Velocity Based Training – The beginner’s guide – Part 2


Using the barbell velocity to guide your training?

Whilst the use of velocity based “training zones” is still novel and yet to be proved the concept can be added on to a more traditionally planned strength training programme and used to guide weekly load selection.  For instance let’s use a planned 4 weeks cycle first written out as percentage based programme and then a programme using the velocity bandings to help guide load selection.

The addition of the bandings serves two purposes

  • It shows objectively how easy or hard the athlete is finding the load therefore it shows a clear and easy decision between either increasing or decreasing the load to ensure that the athlete is getting the appropriate stimulus and on the flip side is not lifting with too much intensity and accruing excess fatigue.
  • It allows for week to week fluctuations in the training load to track the player’s readiness for the week.  For instance if the player is feeling well recovered and fresh than they may move the load faster and increase their load.  In the event they are overreached or just overly fatigued they will need to reduce the load to stay within the desired velocity banding.

What can you expect to see through day to day usage?

The first thing you will probably notice is that not all athletes lift at the same cadence some lifters can perform whole working sets at velocities that would indicate failure for another.  Here are some anecdotal observations from working with the gym aware  –

  • Higher rep sets will start at quicker velocities and drop down as the set goes on and fatigue builds up.  For instance a 10 rep set might start at 1.1 to 0.9 m/s but as fatigue sets in it might drop to 0.4 to 0.5 m/s.
  • Generally lower body lifts move quicker than upper body lifts so your bandings for squat might need to be higher than bench press (as you can see from the edinburgh rugby normative data).
  • From observation when a lifter drops below 0.3 m/s for a lift it will be a grind something I would avoid for squats or deadlift since such ugly lifts are sure to cause stiffness for a few days afterwards.
  • If the velocity drops below 0.2 m/s it is likely that the lifter will fail to complete the rep I have however on one occasion seen a player complete a set of 5 on bench press between 0.2 and 0.35 m/s
  • It will take a while to hone in on what lifting velocities a particular player or athlete will operate at performing some fatigue based rep out sets on an exercise will give a good indication of what their drop off is like.

Table Average Velocities for Velocity-Measuring Devices

Adapted from Roman, (1986); Ajan and Barago (1988) www.nsca.com

Some Descriptive Data

When we started using the gym aware at edinburgh we recorded every work set between 75 to 90% to look at what the velocity profiles of the different exercises looked like.  We recorded some 5-10 rep sets however since the vast majority of our programmes involve 2-5 rep sets for our main exercises we pooled the data by exercise and produced a bar chart looking at the mean velocity per rep.

Edinburgh Rugby Normative data.jpg

  • Overhead press (standing and seated), bench press and box squat all follow a pretty uniform pattern of fatigue during the sets.  You will also notice that some exercises happen at higher velocities than others (bench press – 0.4 to 0.3 m/s and OH Press 0.65 to 0.5 m/s).
  • Deadlift follows an interesting pattern as well you will see that reps seem to follow a reverse pattern from what you would expect to see.  This is skewed however since the vast majority of deadlifting was done in a 1-3 rep range.  One trend we did see however was that with submaximal loads (75-85%) reps would get faster from rep 1 to 2 and often from rep 3.  This is probably due to the lifter adopting a better line of pull from the first to second rep which is fairly common since it can be difficult to get the setup 100% correct for the first rep of a set.  This is probably accentuated by the concentric only nature of the lift since their is no eccentric component to help the lifter predetermine their strategy for the concentric portion of the lift
  • The higher balance or skill requirement for front squat could show why there isn’t a regular pattern for the averages.  This is probably more reflective of the level of skill of the lifters (i.e. rugby players) than it is of the exercise.

Lifting to failure

Based off the limited data we have on sets to failure it would appear that anything between .3 to .2 for an upper body lift would be coming close to the next 1 or 2 lifts being failure.  Whilst this is not of any concern (it’s even desirable) for a size programme for any strength or performance based programme it will induce huge amount of fatigue for little benefit.

Using the gym aware it could be possible and even pertinent to assign a volume of lifts (total number of lifts for that session) and allow the athlete to perform them in sets that don’t allow them to drop into the .3 m/s to .2 m/s zone.

That way you ensure the athlete is getting the stimulus in terms of volume of lifts completed which will ensure you are achieving the strength stimulus you require but they are not accruing as much fatigue as they might doing a set that reaches a near failure velocity.

24 reps done as 3 sets of 8 @ 75% run quite a good chance of accruing enough fatigue over the set that the athlete will likely come to a point where their bar speed drops to the point that the last reps of the set are likely to come under sub optimal technique and cause larger amounts of fatigue (with total body lifts such as squats this can also lead to spasm of the back from rounding).

24 reps done as 6 sets of 4 @ 75% will elicit much the same in terms of volume and strength gain however it is very easy especially with the gym aware to encourage the athlete to keep the concentric over a threshold.

As we have seen from the limited research same volume and intensity programmes have shown different results for 1RM and sports based measures with quicker velocity showing greater performance gains.  Therefore it could prove useful to try and use the same volume of lifts but encourage a higher mean velocity for all of the volume.

In the above example you have pretty much the same programme in terms of volume and intensity per week.  However with the velocity guided threshold version you get some additional benefits

  • You can ensure that all reps are performed with good technique as accumulation of fatigue over the sets should be much reduced.
  • Each rep should allow the athlete to focus on their concentric acceleration which will hopefully give an increased strength and performance benefit.
  • There are more opportunities for coach and athlete interaction between sets to either tweak the load or talk about execution due to the larger number of sets.

Some thoughts on how to utilize in an athlete’s training.

  1. It can ensure that the athlete is providing a maximal intended effort on each rep this will help to increase benefits in not only maximal strength but also rate of force development which is a crucial factor in athletics.
  2. It allows an athlete to get something out of a “deload” or lighter session since they can try and apply a maximal velocity to each rep.
  3. As a coach it can allow you to make sure all of your volume prescribed is done not only at intensities that will ensure adaptation but also will allow you to preempt an athlete pushing too hard and keep them feeling fresh.
  4. When doing a “power” session you can see if under the same conditions an athlete has actually increased their ability to apply force to submaximal loads giving power and velocity outputs that give objective outcomes and goals to work towards and help ensure increased power output.
  5. There can be a huge increase in buy in from athletes who can start to see the carryover from maximal strength into velocity as they can see with increased force maximal threshold submaximal loads move faster.

Some thoughts on how to utilize in a lifters training.

  1. Lifters can start to look a total volumes of lifts instead of sets x reps when setting out training cycles a more accurate way to look at training cycles.
  2. Lifters can ensure that they are performing volume work with good technique applying better acceleration to submaximal loads will encourage technique characteristics that will carry over to maximal loads (better timing, better line of drive on the bar, keeping tight etc).
  3. Again in a deload phase a lifter can focus on increased velocity at submaximal percentage.
  4. Lifters can actively avoid failure during reps sets and try to maintain best practice by utilizing thresholds that can be completely individual to them and their velocity characteristics.
  5. Lifters will notice trends such as second rep always being faster than the first rep?  Why is this and how can you change your initial setup to get the performance benefit?
  6. Lifters can see benefits of volume cycles without having to lift maximal percentages if they perform the same workout and have greatly increased their bar speed they can infer with confidence they have become stronger.

Hope this 2 part series has given you some ideas on how you might implement this great training tool into your programme.


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