Velocity Based Training for Tactical Athletes
Integrating a velocity-based training (VBT) device into training can benefit training in numerous ways from regulating daily intensity and training intent, accurately predicting a 1RM, or gamifying training to drive intent and purpose behind movement. Velocity based training for tactical athletes specifically has not been talked about much so that’s what I’ll focus on today. Now with options like the GymAware FLEX device being available, it makes VBT accessible to a larger population outside of the high-end human performance training facilities. It is an objective measurement of bar velocity and a tool that guides decision-making processes to optimize training outcome. Coaching is a constant push – pull of problem solving and pivoting training to various occupational demands and uncontrollable life stressors daily. Measurements such as Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE), Reps in Reserve (RIR), or a prescribed percentage would be subjective measurements that are influenced by training age, experience, ego, and do not consider daily life stressors. All of which are tools that are still utilized frequently but tracking velocity is an additional tool in the arsenal to further “dial-in” training and optimize performance.
As a coach or trainer, it is important to be able to explain the “why” behind any exercise prescription that you put into a program; a VBT device allows the coach to quantify strength traits to velocity. In a presentation by Dr. Bryan Mann, he stated a paraphrased example of, “Percentages are like a road map for your training, it can get you to your destination. Velocity based training is like using a GPS system, allowing you to know almost exactly where you are for each repetition”. Using research that Dr. Mann and other researchers have collected over the years, we are now able to assign zones or percentages to various bar velocities and program accordingly to “surf” the force-velocity curve. By assigning a minimum velocity to an exercise you can regulate fatigue accumulation over the training session by training the intended strength trait that ultimately leads back to the S.A.I.D principle and how you decide to phase, wave, or periodize the training plan.
Violence of Action
The term “Violence of action” was first introduced to me early into my career, during close-quarter battle and urban raid operations, that I still use today to teach what exercise science calls compensatory acceleration. Violence of action is the unrestricted use of speed, strength, surprise, and aggression to achieve total dominance over the enemy (Courtley). Choose to fight, become as violent as possible, and end the fight as quickly as you can. Those without power get devoured. In strength and conditioning, compensatory acceleration is putting as much force into the object to move it as quickly as possible… and here is the important part… while maintaining technical and positional integrity! Newton’s second law, F=ma, states that the acceleration of an object is dependent upon two variables – the force acting upon the object and the mass of the object. The acceleration of an object depends directly upon the net force acting upon the object, and inversely upon the mass of the object. As the force acting upon an object is increased, the acceleration of the object is increased. As the mass of an object is increased, the acceleration of the object is decreased. Acceleration is the intent when violence of action is implemented into training. Accelerating through the lift, during the concentric phase, helps the athlete or lifter in developing maximal force and can be implemented in various ways to express strength, speed, and explosiveness by improving the ability to recruit motor units and target fast twitch muscle fibers.
It is important to understand that the loading (mass) of the bar or implement must be appropriate to target specific strength qualities effectively. You cannot pitch a wiffle ball nor can you pitch a shotput – if the bar is too light, the lifter will not be able to put maximal force into the bar; if the bar is too heavy, the lifter can put maximal force into the bar but will be unable to move with the desired intent. This is where utilizing a VBT device is much like using a GPS unit to be specific and intentional within the training session. The instant feedback that is given while using VBT can be used to gamify training intent and it is one of my favorite ways to teach novice lifters how to train with violence of action and implement compensatory acceleration into training.
The way I gamify and educate VBT integration is by utilizing the dynamic effort method and a safety squat bar box squat with a light amount of accommodating resistance. I prefer to use bands in this situation, a small amount of band tension goes a long way for most people, and it forces the lifter to increase tension or become tighter and stay tight on the box while also being forced to accelerate through the lift. The objective is to move the bar at a .75m/s mean velocity and sustain that effort for 8-12 sets of 2-3 repetitions. This can be done without VBT using a load between 40-80% of an individual’s 1RM and may take some trial and error to find the appropriate load for the athlete to express high-power output. Form and technique can become compromised to generate increased speed, it is important to maintain technical integrity with loaded movement! Furthermore, coaches implementing VBT should still be reinforcing movement and not become distracted by the feedback of the device, technology will not replace a coaching eye and human connection. A cue that I’ll sometimes look for is the audible click or “pop” of the bar and weight. The objective is to be explosive and make it pop but it should not be throwing the lifter out of position. Such as the upper back losing tension or position doing speed bench-press or bar launching off the back during squats. Bands can help keep tension that maintains position during explosive movements but continue to err on the side of caution if you ever choose to do explosive front squats as you may find yourself turning a barbell into an uppercut of cold steel.
Strength is the foundation in our ability to handle whatever life throws at us. The ability to express that strength efficiently and effectively is performance. There are numerous skills and physical demands required of those who operate in the tactical occupation and the ability to perform at a high level can be a matter of survival. The tactical occupation is dynamic and can be full of various operational tempos that influence the training in the weight room. Adapting VBT ensures the high performers remain high performing as the training is optimized to keep the intensity at the expected level for such athletes.
The GymAware FLEX ticks all my boxes and maintains great energy in the weight room without compromising performance. Follow the FLEX team on Instagram to keep updated with my latest videos highlighting use cases.
Courtley, Cade. “Seal Survival Guide: Fighting Tips.” Military.com, 28 June 2021, https://www.military.com/special-operations/seal-training-fighting-tips.html.
Coach Brett Tomboc has been working in the tactical sector for over a decade, both training and coaching with some of the most elite from conventional and special operations forces. Coach Brett served in the U.S Army infantry from 2011-2016 and returned to Missouri State University to study exercise science. He is now a Graduate Assistant Coach at the University of Health and Performance and Head Strength and Conditioning Coach for men’s lacrosse at Missouri State University.