Dr. Harry Dorrell is a Lecturer at the University of Lincoln in the U.K. He completed his Ph.D. in 2019, focusing on velocity-based training, and he is currently the module lead and lecturer on the BSc (Hons) Strength and Conditioning in Sport undergraduate degree at the University of Lincoln. His main research focus is on the use of data to inform strength and conditioning practices in real time, and he has recently focused upon the manipulation of resistance training intensity via real-time monitoring of mean concentric lift velocity. In addition, Dr. Dorrell is an active strength and conditioning coach working with a wide range of athletes. He also has an interest in nutritional supplementation and performance.
Freelap USA: There are coaches who use barbell speed for training and many who use both clusters and straight sets. Cluster training is more straightforward as it encourages higher peak velocities due to the athlete being fresh, but grinding sets and continuous reps make it hard to navigate. Do you have any guidance on how to play with fire regarding fatigue but not get burned by excessive exhaustion?
Harry Dorrell: For me, the topic of fatigue and VBT go hand in hand. As coaches, we want the greatest stimulus for our athletes in an effort to induce the greatest potential for positive adaptation. However, alongside that we have to consider the potential resultant fatigue and be mindful not to push the athlete too far for those elusive improvements. Monitoring lift velocity now provides coaches with objective data on each repetition, enabling you to not only dictate the training load, but also see exactly when the set should stop based on your goal.
The main way I implement this into my coaching is through the use of load-velocity profiling, and then subsequent load manipulation based on concentric velocity. Research has shown that load-velocity profiles are stable over time, and in fact don’t fluctuate all that much even as an athlete gets stronger. Additionally, we know that as repetitions continue with a consistent load, velocity will drop off as fatigue creeps in. What this means is that we can not only dictate a training load based on a target velocity associated with a certain adaptation, but we can also use the collected velocity during the set to tell us exactly when the set should stop. Most coaches tend to work around a 20% velocity cutoff or similar, meaning that we look at the velocity of the first concentric action, and then only stop the set once either one or two repetitions fall below this 20% threshold, irrespective of pre-programmed repetitions.This isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach, and so determining the most effective velocity threshold will depend on the adaptation you are programming for, says @HarryDorrell. Click To Tweet
The main thing to consider here is that this isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach, and so determining the most effective velocity threshold will depend on the adaptation you are programming for. For example, when looking at power, cutoffs tend to be higher—i.e., 5-20%—as you really want maximal velocity and minimal fatigue. However, if moving to maximal strength, you may allow a larger velocity cutoff such as 30-40%, as you want to push the athlete close to failure and grind out those final repetitions.
Freelap USA: Squat depth is always a bit of a hassle to individualize, but it is worth doing in the long run. How do you see barbell displacement or barbell stroke distance as a way to improve training outcomes with groups? While the bar path is complicated for some, the gross distance may be a nice starting point. Do you have some thoughts here?
Harry Dorrell: This topic is getting more attention due to some of the newer devices added for bar path and displacement. Personally, I’ve always used displacement as a method of checking squat depth when also getting the athlete to lift at maximal concentric velocity. The issue you sometimes see, and this is especially important for new coaches in this area to be aware of, is that as an athlete tries to hit maximal concentric velocity, their technique will alter slightly, typically in the form of a higher squat. Obviously, we want full squats unless otherwise programmed, and so you need to ensure that technique is consistent and stable, and checking depth and bar path is a good starting point here.Personally, I’ve always used displacement as a method of checking squat depth when also getting the athlete to lift at maximal concentric velocity, says @HarryDorrell. Click To Tweet
I have never used bar displacement or path as a way to alter training variables, but if I see that an athlete is essentially performing half squats in an attempt to keep velocity high (anyone with a GymAware will know the famous “bing” sound), I will stop the set, show the athlete the data, and remind them the main aim is consistent repetitions. This is always a good starting point to really explain to the athlete that we only want to see the target velocity if the repetitions are good, and so that should always be the focus.
In terms of specific bar path, such as with the Flex, I think this is a really nice graphic to show athletes when learning new skills. However, outside of that it’s not been something I’ve focused on personally. I’ve only ever found a great use for it when teaching Olympic weightlifting movements, as sometimes athletes get caught up with certain aspects, such as “bouncing” the bar off their hips, and by showing them the bar path visually you can really demonstrate where the issue is occurring.
Freelap USA: Feedback is important for motivation, especially for athletes who are training on their own during the offseason. As remote coaching is growing, can you share how coaches can use VBT more with athletes who are on their own?
