Welcome back! Last month, we introduced velocity-based training (VBT). If you missed it, check it out here.


In Part-II of this final series, we will examine sample training progressions and how you and the athlete can determine load selection based on velocity ranges attained during a Challenge Set. Furthermore, we will analyze how you can track changes in strength and regulate load based on readiness (APRE). Finally, we will review some research that supports VBT application and conclude with how VBT+APRE can balance the athlete’s stress of practice and competition (volume-load) to avoid training overload.


So, without further delay, let’s get started.


Assessing the Athlete

Last week, we gave an example of a freshman who needs to increase size and strength. How do we know that? Number one, he’s 6′ 10″ and weighs 202 pounds. He’s pretty lean but skinny. The athlete will need to gain some size (lean muscle, hypertrophy).


How’s his Strength? Not good. How do we know? We tested his bench press, applying the NBA Combine’s 185- Rep Max Test. The young man was NOT able to produce a single rep.


SIDE NOTE: We use the NBA Combine, accumulate the 10-year average in each category, and mark those for key performance indicators (KPIs). This application corroborates a level of strength and performance necessary to play at the next level – something every athlete believes they are destined.


Secondly, we assign another strength inspection — a Pull-Up Rep Max Test. He completes only 6-reps. This movement is not an NBA Combine test. However, it’s an excellent strength-to-weight ratio test to further gauge an athlete’s upper body strength.


Align Training Intent and Method

This athlete needs to gain size and strength. Using the Chart from last week, we align training intent with training methods associated with a particular velocity zone united with the force-velocity curve to prescribe:


  • Accelerative Strength velocity range of 0.45-0.75 meters per second (m/s).
  • Assigned sets with variable rep ranges of 3-8 reps
  • Utilizing heavy Olympic-style lifts that include squats and barbell complexes.

Now let’s look at a sample progression for assigning velocity based on the athlete’s KPIs.


Velocity Discovery

Day 1, training session will be a discovery day intended with finding the heaviest weight the athlete can perform while maintaining an average mean velocity (AMV) of 0.45-0.75 m/s. Generally, we assign 5-4 sets with an ascending rep scheme of 5-4-3-3. 


In the example, the athlete performs a front squat with 215-pounds, and on their third set, they maintain an AMV of 0.49 m/s for 3-reps. Because the athlete has yet to drop below 0.45 m/s, they continue to the fourth set, adding 5-pounds, totaling 220. Once completed, the athlete’s set reveals they only achieved an average mean velocity of 0.42 m/s. 


At this point, sets end with the athlete’s prescribed front squat weight heading into next week is 215-lbs.


SIDE NOTE: Let me preface by saying an athlete should demonstrate technical proficiency before assigned any squat. If not, then VBT is tabled until the technical ability is achieved. In the meantime, the only thing that has changed is the circumstances; the mission remains the same — get bigger and stronger).


The VBT Application

Let’s fast forward to next week. You and the athlete know 215-lbs is their prescribed front squat weight, and our VBT range is 0.45-0.75 m/s. We assign warm-up/working sets as follows:


  • Set-1: 5 reps x 40-pounds less than your prescribed weight.
  • Set 2: 4-reps x 20-pounds less than your prescribed weight.
  • Set 3: ?? Challenge Set ??
  • Set 4: 3-reps – based on Challenge Set performance.


So, that means…


  • Set-1: 5×175 @ AMV 0.45-0.75 m/s
  • Set-2: 5×195 @ AMV 0.45-0.75 m/s
  • Set 3: CHALLENGE SET: 215×1-7 @ 0.45-0.75 m/s (NOT AVERAGE)
  • Set 4: 3-reps – based on Challenge Set performance.


SIDE NOTE: We typically perform a dynamic warm-up, followed by a series of Ghost Reps that progress up to the first working set. Ghost reps begin with an empty bar. The athlete performs the movement, then spotters/partners add some weight, the athlete does a few reps, and more weight gets added. This sequence continues until the athlete is roughly about 20-40-pounds shy of their assigned first working set. 


