Applications and example uses of velocity based training (VBT)


How to get started with velocity based training

Overwhelmed by choices and decisions about how to start practically using VBT in your training?

This article should be of some help.

Keep reading to learn the many different ways VBT can take your training and programming to the next level.

The four levels of velocity based training application

One of the beautiful things about velocity based training is its versatility.

VBT is not a single unified programming methodology: it is a range of tools that can fit the many ways coaches and athletes approach their training. Tracking velocity and other metrics empowers you to calibrate decisions in real time and enhance training outcomes — much like GPS technology has for conditioning.

I find it helpful to think of the ways we can use VBT technology hierarchically. Working from basic to advanced they are:

  1. Increase training intent
  2. Autoregulation of training
  3. Performance profiling and testing
  4. Velocity based periodisation

a hierarchy of eVelocity based training practical applications
A general overview of the ways velocity based training can be applied in training.

My grouping into these categories is based on a range of factors to sort them from the lowest friction and simple methods, to the most sophisticated methods that require significant commitment.

I consider the following:

  • Ease of use
  • Time cost⁠⁠ to apply
  • Level of forward planning needed⁠⁠
  • Staff cost ⁠⁠(time and $$$)
  • Data management and presentation
  • Equipment required⁠⁠

These categories are not mutually exclusive, but instead are like ingredients when creating a delicious meal. Just like great cooking contains more than one ingredient, great programs incorporate multiple strategies, driving outcomes and buy-in without overwhelming athletes with unnecessary complexity.⁠⁠

IMPORTANT: the above hierarchy is not a commentary on how effective or “good” an application is. You can create just as much value (if not more) in using methods from level one of the hierarchy as level four.

The example applications included in each level are just that, examples. The list of methods that follows are far from exhaustive. I encourage you to get creative, iterate and build your own VBT toolkit!

Level 1: Increased intent

This level is all about using velocity to give athletes feedback, ideally during a set, or immediately after it is completed.

Providing real-time velocity feedback to lifters during training sessions is scientifically proven to turbo charge the training process (1, 2, 3). Use this feedback to drive motivation, increase lifting intent and foster competition.

Velocity based training study showing effects of feedback on jump height
(Keller, 2015) Feedback of results can increase performance in real time......
Velocity based training study showing effects of feedback on performance
... And increase transfer to sports specific athletic tests. (Randell, 2011)

Velocity real-time feedback - basic

At it's most basic you don't have to do anything with the data after each session, simply work in real time with the data throughout a single session, encouraging athletes to lift a little faster each set, or beat the person training next to them.

  • Display results on a TV screen or iPad in real-time, encouraging athletes to beat their last efforts.
  • Encourage your training group to find their own ways to compete on these numbers.
  • This works great for jump testing or as a way to increase training intent on warm up sets.

Velocity real-time feedback - intermediate

Make this real-time feedback system a little more sophisticated by creating leaderboards for your athletes. Keeping track of a few key milestone numbers and scores on your favourite movements. Feel free to create new challenges on a monthly basis or continue the same competitions all year round. The important thing is less about keeping and maintaining meticulous data records and more about driving better training outputs in real time, as often as possible.

Some of our favourite simple metrics to compete on:

  • Velocity on a 1x bodyweight trap bar deadlift
  • Velocity on a 0.5x bodyweight bench press
  • Peak power in Watts per kilogram of bodyweight (W/KG). This is great on any exercise, particularly ballistic lifts and jumps.
  • Peak velocity on a countermovement jump
  • Most push ups above 1.0m/s in a row

Velocity real-time feedback - advanced

Contextual feedback is the holy grail when it comes to feedback. It helps answer the most important VBT question that is so often left unanswered:

What do the velocity numbers actually mean for my training?

  • Start saving your athletes velocities across all weights for a given exercise as a benchmark for your athletes to compare themselves to each session.
  • Aiming to beat last sessions velocity or stay above the rolling 30 day average for velocities serves as a great yard stick to be constantly improving.

The Metric barbell velocity tracking app provides this context both in real-time during your sets and also after sets in the form of contextual insights, allowing you to compare you velocity from today's set with your own 6-week average velocity, providing a powerful and useful insight into your performance with the Trends score.

Bar speed tracking app Metric VBT with the Trends readiness statistic highlighted.

Level 2: Autoregulation

In many ways, autoregulation is one of the biggest opportunities in training and high performance.

The ability to adjust training and make granular decisions - in real time - has the potential to be an absolute game changer if applied well. The downside is that it can be incredibly time consuming to implement these fractured and convoluted systems with any consistency. The burden of data management can quickly become an inhibitory factor on training if done poorly.

Autoregulation - basic

Using velocity loss within a set is a great way to avoid the unnecessary stress accumulated from regularly training to failure. Velocity stop points are excellent at helping keep sets focused and optimise our accumulation of fatigue for any given session.

