Let’s cut the velocity training bullshit.
The vast majority of applications for velocity in the gym are nice to haves.
Far from essential, velocity and motion tracking can help — a lot in many cases — but it isn’t compulsory. Don’t get me wrong, I still think velocity can be pivotal in the short term and the long run (it is my thing after all…), but the fact remains plenty of people have gotten strong without velocity and plenty more will get strong in the future without it too.
The glanceability of sports technology
I compare velocity in the gym with how GPS can help runners. The big difference up until now is that GPS data is (mostly) well delivered, easy to implement, and most importantly - glanceable. In a matter of seconds you can tell if today is a good or bad workout. Glanceability is a crucial feature for sports tech that should not be overlooked (get it), especially for information that is at it’s most relevant when you are in the middle of hard training, sweating, shaky hands covered in chalk. This information needs to be delivered in a way that isn’t an effort or a distraction to the athlete or the coach.
Most velocity data is not glanceable (yet).
This is the bulk of my role as head of sports science at MetricVBT. We have a strong focus to not only make Metric accurate and reliable but to also make the data we provide more useful, easier to action, and giving lifters a clear picture of how they are doing in today’s training session - all in just a glance.
in-session data needs to be easier to interpret
These weaknesses in velocity technology are improving, MetricVBT is just one company working hard to deliver a better velocity tracking experience, but there also needs to be a shift in the information and education surrounding velocity application too. Most practical VBT content tends to be biased towards the sophisticated and the vague, rarely giving specific applications and often times speaking in absolutes or trying to solve ALL of the problems with a universal blanket protocol, as if it were possible to magically buy this funny little device and all of a sudden the human variables and principles of great program design becomes irrelevant.
I should be careful not to throw stones though, VBTcoach is not perfect. While I do try to put out more practical content and share my coaching experience and perspective, I too at times have drifted into the complex and the theoretical. Something I am always trying to balance out with more practical information!
Cost justification bias
This complexity doesn’t just come out of nowhere, it’s my belief that this tendency towards over-complicating velocity based training is down to the historical cost of the technology.
If you invest a heap of money and time into purchasing a sophisticated device(s) and then pour hours of your time into learning how to use the app with all its advanced features and metrics, this creates a bias for the coach to squeeze as much out of that new tool and skill set to get a return on the investment.
If the tech is this sophisticated surely my application for it should also be complex and sophisticated?
This bias pushes coaches towards truly Basing their training on velocity (with a capital “B”), rather than just using velocity to support their training. Most of the gold when it comes to velocity tracking comes from the later, lower-friction, easier to implement tactics, the VST (velocity supported training) approach. In my opinion more basic use cases are generally superior when it comes to working with velocity in real world settings, they are easier to understand, faster to implement, generate greater buy-in from athletes, place a lower time burden on coaches, and most importantly - they work at improving training outcomes.
Simple and effective uses for velocity in the gym
Collecting accurate velocity data has never been cheaper (free, in fact) or easier (MetricVBT is app only, no hardware, just record your set like any regular smartphone video) than it is in the year 2022 and beyond.
Lowering the barrier to entry frees up coaches and lifters to take a more graded and experimental approach to velocity application, with a push towards action orientated practical use-cases that fit your current training flow. Lifters can dabble in how they utilise velocity data to get better outcomes without distracting them from the main game: training hard and getting strong.
With this new mindset, here are my favourite low-friction ways to get value from velocity and motion tracking in the gym. All of these require basically zero extra effort, simply record the data in a low friction velocity tracking app like MetricVBT, look at a few key numbers, maybe jot them down for comparison to the next set, then try to beat them.
I fit these simple use-cases into four categories, intent, exertion, consistency and autoregulation.
Driving Intent and motivation
Intent is all about lifting like you mean it. Every rep, trying to lift the weight as fast as you can leads to greater type II fibre recruitment, more force generated, and even superior power transfer into jumping and sprinting. Boost the intent and spice up your training sessions with these tactics.
Try to lift the same weight faster than last time. Look at your best rep or set average velocity on the first set, then try to lift the same weight faster on the next set or next session. If you like, write these best rep velocity numbers down and track them like you would the load lifted - any time you beat your old fastest this is a new velocity personal best/record (velocity PB/PR).
Higher velocity = more force produced = greater strength gains.
