Recently there was an informal discussion on Facebook about VBT (Velocity Based Training). Carl Valle asked several of the participants in that discussion if they would formally respond to a series of questions related to VBT. Here are the answers from Dr. Bryan Mann. The answers from the other participants will be posted when they are made available. You may submit questions to Dr. Mann in the comments section below.
SimpliFaster: Olympic-style lifts are very specific to body types and technique, making them more than just a simple summary of peak or average output. Besides using feedback for motivation and accountability, what else can be done to use the data beyond estimating work?
Bryan Mann: Well, for one, the bar path can be tracked with the GymAware. For those who are big in Olympic lifts, it is good to see what happened and where it happened. From a longitudinal standpoint, I don’t think that is it. A quick turnover of force is one of the main reasons (besides speed-strength development) why Olympic lifts are great for sports. With certain devices, you have the ability to measure the descent of the bar as well as the speed of the descent. I will say that this really only matters for Olympic lifts done from the hang, and this is the only type of Olympic lift that most teams do consistently here at Mizzou.
We have had great successes with it. Engaging the stretch/shortening cycle requires fast and violent movements. Some devices let you see the length of time for the eccentric, the dip that occurs, and the speed that it occurs at. If fast and violent is what you are wanting, are you getting it? I don’t think this is something that you use as feedback necessarily (unless it’s just as a teaching tool for a day or two). It is more of a way for coaches to evaluate their athletes. If the eccentric portion of the initial movement is looking good, and their concentric is looking good, the transfer will be higher. Sometimes we get too caught up on the concentric portion. We must realize that there are two portions to this movement.
It reminds me of vertical jumping. Ben Peterson said that vertical jumping is a skill, and he is right. People learn how to jump higher because that is what we as practitioners care about. The athletes will rely on their strengths to give you the best number. Those who are more strength-dominant and don’t really have that neural “twitch” will go for longer slow dips to allow the longer acceleration time to reach a higher speed of the center of mass upon takeoff. Others who are more “twitchy” go for a rapid shallow descent and rely on neurophysiological mechanisms like the stretch reflex to develop more power.
I think it is much the same on the clean. One athlete may go with a long slow eccentric to hit the concentric velocities and move greater loads. Another athlete may have much shallower, rapid descent, yet moves with the same velocity and the same load. Which one is right? If we look at the force signatures that Cal Dietz published in Triphasic Training, we would say that you want the second athlete’s signature. The ability to quickly absorb and reproduce force may in fact lead to the quicker changes of direction necessary in team sports. I will say, though, this is something I have just started looking at. So I can’t really say, “You should be looking at this dip, for this time, at this velocity.” I do think that this is something valuable to evaluate your program. In the future will we have enough data to say something definitively? I think so. I’m just not sure right now.
SimpliFaster: Jump testing sensitivity is not perfect from the sensitivity being limited, but more reactive options that utilize the stretch shortening cycle add more validity. Is jump training worth doing regularly, a waste of time, or perhaps valuable enough to explore?
Bryan Mann: If we are talking about monitoring training loads, it’s good to explore. Recent research tells us that tracking peak velocity is going to be king. It is far more sensitive than jump height or flight time, and does a better job of picking up differences than force or power.
There are several other things that would be good to monitor if we are looking at countermovement jumps, depth jumps, or anything of that nature. For depth jumps, there is of course ground contact time to factor in as well, and I think that is a crucial measure. For the jump height, it is so multifactorial. When doing more than one repetition (which I believe you should), if the athletes are given feedback, they will change their technique to get the highest possible jump. They may increase their descent distance to increase the time spent in acceleration before takeoff. Having other things to monitor such as dip and eccentric velocity allows you to delve even more deeply into the jump and get more information.
I’m all for parsimony. Let’s get the most amount of information from the least amount of testing. While the vertical jump used to be the gold standard for monitoring, it really isn’t any longer as it isn’t sensitive enough. Many things can confound the results. Using technology, we can look at multiple factors that go into the jump. These different factors—such as flight time, dip, eccentric velocity, concentric velocity, and height—provide nuggets of valuable info. Is one piece of information more critical than the others? Well, some people say peak concentric velocity is the best predictor, but maybe it’s only because no one has found the Holy Grail yet?
A podcast with Carl Valle—who is also on this roundtable—mentioned using 40kg as the load for the jumps. You are getting weekly longitudinal data and a small training effect. Squat jumps are ballistic in nature and thus have a very minor deceleration phase—if one exists at all. But what’s wrong with getting some ballistics in every week? Nothing. It is going to help improve the athlete’s RFD.
