Importance of Velocity Based Training for Women

Coach Travis Mash

I wholeheartedly believe that Velocity Based Training (VBT) is the most efficient way to train all athletes. As a part of our efforts to drive VBT Education and awareness in association with GymAware, this week I will write about Velocity Based Training for women and it’s importance. VBT has numerous uses; the five most practical ones in my experience are: 

  •       Creating a force-velocity profile
  •       Measuring daily readiness
  •       Ensure daily intent
  •       Progressing safely
  •       Hypertrophy specific to the sport

The one that I believe to be the most important is monitoring daily readiness. Our student athletes are stressed more than ever with social media following them home at night. Athletes are having to endure social media stalking, social media bullying, fear of missing out, and blue light is impairing their sleep. I see it every day with my own athletes. Men and women alike vary in their ability to produce force. We test them daily with velocity and subjective questionnaires. This allows us to make wise decisions. For example, we aren’t going heavy when someone’s ability to produce force is impaired. 

In this article, I want to cover the ‘Velocity Based Training for women’ topic in-depth and do it justice. The article will cover the following:

  • What is fatigue?
  • Phases of a woman’s menstrual cycle and it’s effects
  • Implementing Velocity to Measure Readiness
  • Coping with Stress
  • Case Study for VBT for women: Elizabeth Becker

What is Fatigue?

A quick search of the word ‘fatigue’ on the web will yield multiple definitions along the lines of: fatigue is a state characterized by the body’s combination of lessened ability to perform work and less efficiency in that work that is normally preceded by physical and/or mental activity. Normally this fatigue is characterized by feeling tired, sleepy, and irritable. However, this is too broad for real science. 

Taylor, J. L., Amann, M., Duchateau, J., Meeusen, R., & Rice, C. L. (2016) give a measurable definition to fatigue as a reduction in one’s ability to produce force. It’s not just the muscular system that is to be considered. Instead, it’s the neuromuscular system as a whole with a deeper look at the nervous system and at the cellular level of the muscle. Fatigue is also associated with changes in the neuromuscular pathway in regards to motor unit firing, motor neuron excitability, and motor cortical excitability. They also looked at small diameter muscle afferents that increase firing when fatigue is present during exercise. This paper showed that changes all throughout the nervous system are present with fatigue including the brain, spinal cord, sensory input, muscular output, and even autonomic function.  

I was studying Sport Psychology just last night, and it’s clear that people who tend to stress more than others are at a higher risk of being injured. Stress causes increased muscle tension which leads to increased fatigue. Stress causes an overuse of the sympathetic nervous system, which relies heavily on cortisol. All of these factors make an athlete more susceptible to injury.

The stress response is a good thing when used for its intended purpose. The stress response is designed to give humans the ability to survive critical moments such as car wrecks, excessive bleeding, or during physical attacks. Acute influxes of cortisol provide the human body with increased strength and energy reserves to overcome intense moments. However, there are negative physiological responses as well. When the brain perceives something as dangerous or stressful, it triggers a cascade of events by activating the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. The HPA is the primary driver of the stress response. This triggers a release of steroid hormones called glucocorticoids, which include cortisol.

It functions to increase blood sugar through gluconeogenesis, to suppress the immune system, and to aid in the metabolism of fat, protein, and carbohydrates. It also decreases bone formation, and inhibits collagen production. Cortisol is designed for acute once in a while occurrence and can evolve into something traumatic if chronic. However, in today’s world of social media bullying, stress can be an all day and all-night occurrence. If an athlete carries chronic stress into training at a frequent rate, injury and sickness are sure to follow. Not to mention, long-term if athletes aren’t taught to deal with chronic stress, they will have a lot more than injuries and poor performance to worry about. Chronic stress left unchecked can lead to hypertension, heart disease, or stroke. Chronic stress can also result in impaired communication between the immune system and the HPA axis like described earlier. This impaired communication has been linked to several physical and mental health issues such as obesity, chronic fatigue, diabetes, and several mental disorders. This is more than just a performance issue. 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 and more certainly prevent injuries improving performance without disruption(Lavallée L, Flint F., 1996.).

