Boost performance with real-time velocity based feedback

Velocity based training doesn’t have to be complicated, in fact the most powerful application of VBT are also some of the easiest.

The most effective way to use velocity tracking technology is simply providing athletes with real-time feedback of their output (velocity, force, power, range of motion, tempo etc).

That’s it. No detailed analysis or sophisticated algorithm, just tell your athletes what their velocity is and suggest they try and beat those numbers on the next set.

Quantifying performance and effort for athletes like this is so simple that many coaches dismiss its effectiveness.

NB. This is part of an extensive series on the fundamentals of velocity based training. If you are a VBT rookie this series will enable you to immediately start using velocity in the gym instead of feeling overwhelmed by technical jargon and vague concepts. Even if you are familiar with VBT I think you will find some fresh perspectives that can help refine your existing practices.

Listed below are the other articles in the series. I will link everything here as they get published.

Intent drives adaptation

To get strong, you have to lift heavy weights. It’s unlikely you will make much progress beyond the novice stage unless you lift weights at and above 85% of your one rep maximum (1RM). But stacking on the plates is only half the equation. The intent you apply to your sets is at least equally as important as the load itself for making really great strength gains.

The idea of intent to move is self explanatory when training for power and speed: the aim is to improve speed of movement, so training as fast as possible is non-negotiable. But when strength is the focus, applying intent - that is, trying to lift as fast as you possibly can - receives less emphasis despite still being a key factor in force production and strength gains.

The physics of strength

Strength is the ability to generate force. Often we measure force as the load lifted, but the force is actually measured as Newtons (N).

The amount of force produced (in Newtons) is the product of mass * acceleration. In strength training the load we are trying to move, and how fast we are able to move it both contribute to how much force we generate. So just as we stack more plates on the bar to increase the strength stimulus, applying greater intent and increasing our acceleration/velocity of movement lead to greater force outputs during training, and in turn, better strength gains.

The objective is still to lift progressively heavier loads, but focusing on lifting those as fast as possible is also going to pay huge returns for improving our ability to generate force. Even if you don't actually move very fast in absolute terms, the intention from the central nervous system (CNS) to accelerate the load as fast as you can leads to a host of physiological improvements:

  • increased rate of force development,
  • faster recruitment of larger type-II motor units,
  • greater force production from larger type-II motor units,
  • down-regulation of the Golgi-tendon organs, and
  • increased motor unit synchronisation.

Ultimately these improvements are going to lead to greater strength and power⁠ potential.

For athletes competing in strength sports this means:

  • better capacity to grind through sticking points,
  • ability to lift heavier loads at slower velocities, increasing 1RM, and
  • more efficient lifts, increasing rep numbers on submaximal sets.

And for athletes in strength and conditioning settings the benefits are also fantastic:

  • superior translation of force production into athletic movements,
  • faster rate of force development,
  • increased power expression for jumping and change of direction, and
  • greater strength foundation for development of elastic qualities.

Velocity is a measure of intent

Because of this direct link between high intent and increased movement speeds, velocity is the obvious choice for measuring and quantifying intent when training.

Lifters and coaches have intuitively been using bar speed to subjectively assess performance long before velocity tracking became accessible. Lifters would rate the ease at which they completed a set based on the speed with which they could lift it. “Those squats flew up” and phrases like it have become the universal language for how easy a set was to complete.

This relationship is so strong in fact that RPE and last rep velocity are intrinsically linked in the powerlifts as a measure of your proximity to failure.

Velocity based training (VBT) - chart showing last rep Velocity and RPE
The relationship between last rep Velocity and RPE. There is also a relationship between first rep velocity and % of 1RM. Combined these data points can help a lifter understand their intent and exertion levels on a given load.

By measuring velocity with apps like MetricVBT, it has become possible to integrate the subjective feel for how easy a set was with precise, objective velocity data, giving athletes and coaches a new metrics to monitor training intent, proximity to failure, track progress or gauge readiness in real-time.

The science of training feedback

This objective feedback idea isn’t just theoretical, it has been scientifically proven to create immediate and sustained improvements in athletic performance across a number of settings.

Immediate performance improvements

In 2015 Martin Keller and his colleagues highlighted just how easily objective feedback is able to boost performance.

They took three groups of fit university students and had them complete five jumps with either an internal cue (extend your legs), and external cue (reach to touch a tennis ball) or direct objective feedback on how high they jumped (jump height shown on a screen immediately post jump).⁠⁠

All groups improved compared to the baseline test, but the group that could see their scores on a TV screen had the greatest jump height improvement, jumping 4% higher than the internal feedback group and 2.7% higher than the internal feedback group.⁠

Velocity based training (VBT) - Feedback increases jump performance

As a bonus, the objective feedback reduced the impacts of fatigue, with this group performing their best jumps at the end of the testing series, while the other groups saw a drop in jump height over their five jump attempts.

Velocity based training (VBT) - feedback reduces the effects of fatigue in a session

This study shows that using VBT doesn’t have to be fancy to be effective. Simply integrating performance metrics into your coaching flow as a form of feedback is a super valuable way to get just a little more out of each rep or set.

To keep this from going stale, change the performance test, exercise or metrics on a regular basis. Competing on everything can be exhausting and might get tiresome, but a weekly or monthly challenge goes a long way to get athletes going!

Long-term performance improvements

A 2011 study from Aaron Randell and his team looked at performance on a battery of sports tests in rugby players in response to velocity feedback in training.

The players were split into two groups and had them follow fairly typical, identical strength programs for an eight week training block, with a single variable tweaked between the groups. On the first exercise of the day, a 40kg jump squat, group one received velocity feedback for their reps while group two did not receive any velocity feedback, they just did the 40kg jump squats blind. All other exercises followed a no-feedback standard load progression plan.

Velocity based training (VBT) - study design for using feedback to increase athletic performance

The results were incredible, both groups improved as you should expect with 6-weeks of training, but the velocity feedback group saw significantly greater performance improvements on almost all tests.

Velocity based training (VBT) - Results of feedback vs no feedback on training outcomes

Athletes love to compete, and they love keeping score. With velocity based training, coaches can take advantage of these competitive tendencies to create an environment that rewards effort and intent in training, not just rewarding the biggest dogs lifting the biggest weights.

The positive feedback loop

Both Randell and Keller also conducted studies into the short or long term effects of this training feedback, both showing a consistent result across all papers: athletes experience an increase in training performance which leads to greater adaptations and progress when given objective, real-time feedback.

I think there are two key actions at play that makes feedback so effective at boosting performance:

  1. Make self-directed technique and intent adjustments in their training. This creates a nice positive loop accelerating the skill refinement process.
  2. It gives athletes a way to “score” each and every rep. Traditionally, weight training is measured by how much weight is on the top sets, with load and reps being the only ways to track progress. With the addition of velocity, athletes gain a new way to measure progress, trying to beat their own previous best velocity, challenge their teammate lifting alongside them, or simply just make the velocity numbers go as high as possible!

This works like a positive feedback loop, constantly upregulating intent and performance creating greater adaptations and driving performance.

Velocity based training (VBT) - Positive effects of velocity feedback on training performance
The positive effects of objective training feedback on enhancing performance within a training session

Tips for integrating velocity feedback

Feedback and competition is the absolute foundation of velocity based training.

It’s so easy that you are crazy if you don’t let your athletes compete on velocity (even just a little).

Here are my best practical tips for using velocity feedback (or other metrics like power, range of motion, tempo, etc) in the gym to turbo charge your training.

Give feedback frequently

There doesn’t seem to be an upper limit on how often you can give feedback.

In 2014, Martin Keller found a near perfect linear relationship between the frequency of feedback and jump improvements over a 6-week training block.

Velocity based training (VBT) - Higher frequency feedback is better for performance in jump training

More frequent feedback gives athletes more opportunities to correct technical errors and re-focus themselves and increase intent if numbers start to drop. It’s also more chances to set another velocity PR.

My one caveat to this would be when the logistics of providing feedback becomes a burden to the training flow.

If the tools you use to provide feedback slow training down the positive impact of the feedback will suffer. Either find tools to deliver the feedback with less friction (putting results on a big screen is my favourite, using simple apps and avoiding clunky hardware can also be helpful for speed and ease of use). Failing this, dial back feedback frequency and make it an occasional part of training, incorporating a testing day on a semi-regular basis or only having feedback included with one exercise at a time in the training session.

Integrating data into your coaching interventions

Great conscious coaching is still a key ingredient to sustained results in training. There is no technology available that will be replacing skilled human coaches any time soon.

However, accurate performance data can be one of the cheapest and most reliable assistants you will ever have, driving buy-in and igniting motivation in your athletes.

Rookie athletes will need more coaching cues (both internal + external) than velocity feedback as they learn the basic shapes and skills of lifting. As athletes gain competence however, the coaching emphasis shifts from technique to output. More mature athletes still need timely coaching intervention but like the rugby players shown their jump squat velocities they will thrive when coaching cues and objective performance data are integrated as a way to drive competition with themselves and others.

Practical use cases

There are dozens of ways to use velocity data as a feedback tool in your training, but here are my three favourites general categories, organised from simplest to most involved. Each category contains a few specific examples but feel free to experiment and find what works best to suit your context.

Example 1: Arbitrary targets and goals

It’s as simple as encouraging your athletes to lift faster, but with an objective goal to focus on.

This goal can take any form: height, distance, velocity, watts, duration etc. The real key here is that we are moving away from open subjective coaching towards a concrete and objective goal to chase.

  • Add data points to your coaching cues. ⁠⁠”Lift faster" can be improved by adding target velocities "Let’s get that 100kg moving faster, today you got 0.85m/s, let’s aim for 0.9m/s next set"⁠⁠. It’s not super complicated but really effective at adding another dimension to what is considered “good lifting” in your gym.
  • Give athletes a fixed velocity or power score to beat before they can go heavier. This is particularly good for field and court sport athletes who may already be hitting high relative loads on their main lifts (2x BW for example). A velocity target shifts their focus to greater intent and speed on these movements. “Increase weight on your trapbar deadlifts once your best rep hits 0.5m/s for two weeks in a row”.
  • Train for maximum power. Find the load that enables you to express the most power possible then use this load for your working sets on say a trapbar jump or a power clean. Over time the load you use to generate this power should increase, as should the absolute power you can generate. Maximum power is also a great training goal to chase.
  • Look for an <10% ROM consistency. Variance in ROM is a sign of technical inconsistency or a lack of discipline under fatigue. Using the ROM variance metric you can very quickly see how consistent or inconsistent a lifter is at making their shapes.
  • Use velocity in reverse for tempo training. Fast velocities don’t always have to be a good thing, if tempo and control are your focus velocity can be used as an upper limit, aiming to keep all repetitions below a given speed. MetricVBT is also working on a specific time under tension and tempo metrics.

Example 2: Competition and leaderboards

Leaderboards and between-athlete competitions are brilliant for creating energy and competition in the gym. Put up a whiteboard or digital leaderboard and set monthly or weekly challenges for a specific lift and metric that you want your athletes to dominate.

I like to make the scores relative to bodyweight, keeping things fair(er) for everyone in the gym, and keeping the big guys in their place 😉.

Some of my favourites:

  • Fastest rep on a 1x BW bench press
  • Fastest rep on a 1.5x BW back squat
  • Max power generated on a trapbar jump/Power clean (any load used, but score is in Watts ÷ bodyweight)
  • Most reps above 0.8m/s on a 0.5x BW trapbar deadlift.

Get creative with these and find the exercises and qualities you want to celebrate, maybe you want the athletes to be more invested in their Olympic lifting? or a certain cohort is less invested in their squatting?

NB: Be sure to test-drive the metrics first to make sure the benchmark you use are realistic, there are no fixed values here, find what suits your population!

Example 3: Compete with your own training history.

Instead of attaching absolute or arbitrary scores, a lifter competes with themselves aiming each session to beat their own previous best efforts.

This is by far the most useful way to implement velocity feedback in your training. In this system athletes compare today’s velocities with their own recent averages and all time bests for a given exercise and load to see how they are tracking over time. It is a little more involved as it requires keeping a velocity logbook, but you can get my logbook for free by signing up for the newsletter at the bottom of this page.

  • Compare today’s velocities with last sessions. Be sure to compare the same exercise and load combination, but this can be a simple trick to try and out-lift your own best efforts each week.
  • Aim to beat your 30-day average. The 30-day average allows lifters to compare themselves with not just a single session but the mean or their most recent workouts on a given exercise. Over time your 30-day average should gradually move upwards, and you should be able to beat this value more workouts than not. This method is also a great indicator of readiness and progression.
  • Chase velocity PRs. A velocity PR (personal record, sometimes called a PB - personal best) is the all-time fastest rep you have performed for a given exercise and load with proper technique. Setting a new velocity PR is a great sign of progress, even if your top weight isn’t going up, you can still be make progress on your submaximal loads by moving these sets faster.
  • Chase a power PR. A max power output PR can be applied to any load for a given exercise, simply aiming to set a new power PR for the single rep with the highest amount of watts generated. This is great for loaded jumps, Olympic lifts and bench throw exercises.

Be willing to experiment

There are plenty of ways to use velocity or power metrics as a way to motivate your athletes in the gym. Start small, be flexible and don’t be afraid to try a few different strategies before you find what works best for your population.

We will be going through more practical velocity based training strategies in upcoming instalments of the fundamentals series.

References and resources

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