Whatever type of jump you do (countermovement or non-countermovement), be consistent. Do it on the same day or same phase of the week. For instance, if a baseball player on a 5-day rotation always lifts 2 days after pitching, always do it on that day (instead of a typical 7-day rotation). That way you can tell when/if something is changing/happening. This is crucial to help determine what/when changes occur.
This is something else that I have just started playing with in the past couple of weeks so I can’t give any definitive info. I feel bad saying this over and over, but I’m just really delving into GymAware and all of its capabilities. We (okay, I) have been using the concentric everything as a gold standard for so long, but I have noticed a lot of unaccounted-for variance in things. I think a lot of this can be covered with things like eccentrics. I reserve the right to be wrong on this, but what I’m looking at right now seems promising.
SimpliFaster: Submaximal loads are great for estimating repetition maximal abilities, and research is showing evidence that general exercises and lift velocity can predict what one can do if the load is heavier. One worry coaches have is that submaximal loads with maximal effort for velocity is fatiguing. What is the best way to implement one-repetition estimation with submaximal loads?
Bryan Mann: This one is purely theoretical for me. I think Mladen has done more with this question, so I’d read his answer. If you don’t have time I’ll give something that’s theoretical from my standpoint. If I remember correctly, at over 60% of 1RM the mean propulsive velocity and mean velocity become closer and closer. If you hit the first set or two at 60% plus at max velocity, you could predict the 1RM for the day. Utilizing that 1RM, you could choose loads based on that and do them at an entirely volitional velocity. For instance, if my first set at 60% showed that today my max was at 135kg instead of 125kg, then I could use that 135kg to base the rest of my sets for whatever % of 1RM I had intended for that day and perform the exercises using volitional rather than maximal intended velocity.
On the other hand, I’m not sure why coaches are worried about velocity being fatiguing. ALL training is fatiguing. If the goal is just simply maintenance of strength, okay. However, I am most concerned with performance. All of my volumes are done in a manner which will keep performance high and total volume relatively low. I am not concerned about the velocity being fatiguing, because I’m looking at like 10 total reps of squats, etc. My in-season training is all based on strength-speed or speed-strength utilizing high velocities. This is what is most important for most team sports in-season. During the off-season, isn’t stressing the athlete and causing the adaptation the point? If we want to cause an adaptation to occur, we have to impose an overload of a specific demand upon the body.
SimpliFaster: Most holistic programs in the weight room and on the field use different strength training modalities, not just one type of lift. Besides alternating intensities and volumes, does bar velocity-type tracking help with better adaptations biologically to the body? Many coaches are looking into hormonal and gene activation as part of the training process. Is this a wrong path or a good idea?
Bryan Mann: I truly believe it is, and it goes back to specificity. I know people disagree with me on this right now, but I’m not sure why other than the fact that it’s new. If you asked what % of 1RM should you be training at to develop strength-speed, people would tell you around 50-65% or maybe even 70%. But if you tell them a velocity range they look at you like you’re crazy.
We all know that strength is extremely variable, as was alluded to before. Mladen in his paper showed what he later let me know was his own training and its variations. He saw an 18% swing on any given day, so some days the %s would be way off and others he would be lucky and be right on. We know that velocity and % of 1RM are so consistent. Something like 98% of the population when utilizing maximal intended velocity is within ±.04m/s for each of the %s (I think some of this variation is by height. This is something I’m looking in to for the future. I think we may find some interesting stuff, such as when you’re dealing with major height variations, some things may change). So if we use the corresponding velocity to the % of 1RM, we will be using the right weight on any given day.
I go through all of this to relate everything back to the SAID principle. We have to impose the proper demand on the body to get the specific adaptation we are hoping for. If we know we want to develop strength speed, we are looking at .75-1.0m/s (40-65ish% of 1RM); for accelerative strength .5-.75m/s (around 65 to 80ish% 1RM); for absolute strength, under .5m/s (85-100%). Simply using velocities that correspond to the % of 1RM desired allows you to be right on the load you are utilizing, rather than hoping to be lucky that it was correct on any given day.
I think it’s a good idea to use hormonal and gene activation as part of the training process. We can take evidence and research that has already been done and try and figure out how to manipulate it for the best results. I think any changes that come as a part of training would be great, but I am not so sure about any gene activation done through exogenous substances.
However, how many coaches are going to be looking at actual changes in DNA? How many strength and conditioning coaches have the money to be doing western blots and the like to be examining DNA? Also—does it actually matter? I think it is great to examine what the actual outcomes of training are, and what things are influenced. What really does happen to mTOR during times of low, moderate, and high aerobic activity? What really does happen on the cellular level to signal greater hormonal responses? How do we alter these signaling pathways?