Stress causes injuries from impaired vision as well. If you are a field athlete, stress has been shown to negatively affect peripheral vision. This can cause an athlete to miss an oncoming tackler leading to a massive hit if you play football. Stress can cause an athlete to be distracted. This can cause an athlete to get hit by a ball that they would have normally caught. The fact is that stress needs to be monitored and dealt with. Women's weight room

What about women?

The problem is that women stress more than men making them more susceptible to injury. Women are almost twice as likely to suffer from severe stress and anxiety than  men (Remes, O., et al., 2016.) My experience and my data would confirm this. Not to mention, women must deal with menstrual cycles that are also known to affect their ability to produce force. 

The literature regarding menstrual cycles and force production are all over the place. Force production, velocity, and power during the various phases of a woman’s menstrual cycle are all very individual in the amount they are impacted. 

  •   The Follicular Phase begins the first day a woman starts her period and lasts until she ovulates. Their period lasts two to seven days depending on the individual.
    – Day one estrogen is at its lowest with testosterone elevated
    – Total of about 14 days
    – During the menstrual cycle, body temperature, insulin sensitivity, and metabolic rate are baseline. Velocity and daily readiness are going to be all over the place
    – After the period is over, the follicular phase is the best time to go heavy and high volume.
  •     Ovulation- this is when a mature egg is released by the ovaries.
    – Estrogen and Luteinizing Hormone (LH) are the highest
    – Progesterone starts to increase, and body temperature also increases
    – Max out time, but be careful of injury. High rates of estrogen means less fibroblasts that make the collagen from which tendons and ligaments are formed.
  • Luteal Phase– starts the day after ovulation and lasts until you start your period.
    Progesterone, estrogen, and body temperature increase, but then start to decrease if there is no pregnancy
    – Not the best time for maximal strength
    – Better for metabolic rate, so maybe lower strength training volume and intensity.
    – Prime time for velocity to monitor for daily readiness

 With that being said, women should be measured daily for readiness with velocity, and I recommend having them take a subjective questionnaire as well. High school and college aged women are under more stress now than any other time in history. There is no longer an escape for them at home, since social media follows them home. When you add in their menstrual cycle and the fact they stress more often, I believe that velocity based training is more important for women than men.

Implementing Velocity to Measure Readiness:

I recommend using GymAware or Flex Stronger to measure all athletes, especially your women athletes. You can use:

  •     Jump Squat at 25% of their back squat
  •     Front Squat
  •     A Clean Pull or Hang Clean Pull

 It doesn’t really matter…. All that matters is that you are being consistent with the measurement procedure. The Jump might be the easiest way to measure because it’s something that you can do on a daily basis without a major risk of injury. The other key will be developing a profile. If you decide on the jump squat, measure the 25% (of their back squat) for two weeks. Once you have an average velocity, you will have a number to compare daily readings. I talked about this in one of our past articles, but for a reminder here’s what I recommend:

  •     If the velocity is 10% less than normal, cut the session, perform some light bodybuilding, and go home. This would be a great time for blood flow restriction if you know what you are doing. If you’re unsure, I highly recommend that you consult an expert.
  •     If the velocity is 5% less than normal, I recommend cutting volume and load by 10-20%.

