During the late 1990s, developments in technology allowed S&C coaches to begin measuring the velocity of weight room movements. Coaches began to implement the use of this technology with their athletes and studying the outcomes on performance. Further innovations in Velocity Based Training (VBT) technology increased during the 2000s making the tools more accessible to S&C coaches. Currently, coaches around the world are using VBT in a wide variety of settings and populations. VBT is known to be an effective training modality and benefits include the autoregulation of lifts, enhancing specificity of movements, and improving athlete motivation (1, 2).
VBT has become extremely common in strength and conditioning settings, specifically at the collegiate level, however, the collegiate weight room is a unique setting that can present challenges for the implementation of VBT. Therefore, this article will investigate potentially positive and negative aspects of VBT in a collegiate strength and conditioning weight room. In addition, general considerations for the implementation of VBT, along with different programming concepts will be discussed. For more information about the history, philosophy, ideology, and methods behind VBT please reference the following Video and Article (1).
Achieving an adequate coach to athlete ratio is critical for the success of any team training environment. However, coaches can often find themselves in situations where there are more athletes than they can confidently coach. This creates difficulty in assessing the session as a whole and supplying adequate feedback to each athlete. When used correctly, VBT acts as an objective feedback tool, and potentially second coach, helping athletes make safe and appropriate modifications and load adjustments.
Intent in the weight room is critical in the development of strength and power. Early in an athlete’s training process, it can be hard for them to find what maximum effort/speed can feel and look like. VBT aids athletes in learning how to move with intention in the weight room by supplying them with real-time feedback. In addition, one thing all athletes love to do is compete against themselves or each other. VBT creates competitive environments amongst athletes fostering enthusiasm in training and drives intent.
The ‘In-Season’ is the largest uninterrupted training window for most collegiate athletes and is critical for long term development. A performance coach may want to create adaptations during the year but not at the cost of the athlete’s performance in sport. Beyond sport stress, collegiate athletes have added stress from academic and social factors that can affect their readiness to train. To increase the likelihood of effective progress, coaches should ensure that in-season training is of high quality and limits residual fatigue. Using VBT will allow coaches to change training sessions based on an athlete’s fatigue/readiness and support levels of output.
Athlete safety should always be priority number one in any strength and conditioning program. To mitigate injury, an athlete’s focus should be on the integrity of the rep/set when performing a loaded movement. When using VBT, two fundamental issues can occur that can affect athlete safety and performance. First, athletes will look at their velocity score between repetitions which can act as a distraction during their set. Second, athletes begin chasing speed and may alter their movement strategy to improve speed. Either of these occurring can influence the technical execution of a lift, affecting performance as well as athlete safety.
The primary purpose of using VBT is to gather more information to better prescribe training loads and volumes (1, 2). The process becomes redundant when athletes do not consistently apply the information from their rep/set velocity onto their following sets. This commonly occurs when an athlete adds load onto the bar after the speed dictates that they should keep their current load or even decrease it. Vice-versa, sometimes an athlete will not add any load when their speed shows they should increase. This is often caused by limited understanding and awareness of VBT, however sometimes athletes can purposely ignore the feedback. This problem can compound errors in training, leading to under or overloading the athlete and affecting the resulting adaptation.
There is a difference between one or two users versus hundreds of users and the impact it will have on the durability of the product. High volume spaces create more wear and tear on the units and over time will cause them to break down. If you are unlucky, you may even experience an athlete dropping load onto the unit and completely dismantling it. If the athletes and coaches do not use the units with respect and care, you can quickly find yourself without the tool you spent good money to use.
Taking the step towards using VBT within a program is not an easy decision, especially when factoring in entry cost and department budgets. When justifying the purchase to a department’s administration, perhaps focus on athlete safety, protection, and enhancing performance.
Anthropometric differences have major implications for how an athlete moves and performs lifts. An athlete’s height, limb length and ratios will change their movement path in turn affecting velocity and power outputs. Taller/longer athletes will have more time to accelerate the bar versus a shorter athlete. This may result in the taller athlete achieving higher velocity outputs than the shorter athlete even though they are the same strength or using the same load. When using velocity zones to decide overall load of a movement, it is important to allow for variations within groups based on height/length.
VBT is an incredibly powerful tool at improving the training process and athletic performance (1, 2). However, everything has a time and place in the long-term development of an athlete. There is no rush to expose athletes to advanced training methodologies if they have not mastered the basics of training. If a group of athletes are not executing their workouts with a mature approach, they may not be ready to add another layer to their training. The use of VBT should always supply value and enhance the athletes training, not distract them from the end goal.