Read more about in-set fatigue monitoring here: Velocity loss guidelines for fatigue.

Some simple guidelines are:

  • 10% fatigue is an ideal goal for any power based training such as jumps or olympic lifts. This tight threshold is also effective when tapering for a major competition.
  • 20% fatigue is a common strength stop point, keeping sets in the vicinity of 8RPE
  • 40% fatigue is more commonly associated with technical failure for many movements and loads so stopping sets at 35% can be a smart way of avoiding absolute failure, even during high volume training blocks.
Velocity based training - fatigue % drop off chart
Fatigue cut off points for a 10RM set. What is the sweet spot for how much fatigue you allow will depend on the goals and time of season

Autoregulation - intermediate

Using the traffic light system is one of my favourite ways to autoregulate your training with velocity feedback. This method has a few moving parts but in essence, a lifter collects performance data across their warm up sets for a given exercise and how they compare to their recent history (say a 30-day average) will dictate how aggressively they should progress today on their work sets.

  • Green: If warm ups are all >95% of the 30-day average then progress as planned
  • Orange: If warm up sets are 85-95% repeat the last sessions numbers
  • Red: If warm up sets are <85% deload by reducing reps and/or loads

This method uses the best rep velocity for each load and compares this with a 6-week average of best rep velocities on the same weight.

With this system dialled in you should be able to flag the weeks when you are a little more fatigued than usual or when you are ready to push hard.

Autoregulation - advanced

Combining RPE and VBT is an incredibly powerful way to autoregulate training and learn important skill to be able to build awareness of how hard you are pushing within each set. There are many different ways to do this, but prefer the traffic light system explained above. Using this method a lifter can make adjustments to the load or volume of subsequent sets and make granular loading decisions in real-time.

Dynamic and integrated programming methods like this might take a little more planning to get it up and running, but in the long run fusing highly specific objective data like velocity with subjective measures like RPE or more general readiness indicators (sleep, hydration etc) can take your training to a whole other level.

Level 3: Profiling and testing

A traditional hallmark in so many athletic training programs is the testing day.

Every few weeks athletes take sessions away from training to max out on key lifts in an attempt to determine whether the last training block has been successful.

Testing days can be a great culture builder and reward system for hard workers, but in terms of optimising training (and results) they have some downsides.

In contrast, velocity based training opens up the potential for an accumulation of continuous testing data without any interruption to scheduled training.

With VBT data being collected as part of the standard training process coaches can use every single training session to quantify performance, set training goals, monitor progress, and adjust training interventions as required.

Team sports keep score during scrimmage, golfers count strokes during practice rounds, so it makes sense that we should keep track of lifting scores on a frequent basis!

Profiling and testing - basic

The most fundamental way to test an athlete using velocity based methods is to pick a given exercise and regularly test performance on a given load and metric combination.

You might test this every session, or less regularly, depending on your set up and context. This single data point becomes a focal point for the athlete to track their progress alongside other markers of performance such as new load PRs (personal records) or other tests of performance (vertical jump, speed, agility, force plate data, etc).

Some example metrics that I like

  • Peak power for a single rep at a 25% of bodyweight trap bar jump
  • Peak power for a single rep at a fixed load jump squat (say 40kg)
  • Max velocity on a countermovement jump
  • Mean velocity for a single rep on a 100kg squat
  • Mean velocity on a 1.5x Bodyweight deadlift
  • Maximum power on a power clean (any load)

Profiling and testing - intermediate

Picking just a single metric has the benefit of speed, efficiency and simplicity but if time permits, collecting a load velocity profile for an exercise can add rich data to track performance.

Any session where you complete three or more sets across a range of loads (say your warm-up sets) can be used to create a load velocity profile. From that profile, you can make any number of extrapolations out to specific key performance scores.

  • 1RM predictions. One of the most powerful uses for velcoity based training. I also have a free 1RM - VBT calculator that you can try out on the link.
  • Vzero calculation. Using the same fundamental principle as the 1RM prediction but instead a Vzero uses velocity at 0m/s to find a reference point to score strength progression. I have a theory that the Vzero for a trapbar deadlift could correlate strongly with an isometric mid-thigh pull (IMTP) score. More on this down the track!

Estimating 1RM with Velocity based training
e1RM is calculated from the intersection between the load velocity profile and the minimum velocity threshold (MVT)

Performance testing - advanced

The load velocity profile itself can also be used to create an overall picture of your session performance, taking into account velocity across every set to give a single calculation of overall lift performance. I call this a curve score.

The curve score is a complete picture of an athletes’ performance on a given exercise across all loads. This provides context on technical efficiency, maximum load lifted, intent across all sets and power on a movement which can be used to track progress over time.