Put up a leaderboard. Who can make your gyms top five for fastest 1.0x bodyweight bench press rep, fastest 1.5x back squat or other novel number. Get creative with the scores you decide to compete on and try measuring them relative to bodyweight for fair competition.
Maintain velocity output across cluster sets. During cluster set training the aim is to keep power output up across all reps. Keep an eye on this and try keep every rep above 95% of the velocity (mean or peak) you hit in the first cluster. If velocity starts to dip, take a longer rest, or end the clusters early.
Modulating exertion and proximity to failure
Training hard is essential, but overdoing it can slow down the gains just as much as underworking. Train smart by accurately measuring proximity to failure and dialling in exertion to match your training phase and goals.
Use velocity loss to understand how hard you are working. a set with only 10-20% fatigue is pretty easy, 20-30% is tough but manageable, while >30% fatigue across a set is a pretty tough set. Depending on your goal you might want to reduce reps (less fatigue) or increase reps (more fatigue) to suit your goals and training phase.
Monitor if you are resting long enough between sets. Take note of your set average mean velocity, if this is significantly lower on the next set (at the same weight) then you likely didn’t rest long enough. Longer rests leads to better force production and higher quality training. These longer rests also don’t have much (if any) impact on hypertrophy goals either.
Keeping sets consistent
Sometimes slow and steady can be more important for certain lifters or settings. This works nicely when focusing on technique for a lift, chasing volume/hypertrophy or even on an ‘easy’ lift in your training schedule.
Keep an eye on your ROM consistency. A good lifter is able to maintain the same ROM for an entire set, while lesser lifters get sloppy and the reps become erratic, especially under fatigue. A ROM consistency score of 97% or above is the goal. Anything less and you should review the erratic reps for technical weaknesses.
Aim for consistent, smooth velocity instead of going as fast as possible. Ripping everything isn’t always ideal, during some training phases you might instead want to lift with a fast(ish) velocity, but maintain the same velocity across the entire set. You will recognise this if your best rep velocity and set average are very similar values with a very low velocity loss value. This might mean setting a deliberately conservative velocity target and trying to hit this on every rep. As an example this could mean trying to hit 0.6m/s for all eight reps, even though your best velocity at that weight is 0.75m/s - deliberately easy and smooth.
Review your training video. Objective data isn’t the only thing that velocity tracking technology can help us with to train better. If you have a rep or two that look a little off then going back to the tape and reviewing your technique during these sets can be super valuable insights. You can even save or share this video in MetricVBT to show your coach or lifting buddy for some technical feedback.
Set yourself a velocity target. This doesn’t have to be scientifically selected value in any way, but use some velocity target to help you find a load suitable for your strength levels on any given day (strength can fluctuate a lot based on a range of factors). A mean velocity target in the range of 0.4-0.65m/s is quite slow and therefore good for heavy loads and low reps as you chase strength goals, while a goal between 0.65-1.0 can be useful for explosive training (also low reps), or if chasing more volume/hypertrophy (higher reps, and more fatigue).
Over the weeks you might find an optimal velocity target to suit different exercises (say 0.5m/s on back squats and 0.4m/s on bench press. Then over the coming months you should be trying to lift a heavier load while still hitting the same velocity target (eg: week 1 = 100kg x5 @ 0.39m/s best rep mean velocity → week 6 = 115kg x5 at 0.41m/s. Huge gains on both load lifted, power produced and force generated!
Master the basics of velocity, then expand. If you want!
These aren’t the only basic applications of velocity, but picking one or two of these to integrate into your key lifts in the gym is a really good starting place no matter what your training goals. This is also totally fine as a stopping place too! There are no rules saying you have to take your velocity integration any further, if these tactics deliver results and improve the quality of your training that might be enough for you and the athletes you train.
I will be putting together a part II for this blog, offering more involved tactics and strategies that can help take your velocity integration to yet another level if you decide you want to go further. Be sure to sign up to my newsletter linked below to get notified when that blog drops.
References and resources
- Weakley, J, 2019, The Effects of Augmented Feedback on Sprint, Jump, and Strength Adaptations in Rugby Union Players After a 4-Week Training Program
- Fink, J, 2018, Effects of rest intervals and training loads on metabolic stress and muscle hypertrophy.