By Bryan Mann
For athletes doing Olympic lifts to improve sports performance, measuring peak velocity provides the best information for progressing their loads. Peak velocity also represents an athlete’s capabilities better than mean and average velocity and is not affected by injuries. These athletes don’t perform Olympic lifts to participate in weightlifting competitions; they do the lifts to improve sporting form. Their goal is to increase their speed-strength ability and explosive power.
When I began measuring bar velocity, the only metrics available were mean velocity and mean power. The software and hardware at the time were not sufficiently advanced to determine peak velocity. It’s been this way since the 1960’s when the Soviets began using velocity to analyze their lifts. It wasn’t until a few years ago that peak velocity became available.
Because I used mean velocity for a decade with great results, I was quite hesitant to change my recommendations. For each Olympic lift, I knew what the mean velocities should be. I even had it broken down by height. Why, then, would I want to change? Over the past five years, a plethora of information has become available and has greatly influenced my thoughts on what to use and why.
To begin, let’s address the confusion that seems to exist about the definitions of mean and peak velocity. Mean velocity is the average (or mean) for the velocity over an exercise’s entire concentric portion, from start to finish. Peak velocity is the fastest point during the concentric portion.
Why use one and not the other? For one, many lifts, such as squats and bench presses, have an acceleration (propulsive) and a deceleration phase. Because the two motions always occur during the concentric phase, the concentric phase is the most beneficial and stable to use for measurement. You can use mean velocity for Olympic lifts, but it might not be the best choice.
In my opinion, there are several reasons to use peak velocity for Olympic lifts:
- The defined moment at which peak velocity occurs
- The ballistic nature of the exercise
- The alterations to technique that occur as a result of feedback of mean velocity
- The inaccuracy for those with orthopedic issues
- The difficulty for systems to determine when and what to measure for mean velocity
I’ve done most of my work with LPTs, such as GymAware. Other means of measuring velocity may lead to different reported numbers. This doesn’t mean those measurements are wrong; they’re just measured by a different means. The need may exist to look at velocity zones and profiles of individual lifts with an alternative device such as body, limb, and barbell velocity.
The Defined Moment at Which Peak Velocity Occurs
In a 2014 study done by Harbili et al.1 examining both the clean and snatch, researchers found the single moment when weightlifters hit peak velocity. This occurs at the top of the second pull. The athletes accelerated up to this point and decelerated beyond this point. Since we know when the peak occurs and now have the ability to measure peak velocity when it occurs, it only makes sense to utilize peak velocity as a metric to evaluate the lifts.
Orthopedic Issues Leading to Form Discrepancies
Over the years, I’ve noticed a common trend with athletes. They get injured, and the injuries stick around for a while. Injuries to the wrist, shoulder, and elbow are quite common among a multitude of sports, and these joint injuries can greatly impede the catching portion of the lift movements. I’ve seen several athletes with these issues who have a marvelously fast looking pull only to have a very suboptimal reading from their device because their rack was slow. Their injuries slowed down their movement during this portion of the exercise. Because the mean velocity is the mean from the beginning to the end of the movement, the slow catch decreases the velocity measurement.
These athletes often become quite frustrated, and rightly so. They’re being held back by a parameter instilled by us, and they are unable to do anything about it. While the mean velocity’s feedback is important and useful, it shouldn’t be the determining factor. By utilizing peak velocity, we eliminate the portion of the lift causing problems and impeding results. With peak velocity, athletes are better able to overload the movement and see a better transfer to their sport.
The Ballistic Nature
In a ballistic exercise, there’s an initial rapid and powerful force followed by a projection of the body, load, or implement into the air.2, 3 This is true for jump training and med ball training, but what about Olympic lifts? In a lift, peak velocity occurs at the top of the second pull. The athlete then projects the barbell into the air and attempts to drop their body under the bar to catch it in a racked position. Then they stand up for the recovery of the movement. Look back at the descriptions of the ballistic exercise and the Olympic lift. Both involve projection. When projection occurs, muscular force does not determine barbell deceleration, gravity does.
Conversely, when an athlete performs a traditional strength training movement such as a squat or bench press, muscular force determines the barbell’s deceleration. If left to gravity, the barbell will fall from the hands. Since muscular force slows down the barbell, we should measure muscular force from beginning to end because this measurement matters.4, 5, 6 To counter this, some systems use mean propulsive velocity, but this only measures the propulsive phase of the movement and disregards the decelerating phase.
I’m quite comfortable recommending mean velocity with traditional strength training because the predictive values are not much different, with R-squared and standard error estimate values being R2=.981, SEE=3.56% for MPV and R2= .979, SEE=3.77% 5 and the paucity of equipment that actually calculates MPV.
As practitioners, we should only measure and manage what we can measure and manage. We should use peak velocity for Olympic lifts because the speed of gravity will not change and the decelerating phase is irrelevant.
