I am a big believer in the concept of the “growth mindset.” That doesn’t mean jumping on every new idea or piece of sports performance technology that comes along, but I believe that it means to be in constant search for best practice.
I heard a coach say recently, “If your ‘why’ is because that’s the way you were taught by your coaches to do it, or you did it that way in college, it’s probably not currently the best way.” I believe in that philosophy. Do I believe that just because it was done in the past, it’s not effective? Not even a little bit. That is obviously not the truth. It’s not about what was done, in many cases. For me, it’s about the why. Why is how we do things the best way for our athletes or our program?
That question, combined with a drive to stay on the cutting edge of our profession, has led to a daily pursuit of professional growth. I can assure you that after I retire and am asked, “Did you coach for 40 years, or coach one year, 40 times?” I know what my answer will be. My journey will not have allowed me to learn everything about this wonderful field we work in. My goal, however, is to learn as much as possible and continue to grow and adapt.The best way we know how to do things is (hopefully) how we do them today. That doesn’t mean what we do today will be the best way forever, says @YorkStrength17. Click To Tweet
The best way we know how to do things is (hopefully) how we do them today. That doesn’t mean what we do today will be the best way forever! What if we were wrong? What if there is a better “why” out there? The growth-minded coach will ask those questions every single day.
“Meathead Football Coach” Beginnings
In the “era” I began coaching in (1990s), there was no real thought process about a strength coach or any evidence-based approach to sports performance at the high school level. I was given the responsibility for our football weightlifting program because I was the biggest, strongest guy in the group. Looking back, I can tell you without a doubt that looking the part does not equate to being qualified.
I was in the phase of my career where the only reason I knew something was “because that’s what I was taught.” I was in the parrot phase. What did I know? A solid canned program in Bigger Faster Stronger. It was effective in the fact that our athletes increased their strength. We broke records in the weight room every day. Looking back on those days, though, I have absolutely no way to know if what we did actually improved our athletes. I know we got stronger, and at that point in my journey, that was good enough.
In 1999 I became a graduate assistant football coach at a D2 school. Much like when I played small college football, we did not have a dedicated strength and conditioning coach. Instead, we had a staff member whose job included the role. While I didn’t have anything to do with it (other than observation), it was at this point I was first introduced to the idea of a more holistic approach to development. We had a well-thought-out speed program, we timed, and we had a plan for yearly development in most aspects. While the “why” of what we did still escaped me, I was beginning to understand that there was more to the process than getting as strong as possible and hoping it worked out.
I continued down that path for the next few years. While I was learning, I was still holding on to a lot of the ideas I’d learned as an athlete and early in my journey. I chased max strength and viewed a number my athlete could hang on a record board as a successful job with athletic development. Today, that seems archaic and shortsighted.
Video 1. Young athletes who are prone to common faults with lifting will rapidly benefit from bar path feedback. The Vmaxpro system is perfect for visual learners.
My margins of knowledge limited my ability to see past those ideas. Most people fail when they travel outside their margins of knowledge. I was failing my athletes because I stayed inside those margins for too long. I never stopped and asked, “What if what I’m doing isn’t the best way to do it?”.
I believe I had a growth mindset at that point. My issue was that the growth I chased was as a football coach. I was comfortable with what I knew about the weight room. I was bigger and stronger than most people I knew. At that point, that was enough for me. I learned a great deal about technique and the “how” of athletic development during this time period, but I still was not chasing the “why.”
Expanding Margins of Knowledge
That all changed in 2008 when I was fortunate enough to begin to work with a coach who wanted wider margins when it came to athletic development. Luckily for me, he wanted those wider margins for his program, but he personally didn’t want to take the time to pursue them. Instead, he turned to the guy who was already running the weight room. Our head coach called me in and said, “You do a great job in the weight room. I want us to do the best job. I want you to make this your thing. I want us to be doing the best possible job we can be doing. I want you to be our strength coach, not just a football coach who runs the weight room.”
I was pumped! I’d already been dabbling in reading and expanding my margins of knowledge. Now I was being asked to make it my mission to blow those margins wide open. It was time to pursue the “why.” I won’t tell the story again here because I’ve written and talked on multiple podcasts about it, but the next week I was introduced to Ethan Reeve at Wake Forest University. My journey quickly shifted. I can point to that day as a life-changing moment that brought me to where I am today. I began chasing the “why” and asking every day, “Is what I do the best way to do it for my athletes?”.
The VBT Journey
This leads me to the motivation behind this article. My journey has led me to a new and exciting “why.”
I have been very happy, for the most part, with the VBT device I have used over the last few years. The PUSH 1.0 was frustrating, for sure. The arm sleeve really caused us slowdowns. Connections were often inconsistent. Our athletes never really bought into the meter being attached to their body.