This number can be calculated for any exercise and is measured as an absolute value or divided by bodyweight to create a relative score (my preferred method). My favourite aspect of the curve score is that to improve it is not just about lifting heavier weights, but by applying high levels of intent across all sets on an exercise.

Velocity based training - Novel profiling methods
The curve score takes into account performance across the entire load-velocity profile of an exercise, rewarding intent on all weights.

Level 4: Programming and periodisation

Level four is the use of velocity (and other metrics) to manipulate programs and create long-term plans integrating velocity specific programming strategies. Everything in level four can be considered an advanced application.

To do this you would need to have general and specific periodisation goals and objectives in mind. You then take any of the above VBT methods and weaving them into a periodisation plan to enhance training outcomes over the coming months.

This is a whole new paradigm for implementing velocity into your training and is quite involved, and potentially not worth the extra effort.

Given the high value of using velocity as a motivational and autoregulation tool in real-time, the juice may not be worth the squeeze when it comes to sophisticated pre-planning with velocity.

That said, here are a few ideas you might like to consider.

  • Adjust autoregulation or fatigue thresholds across training blocks. For example 30% velocity loss in off-season, 25% in pre-season, then 15-20% in-season, or 10% velocity loss for a pre-competition taper.
  • Use daily estimated 1RMs to dictate and influence a percentage based training program.
  • Set different velocity zones for specific exercises at different times of year.

Level four applications could be turned into a book on their own and they need to be considered within the context of other more classic methods of periodisation. At this level of sophistication I think it is a dangerous game to be trying to utilise a single methodology or school of thought for creating something as complex as an annual training plan.

What about the velocity zones?

When I first created a continuum for practical applications there were five levels, with velocity zones right in the middle at number three. I have now come to think about the velocity targets and zones as being a versatile training tool that can be applied across the entire velocity based training hierarchy, so removed them from the continuum.

In saying that, they do also have their limitations. If you haven’t already, check out my deep-dive into the flaws of the common five velocity zones model here.

Instead of that problematic five-zone system, I have developed a much more practical three zone model: the zones being ballistic, dynamic effort and strength.

The following suggested applications are base on my alternative three zones model.

Velocity based training - The velocity zone system
A new three-zone velocity zones model.

Velocity zones - basic

The most basic application of the velocity zones is to set arbitrary training targets for your athletes to hit in their training.

  • Set a velocity to reach before increasing load. "Before you can progress to 105kg, let’s hit 100kg for at least 0.65m/s". This is a great way to balance athlete motivation between weight on the bar, and quality of the effort on each set.
  • Train with a fixed velocity instead of a fixed load. "Today’s plan calls for 3x3 deadlifts at a velocity of 0.35 - 0.45m/s". In this scenario keep adding load to the bar until the best rep for a set falls below 0.45m/s, this is now your working weight.

Be warned that using velocity zones to target specific training qualities (strength-speed as an example) can quickly become impractical and convoluted, adding friction and complexity for very little real physiological adaptation. For more on this check out the velocity zones blog series.

Velocity zones - intermediate

My new velocity zone model also takes into account the load-power profile, enabling the targeting of maximum power output.

To do this, continue adding load to an exercise until the power curve begins to flatten out or dip, highlighting the load that enables maximum power output. Working sets are then aimed at generating the maximum number of watts at this load.

This serves as a clever motivational strategy for movements like cleans and loaded jumps or throws where peak power loads can actually feel heavier than many lifters would instinctively self-select, motivating them to push harder.

Over time, the load used to enable maximum power should increase (a sign of increasing strength) but it may also fluctuate on a weekly basis with changing readiness. By focusing on maximum power output instead of simply load lifted, we can autoregulate training to find the load that optimises power output each and every session.

Velocity based training - The power load profile
Peak power is a polynomial curve for almost all exercises.

Velocity zones - advanced

To take the velocity zones even further, the individualisation of both the power and velocity profiles can be used to create customised programming or identify areas of weakness for athletes specific to them and their lifts.

These methods can rapidly become quite involved and complex, I will not dive into them here and instead re-visit options in a future post. For context, I never program or train with advanced velocity zone applications.

Wrapping up

To tie everything back to where we started, I think the really beautiful thing about velocity based training is just how versatile it is. VBT contains a whole range of tools that can be adapted to suit whatever your approach to training might be.

My advice would be to play around and experiment, starting with some simple motivational strategies to increase lifting intent, find ways to autoregulate your training with velocity, or at least use the velocity loss percentages to notice how close you are training to the point of failure.

To take things further use one or two of the many velocity based scores or metrics to score and test your performanceon key lifts over time. Tracking numbers like these is a great way to shift focus away from just chasing plates.

Finally you may consider integrating velocity into your long-term programming and periodisation plans. It might simply be that you change from load to power for your olympic lifts, or that you program with a velocity loss cut-off instead of a fixed number of repetitions.

There is no right or wrong, but there definitely is something in VBT for everyone!

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