Hello and welcome to this second post in the series focussing on explosive force production. Last time we looked at muscle power for successful ageing. Here we’re focussing on a specific training technique and some reasons behind it. So here we go, 5 reasons to use velocity-based training.
What is velocity-based training?
First of all, what are we talking about? Velocity-based training is a method of training explosive force production that involves using real-time feedback on movement velocity. Training load can be objectively and quickly adjusted to achieve the movement velocity intended. How is this achieved? Usually an accelerometer or device that is able to measure displacement is placed on the training tool used to create external resistance, so for example the barbell or lever arm of a machine. High-speed filming and optical device set-ups can also be used. The athlete then performs the exercise explosively, as fast as possible and the velocity is calculated and reported back.
The figure below illustrate the force-velocity relationship of muscle. Several things can be drawn from these data. We can see the shortening velocity of muscle increases as force production decreases. This makes sense, imagine extending your knee as fast as you can on a knee extension machine against a load that represents your 1 Rep Max (RM) versus 10% of your 1 RM. The movement will be much quicker with less weight. Also we can see that maximal power is typically achieved at one third the shortening velocity. The remit of the training (see next section for examples) might be to train at a specific movement velocity or train for maximal power.
5 Reasons To Use Velocity-Based Training
There are several reasons why one might want to use this technique, here are five of them:
1. Load selection for maximal velocity
By recording the velocity of a movement against a known load, for example a mid-thigh rack pull, the load can be objectively adjusted to achieve maximal velocity of movement.
Training at maximal velocity, especially when combined with plyometric exercise may offer superior improvements to sport-specific metrics like sprint speed (Rodriguez-Rosell et al. 2017). Maximal velocity, incidentally has been defined as a movement velocity that exceeds 100 m.s-1 (Guerriero et al 2018)
2. Velocity-specific adaptations
There may be a sports-specific remit to improve absolute force production as specific movement velocities. In essence increase the ‘strength’ at that speed. Likely a very specific application.
3. As an assessment metric
Training to increase rate of force development (see here for a reminder on RFD) and thus power should be observable as higher velocity at a given load. To measure this you’d establish the testing load/s, say 40% and 60% of 1RM and record the velocity pre-training. The athlete would then complete the training and you’d repeat the same test using the same absolute load as the pre-training test. Velocity should be greater if you’ve designed your training programme correctly.
4. To monitor training quality
The thing about any explosive-based training is that, unlike training for max strength, we don’t train to failure. That means your will still have reps in the tank at the end of the set – you could keep going. The problem with this is if we keep going for too long we compromise the specificity of training. We’re trying to target the fast twitch motor units here.
If we perform exercise with explosive intent at sub-maximal levels (such acs 60% 1RM) we can recruit these fast twitch motor units – YAY! However, the fast muscle fibres fatigue quickly, so by keeping going for too long or performing too many reps we lose effectiveness. How to judge how many reps? One way is by recording the velocity of movement. As we start to fatigue and loose contribution from fast twitch units we’ll see a reduction in velocity. This is the point to stop.
5. To account for inter-day variation in performance
Some advocate velocity based training to help account for people’s variability across days. You know sometimes you just feel like a sack of spanners, right? OR, maybe it’s that you’ve improved with training. For whatever reason your strength and power is can differ between days (even within day, but that’s another post). By using velocity as the metric instead of % of 1RM, we can account for day to day variability in force output performance. We can adjust the load to ensure the movement velocity is maintained fast as intended.
There are several modalities by which we can train explosive force production, all of which are covered in my Making Sense of muscle Power online course. And we’ve discussed before the importance of training muscle power in several articles here on my site many times – it’s not just necessary for the athlete!
Velocity-Based vs. Resistance-Based Training
I’m often asked what’s the optimal load to train muscle power, especially when using weightlifting derivatives or traditional resistance training exercise. Further, is one method superior to another? Well according to a recent systematic review by Orange et al. (2022), apparently not.
Just four studies met the eligibility criteria be included into the review, meaning that the other 18 studies were of insufficient quality. Meta analysis of data derived from these four studies indicated no evidence for superiority of one method over another in improving muscle strength, power and linear sprint speed.
So, what can we conclude about velocity-based training? Well, you need some kit to be able to acquire the data and use the metrics to determine training load. Accelerometers might be outside the budget of many clinics, but perhaps a gross marker of velocity could be the use of a specific filming app. The latter won’t be highly sensitive but it might be able to detect larger changes in velocity.
Furthermore it has a highly-specific application. The 5 reasons to use velocity-based training listed above require a reasonably heavy resource load, both terms of kit and person time to measure monitor and assess, which is no problem if you have these.
What happens if you don’t have the time and resources but want to improve your patent’s movement or contraction velocity? Well…
perform the exercise with explosive intent!
This is the critical component to any power-based training. You can modulate training load, contraction type, exercise selection, but being explosive will help to optimise the neuromuscular recruitment needed for rapid force production. All of this and more is covered in my Making Sense of muscle Power online course. Click the link below to find out more.
- Rodriguez-Rosell, D.; Torres-Torrelo, J.; Franco-Marquez, F.; Gonzalez-Suarez, J.M.; Gonzalez-Badillo, J.J. Effects of light-load maximal lifting velocity weight training vs. combined weight training and plyometrics on sprint, vertical jump and strength performance in adult soccer players. J. Sci. Med. Sport 2017, 20, 695–699 (Abstract)
- Guerriero et al. (2018). The Role of Velocity Based Training in the Strength Periodization for Modern Athletes. J. Funct. Morphol. Kinesiol, 3, 55; [Link]
- Orange et al. (2022).Comparison of the effects of velocity-based vs. traditional resistance training methods on adaptations in strength, power, and sprint speed: A systematic review, meta-analysis, and quality of evidence appraisal. J Sports Sci; 40(11):1220-1234 (Abstract)