The 2.0 was a huge upgrade. It was attached to the bar and stayed connected. It was user-friendly and didn’t miss reps. I was very comfortable with the device. In fact, I was not necessarily seeking out a new VBT device any more than I was seeking out a new career path the day I walked into Ethan Reeve’s office. In reality, that is often how change begins: not with a loud bang, but with a conversation with someone who owns knowledge that you realize you desire.That is often how change begins: not with a loud bang, but with a conversation with someone who owns knowledge that you realize you desire, says @YorkStrength17. Click To Tweet
As I said, I was satisfied with the VBT device I had been using for several years. The PUSH band gave me velocity and power output data. It allowed me to test jumps. As a coach who prides himself on the “growth mindset,” I try to ask myself often, “Am I sure what I am doing for my athletes is the best way of doing it?”. Of course, the caveat to that is “that fits my budget.”
I’d tried the FORM collars when I was told how great they were. They never worked right for me, and now I have two sets of the most expensive bar collars known to man. Of course, I would have loved to try GymAware or Tendo, but those units are well out of my budget. So, I moved forward with a product I was quite happy with.
One day, a colleague and friend called me out of the blue and asked, “Why would anybody knowingly use a VBT device that didn’t give bar path data if that was an option within the same price point?”. This was not the first time he had asked me questions like this. In fact, calls like this have become a welcome part of my growth as a coach. Comfort is the enemy of growth, but I was very comfortable with PUSH, even if I refused to say that out loud. Was it the bar path feature that would get me past that comfort level?
Bar path was something I understood to be important. I coached it and was coached about it within the realm of the Olympic lifts. It’s obviously important in other lifts as well. The shortest path is a straight line, and when pushing a heavy weight off your chest or up from a squat, the short path is important. However, when I heard “bar path,” all I could think of was trying to use a video app on my phone to record a lift and review it. This is fine when you train a single athlete but impossible when coaching in a large team setting.
I had no idea just how impactful a metric this could be. Then I began to hear about Vmaxpro, a company out of Germany that would soon release a device in the U.S. And I heard about it and heard about it. The anticipation was building.
In the meantime, I was provided with the resources to compare other platforms in the same price range. All of them left me feeling pretty disappointed and, frankly, underwhelmed. Missed reps and long pauses. Connection issues. Exercise limitations. I just didn’t see anything that would get me out of my comfort zone at the price point I could shop in.
The True Impact of Bar Path Technology
The power of the bar path tool became clear when I began looking at the media coming out as coaches around the country started to use the Vmaxpro. This wasn’t a recording of the movement that got reviewed after the lift; this was instant feedback that allowed for adjustments within the set. The video component and reviewing abilities are there, but they are combined with live data.
It was with great anticipation that I finally received my device. The more I played with it, used it, and tested it, the more the realization of what I’d been hearing hit home. The Vmaxpro is not just a VBT device—it’s a digital assistant coach. In a team setting, this tool will not only “coach” your athletes, it will empower them with knowledge.The Vmaxpro is not just a VBT device—it’s a digital assistant coach. In a team setting, this tool will not only “coach” your athletes, it will empower them with knowledge, says @YorkStrength17. Click To Tweet
Yes, I can explain how the better the bar path, the more load the athlete can lift. As the coach, I could preach about how the better the path, the more power the athlete can develop. However, this device allows us to show the athlete these truths LIVE, in real time. Impactful and meaningful modalities are rare finds.
I could see very quickly the potential here to make every athlete I coach better. When my athletes began to understand velocity and power output data, we got better because it improved the intent due to the competitive nature of athletes. It also led me to have to explain how sacrificing technique for speed was counterproductive. What about the bar path data was going to be that for us?
My first thought when I saw the power of live bar path data was that that issue would be eliminated by athletes understanding the process, not just by being told how it worked. They understand velocity and power because they can see the results in front of them. Now they would also understand technique matters just as much because those results will be combined with the bar path, proving to them how much better those numbers are with correct technique. The athlete will see the data from each range of the concentric movement, color coded to give them instant feedback on sticking points to focus on.
Squat depth could no longer be debated! Think about that one for a minute. How many times have most of us said to our athletes, “You didn’t get to parallel,” only to have them argue or not believe us? During my first year at YCHS, I had to have a football player REMOVED from my class because he became so irate with me for refusing to accept his half front squats! That goes away with this device.
If you use hang cleans (as I do with my upper level athletes), you can attest that the #1 reason our kids miss a lift is they let the bar get too far out in front, can’t pull themselves under the bar, and then can’t get it racked. Explaining that over and over has proven ineffective. So, we use video within set feedback, which is time-consuming and usually not instant. With this device, it is. I’ve already seen it in action.
