Jerva Performance

Velocity-Based Training for Sports

◆ ☕️☕️ 8 min read

Velocity-based training (VBT) has been around for ages. It has long been known that various movement velocities, intensities, and loads produce different physiological adaptations. That’s why most athletes use a variety of training modes in their preparation.

Even though the devices have existed for a while, over the recent years there has been an increase in the popularity of velocity-based training and consequently, the production of such devices. These are devices that attach to the barbell to allow for the tracking of movement velocities during a variety of exercises.

VBT devices have several benefits. The obvious one is that you're able to load the barbell more optimally for your training, as you can construct force-velocity profiles for different exercises. Based on the profile you can see how fast a certain weight should move and easily target different parts of the force-velocity curve. Further, if you have a prescribed weight on a certain exercise for a training session, you can easily detect if the weight is moving at an adequate velocity. Recovery and fatigue are very complex and fluctuate daily. A VBT device helps you account for the effects of recovery and fatigue and adjust the load on the bar accordingly.

Using a VBT device you can also adjust your training volume within a session. You might prescribe yourself a certain velocity drop-off percentage on an exercise. You’ll do as much volume (repetitions and sets) as your body tolerates until your velocity on the exercise drops further than the prescribed drop-off. Then you stop, as you’ve become too fatigued and pushing on wouldn’t necessarily lead to the target adaptations. Without such device you would have to rely on how you feel, which is way harder to interpret.

A limitation of a VBT device is that the user needs to be technically proficient in exercise execution. Only having technical proficiency and completing repetitions with the maximum intent will make VBT devices an useful tool. Using it on a beginner, their technical execution will vary greatly between repetitions, some of which will provide for a higher movement velocity and some of which will prove to be slower repetitions. As such, the velocity values will be all over the place and you can’t really adequately detect fatigue nor optimal loading.

Despite the fact that a VBT device can help advanced trainees, these devices still cost a considerable amount of money. Some of us might not have much to spend. Even then, you can utilize the principles of velocity-based training without actually owning one of the devices. Obviously, your training won’t be as fine-tuned, but you’ll still be on the right path.

Velocity-based training is based on the concentric force-velocity curve. As I’ve discussed in my previous articles, the relationship is simple – force and velocity are inversely related. The higher the load is the slower it will move. Inversely, the lower the load is, the faster it will move, at least when maximum intent is involved.

The product of force and velocity is power. Power output is the key factor in sport performance, as athletic success largely hinges on the ability to produce force quickly.

The whole force-velocity curve is of relevance here. The overall aim of training would be to shift the curve up to the right. Shifting it up would indicate improvements in force production, while the shift to the right would imply velocity improvements. Both are necessary components to improving power output. The athlete with the largest area under the curve (the curve most shifted to up and right) will be the more powerful athlete overall. Plain and simple.

There are always trade-offs occurring in training. To reach higher on the force end of the curve, the velocity end would have to suffer. This is detrimental in the sports world. Yet there is often too much emphasis on getting athletes strong, and not enough on getting them powerful. The velocity component is oftentimes ignored. Whereas force lays the foundation, it is the rate of force development that makes athletes successful. This is why we have to consider the force-velocity curve as a whole.

Profiling the Athlete #

In terms of how to train athletes in a VBT manner without an actual VBT device, there are a few ways to profile the athlete without velocity data to determine what they are lacking.

To assess the athlete's force production capabilities, you could compare their Counter Movement Jump (CMJ) height to their Non-Counter Movement Jump (NCMJ) height. The CMJ utilizes the stretch-shortening cycle (SSC), while the NCMJ takes the SSC out of the equation. You would expect a 10-15% contribution from the SSC, meaning the CMJ height would be 10-15% higher in the ideal world. This would indicate a rather balanced athlete in terms of the force-velocity spectrum.

If the results from the two jump tests are less than 10-15% apart, it indicates the athlete is a more force-dominant profile, meaning they would need more work on the velocity end of the curve. They would need more work on their SSC function and reactive abilities. Think plyometrics and speed-strength, improving the rate at which they produce force.

