By Drew Cooper
In this article I share the ways in which I have found Velocity Based Training can be useful. I wrote this review for the coaches and trainers working with novice weight lifters, young athletes, and general fitness enthusiasts looking to stay healthy and lose a few pounds. If you are looking for high performance or research, I’d suggest articles here by Carl Valle or look at Bryan Mann and Mladen Javonovic’s work which is extensive and geared towards high performance and has been supported by research.
My goal here is to present ideas I’ve found to be successful for myself and my clients and possibly a different way to look at the information so that it’s not a one-dimensional device. I think there are specific benefits as well as some that maybe aren’t talked about quite as often, most likely because they aren’t as interesting as looking at training transfer of barbell lifts to sport performance. However, don’t be fooled into thinking that just because it may not be as sexy or as scientific that the benefit doesn’t exist.
In case you’ve missed it; What is Velocity Based Training?
Velocity Based Training (VBT) is as simple as it sounds in some respect: you are performing exercises and adjusting loads based on a velocity measurement. In order to obtain these measurements, various products are available on the market, including the well-established GymAware system. Quite simply, for the coach or athlete, the goal is to utilize a VBT system in order to retrieve more accurate feedback from barbell exercises, beyond load and repetitions. VBT is versatile, allowing different coaches to use the information in various ways, whether it be more accurate loading to obtain a specific adaptation, monitoring neuromuscular fatigue, engaging athletes and clients to give more effort, or possibly in order to more readily communicate with athletes and clients the goals of each exercise or session.
Video 1: Measuring bench press bar velocity using GymAware.
Video 2: Measuring squat bar velocity using GymAware.
Though VBT offers a multitude of benefit to the user, it should not be misinterpreted as a substitute for good coaching and the importance of understanding solid training theory. Going online and purchasing a device to monitor velocity will not automatically send you into “coaching awesomeness,” nor will people respect you because you have a shiny new toy. What it will do is allow a coach who understands his or her program to make small, on the fly adjustments to loads and volumes within a session to elicit better training responses, keep the fun and competition alive, ensure safety for novice lifters, and quickly and efficiently communicate with clients.
Biometric Feedback and Adjusting Training in Session
One of the most talked about reasons for the use of VBT is the fact that it provides biometric feedback about the user’s performance immediately following each rep. In essence, the changes in velocity (up or down) allows for better accuracy when making changes to load, all of which is based on an objective measure. This simple objectivity is a big upside for coaches or trainers that work with a wide array of clients with huge discrepancies in motivation and work ethic or novice trainees that don’t have a feel for what a “hard” or “easy” repetition feels like. There is less room for ambiguity with how things “look” or “feel” and instead the coach is free to focus on technique while the system will measure precise speed. With GymAware, the speed will be displayed immediately following each rep, allowing the athlete to compete, adjust effort, and subsequently choose better loads.
Fun, Competition, and Atmosphere
Now this is a topic that may get scoffed at by new coaches and trainers, but motivation and the ability to get high-quality effort out of your clients or athletes is a key ingredient to a successful program. The longer you coach, the greater the chance you’ll run into athletes that range all over the map. Athlete attitudes vary from the “never say die” highly motivated to the walking dead, and the difference in success or failure can be rooted simply in effort. The great thing about VBT is for the insanely motivated, it may temper the desire to add weight constantly to the bar and instead focus that energy on moving the bar with effort and speed. On the flip side, those who walk in to train like they are walking into bed, it has the potential to awaken the part of them that likes to compete, even if the competition is simply the machine. I bring this up because I don’t always get to work with large groups of clients where a few motivated people can bring up the attitude of entire group. Having something that has the possibility of changing motivation is a plus.
The way in which clients respond to the technology is variable, as some may never catch the competitive bug, so it isn’t a cure-all. However, when something so simple can give quality information that enhances training accuracy for the driven client, and can also change the atmosphere and effort level for the less motivated, it is simply a bonus.
A common benefit I have found that hasn’t received much attention is helping novice lifters learn about RPE. As I stated earlier, novice lifters tend to have little to no idea what a hard set feels like or when failure is approaching. With a VBT system, I have found it incredibly easy to educate newer lifters on what it feels like when they have “1 rep left in the tank”. I try to take a page out of Bryan Mann’s book, Developing Explosive Athletes: Use of the Tendo FitroDyne Unit in Training Athletes and set the minimum velocity (I typically use 0.4m/s for basic lifting until they become more experienced). I ask them to pay attention to how that feels. At the same time, I try to educate them about going to failure, recovery, and inherent risks. In about two weeks, I ask them to tell me when a rep feels as if it has hit that 0.4m/s, so they start getting a sense of effort and the feeling of reps slowing down. This has allowed me to send novice lifters home with workouts that may require bigger movements, such as a barbell back squat, sooner than before, and expect that they are following guidelines while I’m not around.
