Strength & Conditioning for Performance pt 3. Velocity Based Training

02 Apr


Velocity based training or VBT is a product of measuring bar speeds at percentages of maximal loads.
From the previous post outlining the force velocity curve and as obvious as it seems, the heavier the load the longer the time taken to complete that movement.

Traditional strength training definitely has its place amongst many young athletes and to those with a young training age to resistance training, however there becomes a point in which an athlete can theoretically be strong enough (which I will discuss more in a future post) and they should be focusing on generating forces at faster speeds.

Many inexperienced S&C coaches and the majority Personal Trainers that work with athletes in sport get distracted by trying to get the athlete stronger and stronger and for the first couple years it can work really well.
Eventually this method stagnates and can even cause the athlete to go backwards from undesirable gains in muscle tissue and their relative power/ weight ratio decreases etc.

So once the athlete has a decent base level of strength for the compound lifts.
It’s important to then spend time developing force at speeds, creating a more transferable link from the gym, to the track or field.

How to measure VBT

Firstly, I would only prescribe VBT to athletes with a decent level of experience in the weights room, can display a level of competency across a variety of lifts and have reached sufficient strength but still lack the ability to apply large amounts of force at fast speeds (which is the ongoing battle).

There are three ways in which we can measure VBT, through quantitative data, with the help from tools like GymAware, which I’ve had the pleasure of using with an elite sprints group in the past, however if you don’t have almost £2000 to set this kit up.
The next best thing is to calculate which loads you or your athlete should be working at and either as a coach, use the bar speed/change of direction as a method of indication, or as the athlete, measure through feel.
I appreciate the last two will not be as accurate, but provided you calculate the correct loads you’ll be closer than you think.

What loads should I be working at?

Assuming we would be working with low rep ranges, which is ideal, as velocity decreases as the duration of exercise increases, I typically programme between 3-5 reps for one lift on VBT.

All of these %’s are based on the athletes 1 rep max. To also note, I am never in favour of testing 1 rep maxes, a coach at our club was concerned about health and safety about the recent training advice that I’ve been sharing and I just want to clarify this message. The safest way to calculate a 1 rep max is to use a calculator online or ask me in the messages below. I’ve been totally and calculating 1RM for 15 years, I’m sure I can estimate yours so you need not risk death under a barbell.

Between 90-100% of your 1RM  is regarded as Maximal Strength, training in these ranges will get you strong. 80-90% is regarded as Strength – Speed, 30-80% is regarded as Power and 30-60% as Speed -Strength and below 30% is Speed.

 How to programme VBT? 

There are many ways to programme VBT into your training programme, some athletes and coaches like training this all year round, as I do, and other coaches leave it to the last minute before the season starts.
The most successful way in my experience follows Triphasic principle, where block stimulates each stage and cycles it throughout the year so progression across the board is linear.t.
I can explain Triphasic Training in a later blog post, if you’re interested in the meantime, Cal Dietz is the guy to learn from.

Up until recently, I’ve been delivering the cue to my athletes to ‘Stimulate, not annihilate’ and thanks to this recent study posted from Strength & Conditioning Research, this quote has substance and supports the speed strength, strength speed guidance.

During the strength trained subjects, the group that displayed a greater loss in velocity during their squats a 50% 1RM, the greater their gains in strength but they also happened to be slower over 20m.
Suggesting that staying fresher, between sets, by stopping the set earlier when bar speed begins to slow, the greater the likelihood of transfer to better performances in sprinting.

My more experienced athletes will cycle 3-4 phases (depending on the time of year) following the TT protocol of Eccentric blocks, Isometric blocks and Concentric blocks, whilst utilising the French Contrast Principles amongst their main lifts.
This variety exposes them to regular high intensity force production throughout the speed-strength continuum.


Summary and background
VBT is not for beginners and I highly recommend reading Triphasic Training by Cal Dietz if you’re interested in learning more about programming VBT.

If you’re already strong and you’re perhaps plateauing in your speed work, the chances are VBT will help this transfer.
All good programmes come from experimenting with various methods and recording those effects or learning from others who have done just that.
The edge I believe I have over other coaches, not all, but a fair number, is that I currently still train very hard and everything that I prescribe my athletes I test myself for a block to ensure that the training will elicit the results we desire.
In short, once you’re strong, I highly recommend all strength coaches and athletes consider bar speed/ speed of movement at some point during the training cycle.

Connell Macquisten
Performance Advisor Bristol & West A.C