Harry Dorrell: Along with fatigue, the idea of VBT and feedback go very well together. The premise is simple: If my athlete receives feedback on how fast they are lifting—in comparison to how fast I want them to be lifting—it will light a fire under them to always be above that target. The research has generally supported this claim, showing a decreased velocity drop-off over multiple repetition sets when the athlete received feedback compared to when they didn’t.
Nowadays, most if not all of the main VBT devices come with remote or cloud-based access as standard. What this means is that the coach can still program and essentially monitor the athlete’s performance without ever having to actually step foot in the weight room. With specific mention going to the GymAware here, you can also film your sets through your tablet, alongside the collection of other variables, and forward these onto the coach as well. Therefore, providing an athlete has remote access to a device, the coach can continue to monitor not only whether they are completing the prescribed reps/sets, but also monitor their rest time, keep an eye on velocity and intent, and potentially view technique. This is obviously quite a big deal, especially when you consider the magnitude of variables these devices tend to collect simultaneously. A coach will be able to access peak and mean force and velocity and power alongside bar path and displacement from every repetition.
The thing to ensure in this example, however, is that the athlete is comfortable with the device and knows how to set everything up/calibrate. We always have our athletes set up their own VBT devices during their sets, selecting exercises, inputting loads, setting prescribed velocity targets, etc., ensuring that if the going gets tough, they aren’t on their own, so to speak.
Freelap USA: Sometimes too much feedback or arousal all the time gets old with athletes in team settings. Not every rep needs to be on the leaderboard or posted online. What distribution of barbell speed versus conventional training without data is recommended? Should every rep be measured or is it really about knowing when to push and when to just let the athletes train?
Harry Dorrell: I think this is a really good question and raises an important point for coaches to consider, especially if they are just starting out in this VBT direction. No one wants paralysis by analysis, especially when trying to train. In my opinion, there is no need to make everything about maximal intent and velocity—and I love the topic! Depending on the targeted adaptation, VBT may not actually be necessary and will potentially just slow things down, ironically.When we design our programs, velocity monitoring takes place on 2-3 exercises maximum…This means we get the data on the big lifts, enabling us to adapt the program and track over time. Click To Tweet
When we design our programs, velocity monitoring takes place on 2-3 exercises maximum. These will always be our big compound strength or power-based movements, Olympic weightlifting/derivatives, or simple jumps. The rest of the session will use RPE or RIR subjective monitoring, clusters, or potentially just straight sets. This means we get the data on the big lifts, enabling us to adapt the program and track over time; however, we don’t overcrowd the program when it comes to accessory work.
There is no research out there currently to show “how much is too much,” and this will obviously be very coach-athlete specific. However, in my experience anything more than a couple of movements means the coach spends more time looking at a screen than the actual athlete in the room.
Freelap USA: Percentages are starting to become less common with prescribing workouts. Coaches who use barbell tracking and bar speed keep things simple and sometimes more precise based on readiness, making it popular. Can you dive into how coaches can start using load-velocity methods better instead of relying on percentages?
Harry Dorrell: For me, this is what using velocity monitoring in the weight room is all about, and it has been the main focus of my research over the last 3-4 years. We know that day-to-day 1RM fluctuates based on fatigue, motivation, and a whole host of other variables, so the problem has always been the same: How do we dictate training load for targeted adaptation when the goal posts are constantly moving? In other words, how do I know that 50% 1RM yesterday is the same as 50% 1RM tomorrow? In some of my more recent research, we have shown that mean concentric velocity can be used as a monitoring tool and is sensitive enough to alter load on a set-by-set basis. This really takes the guesswork out of prescribing load, providing the coach with objective data as opposed to perceived feelings from the athlete.In some of my more recent research, we have shown that mean concentric velocity can be used as a monitoring tool and is sensitive enough to alter load on a set-by-set basis, says @HarryDorrell. Click To Tweet
We use this method during all sets, including warm-ups, meaning that every set is potentially altered by the performance of the set it follows. If velocity is down, load is reduced, and likewise if it’s up, load is increased, meaning the athletes are always working to a target velocity as opposed to a target absolute load. I actually have a paper with the IUSCA that fully explains the method used and provides the user with a free web-based application to enable more coaches to see if VBT works for them. Essentially, once you have a load-velocity profile for a given movement and the ability to collect velocity within your workouts, you are good to go and can start dictating training load in real time, based on daily readiness.
The research in this area is limited to date; however, so far, we have seen that when compared to a more traditional percentage-based loading approach, VBT leads to significant increases in strength and power, despite athletes completing significantly less volume. This is quite an exciting prospect—lift less = get stronger and more powerful—and as such is an area I am keen to keep exploring.
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