Speed Over Tonnage: Is It Worth the Sacrifice?

If you watched Christian McCaffrey at the NFL combine, you couldn’t help but be impressed. He was fast, explosive and agile. But nevertheless he had some critics as his weightlifting numbers were not impressive. Interesting. I know for a fact that Stanford University has employed velocity-based training (VBT) methods with their football athletes in the past. To what extent McCaffrey used VBT I do not know, but whatever combination of methods he used it clearly got him results on the field. Maybe lifting all the weight possible like a weightlifter is not the end-all-be-all to being a top athlete.

Take A Dose of Common Sense

I’ve been thinking more about VBT since reading the new edition of Bryan Mann’s book on the topic. VBT is a divisive topic. Some coaches love it; others hate it. Recently I’ve read a lot of haters. These haters mostly come from the Olympic weightlifting community. My opinion is who cares who uses bar velocity and who doesn’t? You get results your way and I’ll get results my way.

Learn more: check out Bryan Mann’s book Developing Explosive Athletes: Use of Velocity Based Training in Training Athletes.

I would expect more thought and understanding from people in the profession rather then attacking a method that works just like any other method can work: it provides you with a measurable result to base training on. This is not a debate about sports science. If something works, use it. That’s common sense. I know a coach who has coached an Olympic champion and many many NCAA champions and All-Americans who has never read a scientific article, never attends coaching clinics, and just puts common sense and thought into his coaching. One can argue he is not using all the resources available to make him better. Then again, you can’t argue with his results. It is also not a debate about technology. Where would weightlifters be without fancy Eleiko bars that spin for days, jerk blocks, or lifting boots. Those are all forms of technology enhancing the sport and who is arguing with them.

Lifters don't measure bar speed? So what? We're not training to be lifters. @nick_g_garcia Click To Tweet

The last time I checked most team sports are about being athletic, fast, and agile in all planes of movement. Weightlifting is on one plane. So why wouldn’t protocols for the sport of weightlifting be different from the protocols for team sports or throwing? Just look at McCaffrey and you see what I’m talking about. He may not bench 225 pounds for an absurd amount of reps, but cuts and moves in a way few can duplicate. Furthermore, like Shannon Sharpe said recently “the ball don’t weight 225 pounds. If it did then one can worry about bench reps but it doesn’t.

Rethinking VBT

In reading Mann’s book I decided to go all in on VBT. In previous years I had implemented VBT with some athletes, but this season I will be doing it with all athletes. WHY? When Mann described the methods used in his postgraduate research, and the results that came from it, it made it a no brainer for me. I will not go into the details, you can read his book for those, but the gist is that the link between cleans and vertical jump is weak. It is only when VBT was introduced that there was a significant transfer between the exercises.

In Mann’s book he gives us guidelines to follow for both mean velocity and peak velocity for many different movements depending on athletes and goals. Furthermore, he even lists parameters for athletes who are different heights. I will be using mean velocity for lifts like squat, bench press and deadlift. For lifts like the clean and snatch I’ll use peak velocity targets. Why the difference? The power lifts are not very ballistic in nature, not extremely complicated, and in theory range of motion issues won’t contribute to how fast you move the bar. Therefore, you could say that the speed on these lifts will stay fairly constant making mean speed a great way to analyze the data created and received. On the other hand both the clean and snatch are very ballistic movements. One can argue somewhat complicated as well. Many things can affect mean speed while doing these lifts. These things can include an athlete’s overall range of motion, flexibility, and technique. For example, if an athlete is tight in the lats and/or the wrists racking the clean efficiently may become an issue. This can affect the mean speed significantly. Therefore, using peak speed to measure the Olympic lifts is the best option. Mann touches on this in a few of his books.

My method: train fast, when the speed drops, drop the weight. @nick_g_garcia Click To Tweet

My method of VBT is quite easy. I set a target range for bar speed and my athletes use a weight that will let them get within that range of speed. If the speed drops below the parameter, they stop and lower the weight and repeat the set. If the speed is above the parameter then my athlete will add to the weight. Within 2 or 3 warm up sets the athlete should find the proper weight that falls within the recommended speed range. Speed is king; you have to train fast to play fast and VBT helps us make sure we are always training fast. However, if training above the range of speed that is recommended then an athlete could also be under-stimulated and the stimulus will not be reached. Finding the balance, therefore, is critical.

Learn more: Bryan Mann discusses the latest research on VBT and velocity loss on Episode 90 of the HMMR Podcast.

VBT not only makes training more efficient, it helps develop athlete ownership in the program and helps me better monitor my athletes. Some critics of VBT say I should just watch my athletes and see how fast they move the bar. That’s great in theory, but with 400 athletes I cannot watch every rep. Using this technology gives the athletes ownership of the program by letting them see when they reach the target. It also helps me make sure they are still working in the right zone even if I cannot watch every rep. Furthermore, it can create a competitive atmosphere making the athlete want to move a specific weight faster then their other athletes. Immediate feedback helps with this.

VBT can help increase athlete ownership and competitiveness. @nick_g_garcia Click To Tweet

Find Your Own Measurable

VBT is one type of training that gives you a measurable. Other methods provide this too. The bottom line is that you have to have a good “measurable” result. This can be done using both percentage-based training, velocity-based training, or using the objective of simply topping each week’s total tonnage. Regardless of what method someone chooses, give them credit if it is effective. Getting in a pissing match about what method is better helps no one. As I have mentioned in prior articles, I have gotten results using all methods listed above. However, I have come to the conclusion that VBT is the best method for me to use right now.

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