In this episode you will learn about a strength training methodology called Velocity Based Training. It’s interesting because strength athletes traditionally use VBT but it can adapted for endurance athletes it to go faster.
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When we talk about velocity on a bike we are talking about leg speed aka cadence or RPM. This can be tested via Isokinetic Testing. This type of testing requires several short bouts of maximal effort sprinting in which the cadence is held constant throughout each but changed for each bout. The AIS’ 6 second Sprint Test is an example of an Isokinetic Test.
Velocity doesn’t only relate to on the bike training though because while the results of this type of testing can be used to measure progress of training on the bike. Peak rate of force development (RFD), and peak concentric force, measured on a force platform is an excellent way to track changes in force production off of the bike. You can even match both tests against each other to confirm velocity-based deficiencies.
In track sprinting terms – this type of testing is used when the focus is on strength – when strength is the focus, numbers on the track (Watts) aren’t as important as numbers in the gym (weight lifted or force produced). When the focus shifts to power or speed, the gym work is backed off in order to get the needed numbers on the track.
Force-plate power profiling is not in common use outside of the strength related disciplines of our sport. Track sprinters and BMX riders use them. This is because strength, and time in the gym is the base for these riders, compared to aerobic capacity and time on the bike for the majority of other cycling disciplines.
Force-plate power profiling includes a measure called Peak Rate of Force Development and Rate of Force Development, These are an important way to measure progress in the gym. So what is RFD?
Muscles do not immediately switch from expressing zero force to expressing maximum force. The speed at which force increases from zero to maximum is called the rate of force development (RFD).
RFD is commonly tested dynamically using the concentric-only jump and the concentric-only jump squat. This is only measuring the up part of a jump or jump squat. Which is actually extremely relevant to sprinting because in training, the phase from the floor to full hip and knee extension is where the gains come from. What happens after that doesn’t matter. So this is what RFD is measuring.
This obviously requires specialised equipment, you would have heard me mention a force-plate a few times. A force-plate is the sports science industry standard for measuring force in sporting movements.
To describe it – It’s basically a plate or platform installed flush into the floor and can be covered with any surface. This plate takes the signal from the movement, anything from jumping to balance related movements, although there are different types for each of those, and amplifies and converts the signal into a digital form which is graphed on a computer. The output is readings of power and of course – force!
As you can imagine these things are expensive and not very portable. So a force-plate may not be available to you, but this testing can still be done with specialized, lower-cost devices that use accelerometers or position transducers to calculate force in cases where force plates are not available in the training environment.
The lower cost devices are called bar speed trackers and include products like the Tendo Unit at $1600 USD or Gymaware which measures similar power/velocity metrics for $2500 AUD. These devices typically are linear position transducers. Linear position transducers consist of a central processing unit that attaches to the resistance training equipment (such as a barbell) via a retractable, measuring cable and via a data display unit (or smartphone) to measure bar speed velocity. A key feature of LPT devices is that they display live, velocity-based feedback after each rep.
We are now starting to see even lower cost consumer facing products enter the market. Products like the Gymwatch and a product that I’ve been trialling called the PUSH Band. These are examples of accelerometer based alternatives to the linear position transducers and force-plates.There are limitations to this style of measurement device which I will go into, but first I want to talk about Velocity Based Training or VBT for short.
VBT is the backbone to these devices and the usefulness of this training methodology on your training is a major consideration when deciding whether to purchase this or not. So let’s go take a look at VBT and then see if the the PUSH Band can match the technical requirements of getting this training right.
VBT is a new way (to me) to determine load for strength training. The link between riding a bike at 120+ rpm and this training won’t be evident just just, but stick me. In some ways VBT is an evolution of Percentage Based Training (PBT), where load determined by a percentage of your 1RM. This is what I currently use with my athletes.
PBT is a risky prospect for a coach (and athlete). First, when trying to get an accurate 1RM at the start of a season or phase – before the athlete has had a chance to prepare physically for the load. I’ve had this dilemma when prescribing a 1RM test to my athletes. Ultimately I believe the body will self regulate away from injury.
This leads us to problem number two though – getting a real max rep figure. This is hard to do and can skew the entire phase of training preceding testing, and day-to-day because it is not possible to determine objectively if the weight is being moved at the appropriate load for that given day, as strength varies from day to day.
In a paper from the Australian Strength and Conditioning Association, Jovanovic & Flanagan used formulas to estimate a daily 1RM through the load-velocity profile. They noted an approximately 18 percent difference above and below the previously tested 1RM, meaning that there was a 36 percent range around the previously tested 1RM. This is an excellent article which I will touch on later because has some great practical recommendations for VBT.
VBT makes it possible to train much more specifically as different velocities equal different qualities.
