Before we can dive into the “how to” and the “when to”, it is probably wise to first discuss the “what is” and “why to”, of velocity based training.
As of recent, velocity based training has received a lot of attention and rightfully so. However, the increase in notoriety has lead to an increase in utilization and naturally an increase in confusion.
What is it?
In the simplest of definitions, velocity based training is a method that utilizes an object’s (typically a barbell) velocity (typically mean velocity) as a measure of intensity (percentage of one rep max).
Where the confusion sets in is that unlike percentage of one rep max, which is normally programmed as a stable measure over a training period, velocity based training is fluid (auto-regulatory). In other words, the traditional usage of a percentage of one rep max is “reflective” (what you think the intensity is) while velocity based training is “reactive” (tells you exactly what the intensity is).
Traditional measure of intensity
The traditional measure of intensity only uses a percentage of your one rep max. Typically, you would have some form of testing to establish what your one rep max is and then for the next training cycle you would use this one rep max to assign percentages of intensity. However, the one rep max wouldn’t be adjusted until you retested yourself sometime down the road. So, if you think about it, you are making the assumption that your max strength is not going to change from the first testing week all the way until you test it again (could be a couple of months) and you are assigning intensities (percentages of one rep max) based on this unsupported assumption. Now, I am not saying this method is not useful, because it has obviously been proven to be effective. I am just saying that it can be improved upon with velocity based training.
Velocity Based Training
Velocity based training is similar to the traditional method in several ways. First off, like the traditional method, velocity based training is done by first having a testing session (velocity profiling). During this testing session you may have the athlete lift specific loads ranging from light to heavy. From these loads you can determine the athlete’s individual profile, which is simply the relationship between velocity, load and percentage of one rep max. So, like the traditional method you will still be using percentages of your one rep max as a measure of intensity. However, unlike the traditional method, you have this other velocity variable that essentially acts as a form of checks and balances.
For example, you might find out from this relationship that 80% of your one rep max corresponds to 0.5m/s, which simply means regardless of the load on the bar, whatever is lifted with maximal intent (moving it as fast as you can) at 0.5m/s will correspond to 80% of your one rep max for that day. This is where the whole auto-regulatory, checks and balance type mechanism comes into play…
Remember that assumption you made in the traditional method when you were only using your percentage of one rep max as a measure of intensity? In the traditional method you never took into account the fact that you may have day to day fluctuations in strength during a training cycle. However, with velocity based training you can use the velocity-percentage of one rep max relationship to actively taken in to account these daily strength fluctuations (auto-regulation). You can still assign a percentage of your one rep max as a measure of intensity, but you can use the bar velocity to make sure that you are actually hitting your desired percentage of one rep max. If the velocity of the bar is not corresponding to the desired percentage of one rep max then you can simply add or decrease the weight on the bar to meet the target velocity. This will allow for percentage of one rep max and velocity to work in unison together to allow for more accurate loading prescriptions.
Idea of velocity profiling-