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Velocity Based Training

Written By: J. Bryan Mann, MS, PhD, CSCS, University of Missouri, Columbia

Over the past several years, Velocity Based Training (VBT) has been coming to the forefront as an innovative way to determine load for strength training. Many people have developed novel approaches for the implementation of this technology. This has led to inconsistencies in the nomenclature used to describe the diverse traits that are developed at different velocities. We hope to address this issue by providing common nomenclature based off of existing literature. Overall, the traits developed utilizing VBT concentrically with average velocity can be categorized as:

  • Absolute strength
  • Accelerative strength
  • Strength-speed
  • Speed-strength
  • Starting strength

Mean velocities are used in this article because they are more stable measures for most exercises (excluding the Olympic lifts) due to the large amount of time that is actually spent decelerating the bar (2).

 

While percent of 1 rep max (% 1RM) zones have long been used for making improvements in different traits such as strength and power, there are similar corresponding zones for making improvements in those same traits with velocities.

While the % 1RM is still valid without measuring velocity, it is not possible to determine objectively if the weight is being moved at the appropriate load for that given day, as strength varies from day to day.

The differences arise because the nervous system is never constant. In a paper from the Australian Strength and Conditioning Association, Jovanovic and colleagues’ (7) used formulas by Jidovtseff (6) to estimate a daily 1RM through the load-velocity profile. They noted an approximately 18 percent difference above and below the previously tested 1RM, meaning that there was a 36 percent range around the previously tested 1RM.

For example, if you had 80 percent of the 1RM listed for that day, the actual relative load may be 98%, which would be too heavy for that day, or it could be as light as 62 percent. This is why athletes can feel strong some days and weaker on others. The absolute load is not the same as the relative intensity that we had pre-selected. By utilizing VBT, we can eliminate this issue.

Research by Gonzalez-Badillo (3) found a near perfect relationship between percentage of 1RM and the corresponding velocity on the athlete’s velocity profile. This means that when an athlete tests their 1RM, their velocity at the corresponding % 1RM always stays the same. For example, an athlete moved 240lbs at .8 meters per second (m/s) while maxing out at 400lbs on the squat – which equates to 60 precent of 1RM. Subsequently, after that athlete grew stronger and increased his max to 500lbs, he or she should now be able to move the original 240lbs much quicker (likely around 1.0m/s). This is because the 240lbs is no longer 60 percent of the 1RM; it’s now roughly 45 percent. Further, to move at .8m/s would require 300lbs. While the individual’s strength level changed and the weights used changed, the corresponding % of 1RM did not.

By understanding the corresponding velocity, the proper load can be selected. It does not matter what percentage of the 1RM is supposed to be for the day, because by utilizing a prescribed velocity, the individual will automatically be at the appropriate load. The velocities fit in line well with the original Bosco Strength Continuum. From lightest to heaviest, the continuum is as follows: 0-15 percent is neurological and untrainable, 15-40 percent is starting strength, 40-60 percent is non-quantifiable, 65-75 percent is accelerative strength, and 80-100 percent is absolute strength (8).

Confusion often arises when interpreting the non-quantifiable range. Some have thought that this meant that there was no trait that you could develop from those intensities, which is simply not the case. Instead, because it is difficult to differentiate between strength-speed and speed-strength, there isn’t a definitive cutoff between the two and a great amount of overlap exists. These two traits are in fact separate and can easily be discerned by velocity. A major advantage of VBT is the discernibility of traits on the continuum.

Absolute strength is the ability to exert force maximally and moving towards increasing the 1RM. There is some variation that exists between exercises when an athlete is achieving a 1RM which seems to be based on the amplitude of motion. According to Gonzalez-Badillo (3), the 1RM is approached at around .3m/s for the squat and around .15m/s with the bench press. From this bottom range, absolute strength is developed until around .5m/s.

The next velocity zone in the continuum is called accelerative strength. While this may create a mental picture of a runner moving down the track at increasing velocity, this is not the case. Bosco defines accelerative strength as driving against a heavy load as fast as possible (8). It is more akin to trying to dominate a rugby scrum. Accelerative strength velocities are from around .5m/s to .75m/s.

The next two velocity zones, strength-speed and speed-strength, have been confused and misunderstood over the years. Bosco’s original continuum merged the two in a non-quantifiable percentage of 1RM zone due to the overlap and variation between different athletes. More recently, multiple research teams used velocity to separate the two zones:

  • Strength-speed is defined as moving a moderately heavy weight as fast as possible (e.g., moderate loads at moderate velocities) and was found in to exist at .75-1.0m/s (4-6) (10).
  • Speed-strength includes velocities ranging from about 1.0 to 1.3 m/s, depending on the amplitude of motion (4-6)(10). Speed-strength can be best defined as speed in conditions of strength, or speed being the first priority and strength being the second. In essence, it is utilizing lighter loads at very fast velocities.

