Velocity Based Training
Velocity Based Training (VBT) is a method of measuring and prescribing strength training based on velocity. By measuring movement speed, it introduces a metric that is both objective and precise. Let’s talk about velocity based training and the many advantages it has (compared to traditional percentage based training based on 1RM). Prefer to watch and listen instead of reading? Check out our free VBT webinar.
- What is Velocity Based Training
- Velocity based training vs Percentage based training
- Who benefit from using VBT
- Velocity based training devices
- How is velocity based training used?
- VBT metrics
- Velocity based training methods
What is Velocity Based Training (VBT)
Velocity based training is a strength training method that uses velocity to describe training intensity and track strength progress.
Velocity Based Training (VBT) uses ‘velocity to inform or enhance training practice’ (Weakley et al, 2020).
Coaches and athletes use this real time data to make adjustments to training in the moment or review stored data for longer term programming and coaching decisions. Skip the theory? Jump straight to: How to do velocity based training (methods).
Velocity based training vs Percentage based training
Velocity measures can complement or replace traditional percentage based strength training.
When comparing velocity based training with 1RM percentage based training, scientific literature shows that VBT is more effective.
There are multiple benefits to VBT training compared to percentage based training. The most straight forward benefit is that VBT training does not require a risky 1RM test. Although you can accurately predict 1RM with velocity, you don’t need it for VBT training. Instead, you use velocity or velocity zones as a measure for intensity.
Velocity is a good intensity indicator because of the simple relationship between load and velocity: the higher the load, the lower the velocity.
While a percentage based training program is static (you’re not going to test 1RM every day), a velocity based training program takes fluctuations in daily readiness into account. That is because velocity also decreases when fatigue builds, giving you another measurable, comparable variable to use when programming strength training. More about that when we talk about the application of velocity based training, using autoregulation.
Last but not least: VBT looks at velocity, power and force, instead of load (%1RM) only. It is therefore able to describe and change the variance in different athlete’s physiological makeup.
Maximal intent to move the bar fast
While velocity based training is not about training at high velocities (speed work) it does require to lift as fast as possible for the weight on the bar (without sacrificing form). This is an expression of intent, and whether lifters are lifting at 90% or 50% of 1RM, they need to ‘move the bar fast’.
Lifting with maximal intent is proven to be more effective. When using a VBT device like GymAware RS or GymAware FLEX, you get real-time feedback on your intent to move the bar fast. This feedback alone, can enhance athlete’s velocity and power output by up to 10% and increases chronic training adaptations.
Who benefit from using VBT
Any athlete, coach or personal trainer can benefit from Velocity Based Training. Professional sports teams, Olympic lifters and weightlifters all clued into the benefits decades ago. Uptake in the wider community is gaining momentum and now Velocity Based Training is used in high school sport, gyms and private training facilities. It can be applied for any sport where strength and conditioning is applied or where strength training is the sport itself.
The app based software that comes with VBT devices display virtual leaderboards that create competition within a team or between members of a fitness facility. Personal trainers can record videos synced with data and even observe real-time data from athletic performances remotely.
Velocity based training devices
It is important to choose the right VBT device for your purposes. Here’s a VBT Buyers Guide that can help.
The major pitfall is that the data from some devices is unreliable and cannot be used for coaching decisions. Others miss repetitions all together, or log ghost repetitions, which can harm any trust an athlete has for that data.
Scientific research shows that GymAware is the most valid and reliable velocity device out there. It is so accurate that scientists use it to validate other VBT sensors. Read more scientific validations and field expert reviews on GymAware.
For more than 20 years, GymAware has been the Gold Standard in the world of velocity based training (VBT). To get a better understanding of the different VBT device technologies, let’s have a look at the 4 most important ones.
“GymAware is the absolute Rolls Royce of VBT devices. It’s a game changer for VBT.“Dr Bryan Mann, PhD
Linear Position Transducers (LPT)
- Linear Position Transducers (or LPT’s) have a tether that attaches the measurement mechanism to the barbell or athlete. Linear Positional Transducers have the potential to be highly accurate when compared to other types of devices.
In simple terms, the strength of the LPT is that it measures distance moved directly like a measuring tape, where other technology types do not measure distance as such. When you don’t use an LPT, the raw data that you collect is initially unusable and would make little sense to anyone that isn’t an expert. Algorithms are applied to try and derive a useful value, but even after significant adjustment the data can still be very messy. In which case, more algorithms are layered onto the data to smooth and mold into a metric that seems correct. LPTs don’t have that issue.
GymAware is a linear position transducer and, based on the literature, it is the undisputed champ of precision VBT devices (across all commercial technology types). While most LPT devices suffer from large errors when the device is not placed directly beneath the barbell, GymAware is the only LPT with an inbuilt correction for the tether not being extended vertically. As a result, GymAware is not limited to being placed directly under the barbell and can be well out of the way of the lifter or barbell.
As a bonus, GymAware also accurately reports and graphs bar paths:
Laser optic devices
- Laser Optic Devices attach to the barbell and use lasers to take key measurements.
GymAware FLEX is currently the only product of this type. FLEX as a cost effective option to compliment the GymAware RS. FLEX enjoys high levels of precision. When comparing FLEX vs GymAware RS, FLEX is sitting just under GymAware, yet better than any accelerometer or camera-based systems.
Just like GymAware RS, FLEX measures distance moved directly, and there is far less data manipulation between the sensor data and the end user compared to an accelerometer or camera based system. Similar to GymAware RS, FLEX is also scientifically validated.
- Accelerometers (or Inertial Measurement Units) are small, often wearable devices, that can be placed on the lifting equipment, or the arm or leg of the lifter.
Accelerometers are cheap but they are tricky for developers to work with. The raw data is extremely messy and final measurements are generally not reliable.
We see accelerometers as an affordable entry point to Velocity Based Training and a way for coaches to engage with students or young athletes. The drawback is the data tends to be questionable, making them unsuitable for important coaching decisions.
- Camera-Based Systems are available as iPhone apps or stand alone products that are placed on the ground or attached to a rack in front of the lifter.
Stand alone Camera Based Systems have great potential, but are very expensive. Despite appearing to liberate athletes, they can be somewhat restrictive in terms of portability and athlete positioning. An athlete must ensure they are in range of the camera, and any change in where the camera is placed, or where the athlete is relative to the camera, might require some sort of re-calibration.
Based on our own research, the level of camera technology required to get the precision we expect is far too expensive to offer a fairly priced product. Currently, no camera based VBT device has been independently validated. Without this insight, we do not know how well these products work in the real world.
How is velocity based training used?
Velocity can be used in such a large number of ways that it can make the concept as a whole confusing. However, Velocity Based Training does not have to be integrated into your coaching in one go. It is more like a toolkit that you can build up over time. You do not need to understand everything before starting. Even the most basic use of Velocity Based Training can have an immediate impact.
VBT training metrics
Although we talk about velocity, a VBT device like GymAware can measure multiple VBT metrics:
- Mean- and peak velocity (m/s) for both the concentric and eccentric phase
- Mean- and peak power (W) for both the concentric and eccentric phase
- Mean- and peak force (N)
- Time to peak velocity/power/force
- Rep height, dip, distance, duration and bar path visualization
- Rate of Force Development (kN/s)
- Reactive Strength Index (m/s)
Here’s a full list of VBT metrics measured by GymAware.
Velocity based training methods
Here are 7 velocity based training methods that are commonly used:
- Provide velocity feedback as a measure for intensity
- Set Velocity Training Zones instead of %1RM
- Estimate 1RM
- Autoregulate daily training load
- Use velocity drop-offs (thresholds) to control volume and manage fatiguen
- Monitor development (progress) over time
- Create load-velocity and force-velocity profiles
1. Velocity feedback
- Using Velocity to Provide Feedback and Enhance Performance
The ‘low hanging fruit’ of Velocity Based Training is using visual and verbal feedback to enhance training performance. It can be as simple as setting up an iPad so an athlete can see the velocity or power results of each rep in real-time. This sort of feedback almost guarantees an athlete will work harder to match or improve their efforts.
An athlete striving to improve velocity is in effect working to move faster at the same weight. This is an instant increase in intent, which is a powerful bonus from a relatively simple intervention
GymAware RS and FLEX also allow users to set targets, and will indicate success or failure with different sounds and visuals. GymAware’s ‘ding’ is the sound the App makes when a target is successfully reached. Coaches often mention the ‘ding’ as their favourite feature due to how simple yet effective it is in the weights room.
Another example of feedback is live leaderboards. Coaches can generate team wide competition by showing live results of the current training session on a screen somewhere in the gym. If an athlete watching their own numbers generates intent, then team-based competition is going to see them truly fired up.
2. Velocity zones
- Using Generalised Velocity Training Zones (Velocity Zones)
Every coach will be familiar with the concept of training zones and how to set loads to target training for strength, power and speed. With velocity, the speed an athlete lifts determines the training zone they are in.
Velocity zones can differ across individuals and exercises. However, it appears that generalised velocity zones, or the ‘velocity continuum’, is going to be suitable for most applications.
One great benefit of VBT devices is they show, in real-time, if a rep was completed within the right zone. If an athlete is moving the bar as fast as possible for that weight, they can very quickly autoregulate based on their results. Are they moving at speeds above the training zone? They need to add weight. Are they moving at speeds below the training zone? They need to decrease weight. It can be that simple.
