Velocity Based Training for Professional Teams [Rugby use case]

The Australian National Rugby League Team uses Velocity Based Training (VBT) to determine load and measure progress in strength training. In this use case, coach Steven Hooper explains how VBT boosts motivation, competition and performance. BONUS: crucial advice to all team coaches who are considering implementing VBT.

By Steven Hooper

GymAware x Kangaroos (Australian National Rugby League Team)

How do you use VBT for the National Rugby League Team?

I have learnt about Velocity Based Training (VBT) through my involvement with the Australian Strength & Conditioning Association, ASCA. Velocity Based Training is a great way for the Australian National Rugby League Team players to maintain power, while also considering their physical readiness on any given day.

“It gives instant and objective feedback, it tracks progress over time, it enables athletes to autoregulate, it is highly motivating, and it builds an athlete profile with historical data. There is simply so much to like about the GymAware RS, and it adds so much to Strength Coaching.”

Coach Steven Hooper

Here are some ways I implement VBT in strength training.

Determine load intensity

I use GymAware RS to measure the velocity of multiple exercises. This helps the athletes to decide on the load. For instance:

After prescribing squats, the team moved to performing clean jumps. I’ve set the GymAware velocity target to 1.0 m/s. They started with 50-60 kg, and adjusted the load based on the velocity. They self-modified the load based on how far from 1.0 m/s the velocity was. If their movement velocity exceeded 1.0 m/s, they increased the load. Once they couldn’t reach 1.0 m/s, they decreased the load.

Eventually many of my rugby team athletes reached a load equal to body weight plus 10-20 kg.

GymAware x Kangaroos (Australian National Rugby League Team) in the gym
The Kangaroos, Australian National Rugby League Team, using GymAware RS for velocity based training.

This example already gives you three ways of how you can implement velocity based training. Use velocity feedback to:

  1. Increase movement velocity (intent) with a given load, e.g. 60 kg or 80% 1RM
  2. Autoregulate the load, e.g. adjust load to 1.0 m/s
  3. Assess daily readiness and adjust workout intensity accordingly

About the daily readiness, it’s in fact very interesting to see the daily changes in the velocities, especially the power lifts. This is a marker for daily readiness.

Learn more about setting the right velocity target with velocity zones. Ready to go beyond velocity targets? Add velocity stops and velocity loss thresholds to your VBT workout! Download our free white paper: How to start with VBT.

There are many VBT exercises that I use to measure velocity. For instance: bench press, squat, band bench, band box, (trap bar) clean jump, (trap bar) clean pulls, speed bench pull, etc.

Track progress

In the Australian National Rugby League Team, we track velocity measures and compare it to the intensity (load) of the lifts. This is a way to measure strength progress beyond 1RM testing: if a rugby player increases velocity for a given (submaximal) load, that’s progress too.

GymAware RS x Kangaroos (Australian National Rugby League Team)
The Kangaroos, Australian National Rugby League Team, using GymAware RS to track their strength training progress.

This load-to-velocity metric shows individual progress, and we can compare it between rugby players. This comparison also helps to monitor the overall program periodisation.

I mainly use the bench press and squat to track progress. I use these exercises, and compare the result over time with their 1RM max lifts.

Furthermore we test:

Injury rehabilitation

Using Velocity Based Training is a great way to specify training for injured players during their return to full activity, and to full strength. Comparisons are easily attainable as they move through strength thresholds, during their rehab.

It also allows us to look back retrospectively when an injury occurs, and discuss areas where we can control velocity or intensity.

How do the rugby players respond to VBT?

The Kangaroos (Australian National Rugby League Team players) are familiar with the VBT technology, and easily use the GymAware RS

During our latest training camp, they were keen to check their velocity and power numbers from each lift, and correlate an appropriate lifting weight. They all like to validate their lifts through meeting the velocity targets. 

The velocity feedback also creates competition and boosts motivation. Showing the GymAware Cloud Leaderboard during a session enables the players to compare their lifts with each other.

GymAware Leaderboard for teams - deadlift
Example of GymAware Cloud Leaderboard

Benefits of VBT for rugby players

VBT enables us to emphasize on speed-strength, as well as all other thresholds

At certain times in the season, it is valuable to make speed a priority. Especially for individual groups, like the strong but slow, grindy players. Or for positional groups, like the speedy back in rugby.

With VBT, you can give specific speeds for different exercises, to enable these players to improve their individual strength quality. 

There are many other things VBT can add to training in general. Some of the big advantages of instant and objective velocity feedback are:

  • It encourages team athletes to lift with maximal intent
  • It enables coaches to analyze strength training in depth, based on objective data
  • It simply improves performance

Velocity Based Training is a fantastic way to motivate team sport players and to increase their performance by simply showing what an athlete has done.

There are several scientific papers showing that by providing instant feedback, athletes can enhance their velocity and power output by up to 10%. Once athletes see what they’re doing (feedback), they want to improve it. Instant feedback especially helps when starting to fatigue, for example at the end of a set. By maintaining velocity and power when fatiguing, athletes maintain rep quality and make more progress over time.

If you are measuring strength, power or fatigue in a test or during training, the velocity of a lift immediately gives some context to that lift. It’s up to the S&C coach to then use that information to transfer strength gains to performance gains.

By using the GymAware RS, I was able to inform the players that we were expressing the strength work we had done, in a measurable way, with the exercise program that had been prescribed. So essentially, they were able to perform with a quality in training which was going to help them in the game.

VBT definitely results in noticeable improvements. Moreover, we can objectively compare these improvements between players, and with historical data of an athlete.

BONUS: advice for VBT team coaches

It is important to take the time to educate your team sport athletes. The more feedback you can provide them, the more motivating they find the devices, and that is then self-propelling. 

Educate the athletes on using the product and its benefits, because that helps their buy-in.

Must see educational content:

Download: How to get started with velocity based training [use case]

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Coach Steven Hooper

Steven Hooper

Steven Hooper has worked with the Kangaroos since 2016. His role is to provide strength and conditioning programs for the players, while they are away.