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December 25, 2021
What is velocity training? That's what this article is all about - How to use velocity training for maximal progress (using bar speed for optimal results)!
Pushing yourself in the gym is the key to success. Having the mental fortitude to push yourself past your limits is the foundation of progressive overload and is the entire point of progressive overload. Quite simply, you're not going to make progress if you never use a higher intensity than the week before. Now, there are many ways to judge this, such as using RPE or rate of perceived exertion. This is simply allowing a person to judge how hard something feels. Actually, studies do show this is an effective method. However, it does depend on some maturity in the gym and being familiar with how your body performs. Plus, it relies on human instinct, which isn't always exact.
This is where velocity training comes in. In a nutshell, velocity training aims to judge the level of fatigue or intensity by looking at the speed in the initial reps followed by the decrease in barbell velocity or drop in bar speed as reps are continued. This is a fantastic way for a trainee to have a tangible method of judging how hard they are pushing and if they're really pushing past their comfort level, or more likely, stopping right when things start getting hard when they should be trying for a couple more reps. We're going to break it down for you.
In this article, you'll learn:
Let's get into it!
So above, we gave a brief overview of velocity training, but now we want to break it down a little more. As mentioned, one of the most difficult aspects of strength and conditioning is prescribing an appropriate load. Sure, on paper, it seems black and white. You just add a little weight each week for progressive overload, and you can use an RM calculator to prescribe a load for a given rep range. This does work; however it falls short as it's only 100% reliable assuming all other factors of the trainee are on point. Things like adequate sleep, proper nutrition, recovery, stress levels, hydration status; all of these things can have significant effects on a lifter's performance. Other methods such as RPE, while effective, rely on the trainee's ability to correctly judge themselves in the weight room AND be honest with themselves.
Noting these issues, a new form of prescribing reps and load emerged; this method being velocity training. To be clear, adding weight in a progressive manner and RPE are both effective, but velocity training is unique in its effectiveness as it fills in the gaps left behind by simply adding weight to the bar and RPE. Those gaps are that there has been no tangible method fro an athlete to determine how hard they are training until now.
In 2010, a study was released which aimed to examine the relationship between bar velocity during the bench press and RM loading. They made findings that suggested very strong associations that they concluded.
Using the velocity of the bar to judge loading could:
This would make perfect sense if we were to stop and think about it as a heavier load, which represents a lower RM will move slower. Regardless, this very enlightening study demonstrated that this "obvious" connection could be used for programming and velocity training took off. Since then, multiple other studies have shown the same relationship in a variety of over movements such as squats, leg press, and prone bench pull.
From the studies that have been published on velocity training, it seems to be a very reliable way to assign loads and %RM. In the real world, this could look like taking a new trainee who is ready to start progressing on a structured program. Instead of using a rep range, you could have them use a velocity loss, say 20%. Use a load until their bar speed drops 20%. Next week, load the bar and have them perform reps until there's a 20% drop in velocity. Why 20% drop and not a prescribed rep range? Well, it helps to mitigate fatigue by having them work at the correct intensity.
Or, you could use the same weight but try to knock out more reps until you hit the same loss in velocity. Basically, instead of a rep range to measure your loading scheme, you're using bar speed. And again, the number one benefit is it takes into account your fatigue levels and optimal training effort.
So basically, this is velocity training. It's a method of prescribing intensity and load by using the speed of the bar rather than a structured rep scheme. This will automatically take into account all of the factors we mentioned above without having the coach or trainee guess how they're feeling that day. It's an incredibly effective means to train that is making waves in the world of strength and conditioning.
Touched on above, the benefits of using velocity training are wide-reaching. But the primary aspect that is so appealing is that velocity training can help coaches prescribe loads, identify fatigue, and progress using a quantifiable method rather than guessing what the trainee should be lifting.
In many ways, it's a form of advanced autoregulation. Autoregulation is another effective form of training that basically states you allow some variance in your workout depending on how you feel. In other words, if you go into the gym and feel great, go ahead and crush your workout; maybe even use heavier loads than you were expecting. On the other hand, perhaps you're just not feeling it. On these days, you could tone down the intensity or maybe swap out your big movements for some smaller accessory work. There's a ton you can do with autoregulation, and it's fantastic, but again, it relies on how you feel.
Velocity training uses this same concept, along with others, but lets you know what state physiologically you are in. For example, sometimes we might feel great, but our muscles aren't truly recovered. You plan to destroy your weight only to be highly disappointed by your first rep. Velocity training lets you know exactly how you are doing.
Further, concepts of training velocity could be highly beneficial for new trainees. One of the biggest hurdles for those new to lifting iron is realizing how strong they are. More often than not, new trainees stop as soon as the reps get kind of hard. Giving them the knowledge of velocity training lets them know that while a lift may be more complex, which is indicated by a slower speed, it does not mean they're going to fail on the next rep.
