Spring 2024
Velocity-based training (VBT) methods for the tactical athlete
Daniel Borowick, MS, CSCS, former DEA special agent

vbt

Velocity-based training (VBT) has become increasingly incorporated into mainstream sports and athletic training because of technological advancements and social media. But is there a place for it in training the tactical athlete? VBT is a great tool as it not only measures the bar speed or the power output an athlete is generating but it also is used as a predictor of a one-repetition maximum (1RM), through the utilization of sub-maximal loads.

VBT is measured through technology with the use of linear position transducers, that measure movement through a linear plane or accelerometers during movements like a bench press or squat. A lot of VBT measurements are directly physically connected to a barbell whereas other tools require the use of a camera system that measures the bar speed movement. When a coach is training an athlete, a lot of the feedback may be subjective. That is, the coach may perceive the athlete needs to be more powerful but this is based upon their opinion or perspective. With VBT the coach has the verifiable data present to make a well-formed assessment based upon the data analysis and can quantify the need for “more explosive power by moving the bar faster” based on the facts reported from the VBT device which is gauged objectively.

With VBT, you can assess the intensity and what type of effort is being put forth in an exercise. For example, having two athletes next to each other performing the back squat, (who have the same levels of strength), at 85% of their 1 RM will have different power outputs with a measure through VBT when one utilizes a higher maximal effort.

Dr. Bryan Mann, who coined the term VBT, categorized this style of training between five different methods of strength characteristics and traits that are developed concentrically when training at different velocities.

  1. Absolute Strength – The ability to exert maximal force; approaching 1RM.
  2. Accelerative Strength – Moving something heavy as fast as possible; (i.e. a tactical team breaching a door with a forcible entry tool weighing generally around 11 pounds.)
  3. Strength Speed – Moving something moderately heavy as fast as possible (i.e. dragging someone out of danger.)
  4. Speed Strength – Moving something light very fast (i.e. moving with weapons, some kits.)
  5. Starting Speed – Moving something very light, extremely fast (i.e. sprinting from a dead stop)

By utilizing Dr. Mann’s VBT training table, one can objectively gauge whether a specific physical characteristic is being developed.

The daily fluctuations we all experience in strength are the difference from a percent-based approach. Some days we feel great in the weight room, and some days we don’t. This autoregulation approach (similar to Rating of Perceived Exertion (RPE) and Reps in Reserve (RIR) allows you to adjust the training load for that specific day. By monitoring the velocity of each repetition, we can make informed decisions about when to increase or decrease the load, adjust training intensities, or modify training volume.

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For the tactical athlete population, VBT presents several advantages over traditional percent-based loading methods.

  • Training regimens can be tailored to better simulate the physical demands they may encounter on the job. The tactical athlete can select the most important strength characteristic they want to develop and then work in those velocity ranges.
  • VBT has the potential to reduce the risk of musculoskeletal injury during training by monitoring their power output with the external force which prevents overtraining. Overtraining is one aggravating factor that contributes to injury. For example, the pin squat is specifically used for rate of force development and helps an athlete’s “sticking point,” on the concentric movement. However, by training with VBT, the tactical athlete can see their power output measured in real time. If each subsequent rep is not as efficient as the previous then it will be time to lighten the working load being used.
  • VBT provides a quantifiable and objective way to assess an individual’s progress by tracking velocity measurements over time. By monitoring changes in performance metrics, individuals can identify areas for improvement and adjust training accordingly.

Stephen Wegner has 18 years of experience coaching athletes. He is currently a strength & conditioning coach for the U.S. Army’s H2F program at Fort Bliss in Texas. Stephen can be reached via email at swegner@xplodeathletics.com. Daniel Borowick is a former DEA agent and is currently a strength & conditioning specialist for the U.S. Army’s H2F program. He can be reached via email at domexstrengthandfitness@gmail.com.