Alterations to Form as a Result of Mean Feedback
Athletes are kinesthetically aware and competitive. Once they understand that the objective is to obtain the highest possible number, they’ll begin to alter technique to accomplish this. For a movement done from the hang, athletes often dip below the knees to the mid-shin. More commonly, when performing a movement from the floor, they’ll try to move as fast as possible rather than doing a slow and controlled first pull into double knee bend. They’ll often shoot their hips into the air and back to get a greater ROM to produce force and achieve the highest velocity.
We know these are not acceptable movements, and they will not transfer to the playing arena. The athlete is trying to beat their opponent or teammate in barbell velocity. It’s tougher to cheat the peak velocity through momentum from an entire movement when trying to achieve a higher score. Again, I believe peak is better.
Different Heights Require Different Velocities
As previously mentioned, different ROM distances among the lifts will require different velocities. This is also true for athletes of varying heights. A few years ago, we implemented VBT at Mizzou when we had a 6’8” offensive tackle and a 5’6” running back training together. At the time, we were using mean velocity, and I believe we were going with 1.3m/s for everyone on the team. The offensive tackle struggled to stand up with loads at that velocity, yet the running back did it with ease. What gives? Well, remember that velocity equals the change in distance/time. The offensive tackle had to move a greater distance in nearly identical time, causing the discrepancy. When we delved deeper, we started to dictate velocities up by height and had the tackle lift appropriate loads. Peak velocity is no different. Gravity plays on everyone with the same acceleration. The further we go against gravity, the harder we have to push to keep going, and the faster we have to move to get there.
Determination of Mean
Another issue concerns the measurement of mean velocity. When does it end? The device doesn’t tell us because it doesn’t recognize what’s going on with the movement nor what the athlete’s intended motion is.
We see an example in the graph below. The blue line indicates the position, the red line indicates the velocity, and the blue shading indicates what was measured for the mean velocity. If you look at each of the three repetitions, you’ll see that each was measured differently. Why? Because of the way the athlete was moving. Sometimes the barbell came to a complete stop for the catch and sometimes it did not. However, peak velocity for each movement occurred at the same point. The blue line indicates the barbell’s position and the red line indicates the movement’s velocity. (We can get more information by looking to the right at the bar path. It’s a nice little feature in my opinion, but completely irrelevant to the discussion at hand.)
The devices used to collect velocity are only measurement devices. Think of a tape measure. It goes where we put it. It doesn’t tell us if the hook came off the end or if there’s a staple at the end of a board we’re using. It doesn’t tell us if the spot we’ve measured at a moment in time is the actual spot we want to measure. It only tells us the distance from the endpoint to here. While they have incredible software and usability, the devices only know whether or not something is moving.
When we look at the first repetition in the graph, it appears that the person caught the barbell standing all of the way up with their legs locked out, so the device read the average of the velocity during that entire pull to catch. On repetitions two and three, the barbell didn’t travel in the same manner, and the device thought that movement was completed far sooner. Although there would be very distinct velocities during reps 1, 2, and 3, they look close to the same. The lift was performed just differently enough for the system to calculate it differently.
If we refer to Nate Silver’s The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail–but Some Don’t, we see that the signal clearly exists in the peak velocity but is muddied in the mean velocity.
But Wait. I Have Been Using Mean Velocity for Years!
Mean velocity has been used with the Olympic lifts since the 1960’s in the Soviet Union. R.A. Roman, in his text The Training of the Weightlifter,7 published the most effective mean velocities for improving 1RM in training. If the barbell slowed down or did not move fast enough, something was wrong with the technique. Note that the individuals only did Olympic lifts, and they were quite proficient at them. Also, they did not experience other incidences that could cause injuries that might alter form.
Roman outlined the velocities for the various lifts which I’ve listed in the table below. The information was adapted to fit the nomenclature and style of the program at the University of Missouri at the time of development.8
|Snatch from floor||1.52-1.67m/s|
|Snatch Power Pull||1.81m/s|
|Snatch Power Shrug||1.45m/s|
When dealing with neurologically trained Olympic lifters, the relationship between peak velocity and mean velocity is so strong that choosing only one of the measurements would prove to be nearly irrelevant. Some athletes may have discrepancies with form that would make the best choice peak velocity. On average, however, it seems either is a useful tool. When an athlete performs a lift properly, a strong relationship exists between peak and mean velocity.
However, when Olympic lifts are done to improve performance in another sport, portions of the technique seem to be lost in translation. Most athletes do a good job with the pull but tend to lose their technique during the racking phase. This is usually related to two things: the athlete’s lack of familiarity in racking the lift and their orthopedic issues.