The final trait is starting-strength, which is also a commonly misunderstood concept. Starting-strength is not developed with deadlifts, Anderson squats, bottom up, or bench press. These exercises build absolute strength in a solely concentric manner. According to Anatoliy Bondarchuk (1), starting-strength is the ability to rapidly overcome inertia from a dead stop. This means that it is an extremely high velocity with very light weights. Starting-strength is trained when the bar is moved from 1.3 to approximately 1.6 m/s, again dependent upon amplitude of motion (1)

Table 1. Traits by Corresponding Velocity
TRAIT MEAN VELOCITY
Absolute Strength < .5 m/s
Accelerative Strength .5 - .75 m/s
Strength-Speed .75 - 1.0 m/s
Speed-Strength 1.0 - 1.3 m/s
Starting Strength 1.3 m/s

I find it interesting that these velocity categories fit seamlessly with Bosco’s Strength Continuum zones. The use of velocity will aid in the selection of training load because the 1RM tends to vary greatly while the velocity relationship to percentage of 1RM is stable.

These numbers are only guidelines. Some individuals may be moving a bit slower or faster than this, and that’s ok; we are looking for the average. For instance, I was collecting data on a football player, and his maximal squat was .19m/s. We read in previous studies, though, that an athlete is typically moving the bar at .3m/s on maximal squat attempts. Regardless of any guidelines and rules that are determined, always be outliers and exceptions will always exist. The key is to realize who the exceptions are and why they are occurring and not to disregard the rules.  Specificity is key to training. You must be moving the appropriate load at the appropriate velocity to develop the desired trait (9).

The use of strength and conditioning data software can provide strength coaches with crucial feedback, and is the way to ensure training the appropriate traits and desired training outcomes.

Additionally, this type of software can capture and collect all of the data for you. As a function of the reports, some software programs can also provide a predicted 1RM for any given day. With this already done and accounted for, it allows the strength coach to examine trends in loads lifted at various velocity zones over time to assess progress. Some people get lucky and get the results they desire; I'd always rather be right than lucky.

About the author

Dr. Bryan Mann is an assistant director of strength and conditioning at the University of Missouri, Columbia. Mann is also an assistant professor of physical therapy and athletic training. As an assistant director of strength and conditioning, Mann is responsible for assisting with the player development program for football and baseball as well as being responsible for Missouri’s women’s soccer teams.  In addition to these team duties, he is also the Director of research and development, as well coordinator for on-campus academic relations.

Mann is also an accomplished author and researcher.  He has published three books, most notably “Powerlifting” which was published by Human Kinetics, and numerous journal articles.  Mann is most well-known for his research on autoregulation of training with the first athlete training article ever done on the Autoregulatory Progressive Resistance Exercise (APRE) protocol as well as assessment of training improvements.  Mann received his degree in Health Promotion from Missouri State University in 2003, a Graduate Certificate in Sports Management from Missouri State University in 2004, a Master’s Degree in Health Education and Promotion in 2006 and his PhD in 2011.  Mann is recognized as a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) through the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) as well as Strength and Conditioning Coach Certified (SCCC) from the Collegiate Strength and Conditioning Coaches Association.

References:

1. Bondarchuk AP. Olympian Manual for Strength & Size. USA: Ultimate Athlete Concepts, 2014.

2. Cronin JB, McNair PJ, and Marshall RN. Force-velocity analysis of strength-training techniques and load: implications for training strategy and research. Journal of strength and conditioning research / National Strength & Conditioning Association 17: 148-155, 2003.

3. González-Badillo JJ and Sánchez-Medina L. Movement velocity as a measure of loading intensity in resistance training. International journal of sports medicine 31: 347-352, 2010.

4. Jandacka D, Beremlijski, P. Determination of Strength Exercise Intensities Based on the Load-Power-Velocity Relationship. Journal of Human Kinetics: 11, 2011.

5. Jidovtseff B, Croisier JL, Lhermerout C, Serre L, Sac D, and Crielaard JM. The concept of iso-inertial assessment: Reproducibility analysis and descriptive data. Isokinetics & Exercise Science 14: 53-62, 2006.

6. Jidovtseff B, Quièvre J, Hanon C, and Crielaard JM. Inertial muscular profiles allow a more accurate training loads definition. Les profils musculaires inertiels permettent une définition plus précise des charges d'entraînement 24: 91-96, 2009.

7. . . Rearched Applications of Velocity Based Strength Training. Journal of Australian Strength and Conditioning 21: 11, 2014.

8. Morris B. Presented at Collegiate Strength & Conditioning Coaches Association, Salt Lake City, UT, 2005

9. National Strength & Conditioning Association. Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics, 2000.

10. Roman RA. The Training of the Weightlifter. Moscow: Sportivny Press, 1986.