Autoregulation with Velocity-based Training

Learn how to adapt training to individual readiness using real-time velocity cues. Explore velocity drop-offs and personalized training zones for optimal results.
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If you have been training or coaching athletes for any length of time, you’ll be more than aware of the effects that external life stressors can have on athletic performance. It is extremely rare to make it through a block or two without encountering a session where training output is significantly reduced due to these factors.
These human variables that affect performance in the gym include nutrition, hydration, sleep quality, fatigue, motivation, mental health, stress and many more. Each can have a significant impact on a training session, week or even a block.
People are not robots. They cannot be programmed to perfection, no matter how educated their coach is. Human physiology and life itself will throw curveballs that can’t be planned around in advance. Our coaching and programming must be reactive and adaptable to deal with these unexpected events as they arise, ensuring that we are giving the athlete the best chance of achieving high levels of readiness and hence, performance.

What is Readiness to Train?

Readiness to train refers to the assessment of an athlete's physical and mental state prior to engaging in a training session. This process involves evaluating both subjective and objective markers to determine an athlete's preparedness for training. Various metrics are utilized for this purpose, including psychometric measures such as mood, energy levels, and stress; neuromuscular fatigue indicators like the countermovement jump (CMJ) and reactive strength index (RSI); heart rate indices such as heart rate variability; and salivary immunoendocrine markers like salivary cortisol. These measurements aid in gauging an athlete's response to training and their level of fatigue. By consistently monitoring these markers, coaches can make informed decisions about adjusting training volume or intensity to optimize training adaptations and prevent negative outcomes like overtraining. More information on readiness to train can be found here. The Output Capture App has an automated subjective wellness assessment that athletes can complete before they train.

Readiness Test on the Athlete App

This can help coaches and athletes identify whether they should be closely monitoring readiness during warm-ups. When readiness is low, we must autoregulate training to prevent overreaching on sessions where peak performance is simply not on the cards.

What is Autoregulation?

Autoregulation is a pivotal strategy that goes hand in hand with gauging your readiness status. It involves tailoring your training program to be adaptable and responsive, incorporating specific indicators of readiness like velocity, power output, or range of motion variance. This dynamic approach empowers coaches and athletes to modify their training in real-time based on evolving conditions. Autoregulation encompasses both pre-planned and spontaneous adjustments. Adjustments can be made in the moment, considering an array of readiness cues, both subjective and objective. The level of experience often shapes the application of autoregulation. Seasoned athletes rely more on their intuition to adjust on the fly, while others might prefer pre-planned decisions, minimizing emotional influences. 

A significant misconception is that low readiness mandates drastic changes to the session, potentially skipping it altogether. In reality, autoregulation often involves slight tweaks rather than major overhauls. If readiness indicators suggest a subpar performance state, it doesn't mean abandoning the workout plan. Slight reductions in weight or reps (around 2-5%) can effectively recalibrate the session, sidestepping fatigue and enhancing recovery. It's important to note that autoregulation is typically more nuanced than expected, and substantial deviations from the original plan are rare occurrences. There are numerous ways to autoregulate training including subjective measures such as RPE (Rate of Perceived Exertion) where load and/or volume is altered to match the prescribed intensity. The potential drawback of subjective methods like RPE lies in the variability of individual perceptions. Some athletes will make better decisions than others. To enhance accuracy, combining RPE with objective measures and developing familiarity with one's own responses can help overcome these limitations. Velocity-based training is our autoregulation tool of choice as it carries a diverse array of methods to get the most out of an athlete's training, on the good days and the bad.

What is Velocity-based Training?

Velocity Based Training (VBT) is by definition a “form of auto-regulation of training, where day-to-day fluctuations can be accounted for by adjusting the training load” (Mann et al, 2015). To break that down, VBT is a way to monitor an athlete’s readiness and ability to train via barbell velocity. If the bar is moving quickly, then the athlete’s readiness to train is high, and/or the load applied to the exercise is too low. If the bar is moving slowly, then readiness to train is low and/or the load is too high. 
VBT is a valid and reliable method of auto-regulation, which enables coaches to:
1. Estimate an athlete’s 1RM which provides valuable training insights.
2. Identify proper training loads when fluctuations in muscle performance occur as a result of life stressors.
3. Identify proper velocities and loads to train at to enhance the specificity of training and monitor fatigue (VBT Zones).
4. Receive immediate feedback on performance, ability and motivation of the athlete through the velocity of the movement (Mann et al, 2015).

First and foremost, you must have a method of tracking barbell velocity. This cannot be done through qualitative methods (i.e. your coach's eye), it must be through an actual quantitative method where data can be produced and assessed. This can be done with tools such as:
1. With a Linear Positional Transducer (LPT), which is a central processing unit that calculates concentric velocity and power.
2. With an Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU), like the Output Sports Sensor, which is a small wearable device with an integrated gyroscope and accelerometer that provides velocity values by using specific algorithms for each exercise.

Output Sensor

Using VBT as an Autoregulation Tool

Velocity serves as a useful tool to monitor athlete readiness and autoregulate training for numerous reasons. Firstly, the velocity of a movement has a high level of task specificity. If you or your athletes have been tracking velocity over time on a given movement, you’ll have a robust bank of data displaying the velocity of warmup sets all the way to top sets. As a result, when warming up for the same movement, you can compare real-time velocity data to historical data, indicating whether your readiness is up or down in comparison to your norm. This is a highly specific readiness indicator for the session and will inform decisions about how to effectively autoregulate that session based on the data being gathered.Velocity is highly reactive to changes in readiness. The data being collected in real time will be more acutely affected by changes in readiness than the weight on the bar or the rate of perceived exertion. On sessions of higher fatigue or lower readiness, you still may find that you can lift close to the same weight, and emotional attachment to numbers on the bar and consistent progression may cloud your perception of effort. Velocity measures don’t lie. When the data is directly in front of you, it can be a lot easier to admit that readiness is down, and implement a planned solution or workaround to mitigate fatigue accumulation.