Let’s take a look at the Challenge Set and how it works. 


From the Chart above, we can see the first column has a rep range of 1 to 7 @ assigned velocity zone (in this instance, it’s 0.45-0.75 m/s). The second column shows plus or minus weight adjustments. And lastly, the third column shows variations in adjusted weights associated with the first column and its rows of variable rep ranges.


How is this Challenge Set Chart interpreted?


Before we discuss the Chart, I need to make something abundantly clear: the Challenge Set’s assigned velocity range (0.45-0.75 m/s) is based EXCLUSIVELY on the PERFORMANCE OF EACH REP, and not the average mean velocity. Allow me to explain.


The Challenge Set Chart Explained

The athlete completes their specified set of 5 and a set of 4. They’ve worked up to the assigned 215-pounds based on the previous week’s VBT performance. This assortment is the Challenge Set. The athlete gets under the bar, executes the first rep, and maintains a velocity range between 0.45-0.75 m/s. The same continues for the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th rep. However, on the 6th rep, the athlete’s velocity drops below 0.45-0.75 m/s; the SET ENDS IMMEDIATELY because performing more sets at a higher load and a lower velocity will limit the prescribed training intent. 


In summary, the athlete achieved 5-reps at 215-lbs to a velocity 0.45-0.75 m/s. Looking at the Challenge Set Chart, how much weight (if any) would the athlete add for their final set of 3-reps? 


Based on the Chart, since the athlete achieved 5-reps, they would ADD 5-lbs, totaling 220-pounds for the final set of 3-reps.


Does that make sense?


KNOWLEDGE TEST #1: How much weight gets added or subtracted if the athlete achieves 7-reps? If you answered 15-pounds for a total of 230-lbs, you are correct. 


KNOWLEDGE TEST #2: How much weight gets added or subtracted if the athlete lands 2-reps but misses their 3rd rep at 215-lbs to a velocity 0.45-0.75 m/s. If you answered minus 5-pounds for a total of 210-lbs, you are correct.


Following the Challenge Set load adjustments based on the athlete’s set performance will produce an autoregulatory progressive resistance exercise (APRE) load prescription for your final working set.


APRE and How It Works

APRE itself was created by Dr. Bryan Mann, which he adapted from Dr. K.L. Knight and Mel Siff. The whole concept of Dr. K.L. Knight and Mel Siff’s program design was that the number of repetitions performed determined the weight that the athlete would use the next set or the following week (Verkoshansky & Siff, 2009, p. 259).


The purpose of joining the APRE method with VBT is so we [coach and athlete] can objectively quantify the intensity of any given exercise using velocity and prescribe weight based on the athlete’s progress. This training style is superior to a traditional linear-based program because it auto-regulates the program’s resistance based on how the athlete feels that day. Many stressors will affect how athletes perform that day, sleep, how much they ate, school, relationships, etc. 


Let’s explore how we can balance the stress of practice and competition through VBT + APRE in the weight room using velocity-based training hardware and software to apply and monitor training overload.


Monitor Training Overload Using VBT + APRE 

The case study below is one of our freshmen in 2017, Aamir Simms, who grew into a monster over his career, leading the ACC in rebounds last season (2019-20). Look at the first row (10/2/17), Simms achieved a single-leg front squat (rear foot elevated) with 195-lbs at an AMV of 0.35 m/s. This record was the highest he produced the week before the start of official practice. That’s important because when we look at the next week, we see a significant drop in weight and velocity [10/9/17: 165-lbs at an AMV of 0.39 m/s].


Why do you think this occurred?


You guessed it: official practice started, which meant Simms’ total volume-workload more than doubled as the coaches began preparing the team for the season. 


Notice what happens in the prevailing weeks. As Simms adapted to the training stress, he began to regain his strength and velocity. Mark another dip in performance at the 12/1/17 mark. The reason? That week our starter, Elijah Thomas, rolled his ankle and was out for practice and games. As a result, Aamir’s practice reps and minutes-plated jumped significantly. Once more, Simms adapts at his own pace utilizing the VBT + APRE design based on daily and weekly volume-load variations. The result increases peak Simms’ Strength, as well as velocity for the conference tournament. 


