Velocity-based training (VBT) is a relatively new term in strength & conditioning, but the concept itself is definitely not new.
Medicine ball throws, reactive plyometric jumps, Olympic Lifts and other similar exercises have been around for a long time.
What has changed is technology. Today, there are a growing number of tools and apps that measure the speed of your lifts and other sport skills. You see them used in college and pro training programs on a fairly regular basis now.
This ties right into the way athletes are evaluated at the highest levels. You see an emphasis on exit velocity in baseball, hockey slap shots and tennis serves measured in miles per hour, plus numerous other ways that players are graded as average or elite.
Training technology is simply keeping up with the modern sports world, looking for better ways to produce the skills that scouts and coaches covet.
These tools are admittedly a lot of fun to use for coaches who love obtaining data, but are they actually contributing to making an athlete better in the long run?
The short answer is yes, however that doesn't mean all athletes should be doing VBT all the time.
The Case For Using VBT In Youth Athlete Workout Programs
The main reason is fairly straightforward - players who play fast and powerful are sought after at every level of almost every sport. Velocity-based training, when done properly, has been proven to enhance speed and power in sports compared to just doing slow, heavy lifts all the time.
Simply put, it is a piece of the puzzle for any athlete who wants to maximize success in their sport.
Just about every athlete would benefit from explosive vertical movements like cleans, weighted box jumps, and so on. They teach your body how to maximally apply force into the ground against resistance greater than bodyweight, which directly correlates to better acceleration and jumping height.
Rotational sport athletes who throw medicine balls and use other resisted rotational tools (like a Keiser Performance Trainer) get the same benefit for throwing, kicking, shooting (hockey/field hockey/lacrosse), and hitting (softball/baseball/tennis/golf).
Instead of focusing solely on how much weight you can lift, success on these exercises is measured in power output (resistance multiplied by speed). For example, an athlete who does a 100 lb hang clean at 1.3 meters per second will have a higher power output than one who does that same 100 lbs at 1.1 m/s. And according to the concept of VBT, they'll also have a greater carryover effect to sport performance.
Since it is hard to determine by eye who is moving at 1.3 m/s vs 1.1, the technology boom has made it much easier for programs who can afford the measuring devices to truly know when their are making progress with training at faster velocities.
Everything a workout program does for a young athlete should be about giving them the greatest transfer to athletics as possible, and not just weight room performance. VBT has exploded in our industry because it has the ability to do just that in ways we never could deliver for our athletes before.
The Case For NOT Using VBT With Young Athletes
There definitely are cases where VBT is not the best idea for an individual athlete, and this post would be incomplete without briefly touching on when to avoid it.
First, athletes need a solid strength base before attempting high-velocity exercises that involve resistance. Very young kids should focus on running and jumping with bodyweight while building overall strength. The stronger you are, the higher your potential to gain serious benefit from VBT, and advanced methods are not something kids need to rush in to for success in sports.
It should also go without saying that you need to master excellent strength technique at slower speeds before moving anything at high velocity. Someone who cannot complete a proper RDL should not rush into hang cleans with the expectation it will lead to anything positive. More likely, it will lead to tendonitis or worse.
Too much VBT is not particularly helpful, either. This is a piece of the overall training puzzle, not the entire puzzle. Athletes still need pure strength, mobility, stability, balance, quickness, and pure speed training in their routine.
The overall theme here is to not rush into VBT until you are ready, and use it in moderation when you are.
We've dabbled in this technology here at Power Source over the last few years. We've used Jawku sprint timers, some bar-velocity readers, and recently added a new Keiser Performance Training which has a peak power readout feature.
My advice for coaches is to make sure the technology you purchase is of high enough quality that the readouts are consistent, and the device doesn't slow down the workout pace. The first generation of these tools sometimes struggle to sync up, and occasionally misread movements giving strange readouts. I'm definitely a fan of brining this technology to our kids, but for us to use it all the time it cannot interfere with an athlete's ability to keep their workout moving along at high quality.
As these tools become better in time, I suspect you'll see them at every level of athletics. In the quest to develop someone's full athletic potential, they allow coaches to deliver programming that more fully transfers over to game performance.