The Velocity Zones and traits developed utilising VBT, can be categorised as:
• Absolute Strength: <0.5 m/s
• Accelerative Strength: 0.75 – .05 m/s
• Strength-Speed: 1 – 0.75m/s
• Speed-Strength: 1.3 – 1 m/s
• Starting Strength: >1.3m/s
Speed of movement is something that coaches have known about for along time. This is where the benefit of VBT comes into its own. Take the Single-leg Press, the Australian Track Sprint Team’s bread and butter. Different foot and hip positions for different phases of pedal stroke, standing, seated, etc. High speed video is used to match joint angles and velocities for each rider. For power, they will throw the sled as far as they can at different percentages of max to match up to different muscle contraction velocities for different phases of the acceleration (different cadences). While there is some technology involved in this process it hard to quantify the speed of the sled through for each rep.
Using a measuring device and the Velocity Zone – Accelerative Strength you would know that in order to train that quality you need to move the sled at between 0.75 – .05 m/s. They also do a lot of single-leg plyos on boxes, stairs, bunje sleds, etc. during speed phases. This is where you could use the Speed-Strength Velocity Zone and aim for 1.3 – 1 m/s in these movements.
Here is one practical application from the Jovanovic & Flanagan paper, which is called Researched Applications of Velocity Based Strength Training.
Estimating 1RM from sub-maximal loads
As mentioned earlier – 1RM testing has its risks and downsides, avoiding these would not only help save the athlete from injury though. It enables safer and consistent testing across a season, no matter where the athlete is their training phase.
Jovanovic & Flanagan recommend measuring mean concentric velocity at 4-6 increasing intensities of load ranging from 30-85% of actual or estimated 1RM to estimate load/velocity profile.
To estimate 1RM for an individual, you need to know the Minimal Velocity Threshold of the exercise which could be assessed through traditional 1RM test or reps to failure test.
Minimal Velocity Threshold as explained by Jovanovic & Flanagan is the specific velocity that maximal load (1RM) attempts are associated with. This is termed “1RM velocity” or the “minimal velocity threshold (MVT)”. The MVT is the mean concentric velocity produced on the last successful repetition of a set to failure performed with maximal lifting effort.
The MVT of an exercise also appears to remain stable when absolute maximal strength increases (González-Badillo, J.J., Sánchez-Medina, L. Movement velocity as a measure of loading intensity in resistance training. International Journal of Sports Medicine. 31: 347 – 352. 2010). Research by González-Badillo and Sánchez-Medina (González-Badillo, J.J., Sánchez-Medina, L.
Once the Minimal Velocity Threshold is known for a given exercise and individual, traditional 1RM tests could be repeated only occasionally to test the real changes in 1RM.
Using velocities from sub-maximal loads and known Minimal Velocity Threshold, regression equation of the line can be used to predict or estimate current 1RM strength levels.
While we are digging into weight training, I want to make a quick note of a new to me style of periodisation or more accurately a progression that is not linear. It’s called Auto-regulatory Progressive Resistance Exercise (APRE) and was raised in Bryan Mann’s interview on the Pacey Performance Podcast.
The APRE is based on adjustment charts that state that if you perform this number of repetitions, you are to increase or decrease a certain amount of weight. This can fluctuate from session to session
In cycling it’s not going to work for the every phase of weight training. That’s not to say it isn’t useful for the hypertrophy and strength phases.
There are three APRE programs: one for absolute strength development, one for hypertrophy, and one for speed strength development. If you combine VBT with APRE you have a formidable framework for fine tuning your off the bike strength and speed training.
As an example of APRE, here’s how the strength program works:
- Set 1 is 6 repetitions of 50% of your 3 repetition max.
- Set 2 is 3 repetitions of 75% of the 3RM
- Set 3 is 100% of the 3RM to failure
The last two sets of each APRE protocol are done to failure so recovery time is paramount.
- If on set 3 you can only do 1-2 reps decrease the 3RM (2.5-4.5 kgs) 5-10 lbs for set 4..
- If on set 3 you do 3-4 reps leave the weight the same for set 4.
- If on set 3 you can do 5 or more reps then increase the weight (2.5-7 kgs) 5-15 lbs.
Do set 4 to failure with the newly adjusted weight.
The newly adjusted weight is the new 3RM for the next week’s sets.
This can be used for squats, and deadlifts.
PUSH Band Review
I am going to continue with the velocity training theme by reviewing the PUSH Band. I have been using the band over the past few months and this is my take on the product, especially for cyclists.
First I want to talk about the buying experience. After a false start of over 3 months I was able to get my hands on the product. This was just the beginning of experiencing their disjointed customer service. It’s has not been uncommon for me to have waited weeks for email responses. I’m not sure if this will be your experience as well, but this is a warning.
The PUSH band is worn on your forearm, it measures the velocity of your movement and if you input the exercise and the weight, can give you an estimation of the power generated as well as peak and average speed of the lift. It will also give you an overview of total energy expenditure during a workout as well as total tonnage. It will also track Personal Records.