One Of the biggest issues with some of the newer technology, whether it is a device to capture VBT, HRV, high-speed video etc., is that it can slow down or obstruct a smooth training session. Setting up, capturing data, analyzing the data (as a coach or with the client), and making adjustments needs to be effortless and efficient or else the process becomes more hindering than it is helpful. One of the great things about the new GymAware application is that it not only allows ease of use, but also quickness, in regards to the training tasks. The old app was suitable for someone like myself, using it on my own with my training. I would start by selecting an exercise, entering the load, choosing a metric to track, setting it to collect data, and possibly recording a video, with all of these steps requiring a different page in order to select the proper settings and capture the data I wanted. Trying to accomplish such a task with three high school athletes, though, involved much more shuffling and became less of a smooth feasible task. Now, with the updated version, everything is on one display page, changing athletes is a simple click, resetting is a tap of a button, and all of this takes around 10 seconds.
Along with the ease and speed of use the app, it also creates a more engaging atmosphere for clients. Instead of just showing a number, a speedometer-like figure appears on the screen, “revving” as you perform an exercise. A “ding” will sound if you successfully meet the velocity requirement, and a “dud” will occur if you fail, all instantly upon completion of each repetition. This real-time monitoring during repetitions allows athletes to adjust within a set. For example, if during a set of three repetitions the second rep is slow, the athlete can see and hear that and can attempt to make the adjustment during the set.
Video 3: Demonstration of the GymAware App.
There is a paid app version with cloud storage, syncing abilities across multiple iOS devices, remote monitoring, and leaderboard tracking of athletes and teams. The paid app sounds like a great tool for some (I have not used it) but as stated before, don’t jump in because it sounds cool. Prior to spending money for upgrades, make sure you have real use for the capabilities, and you aren’t getting something that won’t add value to your programs. I’ve made the mistake in the past of acquiring technology that didn’t pan out as well as I would like. I learned a tough lesson and would like to caution others to get technology if it benefits your training program; don’t get something that has potential for greatness in a Pro setting if you are in a garage. It must suit your capabilities and be able to thrive in your ecosystem. Just like we don’t see eucalyptus trees thriving in the desert, you won’t find force plates or GPS in my gym. It doesn’t mean the tree is terrible, it just isn’t the right environment.
My Personal Shortcomings- Not VBT
With all that said, there are aspects of VBT I need to improve as some of my novice athletes have turned into college athletes. First, I need to understand the Load-Velocity relationship that Mladen has written about extensively. Up until this point in my career, I didn’t see enough benefit to worry about it. As I learn and experience more I realize benefits of getting away from true 1RM and general RM testing, because when time for developmental training is limited it becomes hard to justify taking a full session to test instead of train. Why not simply go through a standard session and come to conclusions based on measurements? It may not be perfect, but it sure is close enough to satisfy the needs of non-competitive weight lifters.
The next aspect I would like to dive into to further my knowledge and application of VBT is something I’ve seen Henk Kraaijenhof talk about which is using VBT to determine where an athlete lies on the Strength – Speed continuum. This continuum emphasizes whether an athlete is more strength or speed oriented based on how fast (or not) they can move a series of loads during specific exercises. This is a topic that will be tricky in my situation with athletes being in for short periods of time as well as maturing through puberty occasionally, but something that could prove to be very beneficial when guys are coming back from college and have been exposed to training for a longer time.
The last improvement to make is being more diligent tracking the transfer of training to the sport objective if it applies. Not everyone I work with has a sporting objective but for those that do, I need to track progress of velocities in a barbell exercise and see if we are seeing sprint or jump improvements. This will allow me to be objective with exercise and load choices along with technique so that I don’t waste time improving a barbell lift that consistently has no carry over to sprint speed if that is the end goal.
After writing my thoughts down I want to be clear that this was an article written about why I chose to go down the path of learning about and using VBT in a personal training setting. Again I urge everyone to read material from Carl, Bryan, and Mladen as I am still trying to soak up more of the information. I am partial to GymAware because of the high-quality information that allows training adjustments within a session. The portability is phenomenal, the user interface is smooth and effortless, and the fact that clients seem to enjoy the feedback is really just icing on the cake. At the end of the day, it is a viable option to increase the effectiveness of an already sound training plan, not a way to solve a broken program.
Full disclosure is that the only other system I have seen up close is an old Tendo unit. I follow people who are discussing other options, and I’m sure there are great benefits with each, I just can’t speak to them having never used them.
Please share this article so others may benefit.