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The role of a Strength and Conditioning (S&C) coach is multi-faceted. Relationship building, communication, content delivery, programme design and understanding the underpinning physiology that drives performance are all integral to a practitioner’s success. But here’s the bottom line: the most effective programme in the world falls short if it cannot be delivered effectively. But that doesn’t mean programming isn’t important in the first place...and it seems redundant to neglect programming and prescription skills, which are regarded as optimal to athlete success.
Programme design can be broken down into a few important factors; testing and monitoring, load prescription, volume control and fatigue management. A successful programme must effectively combine these different elements, attempting to maximise athletic performance and combat fatigue build-up regularly. Load (the prescribed training intensity on a given day) is typically derived via a two-part process:
One role of the S&C practitioner is to ensure that optimal manipulation of load is prescribed in response to improvements in strength and residual fatigue build-up. It seems sensible to assume that across the course of a training block, maximal and relative strength levels will fluctuate in response to confounding variables such as sleep, nutrition, competition, technical training etc. (Figure 1). The need for the regulation of load, therefore, becomes essential to optimise the training stimulus and ensure the desired physiological adaptations are elicited at the appropriate times based on longer term periodisation of training.
Figure 1: Example of strength fluctuations as a result of confounding variables.
There are several methods that can be implemented to promote effective autoregulation of load on a regular basis. As many reps as possible (AMRAPs) and repetition maximums (RMs) could be utilised as a way of re-adjusting weekly 1RMs, however, this involves taking an individual to volitional failure in order to accurately predict 1RM using a predictive equation. Subjective rating scales such as Rating of Perceived Exertion (RPE) and Repetitions in Reserve (RIR) have been shown to be effective in determining the effort required to perform a working set or as a method of selecting a working load, however, the subjective nature of these approaches can often be inaccurate in inexperienced lifters (1). Simple coach-athlete conversations could also take place to determine whether a change in load is required, and an educated guess made to determine the degree, but this way of working could be construed as ‘guess work’ and relies heavily on the coach’s input, something that is not always favourable at the higher levels of sporting competition.
Velocity-Based Training (VBT) is another autoregulatory method available to S&C coaches to aid load prescription, assist with traditional prescriptive and periodisation methods and optimise sessional loads in an objective and flexible manner, reacting to the impact of positive and negative training stressors. Through the simple tracking of barbell concentric mean or peak velocity in the key, ‘bang for your buck’ exercises, practitioners have a number of options at their disposal to prescribe load and quantify the impact of fatigue or strength development, ensuring athletes are training at the desired absolute (kgs) and relative (%) loads and reducing any ‘guess work’. Coaches can then decide the degree to which they want to implement VBT into their prescriptions, depending on factors such as access to equipment, time, number of athletes and desired complexity (see Figure 2).
Figure 2: VBT Load prescription continuum.
The utilisation of training zones is a common strategy for load prescription for S&C coaches. These zones are derived from where they typically sit along the force-velocity curve (driven by research), with associated percentages of 1RM being applied for prescription purposes. Maximal strength, strength-speed, speed-strength, maximal velocity, and power are all common zones used for training blocks. Recently, mean and peak velocities have been mapped to these training zones, providing practitioners with a method of ensuring their athletes are working at the desired intensities (Figure 3). It is important to recognise, however, that whilst this adds an additional layer of objectivity, these zones are quite large, and can potentially reduce the opportunity for specific loading and velocity tracking.
Figure 3: Pre-determined training zones.
Research in this space has increased considerably over recent years, providing practitioners with extensive amounts of normative velocity data (table 1) corresponding to specific relative intensities in particular exercises (2). By using this normative data, specific velocity targets can be prescribed for each session based on the desired training intensity for that training week / block. This and the previous approach are ideal for coaches who have limited time and are not able to load-velocity profile (LVP) their athletes. However, research has suggested that velocity data is very individualised (3,4) therefore, optimising prescriptions for every training environment based on the current literature base is difficult. Similarly, finding practically representative methods in appropriate exercises in the relevant population casts doubt in the efficacy of such approaches.
Ideally, the implementation of VBT will be done on an individualised basis. The simplest way to achieve this is through tracking velocities throughout a single session in order to set some simple training targets. By recording this data on a regular basis, coaches can build a unique database of velocities that their athletes can perform for specific loads, volumes, and exercises, enabling for quick and easy comparisons. If an individual is capable of moving the same load quicker or can lift a heavier load at the same velocity to that of previous sessions, practitioners can be confident that their athletes are getting stronger across time. If, however, the velocities reduce over time, this could spark conversations regarding residual fatigue, unplanned overreaching or overtraining.
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 implementation of a training block (4). 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 (figure 4). Using this predictive equation, it is then possible to calculate the required velocity for that individual for any desired training intensity. Adding this layer of specificity will increase the effectiveness of employing VBT for load prescription, but still comes with considerations.
Load-velocity profiles can be time consuming, and thus, need to be implemented at the correct times of a periodised plan. There is also measurement error associated with technology, human movement, and mathematical modelling. Minimising this error will ensure a more stable profile, resulting in a greater accuracy when predicting the velocities for specific loads. A major benefit is that the load vs. relative load relationship is thought to be stable over time (5) meaning that despite fluctuations in absolute strength, the velocities associated with different % of 1RM remain constant, meaning profiling may not have to occur any more often than maximal strength testing.
Figure 4. Example load-velocity profile for mean and peak velocity in the back squat taken from Thompson (In press)
One of the major benefits to utilising VBT is the ability to objectively and quantifiably manipulate the load performed on a session-to-session basis in order to account for changes in strength or residual fatigue. By individualising this process through the application of individualised load-velocity profiles, relative load tables can be constructed (table 2) (6). Recent research has suggested that a change in mean velocity ± 0.06 m.s-1 should result in an increase or decrease of absolute load (kgs) of 5%. This level of load regulation can be applied to each working set, accounting for inter- and intra-session fatigue as well as maximal strength development.