While these are great things to know and understand, I don’t see coaches looking to do genetic testing on their athletes. It’s cost-prohibitive. We know about C-reactive protein, test:cortisol ratios, VO2 Max testing from Bruce protocols, Wingates for power, etc., and most people don’t utilize them because of time and cost. Do we take what we know from science and apply it to training? ABSOLUTELY! But I don’t think it’s necessarily the best utilization of resources to spend money on genetic testing. I think results could be better seen with cheaper means. Are they running faster and jumping higher and changing direction more quickly? If they are, I think this is what really matters.
SimpliFaster: Following up on genes and hormones, muscle-fiber profiles of athletes are gaining interest. Could coaches do a better job of individualizing training based on one genetic trait—specifically the amount of fast and slow fiber distribution?
Bryan Mann: Interesting that you pose this question. I think that to some point, yes we could. Recently we examined all our football players and some different things that make them who and what they are. One thing that has long been talked about is somatotype through the Heath Carter equation (I’ve got a poster presentation on this at the NSCA National Conference for anyone who is interested). We found that—except for ectomorphs—the athletes did not respond to training any differently. They responded best to decreased volumes, especially at higher intensities.
This is not to say that differences among other sports don’t exist, as this was very much a homogenous group. While the positions vary in their makeup, all rely on strength and power for optimal performance. It would be interesting to see the results from a more heterogeneous group such as an entire track team. How do individuals respond to training, such as long distance vs. throwers? I’m going to guess it would be different, but can’t say for sure.
I really feel like this individualization of training is like the Wild West. There is so much going on and so many buzzwords associated with it, but does it make much of a difference? Well, for 85% of our team it really didn’t make a difference with how they responded, but for 15% it did. Is that sampling error and population bias? Perhaps. Might it be different for the general population? To me, the frustrating and invigorating parts of this profession are the unknowns, solving those and then finding out what else we don’t know. It’s a never-ending cycle, and the great thing is that you never know what you’re going to run into next.
I think that fiber typing could play a critical role in training. I’ve noticed over the years that the guys who are your Ferraris—with the highest type-2 fiber makeup—seem to benefit most from small volumes of high-intensity, high-velocity work. They need longer and/or more frequent rests. If they don’t get them, they start to break down.
These are the guys who are often the freaks you work with only a handful of times in your career. In the 16 years I’ve been in this field, I have come across maybe a dozen. They are the stuff that legends are made of with their athletic abilities. But not every guy who jumps 40 inches is a Ferarri, I might add.
At the opposite end are the Diesel Duallys, the guys who are high type-1 fiber (or at least I’d assume they are). They just get better with every attempt, and it seems like they don’t start to even get warmed up until the 3rd or 4th quarter. We had an athlete who didn’t start improving his 40 time until about his 6th or 7th attempt, and not PR until his 10th. With 40s, I’ve always maintained that when they drop below 97% of their best run of the day, they are done. For most of our athletes, that was 2-4 repetitions.
But this guy would run a 40, do a jump test, then an agility test, and come back to run another 40 and keep going for over an hour. Then he’d do his best performances. Now, don’t go saying that “Well, obviously he wasn’t warmed up yet.” I have never been one who trained individual athletes, and this guy did everything and he did it right. We didn’t have to watch for him skipping out on stuff like warmup exercises and what have you. He just took a long time to warm up.
I’ve recently been reading Winning, a book by Jack Welch, the former CEO of GE. A former CEO recommended it to me for leadership and how to run a department. (By the way, if you want to know how to lead and provide direction, I’d say CEOs of multimillion-dollar corporations would be a good start). Welch talks about the typical breakdown of employees. You have your top 20% who are your stars, your middle 70% who are your workhorses, and your lowest 10% who are just your bottom feeders.
Most people would think that you need to spend the majority of your time on your stars, to make sure they shine. Well, that’s really not the case. You need to spend a great amount of time on your middle 70% and provide them with all of the resources you can and keep them moving in the right direction. This is where your future stars will come from, and presently are the source of most of your profits.
I think the same principles apply to training large teams (football, swimming, etc.). You spend most of your time determining the best training for the middle 70%, then use whatever time is left over trying to make sure your stars and Ferraris get what they need. If you have either a small team or a large coaching staff, allow one or two of the staff do what’s best for the Ferraris.
One of the great things about VBT is you’ll also quickly be able to tell who your Ferraris are and make sure that they’re using the right loads. We had one football player who was really in the wrong sport. He was extremely fast and explosive, and would have done a helluva a job in the indoor 60 and the outdoor 100. When we first started utilizing VBT with him, he was able to move much higher velocities at the intended loads, and did well with heavier loads at the appropriate velocities when we backed down the volume. VBT allowed us to have the red flag to catch that Ferrari who we might not have noticed until much later. Regardless though, from day 1 he was using the right load for himself.
