• Nathanael Littauer, CSCS

Tracking Velocity To Target Adaptations

"Speed Kills"
"Speed Is King"

These are phrases that have come to sum up the athletic quality of power, and describes what truly separates athletes on the field. Speed, and it's byproduct of power, are highly valuable physical adaptations to sound training.

I've written about my experience adding over 130lbs to my powerlifting using velocity based training, but tracking velocity has far more benefit than just increasing max weights. Heck, it wouldn't be velocity based training if we didn't use the tracking of movement speeds if it was only about strength. Velocity based training is about adaptation, and the different adaptations that can improve performance on the field or on the platform.

We first need to define main adaptations:

  • Speed/Explosiveness - Moving fast

  • Speed-Strength - Moving weights, but still trending towards speed

  • Power - The point at which Mean Power (a byproduct of force and time) is highest

  • Strength-Speed - Producing more force than speed

  • Absolute Strengh- Producing force

These qualities all happen on some aspect of the Force-Velocity Curve. The higher the force, the speed trends downwards. The Higher the speed, the force trends downward. When we program training, we need to account for the goal of developing each of these qualities as part of performance enhancement.

Now, when it comes to using Velocity to target adaptations, I like to use a chart that was based off of Bryan Mann's work on Velocity profiling (designed by a colleague). This chart breaks down the mean velocities for the specific adaptations listed above, as well as includes the percentages at which those velocities occur. This is important for two reasons:

  1. Knowing the percentages and their supposed corresponding velocities can help guide a program where confident tracking of velocity is not possible

  2. You can determine more precisely as to whether athletes are more force or speed dominant.

Here's an example. One of my athletes has a long training age in powerlifting/bodybuilding and has made the transition to weightlifting in the last year and half. They have an enormous amount of strength, with Back Squat strengths over 2.25x bodyweight, and a Front Squat of 2x bodyweight. These weights, however, tend to move at the more force dominant aspect of the Force-Velocity curve. In order to increase their explosiveness and increase their ability to snatch, clean, or jerk increasingly larger weights, the adaptation of speed-strength and strength-speed needs a greater development.

How do we know this? We tracked the velocity, and based on Dr. Mann's work 50% should move at ~0.98-1.05 meters/second. For this athlete, 50% moved on average at 0.80-08.5 m/s, signifying a greater tendency towards raw force production and not rapid force development (speed-strength). Myself on the other hand, in curiosity tested the same metric, and found that I move 50% at 0.96-1.03 m/s, which is pretty close to Dr. Mann's representations. This is likely a reflection of 6+ years dedicated to training the sport of weightlifting.

So why is this useful? Because you can't get faster by moving slower.

When we look at creating solid training that moves towards an adaptation for performance increase, we have to be aware of the speeds at which bars move and how it plays a role in that improvement.

If I need an athlete to gain max strength, I need to work in velocities ranges that move more slowly, developing absolute strength. If you track velocity, you can modify loads to make sure you are staying within the strength based ranges and adding enough load to cause an adaptation for force production.

Velocity, among other things, can also be a great auto-regulator and tool for making sure that the adaptation is not missed. In the original scenario, I almost lightened the load for my athlete after set one. This was because velocity was marking significantly lower than what it should be (this changed during the following sets). When a bar is not moving fast enough, it's a sign of fatigue or lack of adaptation to that stimulus. Knowing this, we can modify loads to make sure we stay within the targeted adaptation. I have chronicled similar sentiments in my experiment to use VBT for training for powerlifting, in which I stayed at a higher end of the Force-Velocity Curve by increasing weights until my prescribed velocity matched the proposed percentage I wanted.

So here in lies the dilemma.

It is easy to say that you want to cause adaptations by marking velocity, but harder to do. You have to tame your ego and the ego of your athletes on the training day instead of letting them load up past their ability to produce speed. You also may run into the fact that your department or personal funding does not allow for the purchase of a velocity tracker. This is where a keen coach's eye comes into play. We know what fast looks like, and so whenever you're coaching in the weight room the goal is to view and assess how fast an individual is and how much they need to be loading the movement as a whole.

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