Velocity Based Training- Let's Not Freak out Over a Bar Speed Sensor. Look Beyond the Surface
So here I am on a Sunday where I should be preparing what I have to do for the week ahead. Angered at my desk and ferociously typing (pounding) on my keyboard with a level of angst I have not had with writing for a while. Put it this way: you REALLY have to piss me off to get me to want to write. I hate it and much prefer bringing my thoughts to life with a microphone, but here we are. I say angst because I literally cannot wait to finish this so I can post it (p.s. stay tuned for the verbal version of this as I will be podcasting this for episode #88 of my podcast as well).
Anyway, I was involved in a thread yesterday over a discussion about velocity-based training and an argument was made that it is a gimmick and should be thrown out and not used. Well boy do I have something to say about that and how misguided the opinion was as it was hardly backed up by anything worthwhile when it comes to the development of athletes. It isn’t that I think you NEED these tools to be a good coach (hell, I only started using them this year), but I do think it is my right to lash out at what I feel is an unfair characterization and opinion on something that could have an adverse impact on how it is looked at and the furthering of our field when it comes to objective data and the role it has in programming. Additionally, I feel we are staring down the barrel of a scary time in the social media realm of strength and conditioning. Conflicting thoughts are great, and we must question what we do on a continual basis. However, I think we need to be careful of just blindly applauding someone simply because they had the gumption to speak against what is deemed as the status quo. It may seem edgy and cool, but if there isn’t much substance behind it, we may need to take a second and examine supporting it.
Well, without further ado, here is my calculated rebuttal in support of something I firmly believe in as long as it is used properly. Buckle up.
What is a gimmick?
Before we look at any training or science, we should probably take a second to set the tone for this piece with an important distinction. What the hell is a gimmick and what does it take for something in training to be considered a gimmick? The dictionary officially defines a “gimmick,” as: “A trick or device intended to attract attention, publicity or business.”
I would say that right off the bat we need to be careful at blaming a piece of technology for the way certain coaches conduct themselves as businesspeople. We don’t blame the apple for tempting Adam and Eve (Sunday Bible reference), we blame them for how they handled the situation. We should not blame the technology that can measure velocity-based training, we should blame coaches (if there are those out there) that use it as a ploy to attract athletes with shiny equipment that isn’t used in a matter that contains any substance. I promise you that if your entire business model or way you attract athletes to train with you is based on promoting the technology you have you aren’t long for this industry. Not to worry, it will weed you out. Now, back to the definition. A part of it that really struck me is the “trick,” part of it. The ENTIRE point of this technology is to objectively give feedback on how fast a barbell is moving. Quite frankly, it is quite the opposite of a trick. You can’t fluff it, you definitely cannot change the number it gives you and you absolutely cannot lie about the feedback to give yourself a pat on the back for having “good,” programming. Yes, certain brands or versions of this tech may sometimes give improper readings, but I highly doubt the wires and hardware inside of them are maniacally rubbing their hands together in attempt to pull the wool over an athlete or parent’s eyes. Do not confuse occasional inaccuracies or poor technological performance as a trick. Additionally, many of the tools now are put together quite effectively to prevent this.
Furthermore, when used the correct way, VBT tools are the furthest thing from a device intended to trick us. That is, when we promote their use WITH technical proficiency and proper movement with the barbell, we are actually being very objective and honest with ourselves. IT IS FEEDBACK to coaches who want further objective data to IMPROVE programming. Again, this is another example of blaming the sinner and not the sin. Coaches who use VBT tools and allow s***ty mechanics are bad coaches. That IS NOT in the fault of the technology itself and should not be used as a way to disparage it. Instead, we must continue to educate coaches, athletes and parents on proper use of technology that can help them.
Objectively Measuring What Has Been Done for YEARS (Dynamic-Effort Barbell Training)
Dynamic barbell training has been done for a LONG time. Implying it is some new farce or gimmick is very incorrect. The Soviets and Louie Simmons were utilizing dynamic-effort lifting for a while before GymAware or Push technology entered the scene to give readings on how fast a bar moved. Actually, it was Joe DeFranco who gained inspiration from Louie Simmons’ “Dynamic-Effort,” method and further pushed it along in popularity with strength coaches such as me. Velocity-Based or Dynamic-Effort Training didn’t simply materialize out of thin air because someone invented a tendo unit or some of the other tech that came about today. There was a market AND a reason for these tools BECAUSE we had been using methods that relied on bar speed for a long time. Assuming this would be like assuming the vertical jump was created because force plates, jump mats and vertecs were invented, when they were actually invented to help better MEASURE such an important aspect of athletic development. Sprinting didn’t begin because Brower developed a laser timer. They developed a laser timer because sprinting in its own right was a sport AND athletes and coaches wanted a way to test times to effectively measure/assess speed.
