Velocity-Based Training (VBT) is arguably the most significant technological advancement available to strength athletes. Moreover, linear position transducer units are more affordable now than ever before, and thus, more available for athletes to use.
Personally, my coaching journey with velocity-based training has been and continues to be both fascinating and conflicting. On the one hand, I’ve felt that there is an internal countdown of time where if our coaching company fails to maximize the possibilities of VBT, then someone else will. On the other hand, our data-based training system, which utilizes daily undulating periodization and both proactive and reactive training methods, has produced remarkable results since TSG adopted its use. This paradox between embracing innovation versus continuing to do something that’s been working remarkably well has led me down the rabbit hole of three years of careful thought, consideration, talking to experts, and self-experimentation before implementing VBT into TSG’s training programs. Here are the stories of how we’ve implemented VBT with the Best Lifter in the IPF, Taylor Atwood, and 2x Canadian National Champion, Teresa Parsons.
In early 2018, then 4x National Champion and soon-to-be IPF World Champion Taylor Atwood was the first athlete on our roster to obtain a unit for velocity-based training. At the time, Taylor was in the midst of an inflection point in his lifting career where his strength gains were raising the bar beyond what the 74 kg division had ever seen.
Co-coach Ben Esgro and I began using Taylor’s VBT unit to monitor and describe his training progress leading into his victories at the 2018 IPF World Championship & USAPL National Championship. We considered the average concentric velocity of his heaviest lifts with the RPE and AMRAP 1RM prediction methods to validate his estimated 1RM heading into these competitions. We also used VBT for the first time in the warm-up room at the 2018 Raw Nationals as a gauge of readiness. We compared his competition day warm-up bar speeds to recent weeks at similar weights. This comparison was an interesting exercise to see Taylor’s bar speed improvements after the taper compared to his peaking phase, where fatigue levels were high. The improvement in bar speeds provided an indicator that Taylor was ready to perform at the top-end of his projected strength if we needed as well, which is a helpful observation for a game day powerlifting coach to be aware of.
From Raw Nationals in 2018 until November of 2020, Ben and I used VBT with Taylor to become more precise with our estimations of his strength and his attempt selections in competition. He has competed in 5 meets during this time, making 42/45 attempts, with two missed attempts at a local ‘just-for-fun’ meet with nothing at stake and one missed attempt of a 320 kg Deadlift to secure the first-ever 800 kg total achieved by a 74 kg lifter – a feat that he accomplished in October of 2020 with his historic 812 kg performance. Suppose we remove these situational outliers, Taylor’s meet-day execution in competitive situations has been perfect where every kg matters in national or international competition. Part of fine-tuning his performance to this level has been using velocity-based training in addition to RPE and AMRAP assessment methods to monitor and predict his strength.
In the spring of 2018, we made another step forward in implementing velocity-based training with Teresa Parsons, a 2x Canadian National Champion. Following a back injury sustained in preparation for the 2019 Canadian National Championship, we began a complete rebuild of Teresa’s technique and training process. At the time, Teresa was a 1x Canadian National Champion who achieved great success early on in her powerlifting career thanks to her supreme physical strength, grit, and determination.
A funny quirk of powerlifting is that in a sport where the athlete who lifts the most amount of weight on competition day wins, the strongest athlete isn’t always the winner; instead, the best powerlifter is.
What does this mean? While powerlifting performance requires tremendous physical strength, it also requires athletic skill in addition to many other components such as nutrition, psychology, and coaching tactics. During our teardown and subsequent rebuild of Teresa’s training technique and training process, Co-Coach Ben Esgro and I saw Teresa’s potential to complement her newly improved technique on each competition lift with greater intent.
A chief constructive criticism that we voiced to Teresa following her runner-up placing at the 2019 National Championship was that she needed to produce a linear regression of bar speeds between her 1st, 2nd, and 3rd attempt. Otherwise, Ben and I wouldn’t be able to gauge her strength accurately and extract the maximum amount of performance out of her on competition day. To improve Teresa’s intent during lifting leading up to the 2019 IPF World Championship, we began using her Vitruve (formerly Speed4Lifts) unit on competition lifts and the Belt Squat machine.
We encouraged Teresa to set as many bar speed PR’s as possible when training her main lifts. We asked her to perform a belt squat with a constant load while aiming to achieve progress with average concentric velocity two times per week. We were delighted with her lifting at the 2019 World Championship, which earned her 5th place in the 63 kg division. We had achieved the linear regression of bar speeds that we were looking for on her Squat and Deadlift, with her openers being the fastest attempts and her third attempts being the slowest. Using VBT to teach Teresa the concept of lifting with intent helped us to improve her ability to express strength, thus making her performances more predictable and the limits of her strength easier to identify. This improvement set the stage for her first 9/9 performance at the 2020 Canadian National Championship, where she won the 63 kg class and her 2nd National Championship. And then less than a month after Teresa’s win at Canadian Nationals, the world stopped…
During the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve faced more uncertainty throughout the training process than ever before.
Since partnering with Vitruve in September, Alfred Jong and I have begun to integrate more velocity-based training concepts into the training of Taylor, Teresa, and other athletes who own VBT units during this extended off-season period. One such velocity-based training addition has been replacing the Repetitions in Reserve (RIR) system previously used to regulate our percentage-based training programs against daily fluctuations in strength with velocities extracted from an AMRAP (reps to failure) test. Thanks to correspondences with Dr. Eric Helms, we’ve quickly and seamlessly been able to integrate this last rep profiling seamlessly into our training approach. The profiling protocol involves having a client take an AMRAP between 85-90% 1RM to failure, or RPE 9 for safety reasons. If the client successfully achieves an RPE 10 (no repetitions in reserve) on the last rep, then RPE 10 is the minimum velocity threshold, the second last rep correlates with RPE 9 (one repetition in reserve), the third last rep correlates with RPE 8 (two repetitions in reserve), and so on and so forth. Instead of recommending a client to stop a set of 6 reps at 80% at RPE 8/RIR 2, we can instruct them to stop the set at the velocity which corresponds to RPE 8 from their most recent AMRAP instead.
We’ve noticed a significant improvement in bar speed and intent since replacing or complimenting subjective RIR ratings with objective velocities. We’ve also gotten positive feedback from athletes who’ve used this method of regulating their training that it has increased the enjoyment and challenge level of the training sessions.
Another velocity-based training addition that we’ve been using is calculating z-scores of a constant warm-up weight in the range of 70-80% 1RM performed in each warm-up when training the Squat, Bench Press, or Deadlift to gauge session readiness, recovery, and direction of adaptation. Suppose a client is two standard deviations above or below their mean average concentric velocity at the load. In that case, the client should adjust the session’s prescribed load up if performance is two standard deviations or more above the mean and down if performance is two standard deviations or less below the mean.
In closing, after nearly three years of using velocity-based training methods with our powerlifters, I’m satisfied with the added level of precision and quality that it has brought to our coaching. Now, VBT helps our athletes maximize the quality of their training sessions by performing each set with intent, capping proximity to failure, and maximizing days of high readiness with its present-day usage. As a coaching group in strength sports, we look forward to seeing what innovations and new developments will arise with this exciting and relatively new training method. Stay tuned for more information on how TSG is using Vitruve here on the blog.
Author: Jason Tremblay