a relatively low load and increases the load to roughly 85% of 1RM.

By looking at the relationship between load and velocity, it predicts 1RM for the bench press.

FLEX stronger app: predict bench press 1RM protocol
Fig. 8: The GymAware FLEX app has a built-in protocol that predicts your 1RM load, based on sub-maximal bench press efforts.

Velocity measure in bench press

So far we talked about mean velocity. This is the preferred velocity measure for a bench press. However, when performing more ballistic bench presses like the bench press throw, it makes more sense to look at propulsive- or peak velocity, instead of mean velocity. More about mean-, peak- and propulsive velocity in this article.

Velocity based training Deadlift

A deadlift is a popular compound exercise that targets the hamstrings, glutes and back muscles. It’s a fundamental exercise, implemented in many training programs.

In powerlifting, the deadlift is one of the three important lifts. For many other athletes, the deadlift is part of their lower body training program.

Since the deadlift is such a fundamental exercise, many coaches and athletes monitor their training and progress, using velocity based training devices.

Deadlift velocity

Similar to the squat and bench press, a deadlift exercise consists of an acceleration (propulsive) phase and a deceleration (braking) phase. As a result, there’s first an increase and then a decrease in deadlift velocity. When the peak velocity or maximum velocity occurs, depends on the relative load. The higher the load, the later you’ll reach maximum velocity. As a result: the higher the load, the longer the acceleration phase takes.

Deadlift velocity, acceleration and deceleration
Fig. 9.: Simplified velocity- and acceleration-time curves during a deadlift.

1RM deadlift velocity

The more weight you deadlift, the slower your movement will get. This is due to the so-called Force-Velocity Relationship.

In practice that means the closer you get to your 1RM weight, the slower you move. The exact velocity at e.g. 90% of 1RM differs per exercise (e.g. deadlift vs bench press vs squat), but not so much per person.

According to this scientific paper, the relationship between your %1RM and velocity for a deadlift looks like this:

Deadlift velocity depending on %1RM, including minimal deadlift velocity (1RM velocity)
Fig. 10: %1RM Mean Velocity for a deadlift (N=20).

This means that when you perform a deadlift with the intent to move as fast as possible, with a velocity of 0,8 m/s, the weight equals 60% of your 1RM. These velocities are quite similar between individuals.

It also means that there is a minimum velocity threshold that you need, to complete a deadlift. The 1RM deadlift velocity is 0,25 m/s. If you try to deadlift a weight as fast as possible, but you’re not able to reach the minimum velocity, then you’re probably not going to be able to finish the deadlift.

Using VBT for deadlifts – in practice

Let’s take it one step further. Imagine you pick a load that equals 80% of 1RM. Your first deadlift velocity will roughly equal 0,52 m/s (see fig. 10). During the set, when you perform multiple reps, you’ll start to fatigue. As a result, velocity will decrease. When doing reps until failure, your very last successful deadlift repetition will have a velocity close to the 1RM deadlift velocity: 0,25 m/s. This means you can predict the amount of deadlift reps with a sub-maximal load, simply by looking at the velocity trend:

Velocity fatigue trend deadlift, until minimum velocity threshold (1RM deadlift velocity).
Fig. 11: The deadlift minimum velocity is 0,25 m/s. By looking at the decrease in velocity during a set, you can predict how far away you are from failure.

Determine your 1RM deadlift velocity

Literature shows that the 1RM deadlift velocity, or Minimum Velocity Threshold (MVT), does not differ a lot between individuals. However, if you want to determine your own MVT without lifting your 1RM, this is how you can do it:

Pick a sub-maximal load and perform deadlift repetitions until failure. Your last successful repetition is a good indication of your 1RM deadlift velocity.

Calculate and predict your 1RM deadlift, with velocity based training

Since we know the minimum velocity threshold, we can calculate your 1RM load in a submaximal test. The GymAware RS or FLEX algorithm uses a simple protocol that you could incorporate into your warming up. The test takes around 15 minutes and starts with a relatively low load and increases the load to roughly 85% of 1RM.

By looking at the relationship between load and velocity, it predicts 1RM for the deadlift.

