Getting Started with Velocity Based Training

I want to say I have had a blast using my Flex Unit from GymAware.

We all know the GymAware unit is the gold standard for measuring velocity in the strength and conditioning world. If you are a coach at a major university or coach hundreds of athletes per day in a big time private facility, you are going to want to look into GymAware. However, if you don’t have unlimited funds or you train out of your garage, there needs to be a way to measure velocity to ensure you get the most out of your training as well.

GymAware now has the Flex Device using laser technology to measure and analyze:

  • Velocity
  • Power Output
  • Range of Motion
  • Bar Path

For only $500 it was a no brainer. I’ve only had mine for a few weeks, but I have put it to work.

If you are just now getting into the velocity based training world, this article is for you. I am going to tell you where to start, and give you an idea of some directions to go with it.

Develop a Force-Velocity Profile

Over time there are a lot of data points to look at, but in the beginning you will need to develop a profile to make educated decisions about your training or the training of your athletes. Should you focus on speed work or spend more time going heavy? How do you know? The truth is you don’t know until you find out, so let’s find out how to find out.

First you have to pick a movement to test. Obviously I recommend using a movement you are going to use in training – particularly the bigger compound movements, such as back squat, deadlift, clean, jerk, snatch, bench press, bentover row, or something along these lines. Then the process is fairly simple. You will start at 50% and perform 1-2 reps working all the way up to a maximum using 5% jumps. Let’s look at an example of back squat as the movement being tested:

Back Squat 1RM 500 lb

%    Load   Velocity
50%   250lb 1.10 m/s
55%   275lb 1.00 m/s
60%   300lb 0.87 m/s
65%   325lb 0.78 m/s
70%   350lb 0.71 m/s
75%   375lb 0.65 m/s
80%   400lb 0.59 m/s
85%   425lb 0.51 m/s
90%   450lb 0.40 m/s
95%   475lb 0.32 m/s
100% 500lb 0.25 m/s

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Mash Elite's Guide to Velocity-Based Training

By measuring bar speed (simple to do with your smartphone), you can guarantee each and every training session is as effective and safe as possible.

So what do these numbers mean? What do you compare them against? Well my man Bryan Mann blazed the research fields, and came up with these parameters. These columns show the quality of strength, percent of 1RM, and velocity zone.

Quality     % of 1RM   Zone
Absolute        90%+    < 0.5 m/s
Accelerative     65-90%   0.5-0.75 m/s
Strength Speed   45-65%   0.75-1.0 m/s
Speed Strength   25-45%   1.0-1.3 m/s
Starting Strength   0-25%    > 1.3 m/s

If you compare the example profile to the chart, you will find the athlete’s velocity landed perfectly in the suggested velocities or slightly exceeded them. That tells me they need to spend quality time in all the strength zones. I would probably set this athlete up on a traditional Westside-ish program with a dynamic day and a max effort day. The goal is to find out if the athlete leans more toward the velocity end or the force end of the spectrum. Let’s look at another example:

Back Squat 1RM 500 lb

%    Load   Velocity   Results
50%   250lb   0.73 m/s   Slow
55%   275lb   0.71 m/s   Slow
60%   300lb   0.67 m/s   Slow
65%   325lb   0.63 m/s   Low end
70%   350lb   0.58 m/s   Low end
75%   375lb   0.53 m/s   Low end
80%   400lb   0.49 m/s   Slow
85%   425lb   0.45 m/s   Perfect
90%   450lb   0.40 m/s   Perfect
95%   475lb   0.32 m/s   Perfect
100% 500lb   0.25 m/s   Perfect

Now this athlete would be considered perfect in the absolute strength category. However when they venture into those lower percentages, the velocity doesn’t spike like it should. This athlete surely spends a lot of time going heavy but very little on moving moderate weights as quickly as possible. Spending some quality time in the strength-speed and speed-strength zones will benefit this athlete in the other zones. If you are a strength and conditioning athlete or if you coach strength and conditioning athletes, this athlete will benefit in the power department with some focus on velocity. Remember – power is all about having a balance between force and velocity.

This little test will make sure you are coaching your athletes in the strength zone that will benefit them the most. Besides the force-velocity profile, there is a lot more the data can teach you about each individual athlete. In this next session, we are going to look at a few of those.

Applying the Data

Unfortunately not all movements are created equal.

Just because you are fast in one movement doesn’t necessarily mean you will be fast in all movements. Some movements are slow because of efficiency problems, and others will be slow due to injuries and neurological responses. I recommend performing a profile for each of the movements you anticipate performing in your day-to-day program. I will give you an example where we gathered conflicting data:

Deadlift 1RM 540 lb

%    Load   Velocity   Results
50%   270lb   0.68 m/s   Slow
55%   295lb   0.62 m/s   Slow
60%   325lb   0.56 m/s   Slow
65%   350lb   0.52 m/s   Slow
70%   380lb   0.49 m/s   Slow
75%   405lb   0.45 m/s   Slow
80%   430lb   0.38 m/s   Slow
85%   460lb   0.32 m/s   Slow
90%   485lb   0.32 m/s   Low end
95%   505lb   0.30 m/s   Perfect
100% 540lb   0.24 m/s   Perfect

This is the deadlift of the same athlete who tested so well in the back squat in our first example. As you can see, this same athlete is strong with a solid ability to grind through repetitions. However, they aren’t able to generate speed at all in percentages within the accelerative strength zones and up. This athlete will benefit greatly with some quality time spent in the strength-speed and speed-strength zones.