When something is deemed to be an effective modality to improve OR analyze performance, it can’t hurt to have technology that can help improve the quality of feedback for these things. We test things like the vertical jump because it is a good indication of lower-half power and having a way to get good measurements of it can help us assess an athlete and effectively program for them. Having a good piece of machinery to test this at your facility isn’t a gimmick and having a piece of machinery to see how fast you move a barbell that can have an impact on this same vertical jump isn’t a gimmick. Promoting your training based on the tech is. However, we see more proper implementation of these things vs. improper shallow boasting about it.
Lastly, I want to address something else that is quite significant. We most definitely do not NEED velocity-based training implements to be a good coach OR effectively utilize dynamic-effort barbell training. However, they can definitely help us zero in on loads we need to achieve desired effects.
Effective Use of This Equipment (Do not let the tail wag the dog)
As I alluded to, proper use of this equipment is FAR from a gimmick. Results are enhanced by it, not directly a result of the technology. However, the technology CAN improve our utilization of these modalities. Let’s take a second and step back and look at loaded jumps as an example. We can easily have an athlete jump and reach for a wall and then static test in the same manner and get two scores that may help us determine jump loads. Doing this with a jump mat doesn’t make this process a gimmick. It means we have a tool to streamline the process and make it more accurate.
Additionally, I would be remised if I did not mention certain things we SHOULD look for in terms of guiding proper implementation of velocity based training and/or use of measurement tools while doing it. When using velocity-based training or dynamic-effort barbell training with athletes we can/should:
This brings me to my next point. If we have something that can prevent painful looking
poor max repetitions in weight rooms I say we should use it. We just need to make sure we do not replace poorly performed heavy reps with poorly performed repetitions aimed at selling out for speed. As such, we should remind our athletes to look at the bar speed as a product of GOOD movement, not poor movement. As an example, I work with my athletes in a way where they actually comment on their mechanics as a way of knowing when speed may be off. The measuring doesn’t ruin mechanics, it can actually be a great indication of when they might be off. Time and time again they have told me that they can tell when a dynamic lift may be slower because they did not properly pre-set tension in their lats on a deadlift, for example. We CAN use it as a tool to further instill proper technical proficiency in an athlete by showing them situations or better set-ups can actually improve numbers.
Lastly, the whole “I can see it with my eyes,” thing is a gigantic copout. No one is saying you still won’t or shouldn’t have coaching “feel,” when implementing bar speed work or machines to measure it. My coaching ability has not suffered one bit in the past year I have utilized technology to measure bar speed. Yes, you can see things with your eyes. I did it this way for years. However, I can also probably tell if someone is sprinting faster with my own eyes. That doesn’t mean it would hurt to have a way to test them and know for sure!
Training Powerlifters and Athletes (An Apples to Bowling Balls Comparison)
This is by far the most ridiculous reason to be against velocity-based training tools. While we may use pieces of power lifting training for developing athletes (in the areas of strength specifically) they are just a very small piece of the puzzle. “I can develop strength without the tech. Powerlifters did without it for years.” Oh yeah? That is great, but I could not possibly care less about what power lifters do when it comes to developing power for athletes. As I said, I utilize a lot of power lifting principles for building strength in my athletes. However, if they stand alone, they are pretty futile when it comes to building athletes in areas of speed and power.
Just because a power lifter can build strength without velocity-based training tools does not mean they wouldn’t be helpful for a team-sport athlete who has to exert power in very small windows in sport. Oh, and my guys over at Westside Barbell have been using dynamic effort lifting for years to build powerlifters (I would say it has worked pretty well for them). This brings me to my next point: If how powerlifters trained did sway all my decisions, then I would be studying sprints from Brian Shaw instead of Usain Bolt. This isn’t a direct comparison and it is foolish to think so.
So, you can develop maximal strength in powerlifters without bar speed tools or maybe even dynamic effort lifting? That is great and I am happy for you, but what you did with strength is just one SLIVER of the process we must go through to make better, faster and better moving athletes. You can get away without using it for sure, but NEVER call objective data that is gathered and implemented responsibly a gimmick because YOU do not see the need for it.
Gerry DeFilippo: ISSA CPT- CPPS, AAPS. Founder/Owner: Challenger Strength.