Video 2. The Vmaxpro can be used for nearly any barbell lift and works with both iOS and Andriod environments. CoachMePlus was the first company to integrate with the device.
We all understand the power of educated and motivated athletes. The idea of “gradual release” of control that leads from a coach-directed and -led room to an athlete-led room is an educational standard most teachers strive for. Just as in any classroom, when the students run the process and the teacher is just the guide, there will be greater levels of impactful learning and growth. Instant visual feedback on bar path, in addition to visual and audible feedback on power output, velocity drop, and many other data points, is a giant step toward that athlete-led culture we seek.Instant visual feedback on bar path, in addition to visual & audible feedback on power output, velocity drop, and many other data points, is a giant step toward the athlete-led culture we seek. Click To Tweet
Picture that first time one of your athletes says to their buddy, “Man, you might have had me. It looked decent but look at that bar path? You slow.” That will make an instant impact on the athlete’s focus and attention to technique. And that, in turn, will make them better.
My journey through the ever-changing and often complex world of velocity-based training is far from complete. I can tell you that, at this moment, the use of Vmaxpro as our device of choice for VBT is our best practice. The potential for expanding the use of VBT within our program has grown exponentially.
My thoughts as I am here remotely working with our athletes have turned to what our VBT protocol may be when we get back together. Those thoughts include how having this device will help even my younger athletes become movement efficient and proficient after a historically long layoff. In fact, technique proficiency is one of the big hurdles my athletes have had to get over to earn their way in our VBT program.
Here we go again, but I have to ask myself WHY I would have a device that can give live feedback to an athlete that will take them down the path to proficiency and beyond but choose to limit its use? VBT is not “speed” work. Sprinting is speed work. Velocity-based training is a modality for strength and power development.
If I could have my younger athletes, whose main focus is developing strength, also being given impactful feedback on appropriate intensity based on their actual readiness to train each day, I’d be crazy to not take advantage. Those same athletes are being taught intent and maximum bar speed with each intensity in preparation for the use of VBT as juniors and seniors. If bar path feedback builds their technique faster, imagine what velocity data will do for intent.
One battle we have with our young athletes is they don’t understand that missed reps and adding too much weight to the bar will actually stunt their adaptation. Now we can give them a visual to follow. Don’t say a word about “displacement.” Just show them the chart on the device and say, “Keep the bar as close as you can to that line.” When they ask, “Can I add weight?” I can say “Absolutely! You can add as much weight as you like. Until that voice tells you that you’ve dropped below .35 m/s.”One battle we have with our young athletes is they don’t understand that missed reps and adding too much weight to the bar will stunt their adaptation. Now we can give them a visual to follow. Click To Tweet
Now we have INSTANT focus on technique and intent. They will try to move as much weight as they can at .35 m/s, but they will also begin to grasp the idea of “too heavy.” An added bonus? They will always work in the correct zone of intensity based on their actual readiness for that day. This is impactful data on a rep-to-rep, day-to-day, and week-to-week basis.
I was told once that I was “just a high school coach” and not a sports scientist. Although it was meant (I’m pretty sure) as a slight, it’s true. I am just a high school coach and not a scientist. I have a level of experience and understanding of the use of velocity-based training with a high school team population. I understand and am comfortable with the correlation of intensity and average velocity. I understand how power output affects transfer. I also never want to stop learning. Comfort is the enemy of adaptation.
Vmaxpro has opened a whole new Pandora’s box of possibilities for learning and growth. That won’t make me a scientist, but it will make me a better coach and allow me to grow and adapt. This, in turn, will make the athletes who count on me and trust me the best they can be. And that is really the destination for this journey after all.
What the person who said this missed was that “just a coach” describes a whole lot of us. In fact, I’d guess that a large chunk of the future affordable-range VBT market will be filled with coaches just like me, especially at the high school level. Most of us are companions on that journey to best practices.
Velocity-based training is something that has moved well past the “fad” stage and into the best practices range of doing things. I write for SimpliFaster because I embrace being a voice for us “just a coach” coaches. I enjoy being the bridge between sport coaches who may not have a deep background in sports performance and the guys who are coaches AND sports scientists. I enjoy being able to just say what I feel about a topic, and I even like the healthy debate that it sometimes leads to.I can also say with absolute certainty that Vmaxpro will make me “just a better coach” going forward, says @YorkStrength17. Click To Tweet
I was inspired to write this article because I have had countless conversations about the “why” behind my move to Vmaxpro. I hope I have given you insight into the journey that led me to where I am today with VBT. I can also say with absolute certainty that Vmaxpro will make me “just a BETTER coach” going forward.
It’s not that I don’t feel PUSH is a quality product—I used it and enjoyed it for several years. If Vmaxpro had not come along, I’d probably still be using it. The “why” behind my change in direction is simply that Vmaxpro is a better fit for our program.
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