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 bar speed data with VBT
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.
The utilization of velocity for either tracking progress or monitoring fatigue is dependent on a vital factor: having today's performance contextualized within your unique velocity history.
Without immediate access to this historical data during training sessions, self-regulating training or tracking progression across a program becomes an uphill battle.
That doesn't mean velocity can't be a part of your training routine; there are many ways to use it without data logging, though they may be simpler or limited.
Metric Pro and Metric for Teams
Metric VBT has innovatively addressed this challenge, providing an automated solution for logging your velocity data. Unlike other systems, Metric VBT's patented technology logs the same data as the once-available free velocity logbook, making it easily accessible for use within your training session.
With Metric VBT, the need to manually record your velocity data is eliminated. The system is designed to automatically log essential numbers such as the best rep and average velocity (means and peaks), range of motion and range of motion consistency from every warm-up and working set. This simple yet vital metric serves as a strong indication of your neural readiness and movement intent, providing insights into how well recovered you are and if you're becoming stronger or more powerful.
Metric VBT offers an automatic and mobile-friendly logging system designed to match your needs. Available both in real-time during your training session, and via your full training history Metric logs all your data including date, exercise, load, RPE, and of course, best rep velocity. Metric offers training history on an individual basis or for coaches who have a Teams account you can review history and context for your entire squad on the app an in-built 6-week average or last set metric for contextual comparison along with automatic highlighting for new load and velocity PRs as they happen.
The Metric VBT platform also contains a sheet to emphasise your progress in velocity for a specific load and a profiling tool that can be used after a training session to estimate 1RM or create a curve score.
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? and where should you focus your attention?
The beauty of Metric is it stores every number and insight from every set recorded, but that doesn't mean you should focus on all these data points at all times, you should instead focus on just a couple at any given time. For most of my training I like to look at my Trends card and my best-rep velocity compared to my 6-week average.
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 1RM strength calculator
One feature not yet available in the Metric Pro app is an automated 1R< calculation (coming soon). In the mean time, sign up to become a VBTcoach member and get a copy of my 1RM & performance index spreadsheet for free.
This video walks through some of the key features in Metric Pro: