Whether you are a coach looking to motivate and push your clients/athletes, an athlete doing strength and conditioning or a powerlifter looking for a bigger total, incorporating bar speed tracking (also known as velocity based training) is a powerful way to improve the quality of your training, gain deeper insights and boost motivation and intent in your training sessions.
And yet so often the most simple application of VBT is overlooked or under utilised by lifters at every level. In this article, you are going to unlock the benefits of Real-time feedback and performance context with bar speed tracking.
Quantifying the quality of your training
For as long as humankind has been picking things up in the name of strength, we have been using numbers to score and track progress on lifts.
How heavy was it, how far did you carry it, how many reps did you do etc etc.
Thanks to technology, there has been a growing push to expand the ways training quality is classified. This started with subjective measurement of exertion with systems like RPE and RIR, but while awesome, they carry limitations when athletes are required to self-assess their outputs. The data can be helpful when teaching athletes to self-regulate, but RPE can lack precision due to this subjectivity.
This is where velocity based training (VBT) comes in.
Through the use of velocity (and other metrics), coaches and athletes unlock precise, objective, feedback on how well a given set is performed.
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 and general fitness training around the world.
Velocity feedback to improve strength and power
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 with new more relevant training objectives 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 explosive intent on every set, increasing training quality and driving increased adaptation.
Let's dive into some of the science behind the benefits of velocity based feedback, some of the best ways to implement it, and the numbers you can use to create fair competition between athletes in your gym.
Instantly increase your vertical jump height
The easiest way to start with incorporating this velocity data 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 external coaching cues ("Snap the bar", "drive the ground away") into more tangible objective feedback: Do it faster than before. Can you set a new record. This is called intent to move, or sometimes simply intent.
Martin Keller and his colleagues (1) showed this to be highly effective at immediately boosting jump performance and reducing fatigue within a single training session but using jump height as the real-time 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.
Higher frequency feedback increases jump height
Feedback frequency is an often discussed component of coaching theory. Most research agrees that less internal cueing is better to help boost autonomy and self-directed learning, while high frequency external feedback can enhance performance, when delivered well.
But what about objective performance feedback? Luckily Keller and his colleagues again have some answers.
34 individuals. 3 groups. 6 weeks of training. 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 an incredible 14%.
That’s more than double the improvement seen in jump performance compared to the no feedback group. Not a bad outcome for the exact same amount of training with the simple addition of a screen to show them their jump height after every rep!
Both of these studies used jump height as the performance metric. but what about when we use velocity based training during barbell training to boost performance, are the results as good?
Benefits of instantaneous feedback with velocity-based training
This third study looked to answer this question, can using VBT to deliver feedback give athletes better athletic performance transfer from their gym-based training?
WIth 20 semi-pro rugby players as the subjects, and an identical six week training block for all athletes were split into a feedback group and a non-feedback group. While the first group did regular strength training, the second group trained with real-time velocity feedback (delivered audibly) for just their first exercise in the workouts - a 40kg jump squat.
The players were tested before and after the six-weeks on a range of field based physical tests (sprints, jumps etc).
And the results? Feedback lead to significantly better performance improvements on the field-based tests.
Both groups improved (as you would expect with any good six week training block) but the VBT feedback group improved more on every single test. This highlights the benefits of even really simple uses of velocity tracking in the gym - with such a minor change - delivering feedback on one exercise the results in such a small amount of time can be drastic.
To really cement this finding, a very similar study was conducted in 2019 and they found a very similar result, field-test performance improved more when training with instantaneous velocity feedback.
Takeaways from the velocity feedback research
Athletes like to know how they went, they like to know how they stack up with 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.
Velocity based training is highly effective, and has the power to transform your training program delivering results that will blow your competition away.
These velocity based training benefits aren't hard to achieve either, with something as simple as giving real-time feedback with the audible settings in the Metric VBT app you can increase training performance and athletic transfer for your athletes. Here are some simple options to using the Real-time feedback settings in Metric VBT
- Set a velocity zone or target - lets you know when you are above or below the desired velocity target or zone
- Announce the rep velocity - Metric calls out the velocity for each rep at the top position, great for creating competition
- Velocity loss threshold - lets you know when you drop below a % loss threshold to control proximity to failure
VBT with individualised context
While simple feedback like what was described above is incredibly effective, there is another level that can take your training to yet another level.
This is to make your training feedback individualised and contextual. Comparing today's performance with an athlete's own training history.
By recording your training velocities in the Metric VBT app every training session, you will accumulate a rich training history of velocity, weight, reps and power training data. This valuable context allows Metric to personalise the feedback it delivers, helping you to set a velocity target based on your 6-week average for that exercise, or to see what your performance trends are and uncover any residual fatigue you might be carrying.
When feedback is personalised like this, it can help you autoregulate your training sessions, even incorporating a traffic light system of progression, adjusting your loads or volumes for the days working sets to account for changes in readiness, preventing the risk of burnout and overtraining.
Why is velocity based training good?
Both internal and external coaching cues are crucial for getting great training outcomes, but adding augmented feedback in the form of velocity tracking is scientifically proven to give training a huge boost, allowing athletes to make self-directed adjustments and increase their effort and intent with to get better outcomes.
This scientific approach empowers athletes to make proactive, self-directed adjustments, enhancing their performance. Athletes can leverage this real-time data, whether consciously or subconsciously, to identify and rectify errors, optimising their training sessions.
Such a positive feedback loop has a snowballing effect. When every workout gets a bit better, the overall progress speeds up. This leads to stronger performances both in and out of the gym.
Moreover, this approach taps into athletes' natural inclination to chase numbers, boosting their intent and motivation. In essence, leveraging technology like velocity tracking not only informs but also inspires athletes, contributing significantly to their training success.
Great coaching that harness technology
Velocity based training is not going to be replacing coaches any time soon.
Novice lifters 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 coaching emphasis shifts from simply making the correct shapes to maximising output on those shape with load and speed. At this point, coaches should be aiming to create an environment that motivates and drives their athletes to take performance to the next level with external cuing, but most importantly velocity feedback.
Velocity based feedback a true game changer
Use feedback in your training as frequently as you can to increase motivation or to create competition in the gym.
This augmented feedback can take any form, height, distance, velocity, watts, duration etc, but the real key is to include some form of objective and accurately tracked numbers (velocity and power are the best for unlocking motivation and intent).
"Lift it faster" Can be improved by adding objective and tangible data: "Lift it faster, see if you can get above 0.75m/s for every rep on this set"
And don't forget to make this feedback personalised and contextual for a serious boost to your training: "Last week you got 0.88m/s, Let's see if you can go above 0.9m/s"
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
- Weakley, J. 2019. The Effects of Augmented Feedback on Sprint, Jump, and Strength Adaptations in Rugby Union Players Following a FourWeek Training Programme
- Weakley, J. 2023. The Effect of Feedback on Resistance Training Performance and Adaptations: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis.