[Nemanja Markovic earned his undergraduate degree at the University of Montenegro, where he also works as a personal trainer and S&C coach. He is currently in the Coaching Mentorship Program at Athletic Lab]
I was almost finished writing this article, but then I saw Mike Young’s quote on Science for sport’s Instagram profile, “Applying insane forces, in the correct direction, over ridiculously short periods of time, is a trademark of the fastest people”. Behind the following text is a coach with insane intention to put ridiculously useful information in the correct direction, with the belief that athletes with great performances are the trademark of the smartest coaches.
Before you shoot the messenger I hope that you saw the humor in the last sentence. I also believe my respected fellow coaches when we decide to enter the field of strength and conditioning, that the biggest bang for our buck is enhanced performance and injury prevention. We can agree that there appears to be, among other things, the true need to get through planning and programming until we achieve precise individualization of training. Having this in mind, the autoregulatory training method is the right choice for coaches.
As we know power is the product of force and velocity. In the last decade, thanks to numerous research findings, the role of velocity as an important parameter for estimating and monitoring the optimum intensity during strength and power training has emerged on the surface. Regardless of the increasing popularity, velocity based training (VBT) is for sure a useful method bringing a lot of benefits of improving the performance of athletes. Making a long story short, as I still continue down the path of learning about VBT, the purpose of this article is to provide basic information, answers, and solutions for coaches who want to start using velocity based training.
VBT – dive into general information
With best intention to explain VBT in a simple and logical way, allow me to express my opinion that VBT is not just a tool for measuring bar velocity and power output. It is a novel method of prescribing training loads for exercises, based on velocity. Percentage based and velocity based training are non-identical twins, both valued for strength improvement but with different purpose and outcomes. For example, when performing a bench press while wearing a VBT device and getting immediate biometric feedback, I can see changes in average and peak velocity or power, as well as velocity loss during and between sets. For measuring bar velocity and power output we need devices. Searching the web I was able to find linear position transducers (LPT) GymAware (Australia), Tendo (Slovakia) and T-Force System (Spain), as well as accelerometers like Push band (Canada) and Bar Sensei (USA). LPT devices use a cable which has to be attached to the bar, while Push band uses an accelerometer device attached to the body, and Bar Sensei uses an accelerometer attached directly to the bar.
There is a possibility to measure velocity and power, both average and peak, except that average velocity represents velocity throughout the concentric phase of the movement, and peak velocity stays for the highest velocity in any 5-msec throughout the concentric phase of movement (1). In a nutshell, use average velocity for strength exercises and peak velocity for power exercises (1). Namely, that the story became more interesting when Spanish researchers used mean propulsive velocity (MPV), which means that in propulsive phase of concentric part of the lift bar acceleration is greater than acceleration due gravity because this parameter better corresponds to the real neuromuscular potential (3,9). During concentric phases of the bench press there is a need to acknowledge the contribution of propulsive and braking phase, bearing in mind that there is 28% breaking phase lifting 20% 1RM, but we can take into account that approximately 76% 1RM and higher the whole concentric phase of the lift can be acknowledged wholly propulsive (9).
Taking into account this research paper, it can be concluded that >76% 1RM average velocity and MPV can be considered identical (9). By the way, there is an obviously greater braking phase with lighter and medium loads, so if we use this loads to make someone explosive, keep in mind that may do just the opposite. On the other hand, there is a logical way to use throws, jumps, bands, and chains to accelerate bar all the way up. Minimal velocity threshold (MVT) is average velocity produced at 1RM (1RM velocity) or at last successful rep in a set to failure (6).
Practical application – take home points
Before I begin to explain below why the practical application of VBT is a huge step for a strength and conditioning coach, let’s keep in mind a few important research findings:
– Those performing a bench press repetition at maximal intended velocity compared to those at half velocity have significantly greater strength improvements (2);
– Bearing in mind the close load/velocity relationship there is the possibility to estimate a 1RM without actually performing a standard 1RM test (3,5);
– An increment in MPV for absolute load in bench press by 0.07-0.09 m/s means 1RM increases by 5% (3);
– Minimal velocity threshold (MVT) is exercise specific and reported to be about 0.15 m/s for bench press and 0.30 m/s for squat (3,4);
– The data showed that the MVT in bench press remain stable when 1RM increases after a six week strength training period, and also MPV achieved at each percentage of 1RM didn’t change when 1RM increases (3);
– There seems to be no significant difference between MVT in 1RM attempts and velocity on last rep in a set to failure at sub maximal loads for bench press and half squat (4);
– A very interesting, useful and insightful presentation of data from exertion/velocity profile showed that no matter what percentage of 1RM load being used, velocities at the same rep left in the tank are very similar (coefficient of variation from 3 to 6%) (6);
– There is evidence to suggest that performing repetitions close to failure/no reps left in the tank during three sets, leads to greater velocity loss and higher lactate and ammonia levels (8).