In the given case study, I hope you further glean how you use GymAware to track strength, even though it does not measure strength. Since a linear position transducers (LPT) system like GymAware requires external resistance input, you can use this data to track changes in strength by measuring displacement over time. 


As a strength coach, we organize and adapt our athlete’s training via volume, intensity, and duration through a calendar year to manage physical, mechanical, and physiological training adaptation that will translate to peak, in-game performance. 


This case study can serve as a reminder: athletes progress at their own pace based on daily and weekly variations in performance, unlike traditional linear periodization, where there is a set increase in intensity from week-to-week. Athletes do NOT perform exclusively in the weight room; they must compete at practice, in games, in the classroom, and in life! 


Developing Strength, Speed, & Power Using Velocity

What about the coach asking if there is real value in VBT? Do the fancy terms truly offer value when training athletes, or are they chasing technology, romanticizing numbers, and just perpetuating a softer generation? Research shows us VBT has a significant advantage for developing strength, speed, and power.


I learned of a case study from Cory Kennedy, Head Strength and Conditioning Coach at the Institute National du Sport du Québec in Montreal, at an NSCA presentation (see chart below).

Two groups used velocity tracking to affect their volume-load. Both groups squatted the same prescriptions: each did five sets @ 80% of 1RM. 


For the sake of comparison, I’m going to call the VL20 group a single person named Daniel, and I’ll reference the VL40 group as me [Mike].


During the 8-week study, Daniel stopped his set once he lost 20% of velocity, 6-reps of 12 rep max (RM). I want it more (Daniel is soft), so I stopped my set once I lost 40% of velocity, 8-reps of 12RM. When you compare these ranges, Daniel (VL 40) only did 60% of the work compared to me (VL20). 


MODEL: I did 1.5x more work than Daniel even though we both do squats at the same percentage of load, which was 80% of 1RM.


So who do you think built more strength and got faster? Daniel? Me?


After eight weeks, each of our physical qualities got measured and compared:


  • Daniel gained more strength. (examine the 1RM). Even at the same percentage of load (intensity), Daniel gained 19-kg pf strength versus my 14-kg.
  • Next is velocity. Not a HUGE change, but Daniel beat me.
  • Check out CMJ (Counter Movement Jump). Daniel jumped higher (4-cm) than I did (1.5-cm).
  • Look at T20 (20 Yard Sprint). Daniel got faster by 1. I got slower by 3/100 of a second.


LESSON: As a general rule, Daniel got stronger and faster, and I got slower.


Luckily, in this case study, the groups were muscle biopsied pre and post (see below).

Without getting into too much detail (there’s a ton on the Table), I have highlighted Type IIX muscle fibers because they revealed the most significant changes. Notice, I lost half of my area and number of Type IIX fibers, which are faster and more powerful than type IIa. 


So despite Daniel and I lifting the same load (80% 1RM) over 2-months, I lost or “converted” my Type IIX fibers while Daniel kept his. Furthermore, even though we weren’t doing power and speed, Daniel kept his muscle fiber type, and I didn’t. 


This study helps maintain my value-added experience using VBT and verifies the case study I shared about Aamir Simms. The lessons learned:


  • It’s not about 80% of the percentage prescribed for that movement.
  • Avoid the chance of going to failure (leave some reserve in the tank).
  • It’s not exclusively about prescribing strength-for-strength and speed-for-speed.
  • VBT allows the coach to balance the athlete’s stress of practice and competition (volume-load) to avoid training overload.
  • Athlete’s progress at their own pace based on daily and weekly variations in performance, unlike traditional linear periodization (LP), where there is a set increase in intensity from week to week.


That concludes our VBT Series. I hope you found this information valuable if you currently use VBT or thinking of purchasing but don’t know where to start. If you have questions, I’m always available to share, collaborate and learn. Feel free to email me at mike.bewley@plae.us


Yours In Strength,

Mike Bewley