The names of the velocity zones refer to observable athletic traits. ‘Starting speed’, for example, is not a beginner’s start point for speed training. It is a training zone that aims to improve general capability for acceleration from a complete stop.
The VBT training zones:
- Starting strength (> 1.3 m/s) – the ability to overcome inertia from a dead stop, using very light weight or body weight. Example: jumps.
- Speed strength (1.0 – 1.3 m/s) – moving as fast as possible under load, using light weights. Example: weighted throws.
- Strength speed (0.75 – 1.0 m/s) – moving moderately heavy weight as fast as possible. Example: bench press.
- Accelerative strength (0.5 – 0.75 m/s) – moving heavier loads as fast as possible. Example: squat.
- Absolute strength (< 0.5 m/s) – moving very heavy loads with maximal force. Example: deadlift.
We highly recommend reading the full article about VBT training zones. For a deeper dive in velocities for squats, bench presses and deadlifts, check out our article about VBT exercises. More interested in velocity zones for Olympic lifts? Here’s all you need to know about using velocity for Olympic lifts.
3. Estimate 1RM using velocity
- Using Velocity to Estimate 1RM
Recall that as the load gets heavier, velocity decreases? This linear load-velocity relationship allows us to predict 1RM.
A simple 2-point method has been shown to be valid and only requires two lifts. Measure the velocity of two distant loads, such as 45% and 85% of 1RM, and draw a linear regression. The intercept of your regression with the Minimum Velocity Threshold is your predicted 1RM.
1RM Minimum Velocity Threshold
There is a minimum velocity required to succeed in a lift of maximum effort. This is called the Minimum Velocity Threshold and it differs across exercises.
The Minimum Velocity Threshold generally corresponds to the velocity of the last successful lift in any reps to failure effort. If your 1RM back squat velocity equals 0.25 m/s, then the final rep of a 5RM will also be close to 0.25 m/s.
Learn more about the minimum velocity threshold per VBT exercise.
The GymAware FLEX app has a predictive 1RM feature build into the app. It takes you through the 1RM test protocol.
- Auto-regulating Load
Autoregulation in strength training refers to methods of adjusting training based on how an athlete is performing. Velocity makes this very easy.
Simply measure velocity during a standard warm up. If your velocity for a given load is, say 10% lower than the average velocity of the last couple of weeks, this is a red flag. Your daily readiness is down and you probably want to decrease the intensity and volume of your workout.
You can continue to autoregulate during the workout. In its simplest form, if a coach sets a velocity target or zone, an athlete needs to auto-regulate (increase/decrease) the load until it matches the target. And, they can make this decision based on an objective metric rather than feel or gut.
Autoregulation using velocity automatically accounts for daily fluctuations in the actual maximal strength of an athlete. This is especially important with research suggesting maximal strength can vary by as much as 18% above or below a recently tested 1RM (Jovanovic & Flanagan, 2016). As a result, a static program that does not change in response to an athlete’s readiness to train – like a %1RM program – could result in athletes attempting highly inappropriate training loads.
Velocity solves this problem without requiring interventions like a 1RM test.
If the athlete has been asked to lift a specific weight at 0.75m/s but they cannot achieve this speed, they can drop weight until their speed picks up. Their training is still within the right training zone, and they have adjusted intensity to account for daily strength fluctuations and external stressors in life.
4. Velocity drop-offs
- Use Drop-Offs to Control Volume and Manage Fatigue
Recall that velocity decreases as fatigue accumulates. This is predictable and repeatable, to the extent that researchers are confident in using velocity ‘drop-off’, or fatigue targets, to determine how many reps an athlete should complete (Weakley et al 2020).
What makes this feature more compelling is that it can help coaches account for biological variations as well. Two athletes with very different muscle fibre makeup would not be expected to express the same athletic capabilities outside the gym, but we expect similar output in the gym.
An endurance type athlete, for example, might be able to lift 70% of their 1RM for more reps than a power based athlete. Yet most percentage-based programs will prescribe the same rep count for all individuals. In this case the power-based athlete who fatigues quickly ends up doing too many reps, finishing with slow reps below the prescribed training zone. The endurance based athlete does too few, and finishes with plenty more left in the tank.
Velocity drop-offs, or fatigue targets, are expressed as percentage decreases. They are based on a benchmark value selected by the coach, which is normally a training zone based target, an athlete PR or a previous best rep.
For example, if an athlete has a target of 0.6m/s with a 20% fatigue target, they will continue the set until they drop by 0.12m/s (they hit 0.48m/s). Some coaches prescribe their fatigue targets with ‘one under’ or ‘two under’, meaning they want their athletes to continue until they complete one or two reps under the cut-off.