There is a need to continue down the path of VBT by doing a short literature review in order to provide useful information about load/velocity profile, predicting/estimating 1RM from submaximal loads, and last but not least estimating daily readiness or daily 1RM. Namely, the example below (figure 1) shows that my bench press 1RM test consisted of doing one repetition as fast as possible for every progressive load until I couldn’t lift any more. There was 3 minutes rest between sets. My 1RM was 125 kg with MVT at 0.11 m/s. Evaluating load/velocity profile between me and my roommate who also has 1RM bench press 125 kg, there is a possibility to compare each other and depending on the slope we can see which one is more on strength or velocity side across the load/velocity spectrum. Believe me when I say I am not an explosive outlier. In plain English, do I need now to orient myself on maximal strength or power/velocity specific training?
As we know now, traditional 1RM test can expose athletes to injury, especially if the test is performed incorrectly or with someone who is inexperienced, and what is really important to note is that current 1RM can change quickly between training days, and often the obtained value doesn’t represent the athletes true maximum (3). As we know from a lot of aforementioned research papers, that because of close load/velocity relationship, there is the possibility to use one parameter to predict the other (3,5,6). There are papers (5,6) that I strongly recommend because they have comprehensive information about predicting/estimating 1RM from submaximal loads. In the name of simplicity, for the purpose of this article, the following text will present only basic information about estimating 1RM from submaximal loads and estimating daily readiness or daily 1RM.
In the light of the foregoing, following the step by step approach to estimate 1RM, you can perform 4 to 6 progressive loads between 30-85% of a 1RM test (or from estimated 1RM) and record the average velocity for every progressive load (6). Follow suggestions that between lightest and heaviest load there need to be at least 0.5 m/s decrease in velocity (5). With Microsoft Excel, calculating the slope, intercept and standard error of estimate (SEE), with previously known MVT you can estimate 1RM, or just simply using TREND function you can calculate this estimation (6). For the estimated 1RM, you can take into consideration the confidence intervals (6). Keep in mind, the lower SEE the better the prediction of estimated 1RM (6). Figure 2 visualizes only 1RM estimation.
Furthermore, for simplicity, using a shortcut of previous 1RM estimation, there is the possibility to quickly estimate daily readiness or daily 1RM performing 3-4 progressive warm up sets (6). If you have not assessed your MVT with traditional 1RM or reps to failure test, in general, 0.15 m/s for bench press and 0.30 m/s for squat can be used (6). Namely, an important thing is that there needs to be consistency at the execution of every repetition (technique, depth, pause, rest etc). As you can see in figure 3, after 3 warm up sets in the bench press, estimated weight using TREND function at 0.15 m/s is 119 kg. Interestingly, the traditional 1RM pre-test was 115 kg, and this example shows day to day changings in maximum strength during the same training cycle. You can also calculate the standard error of estimate (SEE), a measure of the accuracy of prediction, and confidence intervals for the estimated 1RM (6;7). Note that it is desirable from time to time to perform a traditional 1RM test to verify changes evaluated using estimated 1RM (6).
Instead of a conclusion
With this nuts and bolts, I just scratched the surface of VBT method, because it is obvious that there can be more to learn about velocity/fatigue monitoring, threshold training etc. That’s the beauty of lifelong learning approach, put your good thoughts and all positive effort to be better than the previous self. Also, today there’s enough available information, some of the features are covered in this text, that point to all the benefits of the practical application of VBT method in training athletes. Scientifically based facts, experience, and creativity of coach, guarantees a better way of training organizations. Additional scientific research in perspective will be able to provide answers to many questions that arise in the practical application of this method. With happiness, I’m watching at a time that is ahead of us.
1.PUSH // Train With Purpose. 2017. Free An Essential Guide To VBT by Dan Baker // PUSH // Train With Purpose. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.trainwithpush.com/
2.González-Badillo J, Rodríguez-Rosell D, Sánchez-Medina L, Gorostiaga E, Pareja-Blanco F. “Maximal intended velocity training induces greater gains in bench press performance than deliberately slower half-velocity training.” Eur J Sport Sci. 14(8):772-81. 2014.
3.González-Badillo, J.J., Sánchez-Medina, L. Movement velocity as a measure of loading intensity in resistance training. International Journal of Sports Medicine. 31: 347 – 352. 2010.
4.Izquierdo M., Gonzalez-Badillo J.J., Häkkinen K., Ibañez J., Kraemer W.J., Altadill A., Eslava J., Gorostiaga E.M. Effect of loading on unintentional lifting velocity declines during single sets of repetitions to failure during upper and lower extremity muscle actions. International Journal of Sports Medicine. 27: 718–724. 2006.
5.Jidovtseff, B., Harris, N.K.., Crielaard, J.M., Cronin, J.B. Using the load-velocity relationship for 1RM prediction. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 25: 267-270. 2011.
6.Jovanovic M, and Flanagan EP. (2014). Researched applications of velocity based strength training. J. Aust. Strength Cond. 22(2)58-69.
7.Jovanovic M. (2013). How to Track 1RM Without Actually Testing It. https://complementarytraining.
8.Sanchez-Medina, L., and J. J. Gonzalez-Badillo. Velocity Loss as an Indicator of Neuromuscular Fatigue during Resistance Training. Med. Sci. Sports Exerc. Vol. 43, No. 9, pp. 1725-1734. 2011.
9.Sanchez-Medina, L., Perez, C.E., Gonzalez-Badillo, J.J. Importance of the propulsive phase in strength assessment. International Journal of Sports Medicine. 31: 123 – 129. 2010.