Whilst this method adds a layer of additional detail and specificity to velocity-based load prescription through live, flexible and individualised manipulation of training intensities, there is still an element of ambiguity through the predetermined ranges of ± 0.06 m.s-1 and ± 5% 1RM. These values were determined from the smallest detectable difference calculated from previous research in the free-weight back squat (4). However, as already discussed, the load-velocity profile is exercise and population specific, therefore, potentially reducing the transferability of these targets to all contexts. Conversely, a coach could use their experience and understanding of velocity data to determine appropriate smallest detectable differences for their client demographic in order to reduce this ambiguity. Similarly, simple in-house reliability testing could be collected in order to determine appropriate meaningful changes in velocity prior to the implementation of said approach.
Table 2. Example relative velocity / load table in the back squat adapted from Banyard (2020). Mean velocity (m.s-1) and relative load in parentheses (% 1RM).
As with the previous option, this method utilises the construction of a load-velocity profile in order to predict relative and/or absolute loads based on a live recalculation of an individual’s 1RM. Devised by Moore and Dorrell (7) this method applies a quadratic function to the load-velocity profile, integrates it with a current known 1RM value in order to re-predict 1RM and recalculate all subsequent relative loads (figure 5).
This method can therefore be implemented from set-to-set within one session, allowing for a more sophisticated response to any acute fatigue build-up. Whilst this method provides the highest level of accuracy in terms of load regulation across the course of a training block, it is also the most complex and invasive, relying heavily on the integration of an application and the use of technology throughout the session. For some coaches, this is not ideal as it could take away from time on the gym floor, however, the research team have purposefully made the application as simple as possible to use, with the loads for the subsequent set being calculated in a matter of seconds.
The ability to auto-regulate training intensity is an integral part of any successful training block. Factors such as sleep, nutrition, strength development, travel and competition could all have a significant impact on an individual’s daily or weekly strength levels. There are a number of objective and subjective methods available to S&C coaches, with many having a place in the appropriate environment. However, many of these methods can leave a lot of the decisions down to a degree of guesswork or subjective interpretation of physical effort.
VBT is a method to simply and effectively prescribe and regulate training intensity within a resistance training environment. The simple measurement of concentric mean or peak velocity on a regular basis can provide practitioners with an objective tool to optimise load prescription on a weekly, sessional or set basis. The desired implementation of VBT will likely be dictated by time, logistics, population and budget, however, as outlined within this article, there is a spectrum of interchangeable approaches available to coaches that are diverse enough to fit into any S&C environment.
Load-velocity profiling is not always possible for coaches, and therefore, utilising pre-determined zones and normative data can be an effective compromise for adding some objectivity to regulating load. However, the load-velocity characteristics are thought to be very individualised and therefore, where possible, profiling is recommended. Where profiling is possible, practitioners have some interesting options at their disposal, from creating relative load tables, to fully integrating quadratic modelling into the re-prediction of 1RM in order to adjust loads from a set-to-set basis. Coaches must evaluate their environment and decide how they will get the biggest bang for their buck.
1. Helms ER, Cronin J, Storey A, Zourdos MC. Application of the Repetitions in Reserve-Based Rating of Perceived Exertion Scale for Resistance Training. Strength Cond J. 2016;38(4):42-49. doi:10.1519/SSC.0000000000000218
2. García-Ramos A, Pestana-Melero FL, Pérez-Castilla A, Rojas FJ, Haff GG. Differences in the load-velocity profile between 4 bench-press variants. Int J Sports Physiol Perform. 2018;13(3):326-331. doi:10.1123/ijspp.2017-0158
3. Balsalobre-Fernández C, García-Ramos A, Jiménez-Reyes P. Load–velocity profiling in the military press exercise: Effects of gender and training. Int J Sport Sci Coach. 2018;13(5):743-750. doi:10.1177/1747954117738243
4. Banyard HG, Nosaka K, Vernon AD, Gregory Haff G. The reliability of individualized load–velocity profiles. Int J Sports Physiol Perform. 2018;13(6):763-769. doi:10.1123/ijspp.2017-0610
5. González-Badillo JJ, Sánchez-Medina L. Movement velocity as a measure of loading intensity in resistance training. Int J Sports Med. 2010;31(5):347-352. doi:10.1055/s-0030-1248333
6. Banyard HG, Tufano JJ, Weakley JJS, Wu S, Jukic I, Nosaka K. Superior Changes in Jump, Sprint, and Change-of-Direction Performance but Not Maximal Strength Following 6 Weeks of Velocity-Based Training Compared With 1-Repetition-Maximum Percentage-Based Training. Int J Sports Physiol Perform. 2020;In Press:1-11. doi:10.1123/ijspp.2019-0999
7. Moore JM, Dorrell HD. Guidelines and resources for prescribing load using velocity-based training. IUSCA Journal. 2020;1(1). doi:10.47206/iuscaj.v1i1.4
Steve Thompson is a lecturer at Sheffield Hallam University, where he is pursuing a PhD. Steve is currently an integral member of a working strength and conditioning group within Sheffield Hallam, providing support for a number of different athletes and teams. Steve has recently helped three GB Divers achieve Commonwealth Bronze medals and British championships as well as a Bronze in the Diving Grand Prix in Italy. Steve has coached the semi-professional rugby league team Sheffield Eagles and GB table tennis players. Steve provided elite strength and conditioning to the Great British Olympic Women's Volleyball team in lead up to the 2012 Olympics. Steve has published peer-reviewed research in the area of velocity-based training.