Feedback and context.
Crucial coaching tools for driving motivation and effort in training. And yet so often this simple application of velocity is overlooked or under utilised because it really is so simple and easy to do.
Quantifying the quality of training
For as long as humankind has been picking things up in the name of strength, we have been using numbers to quantify these lifts.
How heavy was it, how far did you carry it, how many times did you heave the weight up.
More recently, there has been a growing push to do more when it comes to classifying the quality of our training as well. This started with subjective measurements through systems like RPE and RIR, but these still carry limitations when athletes are required to self-assess their outputs. The data can be helpful when teaching athletes to self-regulate, but it's hard to use RPE with true precision.
This is where velocity based training (VBT) can come in.
Through the use of velocity (and other metrics), coaches can provide objective, real-time feedback on how well an athlete performed a given set.
Most VBT devices and systems these days can provide rich data about range of motion, peak and mean velocity, power, bar-path and plenty more. And these systems are becoming more and more reliable as they gain popularity in high performance gyms around the world.
The ways in which coaches and athletes can use this data to increase motivation, drive friendly - or not-so-friendly - competition, and shift the goal posts for athletes is significant. Instead of chasing plates and asking an athlete how did that set feel, we can move towards a system of trying to lift with intent on every set, increasing training quality and driving increased adaptation.
Let's dive into some of the science behind how powerful velocity based feedback can be, some of the best ways to implement it (with or without any additional technology), and the numbers you can use to create fair competition between athletes in your gym.
Can you lift it faster?
The easiest way to start with incorporating VBT feedback systems into your training doesn't require data collection or storage, no fancy algorithms, data analysis, or hours of number crunching, just encourage your lifters to increase the velocity of each and every rep.
This builds on classic external coaching cues ("Snap the bar", "drive the ground away") into more tangible objective feedback: Do it faster. Beat your last score. This is called intent to move, or sometimes simply intent.
Martin Keller and his colleagues (1) showed this to be highly effective when using jump height as the feedback metric.
They took three groups of fit university students and had them jump five times with either an internal cue (extend your legs), and external cue (reach for the tennis ball) or by providing direct objective feedback on how high they jumped after every rep(jump height shown on a screen).
All groups improved from the baseline jumps, but the group that saw their jump height in real-time was the clear winner, jumping higher than both of the verbal feedback groups.
And remember, this significant improvement in jump performance was within a single training session.
As a bonus, the augmented feedback group also showed less effects from fatigue across the five reps, with their best jumps coming at the end of the jump testing, while the other groups both dropped off by their fifth jumps., showing that this feedback can also reduce the effects of fatigue.
You can read more about velocity based training and vertical jump here
How often should you give velocity feedback?
Feedback frequency is an often discussed component of coaching theory, with less internal cueing often a better way to go about things to help drive autonomy and self-directed learning, while high frequency external feedback shown to enhance performance (2).
But what about objective performance feedback?
Luckily Keller and his colleagues again have some answers (3).
34 individuals. 3 groups. Six weeks of 3x a week drop jump training.
The first group received zero objective feedback on how high they jumped. They improved jump height by 6%.
The second group got feedback for their jump height on 50% of their reps. They improved jump height by 10%.
And the third group got the same feedback but on every. single. rep. Their jump performance increased by 14%.
That’s more than twice the improvement seen in jump performance compared to the no feedback group. Not a bad outcome fo six weeks all for simply hooking a screen up to show the jump data!
Both of the Keller studies used jump height as the performance metric. So we should probably include an example that actually used velocity based training.
This third study (4) used 20 semi-pro rugby players as the subjects over a six week training block, split in two groups. The first group did regular strength training, while the second group trained while receiving real-time feedback on their lifting velocity for their training sets of .
The players were tested before and after on a range of rugby-specific physical tests (sprints, jumps etc).
You guessed it, feedback improved physical performance on the field.
Both groups improved (as you would expect with any good six week training block) but the VBT group improved by a significant margin more on every single test highlighting the value of quantified feedback in the gym. And the only difference between the groups was the use of VBT on a single exercise
Athletes like to know how they went, they like to know how they stack up to the competition and if they are improving over time. So use that desire to compete to your coaching advantage, give them frequent objective feedback to compete on in real-time.
And give it in real-time, in big bold letters, on a flat screen TV in the middle of the gym!
VBT with context
Whats even better than giving feedback in real-time?
Making this feedback individualised and contextual.
Above is a copy of our real-time feedback spreadsheet you can download from our free resources. By recording your training velocities as you go, this sheet is able to show exactly how well current you is training compared to your recent history on that same weight over time.
This valuable context can help you make autoregulatory decisions about your training, even incorporating a traffic light system of progression, adjusting your loads or volumes for the days working sets to account for changes in readiness.
Why is velocity such good feedback?
Here’s my best explanation on how this objective feedback is so effective at boosting performance.
Both internal and external coaching cues are crucial for getting great training outcomes, but adding augmented feedback into the mix is an accelerant for athletes to make self-directed adjustments and perform little internal experiments with their movement to get better outcomes.
These internal experiments may be conscious or subconscious and they may or may not involve an inner dialogue, but most competent athletes who are given feedback on how they performed last time can recognise errors and make adjustments themselves if given the opportunity.
This goes some way to explaining the internal -> external -> augmented difference seen in Keller's study (3).
On top of driving this internal self-experimentation, athletes tend to love chasing numbers, so anything that can increase intent and motivation is going to be a huge bonus.
Coaching is still essential
None of this is to say that coaches need not apply, or that a few flatscreens and jump mats are a perfectly acceptable replacement for a great coach.
Rookie athletes attempting new movements will always need plenty of guidance and artful cueing to learn and reliably make great shapes ( a combination of internal & external cues), then as athletes mature and gain experience, the emphasis shifts from simply making shapes to maximising performance and output. At this point in development coaches should focus on becoming facilitators, giving their athletes the space to explore the finer details of performing at a high level (external cuing + augmented feedback).
Metrics - like VBT - add layers to your regular training process, motivating and empowering your athletes and step up their output on every set.
Feedback. So easy to implement, yet so powerful at enhancing training outcomes.
Use feedback frequently, and in real-time to increase motivation or to create competition in the gym. Either between athletes training side-by-side or with a lone athlete, striving to better their former scores.
This augmented feedback can take any form, height, distance, velocity, watts, duration etc, but the real key is to include some form of numbers.
"Lift it faster" Can be made better by adding objectives "Lift it faster, see if you hit that same weight, but get above 0.9m/s"
And for bonus points, try make that feedback contextual, "Last week you got 0.88m/s, Let's see if you can set a new monthly record and break the 0.9m/s mark"
References and resources
Keller et al, 2015. “Enhanced jump performance when providing augmented feedback compared to an external or internal focus of attention”
Benz, A. et al. 2016. Coaching Instructions and Cues for Enhancing Sprint Performance
Keller et al, 2014. “Jump performance and augmented feedback: Immediate benefits and long-term training effects”
Randell et al, 2011. “Effect of performance feedback during velocity based resistance training”