FLEX stronger app: predict deadlift 1RM protocol
Fig. 12: The GymAware FLEX app has a built-in protocol that predicts your 1RM load, based on sub-maximal deadlift efforts.

Velocity based training Clean, Snatch, Jerk

We dedicated a whole separate article to the Olympic lifts (clean, snatch, jerk). Learn about the mean- and peak velocities of these exercises via this article: Using Velocity Based Training for Olympic lifts.

More Velocity based training exercises

If you really want to dive into implementing VBT into your training program, you probably want to create your own load-velocity profile for every VBT exercise. This requires a minimum velocity (or “failure velocity”). You can get a good indication of your minimum 1RM velocity by performing reps until failure with a sub-maximal load. The last successful repetition is a good indication of your 1RM velocity.

Because every exercise has its own 1RM velocity, you need to do this for all VBT exercises. However, since the 1RM velocity does not differ that much between individuals, you can also use these failure velocities, derived from the scientific publication: Velocity-Based Training: From Theory to Application.

  • Cable row (seated): 0.40 m/s
  • Hip-thrust: 0.25 m/s
  • Lat pulldown: 0.47 m/s
  • Leg press: 0.21 m/s
  • Military press (seated): 0.19 m/s
  • Prone bench pull: 0.50 m/s
  • Prone pull-up: 0.23 m/s

Velocity based training workouts

Now that you learned about several (but not all) VBT exercises, it’s time to bundle them into a workout. 

A VBT workout is a workout that uses one or more VBT training methods. Although you can work with advanced VBT training methods like Velocity Loss Thresholds (see infographic below), it probably makes more sense to start simple.

You can start simple by only adding velocity feedback to your existing percentage based training program (% 1RM).

Percentage based training (%1RM)

Here’s an example of a percentage based training workout:

Squat: 4 sets, 5 reps, load: 70% 1RM

Bench press: 3 sets, 3 reps, load: 80% 1RM

Deadlift: 3 sets, 2 reps, load: 85% 1RM

Percentage based training (%1RM) with velocity feedback

Here’s how you could add velocity feedback rules, to adjust for fatigue and daily readiness. As a result, you train harder on good days, and less intense on bad days.

Squat: 4 sets, 5 reps, load: 70% 1RM

  • Your expected velocity is 0,82 m/s (see figure 2). 
  • Skip last set when you can’t reach 0,75 m/s in first set.
  • Add extra set when your velocity is still above 0,75 m/s in last set.

Bench press: 3 sets, 3 reps, load: 80% 1RM

  • Your expected velocity is 0,44 m/s (see figure 6). 
  • Skip last set when you can’t reach 0,40 m/s in first set. 
  • Add extra set when your velocity is still above 0,40 m/s in last set.

Deadlift: 3 sets, 2 reps, load: 90% 1RM

  • Your expected velocity is 0,39 m/s (see figure 10). 
  • Skip last set when you can’t reach 0,35 m/s in first set. 
  • Add extra set when your velocity is still above 0,35 m/s in last set.

Velocity based training workout

If you want to take it one step further, you could make this workout a Velocity Based Training workout:

Squat: 4 sets, 5 reps, load that fits within the velocity zone: 0,77 – 0,87 m/s

Bench press: 3 sets, 3 reps, load that fits within the velocity zone: 0,39 – 0,49 m/s

Deadlift: 3 sets, 2 reps, load that fits within the velocity zone: 0,34 – 0,44 m/s

Have a look at this infographic for more advanced VBT workout methods:

Infographic 5 ways to implement velocity based training

Velocity based training program

A velocity based training program puts individual VBT workouts in a bigger picture, by taking periodization into account.

One simple way to create a VBT training program is by using the velocity training zones. You could for instance start a training program with speed-strength and strength-speed work, using relatively low loads. During this block you can focus on technique.

Once you’re getting closer to a match or the end of your training cycle, you could shift more towards the accelerative and absolute strength training zones. Implement pre-build recovery blocks, or let velocity decide on when you need to add recovery to your training program.

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Loek Vossen

Loek Vossen

Human Movement Scientist | Content Marketing and Education