All the above is excellent, so how do you use velocity training in a real-world situation? Well, it's actually quite straightforward, but there are a few variables to follow. Well, truly one very important variable. That is, you actually have to use maximal effort, or close to maximal effort, when you're lifting. In other words, doing tempo work with 5 second concentric isn't going to tell you anything. Also, if a trainee isn't really "trying" when they lift, it won't help. Therefore, the first step is to lift with intent.
After that, the main question is, what kind of drop-in velocity are you looking for when it comes to strength gains?
The good thing is that while velocity training is a very new method in the world of strength and conditioning, its effectiveness has led to quite a bit of research that can guide you through your training.
"Your progress only occurs as fast you recover" is one of the most basic lessons you learn as a coach. However, oftentimes it's hard to tell if you're fully recovered, which leads to people training too early. Well, studies have given a reliable method to use bar speed to determine if you're fully recovered. Quite simply, after 48-hours, you should be able to produce the same amount of speed, if not faster, on the first reps. If you are not able to effectively produce rapid force, you'll likely inadequately recover.
Typically, S&C coaches would prescribe a specific rep scheme for their clients, such as 6X2 @ 90%1RM. These loads would be based on the desired goal for the session, such as building power, speed, or muscle hypertrophy. There has been enough research that we can attribute a specific bar speed to its training zone. An essential correlation looks like this..one thing to mention first. Velocity training generally uses meters per second (m/s) to measure bar speed.
The following is taken from one of the newer companies, GymAware, that sells equipment for velocity training…more on this later. Anyway, the speed of the initial reps should move at these speeds
You could line this up with your typical power, strength, hypertrophy, and endurance rep spectrum to give you a better idea of how fast your bar should be moving for the desired effect.
One study aimed to examine how far trainees should push themselves on reps to attain a desired result. They had two groups of trainees perform the exact same protocol using relatively light loads (50-70%1RM). However, one group was instructed to perform reps with maximal intent until they saw a 15% loss in bar velocity while the other group performed reps until they saw a 30% loss in bar velocity. Despite the 30% loss group performing more reps, the 15% loss group saw significantly better performance variables and strength results! Another study saw similar results but instead used a velocity loss of 20% vs. 40% with the 20% loss group producing greater strength gains.
While novel, this finding actually opens up many questions about how we've been training. Remember how above we spoke about being able to produce maximal speeds as proof of full recovery? Well, the theory is that when the loss of velocity comes too extreme, you reach a point of fatigue that is undesirable for strength training; basically, you cannot produce maximal velocities anymore as you're not fully recovered.
Still, this brings up another method of training related to velocity training known as "maximal intent". While mentioned above some in another context, maximal intent training is the idea that maximal strength can be achieved with lighter loads IF you push with 100% max effort. This concept has been shown to be a legitimate training method as this study found maximal intent was significantly beneficial in producing gains in the bench press.
Perhaps what we are seeing is a merger of these two training methods. Regardless, it seems that using maximal intent for each rep until you see a 15-20% drop in speed is optimal for strength gains.
Velocity training for hypertrophy is not as studied as strength as the variables that drive strength and hypertrophy are entirely different from each other. Still, the trainees above in the 30% loss group did produce more volume, which led to greater hypertrophy. Further, in the other study that examined a 20% loss in velocity vs. a 40% loss in velocity, the same results were found with the 40% velocity loss group producing more hypertrophy. Also important to note, this study pointed out that a 40% velocity loss resulted in muscle failure in 56% of the lifters.
So now the important part; all this sounds great, but how do you actually measure the bar speed? Well, there are two ways.
1. Buy Bar Velocity Training Equipment
The first option is to actually buy specialized equipment that can measure the speed of the bar. Since the inception of velocity training, there have been a number of manufacturers who have produced equipment to do just this. However, as of now, these are worth a few thousand dollars. Unless you are an extra serious home lifter or are training competitive athletes, this is likely not an option. To be clear, these are the most effective way of measuring bar speed and allow you to actually see the speed in real-time. Further, these will store your results and all of the other fancy stuff you need to run a program. With that in mind, they definitely do work if the price is worth it to you.
2. Eyeball It
The other less precise way is to eyeball it. This takes a lot of time to practice to be able to recognize these losses in bar speed, and you'll likely never be exact. However, it's free, and it can be very effective. If you are eyeballing it, you would just need to use other progression methods, such as adding weight. For example, loading weight and trying to identify if the bar moved just as fast as it did last week. While there will be plenty of errors, having basic knowledge of velocity training and the importance of bar speed could make a massive improvement on your progress.
Still, the one principle you can definitely use without the use of fancy equipment is maximal intent. While specifically for strength training, increasing your speed for force production
With its massive growth in just over 10 years, velocity training will likely become the new preferred training method for serious recreational lifters and elite alike looking to maximize strength training. The one barrier now is the cost of equipment to get a precise measurement for bar speed. However, we can expect this (hopefully) to decrease as the technology is advanced. Still, you can always take these principles and try to coach yourself on what to look for. Regardless of what you do, start including velocity training into your arsenal of techniques to optimize your training sessions.
Simply paying attention to bar speed and maximal velocity is a game changer.
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