Defining Velocity Based Training

If you are here you have obviously heard of velocity based training, but maybe don’t have a clear grasp on what exactly it is (and isn’t!), and how to implement it.

My goal is to make your journey to VBT mastery as easy as possible, because I fundamentally believe that training with velocity data is one of the most powerful things we can do as coaches or athletes to optimise our time spent in the gym and accelerate the progress we make.

In this article I am going to do my best to define for you what exactly VBT is. I also want to introduce you to some concepts of VBT that I think are essential to understand and apply velocity in the gym.

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.

What is velocity based training?

If you were hoping that I would start with some snappy definition of velocity based training (VBT) that you can memorise and move on — well, I’m sorry to disappoint!

The problem we face is “VBT” has been used by different people to mean different things. Some coaches describe it as a programming framework, others consider it a universal system for training in the gym, while to another group it's simply a category of technology products.

Frankly “velocity based training” is a poor name, but if you reverse the phrase it is possible to arrive at something more instructive: “training based (on) velocity”.

To help us along, I can extend it even further by stating that VBT is: “training where at least some programming decisions are based on velocity data.”

It isn’t snappy, but it gets to the heart of the matter.

An athlete looking at their velocity based training VBT app

VBT to me is any training where lifts or movements are accurately measured with metrics such as velocity, range of motion, and power, with that data then being used to provide real-time feedback, track progress, to make better training decisions in real-time, or to aid programming over a training cycle or entire season.

Velocity based training is not a unified framework or system. Instead, it is a tool that can further optimise our training and programming decisions. The beauty of VBT is there are dozens of practical ways to apply the data to your training. No single "best" approach exists and you can implement it in the way that best suits your training environment and goals. I like to think of VBT in a similar way to how GPS is applied in programming conditioning and fitness work.

There is a common misconception that if you are tracking velocity you must make *all *****of your training decisions based on velocity data. This just isn't accurate. Velocity data works best when integrated alongside other methods of training and programming such as RPE, % of 1RM, block periodisation, vertical integration and many more.

Why track velocity?

It is important to realise that everybody lifts weight with velocity, just not everybody tracks it.

Often you will hear coaches encouraging their athletes to put maximum effort into the barbell for each lift. They may not realise it but they are chasing a quality best defined with velocity data.

When asked about how a set felt or looked, coaches and athletes intuitively describe the difficulty of the set in terms of its subjective speed of movement. “Those squats flew up” or “Ugh, 180kg is a grind today” are typical things you might hear after a set.

Just like we measure load, reps, sets, and rest periods, It makes sense to me that we should also (if possible) measure velocity with precision. This is because velocity data gives us an objective insight into training quality.

The cool thing about velocity is that the technology used to track it also unlocks insights like range of motion, range of motion consistency, power production, tempo, and much more.

Basic use case for VBT

As stated above, velocity is a measure of training quality. I think there are two basic and fundamental ways to apply this that most people should consider.

First, velocity is a measure of our intent to move or effort when lifting. Quantifying effort with velocity data can be a great motivator that encourages athletes to push harder and give more intent on all their reps.

There is great research showing the positive impact that feedback like this can boost performance in both the short and long term.

Velocity based training chart: Adapted from Keller 2015
Giving subjects instant performance feedback increased jump height to a greater extent than internal and external cues. Feedback also mitigated the effects of fatigue across the jump trials
Velocity based training chart: Adapted from Randell, 2011
Rugby players performed the same strength training program with one group receiving velocity feedback on their 40kg squats jumps while the other group did not receive any feedback.

An example of using velocity feedback can be as simple as providing an athlete with their velocity data after each set and encouraging them to beat these numbers on the next set, or to compete with the athlete next to them, (something I will cover in detail later in the series).

The second and probably the most powerful way to use VBT in your training is comparing current velocity performance against recent history for a given exercise and load. Deviation relative to a personal best or recent average can indicate both progression and a change in readiness status. Slower bar speeds typically indicate a nervous system under fatigue, while faster indicate high recovery and readiness. Armed with this information we can make real-time decisions to adjust the session.

A Velocity Based Training program with data

The screenshot above is an example of two training days for my own lifting. The bench day shows a good session, finishing with 3x new PRs, a 90kg equal best top weight and velocity PRs for both the 85kg and 90kg. The second example is from a low performing squat day, yellow and red cells indicate low readiness compared to my 30 day averages for these loads.

These two applications fall broadly under what I think of as providing contextual history; the idea that we are striving to compete with a past version of ourselves. Over time, this challenge to beat our former best efforts can accelerate the gains made in training and provide a fresh way to measure and celebrate progress. This data also helps calibrate sessions in real-time, dial in technical improvements, enhance power output, and improve the transfer of gym based training into sporting qualities.

Ok, but what is velocity actually?

Velocity is a measure of the change in position of an object over time. More specifically velocity in the gym refers to how fast a barbell, body or other implement moves during each repetition.

Velocity when lifting is measured in metres per second (m/s) and mostly refers to the velocity during the concentric portion of a repetition when we are working to lift the weight. There are a few different classifications of velocity, but more on that in part two.

In order to accurately measure velocity, a technology solution needs to be used that can track the implement (most commonly a barbell) with precision in real-time.

There are a bunch of options to achieve this: linear positional transducers (or LPT) that uses a string attached to the bar, rack mounted camera systems, or wearable accelerometer devices are common. A new way to measure velocity is using your phone camera with the MetricVBT smartphone app, an app I helped develop. With Metric you can start measuring velocity accurately and automatically without any additional hardware.

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References and resources

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