It’s not magic though. You have to identify the exercise – which has to be included in the phone app as a recognised exercise. Including manually adding the weight. I have no problem with this as I’m doing static programs. If you are doing a met-con or Crossfit style of workout it won’t work for that.
The band itself is not a bad piece of kit. Seems sturdy enough – the main unit is made out of plastic (tap tap). The stitching on the band is a bit wonky. It looks like a first run –
The web app – this is where you write your programs to be pushed to the mobile app.
The mobile app – this is the place where I have spent most of my time so will break it down a little further.
It doesn’t track all of the exercises I do. A note on this – it may have them in the system and will record reps and weight – but not the other metrics.
There is a time delay between pressing the button on the band and the response on the app.
Cannot go back once you have moved onto the next rep.
There is an extensive library of exercises yet I can’t see them when I’m in the app.
I have to press on the app itself to input weight data – this is kinda annoying because once you click through with the band – if you changed weights – you can’t go back.
When you out of Bluetooth range – about 10 metres or 30 feet which sounds like a lot but if you are getting weights from the other side of the gym you have to take your phone with you. Otherwise the bluetooth disconnects. Not realising this the first time I couldn’t get the band to work and put it away. Now I have to take my phone with me, and put it on the weight recording screen so I don’t accidentally click through to the next set – because remember you can’t go back.
Torque – the missing metric
It was promised in the initial campaign and promotional materials. The reason I am disappointed is because torque is a common language between power meters and strength training. It’s not just about speed. I subscribe to the torque work of Alan Couzens and as he mentions power does not stand in isolation when designing workouts for Fast Twitch (FT) hypertrophy.
I asked PUSH directly why the change of mind and got this response – “we discussed with various coaches and athletes and found that the torque metric didn’t fit the system holistically.”
I honestly don’t know what this means? Didn’t fit what system? The concept of torque is a foundation of human movement and is a core principle in physical therapy, personal training, and weightlifting. All movement generates torque to varying degrees and, in reality, it’s what makes the world of biomechanics tick.
The reason it is important in training fast twitch fibers is because FT fibers do not require high movement speeds in order to be recruited, they do however require relatively high levels of torque.
So I have to continue to manually calculate this? What a PITA.
Also, it doesn’t record deadlifts.Something about the noise from racking and de-racking the bar. Regarding recording deadlifts the say that “Some exercises are tougher to track than others, especially Deadlifts and Rows.” That sucks…deadlifts are an important exercise for me and my athletes…
The other question that’s on my mind – mainly because cycling has been a device heavy training ground for a long time – is the accuracy of the PUSH band.
This or any unit that measures metrics relies on accuracy and precision. This awareness is leading to a change in mindset for power meter measurement. Where it was once (and still is) accepted that the accuracy of a power meter might fall in a 5% range. This becomes an issue when comparing data between different devices. Whether this is a testing situation or simply buying a new product.
So this becomes a question when looking at any measurement device, especially ones that are in the consumer space – as we have seen activity trackers being pulled apart for questionable accuracy.
The first question to ask then becomes – are you happy with this accuracy that may not be comparable to real world numbers? Accuracy being the closeness of a measurement to the true value.
How is the accuracy of the PUSH Band? I don’t know.
Second up let’s talk about precision – precision is the closeness of agreement among a set of results.
How is the precision of the PUSH Band? I don’t know.
Let’s just leave it at that for now.
So what’s my final verdict – other than the fact it’s another device to worry about – which means battery charging (band and phone), remembering to bring the thing, getting it to pair before the workout. So far it’s been useful for the basics, keeping a copy of my program, recording my reps and keeping me somewhat more accountable.
An interesting side note here is that I’ve used it 15 times and I don’t have one complete set of data from a workout. For all the reasons mentioned in the Cons section – and things like not always reliable in counting reps. Sets of 10 pullups I may get 2 or 3 counted – or sometimes it goes the other way and adds an extra.
I just discovered that if I want to do pushups or pullups I should move the band above my elbow – so much for simple. Do you need a $189 USD unit to record your reps? A pad and pencil work just as well.
Something like the Atlas can do that – and looks to be more specific for that purpose. or The Beast which has one thing with the expensive units have – immediate feedback with each rep. This is displayed on either an iPad or stand alone unit. This would be much more helpful for dialling in velocity of each rep and allowing for changes mid-set rather than waiting to see the data post set and trying to remember which rep was good and which was bad. Also, immediate feedback can also tell you when to stop to avoid injury as 1 rep can be enough to do some damage. The beast is a little more expensive at 250 Euros.
So do I recommend you buy one – no. Not until you have a solid use case for velocity training, and the until is proven and the shortcomings mentioned in the entire system are sorted out.
- Geraint Thomas
- Race Weight: Perceptions of Elite Female Road Cyclists
- Pacey Podcast #24
- Wippert’s top 3 tips for sprinting
- Researched Applications of Velocity Based Strength Training
Photo Credit: dvanzuijlekom on Flickr