Once again, I recommend having your athletes fill out a subjective questionnaire to learn the reasons behind the increased fatigue. Here’s an example:

Example of The daily questionnaire will give the coach a better look at the athlete’s ability to autoregulate. Great tool to help implement velocity based training for women

Coping with Stress

Here’s the thing. Athletes can change, and it’s up to us to help them. If you see that your athlete is dealing with major stress from outside issues, this allows you to set up a time to discuss. There are so many ways that a sport psychologist or a well-trained coach can help athletes:

  •     Breathing and meditation skills
  •     Other arousal regulation techniques
  •     Stress coping skills
  •   Connecting them with other athletes that have gone through similar issues
  •     Positive self-talk
  •     Helping them foster realistic expectations
  •     Teaching them to focus on the process versus the outcome
  •     Promote an environment of positive open communication
  •     Optimize attentional focus based on the task

I am sure that many of you can figure out some incredible strategies to help your women athletes deal with stress. We are coaches, so we are all equipped in our way. The start is being able to identify athletes that are dealing with excessive amounts of fatigue. Then you have to use the questionnaires to open communication lines to figure out the why. Without a doubt, my women athletes deal with higher amounts of stress than my men. Now that I have confirmed that women are out there dealing with relatively higher stress, it’s time to start monitoring each of them more closely. I know that all of you will do the same.  

Case Study: Elizabeth Becker

I have known Elizabeth Becker (Liz for short) for well over a decade at this point. Her first coach, Vinh Huynh, is one of my friends in the coaching world, so I have had the pleasure of watching Liz grow up. She has a prevalence to help others or at least the desire. This desire also puts her at risk for more stress than usual. Her velocity at 85% of her 1RM on squats can range between 0.47m/s and as low as 0.33m/s, which is a 33% range. That means her state of readiness has a major fluctuation. It’s a fluctuation that I have never seen before. That means that a casual 75% of one’s 1RM for 4 sets of 5 repet

Case study

itions might very well be putting her at risk of injury depending on the day. 

When we noticed the fluctuation, it made total sense that injuries plagued her as an athlete. However, now we have an answer, and the answer is velocity-based training. We will also never have to wonder again about future athletes. We will monitor all of them from day one, so that we have as low of a risk of injury as we can possibly manage. 

Sport is about helping our athletes live a better life. Yes, we all want to win. I also know that none of you enjoy winning more than me. However, there’s something more important here… I want my athletes to leave me being more capable of dealing with stress and more capable of becoming even greater human beings. Those moments we get to discuss life with our athletes will forever be more important to them than any of those awesome sessions setting new personal records. Time and time again, old athletes will visit or call me to say thank you for some simple advice that I gave them that I hardly even remember. If you know anything about suicide, domestic arguments, or all the problems in modern day families, then you know that providing our athletes with stress coping skills is an important job. Based on the research, our women athletes need us more than ever. 

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.   Taylor, J. L., Amann, M., Duchateau, J., Meeusen, R., & Rice, C. L. (2016). Neural Contributions to Muscle Fatigue: From the Brain to the Muscle and Back Again. Medicine and science in sports and exercise, 48(11), 2294–2306. https://doi.org/10.1249/MSS.0000000000000923
  2.     Lavallée, L., & Flint, F. (1996). The relationship of stress, competitive anxiety, mood state, and social support to athletic injury. Journal of athletic training, 31(4), 296–299.
  3.   Blackwell B, McCullagh P. The relationship of athletic injury to life stress, competitive anxiety and coping resources. J Athi Train. 1990;25:23-27.
  4.   Anushree Tandon, Amandeep Dhir, Shalini Talwar, Puneet Kaur, Matti Mäntymäki, Dark consequences of social media-induced fear of missing out (FoMO): Social media stalking, comparisons, and fatigue. Technological Forecasting and Social Change, Volume 171, 2021,120931, ISSN 0040-1625, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.techfore.2021.120931.
  5.     Remes, O., Brayne, C., van der Linde, R., Lafortune, L.. A systematic review of reviews on the prevalence of anxiety disorders in adult populations, Brain and Behavior, 2016; 6( 7), e00497, doi: 10.1002/brb3.497
  6.     https://www.upmcmyhealthmatters.com/periods-and-strength-training/
  7.     “Pereira HM, Larson RD and Bemben DA (2020) Menstrual Cycle Effects on Exercise-Induced Fatigability. Front. Physiol. 11:517. doi: 10.3389/fphys.2020.00517”