Velocity Drop-off

Velocity drop refers to the percentage of decrement in the speed of each repetition that occurs over the course of a set. Instead of prescribing a set number of repetitions, this style of programming involves terminating the set when the athlete's velocity falls below a certain percentage threshold of their first or best rep in the set. This helps coaches manage:

  • Fatigue accumulation
  • Competition peaking/tapering
  • Hypertrophy signalling
  • Post-session recovery timelines

A 2019 study examined the relationship between velocity loss and repetitions in reserve (RIR) in the bench press and back squat. This study explored how velocity loss corresponds to RIR and acute fatigue, providing guidelines for prescribing training based on velocity loss. Trained men performed sets to failure at different intensities, while velocity was recorded for each repetition. The study used velocity loss thresholds to prescribe training, allowing for appropriate proximity to failure. The study produced promising results for velocity loss as an autoregulation tool that can add objectivity to otherwise subjective RIR measurements. Ultimately, velocity loss is a great tool to autoregulate reps per set or total volume performed throughout a training session.

We can calculate a desired velocity drop-off threshold (VLT) using a percentage of the speed of the first repetition. In this case, if you set your velocity loss threshold at 10% if your first rep moves at 1.0m/s, we recommend terminating the set when 1-2 (consecutive) reps fall below 0.9m/s. This helps coaches and athletes to manage the level of fatigue that occurs throughout the set. We can also use a percentage of the speed of the best rep in the set to calculate a desired VLT. Rather than working off the first rep, this metric updates every time you beat the speed of the previous best. This helps coaches cater to people with variable techniques or lower training ages as these populations often don't display their best outputs in the first couple of reps.

Velocity loss allows for a more personalised approach to training by adjusting the number of reps based on each individual's daily strength levels and fatigue. By monitoring lifting speed and stopping a set when a certain velocity loss threshold is reached, velocity loss helps manage fatigue levels effectively. This reduces the risk of overtraining. Velocity loss provides a reliable and objective measure of autoregulation. Instead of relying solely on subjective factors such as perceived effort, using velocity loss as a marker allows for a more precise adjustment of training volume and intensity.

The Output Capture app provides the ability/choice to terminate the set when the velocity falls below a certain percentage threshold of their first or best rep in the set. The athlete and coach will be made aware of this occurrence due to auditory and visual feedback in real time.

Velocity Zone Targets

Implementing training zones is a prevalent approach employed by strength and conditioning coaches to prescribe loads. These zones are determined based on their typical placement along the force-velocity curve, supported by research, and are linked to specific percentages of 1RM for programming. Training phases such as maximal strength, strength-speed, speed-strength, maximal velocity, and power are frequently designated within these zones. Recently, mean and peak velocities have been aligned with these training zones, granting practitioners a tool to ensure athletes engage with desired intensities. While this enhancement introduces additional objectivity, it's important to note that these zones are relatively broad, potentially limiting the precision of loading and velocity monitoring.

Velocity Zones

To start using VBT zones as an autoregulation tool, prescribe the athlete an upper velocity threshold that they warm up to, and once they hit the threshold, their work sets have begun. Let’s say the athlete is training for maximal strength. They begin their warmups with lighter weights and pyramid upwards until they reach 0.5m/s. This velocity measure signifies that they have reached the target threshold for work sets, regardless of what load is on the bar.

This can be taken a step further with the implementation of Individualised Training Zones. Individualising velocity training targets/zones adds a layer of specificity to an athlete’s programming, ensuring that the prescription of loads for each session can be optimised and specific to the force-velocity capabilities of that individual. In order to achieve this, an individualised load-velocity profile must be administered prior to the implementation of a training block. A load-velocity profile is an incremental strength assessment (much like a 1RM test) that involves the measurement of mean or peak velocity at each relative intensity. There are many ways to implement load-velocity profiles which are often dictated by time and logistics, however, typically five plus loads, evenly spaced, should be performed across the full spectrum (e.g., 20, 40, 60, 80, 90, 100% 1RM). Once the profile has been constructed, a mathematical model can be applied (typically linear regression) which produces a predictive equation. By analyzing this data, they can determine their individualised load-velocity profile, which can then be used to prescribe and progress training loads.

For example: If an athlete knows their individualised load-velocity profile for a particular exercise, they can adjust the weight they lift based on their desired velocity. This can be useful for optimising training programmes to individualise the athlete's training based on their specific goals and tailoring training loads so that the athlete is training at an appropriate intensity in order to minimise fatigue and maximise performance.

The Output Sports system allows for the creation of an Individualized Load-Velocity Profile, offering a range of practical applications. This means that the process of load-velocity profiling is no longer a cumbersome or complex endeavour. Instead, it's conveniently available with just a click of a button within the Output Sports interface. This user-friendly approach simplifies velocity profiling for coaches and athletes alike. Learn more in the following video:


In the training and coaching process, it is paramount to acknowledge the impact of external life stressors and human variables on individual performance. Fluctuating performance levels are underpinned by our “readiness to train”. The adjustment of training in response to low readiness is known as autoregulation. 
Velocity-based training emerges as a nuanced and pragmatic approach where athletes can evaluate their readiness and identify whether to push hard or pull back based on the real-time feedback they receive. The concept of velocity drop-off introduces precision, allowing for acute fatigue management and informed training decisions. Incorporating VBT zones further refines this approach, aligning velocity targets with distinct individualized velocity profiles. This adaptive methodology supersedes rigid programming, recognising the intricate nature of human performance and allowing coaches and athletes to achieve true training individualisation and optimisation.

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