Now, back to the question as I got off track—could coaches do a better job of individualization? Most likely yes, though I do think that first off they need to get that middle 70% correct before they worry about spending time doing individualization. If they don’t, they’ll be looking for another job very quickly.
SimpliFaster: The final need of coaches is to make training work better in reducing injuries, improving speed and size of players, and transferring to sporting actions like deceleration and jumping. How does Velocity Based Training do this with athletes?
Bryan Mann: I think autoregulation and specificity address all of these points. I will point out that first the athlete should get strong. This takes care of all of those points. Research on Division 1 football players by Jacobson (and I believe Krause was the other researcher) showed that increasing strength improved speed, explosive ability, and change of direction for about the first year. After that, increasing strength did not increase those qualities. At the point when power and speed are no longer improved by getting stronger, we need to look to increase RFD or other things.
I’m currently working on utilizing our longitudinal data to examine the effects of utilizing velocity on improvement of power, speed, and agility over the course of a career as compared to a long-term program that did not use this implementation. I feel that I often say “I’m working on something for this” all of the time. Maybe I could get something done if it weren’t for this pesky teaching and coaching I’ve got to do on top of the stuff that I WANT to do.
Using VBT can help with the speed and other sporting actions to increase the quality of work by giving feedback. A study by Randell et al showed that by giving feedback of the velocity of the lifts (with all loads and volumes the same) to one group resulted in significant improvements in speed, jumping ability, and change of direction over a second group that did everything else the same but received no feedback. I also think that combined with the feedback, the specificity of load with maximal intent helps with the improvements. When you know the trait that needs to be developed, having nearly every rep of every set at the appropriate load with maximal intent seems to bring about great changes in the athlete in terms of the transfer to performance.
As far as reducing injuries, using VBT helps adjust the load in congruence with the other stressors on an athlete. I’m sure most of us have read Selye’s The Stress of Life or Sapulsky’s Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers, and we have seen that stress in one area of life affects the body in the same manner, albeit not with same intensity.
When I was working at a smaller school, we had a fantastic off-season program. Guys were just throwing up their loads like they were nothing. One of the last sessions got us really excited about testing. Our football guys were across the board just smoking their sets with 92% for doubles. We were scheduled to test shortly after, and we happened to do it during midterm exams. We had several guys getting stapled with 85%, and most only getting their 92% for their max.
What happened? The accumulation of stress affected them physically through what is called psychoneuroimmunology (say that 3 times fast!). I’m not going to lie and tell you that I knew what had happened right off of the bat—I didn’t know for about 10 years. I just knew what happened and it was so drastic that it stuck in my mind. I finally figured it out in 2012 after talking with health psychologist Dr. Brick Johnstone. When I talked about it as well as the injury rash during the previous year, he mentioned, “Oh, you’re talking about psychoneuroimmunology. This is what it is, how it happens, etc.”
We did statistical analysis and found that we had basically three types of weeks: high-stress weeks (pre-season camp), high academic-stress weeks (a lot of tests), and low academic-stress weeks (no major tests). What was interesting was that during the pre-season, the guys in the two deep were something like 2.8 times more likely to get hurt as during a low academic-stress week. Even more interesting—almost mind-blowing—was that during the academic-stress weeks, they were 3.2 times as likely to get hurt as during a low-academic stress week. In other words, someone in the two-deep was more likely to get hurt during a test week than during training camp. Talk about shocking!
During the in-season, all the lifts at the core of our program are done off of velocity. We have found that this helps normalize things for our athletes. The ones playing a lot are often a bit more beat-up from additional reps in practices and games. Their current 1Rm might be lower due to the stress they are undergoing. The backups or those who don’t play at all might actually increase in load from week to week and gain strength. The main source of their energy expenditure and stress is in actuality the strength training.
I bring all of that up to make this point: Strength is variable, and it is very variable due to all of the other stressors that occur in your life. While some talk about the fatiguing effect of maximal intended velocity, I think that it’s a good thing, especially when you stay at the higher velocities. It greatly regulates the loads that can be utilized. If athletes are fatigued, they reduce the load they are lifting because their 1RM isn’t what was tested months before; it was much less that day. With the utilization of velocity and its near-perfect relationship with 1RM, the proper load is always utilized. By tracking these loads longitudinally, we can see what long-term adaptations or issues are occurring.
Dr. Mann’s eBook Developing Explosive Athletes: Velocity Based Training is available at EliteFTS.