Velocity drop-offs also autoregulate. If an athlete squats two days after a hard game, their high fatigue will mean their velocity drops faster. For this session, they will complete less reps than otherwise and therefore account for that fatigue, without additional testing or intervention by the coach.
5. VBT to measure progress
- Monitor Development over Time
Using a VBT device to monitor key lifts means athletes are logging performance results every session. We know of teams that use GymAware often enough that athletes even forget they are being monitored. In this way Velocity Based Training becomes a regular, non-intrusive performance test.
An athlete is generally improving if their velocity at a specific load trends up over time. Acknowledging that there are always trade offs, that athletes might lose speed elsewhere, but this can also be easily observed. Coaches can also use long term data to track the impacts of travel, study or tightly scheduled games.
‘I’ve gotten stronger and faster than I ever have in my life, by using velocity’ – Travis Mash
7. Load-velocity profiles
- Create Load-Velocity Profile
A Load-Velocity Profile maps an individual’s lifting speeds at a range of loads. It is a way to determine an athlete’s current physical capability and allows more accurate prescription. It is also a way to distinguish between normal fluctuations in velocity or genuine adaptation (or deconditioning).
A load-velocity profile is relatively stable in a trained individual, meaning it can be created once and relied upon for an entire season.
There are two parts to creating a Load-Velocity Profile
1: Complete a 1RM test
2: After at least 24 hours rest, complete an incremental loading test. The protocol described in the 1RM prediction above might suit. Or, follow the suggestion made by Weakley et all and complete three reps at 20%, 40% and 60% of 1RM, and then one rep at 80% and 90% of 1RM.
3: Take the rep with the fastest mean velocity and plot that value against relative load (%1RM).
4: Apply a linear regression to the data
5: Create a table of velocity values against the desired range of %1RM from the regression data
Load-velocity profiling might be considered a more complex Velocity Based Training tool by some, while for others it could be a start point. If the idea seems complicated, consider it a concept to come back to when you are more familiar with your VBT device, the implementation in the weights room and more accessible velocity based training options.
Velocity Based Training uses velocity to quantify intensity in strength training. It is compatible with traditional percentage based methods and can enhance or replace other prescription practices. Velocity is very revealing of biological characteristics due in part to some neat relationships with load and fatigue. In broad terms, because velocity decreases as load or fatigue increases, it can be used to account for daily fluctuations in maximal strength, control internal responses as well as account for individual biological variances.
So long as your VBT device is accurate, velocity is an objective and precise performance metric. However, VBT devices are not all created equal and some are considered by the scientific literature to be unsuitable for prescription.
Wherever Velocity Based Training is used, athletes must be coached to lift with maximal intent at any weight. In short, they need to ‘move the bar fast’. This is especially true at lighter loads which seem to be more prone to variability in speed, as well as coasting or pacing by an athlete.
Coaches do not measure or track every single exercise with velocity and do not always base programs entirely on the metric. For example, Velocity Based Training might not not add much value if used to measure supplementary or isometric exercises. Sometimes VBT devices are only used during certain phases of a training cycle, or, in the case of some high schools, only used with senior students.
In contrast, there are many Coaches implementing Velocity Based Training comprehensively. VBT devices are used at every strength session across a number of key exercises. We are aware of powerlifting athletes using VBT devices all the way up to their competition warm ups, using the numbers to guide their final preparation prior to their competitive lifts.
You do not have to overhaul your training practices to take advantage of velocity. Velocity Based Training can be introduced piecemeal, building on your current approach, filling gaps or swapping out for more efficient practices. There is a place for using velocity wherever a coach or athlete, whether a professional or amatuer, can benefit from objective data and live feedback during strength training.
References and further reading:
Bondarchuk A P, Olympian Manual for Strength & Size. USA: Ultimate Athlete Concepts, 2014.
Chery C, A guide to velocity based training for resistance training, Sciences du Sport (2018) https://www.sci-sport.com/en/reviews/a-guide-to-velocity-based-
DeMayo, J, Central Virginia Sport Performance – The Manual Vol. 1 (Ch. 7, velocity Based Training), https://cvasps.com/cvasps-manual-vol-1/
Mann B, Developing Explosive Athletes: Use Velocity Based Training in Training Athletes (2016)
Mann B, Velocity Zones Explained, https://gymaware.com/velocity_zones/
Mash T, Bar Speed: The Revolution of Velocity-Based Training (2017) https://www.mashelite.com/barspeed/
Weakley J, Mann B, Banyard H, McLaren S, Scott T, Garcia-Ramos A, Velocity Based Training: From Theory to Application (2020) Strength Cond. J pp1-19
Weakley J, Morrison M, García-Ramos A, Johnston R, James L, Cole M H, The Validity and Reliability of Commercially Available Resistance Training Monitoring Devices: A Systematic Review (2021) Sports Medicine 51, pp 443–502