When implementing VBT with large groups it is incredibly important and valuable to spend adequate time educating athletes. Although time may be taken away from a given session, spending time up front educating athletes will go a long way in solving issues down the line. Athletes should understand how to use the unit, why they are using VBT, what they are looking for and what that means for their training. The more information given to athletes will empower them to use VBT correctly and in time help each other or new athletes. Once installed, it is important to be consistently supplying feedback to the athletes about how they are using the training tool and reinforce good behaviours.
PROGRAMMING EXAMPLES (Below is a list of methods that I have modified/created based on the work from Dr. Bryan Mann. Reference Video for more information)
1. Percentage Led + Velocity Monitor (Beginner)
This method prescribes 1RM based percentages to guide the athlete during their warmup and working sets. In addition to the percentages, the athlete will have a velocity range for their working sets. Athletes will check their repetition speed after each set and look to improve intent each set. The athlete will not look to make any changes to their working set weight unless the speed is too slow and load needs to be reduced. This is an effective method to introduce VBT with a group of athletes for the first time, building their knowledge and confidence. The percentages ensure that the group stays on track and loads correctly while they use velocity for general feedback and encouragement.
Example: Barbell Back Squat 3×5 @50, 60, 70% of 1RM, 3×5 @75% of 1RM (Average Velocity: 0.5 – 0.75m/s).
2. Percentage Warm Up + Velocity Guided Sets (Moderate)
This method prescribes a series of percentage based warm up sets building toward a series of working sets. The athlete will watch velocity and will base the load of their working sets on the speed during their warmup sets. During working sets the athlete should stay within the velocity range and adjust the load based on feedback. If the speed is above the threshold, then add load and if the speed is below the threshold, then take load off the bar. Each session the athlete will use either the same velocity range, a lower one, or a higher one based on desired training outcomes. An athlete’s 1RM will change daily and this method allows an athlete to auto-regulate their working set loads based off readiness/fatigue. This method collaborates well with athletes who have used VBT and understand how to adjust load based on velocity feedback.
Example: Trap Bar Deadlift 3×5 @50, 60, 70% of 1RM (@ Average Velocity 0.5 – 0.75 m/s).
3. Prescribed Load + Within Set Cut-offs (Advanced)
This method, also known as velocity loss threshold (VLT) prescribes loading guidelines for a series of easy warm up sets to a moderate training load. Using the prescribed training load, the athletes will perform an open set of repetitions. The athlete will only stop the set when the speed of a repetition drops below a prescribed cut off. For this example, the cut-off is based off of a percentage of their best repetition speed for that set. It is important to also prescribe a top limit rep number, that when reached, ends the set. A minimal effective approach is valuable when looking to peak athletes for performance. Power/peaking phases should allow an athlete to keep repetition quality and output high while keeping the volume low. The load selected should be based off 60-75% of the athletes training max but is subject to the coach’s decision.
Example: Barbell Bench Press 3 x 3 @ 50, 60, 70kg, 3 x 1-5 @ 80kg (40% velocity cut-off).
4. Testing Protocols
Maximal strength testing with sport programs can be difficult to perform at most times of the year due to competition demands. This method uses velocity or power output as a guideline while building up to heavier loads for a given movement. The athlete will perform sets at increasingly higher weights until they reach a prescribed velocity cut off and record the weight used. During retesting athletes will build up to the same speed during testing and see if they can improve the load used. This is a safe method to have athletes build up to heavier weights without the worry of failing repetitions and can be easily correlated to strength changes.
Example: Barbell Front Squat 8 x 1-3 (record a heavy single rep at 0.45 m/s avg velocity).
Emerson Morassutti is currently the Interim Head Strength and Conditioning Coach at York University. He has held this role for 2 years and has been at York full time since 2018 as an assistant. At York, Emerson oversees the strength and conditioning department which includes the training of 10 varsity sport programs.
- Weakley, J., Mann, B., Banyard, H., McLaren, S., Scott, T., & Garcia-Ramos, A. (2020). Velocity-based training: From theory to application. Strength & Conditioning Journal, 43(2), 31–49. https://doi.org/10.1519/ssc.0000000000000560
2. Mann, J. B., Ivey, P. A., & Sayers, S. P. (2015). Velocity-based training in football. Strength & Conditioning Journal, 37(6), 52–57. https://doi.org/10.1519/ssc.0000000000000177