Velocity based training & autoregulation for strength sounds complex, but it’s really simple. Jordan Stanton, Barbell Logic coach, owner of Next Level Barbell, and President of the United States Strengthlifting Federation, breaks down this training method and explores why it works, how it’s helped him improve as a coach, and how to use it as a coach or athlete.
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Why Try Velocity Based Training?
We like simplicity – our tagline is simple, hard, effective – so why add a seemingly complicated piece of equipment and method of autoregulation to your coaching or training?
First, this is not for novices. Novices need to add weight simply and linearly, improve technique, and experience the range of difficulties (the many flavors of heavy but doable).
Often, a lifter will finally achieve something that equates to something close to an RPE 7.5 or 8. This means, the lifter can accomplish two, maybe three more reps, and either give up on a rep or express fear that he won’t be able to do another rep.
The reality is, this lifter has likely never experienced this level of intensity. If they have, it’s been during a one-rep max attempt.
The middle and end of linear progression confront the lifter with hardship, and the lifter must willfully overcome the challenge. Voluntary hardship is not simply a catch phrase.
Second, velocity based autoregulation is not as complicated as it sounds. Intermediate and advanced lifters regularly use, and coaches often prescribe, programs based on percentages of their one-rep max.
The average velocity correlates linearly with percentage of one rep max, so what the lifter is doing is still using a program based on his one-rep maximum.
Third, velocity based training (VBT) is objective without requiring the lifter to complete a maximum effort set (either an AMRAP or 1RM).
Autoregulation – Subjective or Objective
Autoregulation adjust the prescribed workout based on the athlete’s daily fluctuation and performance. This idea and approach comes from the reality that your athlete is not the same athlete every day, that his theoretical one-rep max changes, and that this varies and matters more and he advances as an athlete.
Subjective autoregulation methodologies exist and include rate of perceived exertion (RPE), reps in reserve (RIR), and percentage based training (where the one rep maximum is guessed, albeit in an educated way).
Conducting a daily maximum, as many reps as possible, or velocity based training are objective autoregulation approaches.
The first two approaches, however, require physically and mentally exhausting sets to accurately identify the lifter’s one rep maximum that day.
Either the lifter must attempt a 1RM or the lifter has to do as many reps as possible. Only after these grueling sets does the lifter execute his prescribed work sets.
Velocity based autoregulation avoids the need for these maximum effort sets.
How Velocity Based Autoregulation Works
Velocity based training allows a lifter to accurately identify his 1RM for that day at sub-maximal (i.e. warm up) sets. How? Let’s explore a bit.
Some assumptions come here, that it’s important we acknowledge. The lifter’s anthropometry need to remain constant, so growing lifters (children or teenagers) lose objectivity if they complete this training.
Form and technique matter, so novices or lifters consistently struggling with technique should not take on this methodology.
One important note is that this data remains the same if the lifter gets stronger. If a lifter improves his 1RM squat from 200 to 400, 50% will move at the same speed.
The device sits on the floor and connects to the bar with a wire. The athlete needs to collect five to ten data points. These lifts need to be performed with 100% effort for this data to be accurate (another reason novices should not use velocity based autoregulation).
The coach or lifter simply conducts linear regression analysis. One this is known, the lifter can come in on another day, conduct warm up lifts with 100% intention, learn his 1RM for that day, and then perform his work sets based on that knowledge.
Improve Your Coaching with VBT
Using velocity based autoregulation for your training and some of your clients provides you good feedback and data that can help you learn more about your athletes as well as your programming and coaching eye.
You can test your coaching eye. For example, what attempts should a lifter take on a 1RM attempt day or during a strengthlifting meet?
As a coach, you can make an educated guess and then, from the velocity device, actually get objective data on that athlete’s 1RM for that day. This means, your athlete can take attempts based on more objective information, and you can improve your coaching eye.
You can learn both for individual athletes and your lifters aggregately truly what percentages of their 1RM they can complete 3×5, 5×3, 3×8, etc. This can help refine your percentage based programs.
You can begin to compare different groups of clients and learn if certain types of clients bar speed decays more quickly or more slowly (velocity decay). For example, Jordan has learned that advanced athletes and female athletes bar speed decays more slowly, on average.
Using Velocity Based Training Effectively
These devices provide you a good deal of useful data. You can learn the average velocity of a client’s lifts. Average velocity correlates linearly with percentage of one rep max.
You can learn the peak velocity of a lift, which matters more for Olympic lifts.
Learn the slowest velocity a rep can be completed, or the minimum velocity threshold.
If technique breaks down (e.g. a lifter’s knees cave in) or that athlete experiences pain at certain intensities, you can learn the quality velocity threshold and pain velocity threshold and program accordingly.
Jordan recommends using the wired, not wireless, devices, as they provide more accurate data. Their durability, affordability, and accuracy have improved since Jordan first began using the Rep One prototype.
Jordan has noticed that this information is less accurate at lower loads, but we’re training for strength. This does not matter too much.
This method of training is less helpful for power movements, even the press, especially if done in an Olympic manner or with a hip whip.
This method of training can provide much data, but sometimes more than you or your client want. Jordan recommends sometimes simply getting the 1RM, turning the device off, and completing your work sets.
Jordan has velocity based training for both in-person and online clients, and it has worked in both environments. Online, it obviously provides a much more accurate form of autoregulation than RPE. The lifter simply must perform the warm up sets with 100% effort.
If the client lifts consistently, he should not need to reset the linear progression more than once a year.
Using Velocity Based Training Creatively
Lastly, some creative methods can be used with this. A lifter could perform an AMRAP that stops at the quality velocity threshold or pain velocity threshold (where form deteriorates or pain arises).
Similarly, a lifter could conduct an AMRAP that stops when velocity decays to a certain degree. This would require a coach or training partner to monitor the device and tell the lifter when to stop.
If you prescribe programs using percentages of one rep max you can use this method. If as a lifter your technique is consistent, you can complete warm up sets with full intention, and have completed percentage-based programs, you can use this methodology.
Velocity based training is an objective autoregulation methodology that is simpler than it seems and can improve your training and coaching.