If the results are more than 10-15% apart, this implies the athlete is a velocity-dominant profile, as their SSC is what they rely on for success instead of raw force production. They would need more work on hypertrophy and strength, to increase their potential to generate maximal force.

It's all about giving them what they don't have. Both force and velocity are of equal importance to power production. Figure out which of those qualities your athlete is lacking, if not both. Then focus on the weakness while maintaining what they are already good at.

Similar testing could be undertaken for the upper body with a medicine ball throw. One throw variation would need to incorporate the SSC, while the other one would need to exclude any stretch reflex.

The process isn’t easy but it’s pretty simple. Use tools available to you to profile the athlete. If you have a VBT device, that’s great. If you don’t, you can still perform some testing like outlined above. But even just simple observations can often work. For example, most team sports require the athletes to be quick and elastic. The demands of the sport-specific technical and tactical training have developed them to be reactive. This is why there is often some quick return and value in strength training with those types of athletes. As they exist on the velocity side of the curve, filling in the gaps on the force side will make them more powerful athletes. Their power outputs are dominated by large inputs from the velocity and not much of a force component.

But it’s a dangerous road. At some stage, just making the athlete stronger won’t help anymore. Training them for strength will reach diminishing returns if their sport isn’t built on brute force requirements like powerlifting. This is why strength training has to remain a means to an end and not become an end in itself. The strength and conditioning specialist has to understand their position in the global scheme of things. If getting the athletes stronger no longer helps them perform better for their sport, the approach needs to be adjusted.

Movement Categorization #

Beyond using some basic testing to determine what the athlete needs most in their training, we can put specific movements on the curve.

Weightlifting Derivatives #

In my earlier weightlifting article, I discussed how different weightlifting derivatives can be utilized to target different parts of the force-velocity spectrum. The same approach can be undertaken for other movement types.

Free Weight Exercises #

Basic free weight exercises, like the squat and bench press, are simple. You just manipulate the load on the barbell to move them up or down the curve. In case they are a force-dominant athlete, you could use submaximal loads on the lifts to emphasize the velocity side. For a velocity-based athlete, you would want to load them heavier if technique allows to provide the force stimulus.

For more athletic movements like jumps, sprints, and throws, you can come up with variations of those movements.

Jumps #

The most common jump is a vertical jump. The load used during the vertical jump is your own bodyweight. This would roughly place a basic vertical jump in the middle of the force-velocity curve. To emphasize the force end of the curve, you could use a weight vest, or take away the SSC with a seated jump variation. To emphasize the velocity end of the curve, you could perform a band accelerated vertical jump, which takes off some of your bodyweight, or use a depth jump variation to utilize the fast SSC.

Sprints #

Similar classifications can be used for sprinting. A basic 15m acceleration from a 3-point start would be at the middle of the curve. To go towards the force end, you could accelerate with a sled, or perform a hill sprint. For velocity bias, you could use a decline sprint or perform flying starts emphasizing maximum velocity running more than the force-oriented acceleration part of sprinting.

Throws #

Throws are even simpler. You can move whichever medicine ball throw variation up or down along the force-velocity curve by changing the weight of the medicine ball. Alternatively, you could do throws from a static position to work more on the force production abilities or incorporate a step into the throw or a countermovement motion to bias velocity.

Periodization #

In a periodized training approach and depending on the requirements of your individual athlete, you would generally work more on the force end of the curve earlier in the training process. This is where you lay the foundation for maximal force production. As you advance through the training plan, velocity bias is approached as they peak for performance. This is because specific training is necessary closer to performance and specific often means fast in most sports. Also, from a physics standpoint, you don’t have much of a chance of producing velocity if you don’t have the ability to produce high levels of force in the first place. So don’t bother with only high-level velocity work too much and too early in training unless the athlete is a highly capable force producer.

Velocity-based training is just one approach to developing athletes. It provides a lens through which to interpret and organize the world of sport performance. It definitely isn't the only approach. It might not be the best approach. But it's an approach that has proven successful again and again.

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