When examining the Olympic lifts, we ought to realize their purpose. For most athletes, the goal is to increase their speed-strength ability and explosive power. It’s not to have perfect technique in a clean. This is akin to Olympic weightlifters playing soccer or basketball for aerobic work. They’re not going to have perfect, or in some cases even proficient, technique or form when dribbling, shooting, and passing. They’ll look like Olympic lifters trying to play soccer or basketball. Why, then, are we so concerned with perfect technique of the Olympic lifts?
Average velocity assumes that the athlete has excellent technique on the lift. If any portion of the movement slows down, the average velocity suffers. It appears that the racking position of the clean or snatch is where most athletes trip up. This portion of the lift is inconsequential to improvements in explosive strength. For force production, what matters is the point where the barbell achieves peak velocity, which is the top of the second pull (if coming from the ground).
If a highly technical portion of the lift can be impaired by an athlete’s upper extremity and thorax injuries, why are we even concerned with the average velocity? We shouldn’t be, and that’s my point. The reason for performing Olympic lifts isn’t to participate in a weightlifting competition; it’s to improve sporting form. Olympic lifters spend hours upon hours and years upon years refining their technique on the clean, jerk, and snatch. Our athletes should spend hours upon hours and years upon years refining their technique on sports skills. Olympic lifting is special physical preparedness for the lifter and general physical preparedness for the athletes involved in other sports.
In my opinion, we need to get the most bang for our buck. Peak velocity tends to better represent our athletes’ capabilities. And a previous AC separation or shoulder dislocation will not matter. If they stand up with the bar, the only thing that matters is that the peak velocity as the average has been removed due to inefficiency and ineffectiveness.
The technical nature of Olympic lifts also requires a great amount of coaching. The catch is quite technical and requires a great amount of work by the athlete and knowledge, background, and coaching from the coach. Pulls are quite simple, though, and achieve triple extension, one of the primary benefits of the Olympic lifts. I think we need to worry more on the pull and improve its technique over the catch.
In short, both average velocity and peak velocity have their place. With Olympic lifting athletes, using both provides good redundancy to keep technique in check. Otherwise, what truly matters is the velocity of the barbell at the top of the second pull, so let’s just focus on that and utilize peak velocity. It gives cleaner data.
As more data becomes available, we may make small alterations to the charts over the coming years. My aim is to perfect the system, but I’m far from that. I feel confident enough, however, to release these guidelines. What I’ve experienced matches materials from Ajan & Baroga9 as well as other coaches.
Based on my data and data from others, I have some points to make. All of the velocities listed for the clean and snatch are from the floor. From the hang, mean velocities will be a little bit faster. I have not discovered why exactly, but I’d wager it has something to do with the engagement of the stretch-reflex.
There’s also the confounding issue of individual variation. If an equation is right 80, 90, or even 99% of the time, then it doesn’t work a certain percentage of times as well. Realize that some people are outliers and may not fit these guideline velocities. For example, an athlete may appear to have great form, but they’re 5’9” and anytime they drop below 2.0m/s, they can’t catch the bar. When we see someone who clearly doesn’t meet the guidelines, we may have to adjust for that individual.
|5′ and below||1.6m/s|
|5′ and below||1.55m/s|
|5′ and below||1.38m/s|
There are a plethora of reasons to use peak velocity for Olympic lifts, provided we have the ability to measure peak. We just need to pick the reason that makes the most sense to us. Remember that velocities depend on the type of measurement system you’re using. If you’re using an LPT, such as GymAware, these velocities should fit nicely. If you’re using TENDO, which works fantastically, ensure the setup is correct and that the tether is perpendicular to the platform during the lift.
- Harbili, E and A. Alptekin. “Comparative Kinematic Analysis of the Snatch Lifts in Elite Male Adolescent Weightlifters.” Journal of Sports Science and Medicine. 13 (2014) 417-422.
- National Strength & Conditioning Association. Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics, 2000.
- Siff, MC. Supertraining. Denver: 2000.
- Gonzalez-Badillo J.J., M.C. Marques, and L. Sanchez-Medina. “The Importance of Movement Velocity as a Measure to Control Resistance Training Intensity.” Journal of Human Kinetics. 29A (2011) 15-19.
- González-Badillo, J.J. and L. Sánchez-Medina. “Movement Velocity as a Measure of Loading Intensity in Resistance Training.” International Journal of Sports Medicine. 31 (2010) 347-352.
- Jandacka D, and P. Beremlijski. “Determination of Strength Exercise Intensities Based on the Load-Power-Velocity Relationship.” Journal of Human Kinetics. 11 (2011).
- Roman, R.A. The Training of the Weightlifter. Moscow: Sportivny Press, 1986.
- Mann, J.B. Power. “Bar Velocity Measuring Devices and Their Use for Autoregulation.” NSCA’s Hot Topic Series. 2011. www.nsca-lift.org.
- Ajan T., and Lazar Baroga. Weightlifting: Fitness for All Sports. Budapest, Hungary: International Weightlifting Federation, 1988.