I will program two days of pulling for this athlete with one day of strength-speed work and the other speed-strength. I am playing with some potentiation work (Mash Method/PAP) which seems to really be working well – I will report more on that in a few weeks after spending quality time researching. This athlete will be able to get stronger and more powerful with little to no time spent with heavy loads, which means there will be more time for other elements of their training. Heavy lifting is fun, but it takes a toll on the body. The human body is only capable of performing so much volume before breaking down. That’s a big reason why developing force-velocity profiles are so important – especially for Olympic weightlifters and strength and conditioning athletes.

Think about it for just a second. If a weightlifter can get stronger and teach the body to be more powerful without squatting and pulling heavy, it means there will be more time for quality work on the competition lifts. If you are constantly squatting and pulling heavy, the body is going to require more recovery, which means possibly backing off of the competition lifts.

If you are a football player, you don’t want to get beat up in your training. You want to be able to go out and run routes and sprint. If you are a basketball player, you want to hit the basketball court. That’s why ‘optimal load for the individual’ is going to be the most important phrase for all good strength and conditioning, Olympic weightlifting, and strength sport coaches.

Best Practices

To wrap up this concept of Force-Velocity profiling, here are a few best practices:

  • Retest every 4-6 weeks. Simply make it a part of your max effort work, and spread out the tested exercises if you can. The key is making sure you are trending in the right direction.
  • I recommend tracking speeds at 80-85% and collecting that data. You will be able to allow daily velocities to dictate the direction of the session. I will explain more about that in a later article.
  • Use mean velocity for the slower strength movements and peak velocity for the Olympic lifts. The Olympic lifts are variable because some athletes go slower off of the floor, and the speed during extension is the only speed important for making the lift.

Training the Individual

There’s a movement toward individualized programming taking place right now throughout the world. Why do you think America is doing so well in the sport of weightlifting? It’s because coaches like Spencer Arnold, Kevin Simons, and several others understand this concept. This is the very reason I am spending my entire PhD getting a better understanding of physiology and athlete testing. This will be the way progressive coaches will push the needle, while complacent coaches will slowly be left in the past.

For the next four years I will be writing articles like this on a daily basis – informing all of you about the cool projects and research I am performing. I am not the coach who wants to keep it to myself as to create an advantage. My athletes are definitely going to have every advantage at Lenoir-Rhyne University – with an amazing facility, athletic training, hot and cold tubs, Rapid Reboots, velocity based training, Omegawave, force plates, nutrition coaches, an intra-workout nutrition bar, and some of the best minds in the industry. However, I want to be a catalyst for a change in the industry that will see athletes around the world performing at levels once thought impossible.

I am confident two of those ways will be with velocity based training with my friends at GymAware and with athlete testing with my friends at Omegawave. I want to demonstrate the importance of training the individual versus group training. I also want to show the importance of training the athlete where they are on a daily basis versus mapping out some dogmatic plan that doesn’t consider the variable stressors in life. I believe this approach to training will help avoid overtraining and therefore avoid unnecessary injuries that stem from a tanked endocrine system.

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Improving Performance

Let me be clear, this style of training isn’t just about avoiding injury and overtraining. It’s about optimal performance that leads to winning:

  • If my athletes can train longer without injury or overtraining, they are going to get better.
  • If my athletes can perform their maximum attempts when their body is primed for maxing out, they have a better chance of making the attempts and learning from the process.
  • If my athletes have a highly functioning cerebellum, they have a better chance at perfecting their movements. There’s definitely a detailed article coming soon on the state of the brain and learning movement patterns.
  • If I know their autonomic nervous systems are shot, then I know high volume is a bad idea.
  • I can get a good idea about a lot of this from simply tracking the data of the velocities at 80-85% in each of my athletes.
  • Besides that, you absolutely need Omegawave to quantifiably make decisions.

I am sure some coach will read this and then go into some tirade about how they know the state of their athletes day in and day out just by looking at them. All I can say is – do whatever you want, but I like to quantify things. Team Mash Elite’s 27 athletes on Team USA in the last five years lets me know we are on the right path. Not to mention we did that in a little town – Lewisville, NC – so don’t tell me it’s about all the great athletes in my backyard. It’s about our unwavering pursuit of knowledge, so our athletes can have every advantage offered. My athletes trust me, so they deserve the best possible version of me. Your athletes deserve the same thing.

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