What is a good velocity?
How fast should I be performing my bench press?
What’s the optimal speed (or zone) for a sprinter/footballer/basketballer to squat at?
These are some of the most common questions i get when it comes to velocity based training and they all speak to one of the most common issues lifters and coaches have when it comes to implementing VBT - how do I benchmark performance?
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.
- Part 1: Defining Velocity Based Training
- Part 2: Analysing a single rep
- Part 3: Reviewing data from a set
- Part 4: Continuum of VBT application
- Part 5: Feedback and competition
- Part 6: Profiling a training session
- Part 7: Logging your velocity data
- Part 8: Tracking progress
- Part 9: Readiness and autoregulation
- Part 10: Programming and periodisation (coming soon)
Read on to learn how I think about tackling this question and the metrics to log along the way to contextualising velocity performance.
It all starts with a fundamental shift away from traditional VBT approaches...
There are no velocity standards
The more I think about the problem of benchmarking velocity the more I think we need to fundamentally re-think historically accepted practices and methodologies. There needs to be a paradigm shift. Instead of thinking of velocity in absolute and fixed terms, we should recognise that velocity data is most valuable when it is highly contextual and individualised.
There is no “good” velocity, or specific zone that optimises training for certain populations or situations. Instead, velocity is relative to the individual and the exercise. Different ranges of motion, limb lengths, exercise specific biomechanics and many other variables make finding and setting universal velocity or power standards is an exercise in futility.
The traditional velocity zones were an attempt at creating fixed values for athletes to target, but as I show in the image above, these arbitrary ranges do not translate to all exercises, even for a single athlete.
I have written in depth on the velocity zones in an earlier blog series, if you haven’t read it or want to get back to it later, the TL;DR version is that they are built on a false assumption of universality. They are built to specifically train specialised qualities of strength that do not translate into sporting contexts.
So, accepting that there are no fixed values, how do we determine a "good" velocity?
Simply put, a single velocity value from a single rep or set can’t be judged as good or bad. Only when we consider the context of multiple sets or multiple sessions can we begin judging velocity performance as good or bad. A “good” velocity is one that is progressing and improving over time on a given exercise and load.
Just like we are chasing gradual and consistent progress with the load we lift, we are also chasing gradual progress in the velocities we perform our lifts at. This is why logging your training metrics is such an important part of training with velocity.
The true utility of velocity in training
The utility of velocity is primarily as a marker of two really important things. First it is a clear gauge of progress and adaptation to training in the long term, and second it acts as a precise and objective measure of fatigue status in the short and medium term.
Recording your velocity can offer just as much insight as recording reps, loads, rest time, or any of the other data points we take for granted when training.
Velocity as a marker of progress
There are few things more satisfying than seeing your numbers go up in the gym! Objective feedback that highlights progress is good for the soul and keeps us training hard. That is why I think tracking progress is one of the best ways to implement velocity data.
It may be incredibly simple, but my favourite way to gauge improvement is with the velocity personal best (vPB, also a personal record if you prefer). vPBs are an extremely un-biased representation of progress for a given load and exercise. The best thing about the vPB is they can be applied to any load on an exercise, adding a competitive element to even submaximal sets, encouraging higher intent across all sets.
Velocity as a marker of fatigue
The other true utility of tracking velocity over time is as a measure of readiness to train. Your daily velocity can be used as a very reliable indication of fatigue and recovery status.
Velocity is a brilliant tool to measure training readiness for two reasons:
First, speed of movement is more sensitive to accumulating fatigue than absolute force production, so while in a fatigued state you might still be able to lift a given load, it will be more of a grind than usual. It might not be a huge deal to grind through this fatigue from time to time with slower velocities, but grinding through residual fatigue and ignoring residual fatigue has a compounding effect, further compounding the accumulation of fatigue and potentially leading to overreaching, burnout, or even injury.
Second, velocity is the most specific readiness indicator to the activity of strength training. Unlike general readiness indicators like hydration status, grip strength or sleep quality, the velocity of your warm-up sets is exactly related to the exercise you are completing that day.
Logging velocity data
The ability to use velocity for either tracking progress or monitoring fatigue hinges on a key factor: You need to be able to put today’s performance within the context of your own velocity history.
Without easy access to this historical data during training, the ability to autoregulate training or track progress across a program is incredibly difficult.
This doesn’t mean you cannot use velocity in your training, there are plenty of other applications that do not require data logging, but they can be limited in scope.
Some velocity based training systems log your data automatically, but not all of them do so in a way that makes the information easily accessible for use within the training session.
Metric VBT is working on solving this problem, but in the meantime, I have a free velocity logbook I share with my newsletter subscribers. If you aren’t a member and already using it join my newsletter to get your copy!
Numbers to focus on
So the need to log your velocity data is clear, but how do you do this? And what should you be logging? There are so many metrics and you can't log them all, especially not for every single repetition!
You can track as many metrics and values as you like (especially if this is done automatically), but this can become tiresome if you are recording them manually, for me, if I had to pick only one number to log and focus on as both a readiness and performance tracking metric it would be best rep velocity.
Recording your best rep velocity from every warm up and working set is all you really have to log to gain insights into both readiness and progress. Other numbers and metrics are valuable, but often do not require logging to be used effectively.
I log best rep velocity for every set I complete alongside the date, exercise and load of course.
Best rep velocity is a great indication of your neural readiness and movement intent on a given day, serving as a reliable insight into how well recovered you are and if you are getting stronger or more powerful. Unlike last rep velocity or set average it isn’t impacted by the number of repetitions within a set, so is less influenced by training phases.
Best rep velocity isn’t perfect though, as it can be inflated if an athlete cheats in a set by bouncing or flicking the weight around. Here are a few tips for capturing an accurate best rep velocity:
- Be tough on technique. If an athlete bounces, flicks, cheats or anything of this nature be willing to call foul and disallow a rep from the record. Best rep velocity should be completed with tight well-controlled form.
- Be wary of outlier data. If you use a technology that is prone to outliers (some accelerometers can perform poorly on explosive lifts for example) be willing to delete these reps from the record if they are clearly inaccurate.
- Exercise modifications should be considered individually. Narrow grip bench press and wide grip bench are going to have different velocity profiles even for the same individual. As a result I recommend logging data for movements under exercise modifications as specifically as you can. Any technique change that effects range of motion or load-ability of an exercise should be considered a different exercise.
Free velocity logbook
I have created a free velocity logbook for recording this best rep velocity on each set. The logbook is open-source and super flexible so feel free to modify it to suit your needs.
The logbook has an individual and teams version both with columns for a 7-day, 30-day and 90-day average filtered for individual, exercise and load combination plus automatic conditional highlighting for new load and velocity PRs as they occur.
The logbook is designed to be mobile friendly, so you can download the Google Sheets app and use the sheet during your training session to get feedback on how you’re training is going in real-time.
This same logbook contains a sheet to highlight your progress in velocity for a given load and a profiling tool that can be used after a training session to copy and paste the days data to estimate 1RM or create a curve score.
The videos below explains how to use the logbook:
And be sure to check out the update video explaining the teams tab within the logbook: