Use Velocity-Based Training to Get More Out of Your Athlete Assessments

There's no doubt the addition of VBT to a strength coach's assessment protocol can be a game changer.

Assessments are vital to implementing a strength and conditioning program. Without at least some form of baseline data, how can we measure progress, identify imbalances or kinetic issues, program appropriately or—at the very least—get to know the strengths and weaknesses of our athletes?

At our facility, we are big advocates of assessing athletes and using velocity-based training (VBT) when appropriate. We recently revamped our entire assessment protocol to involve more velocity-based movement measurements. Since doing this, we have not only seen an instant improvement in athlete engagement from day 1, but also have been able to be more in-depth during assessments and follow-up check-ins.

My goal with this article is to create an easy-to-digest resource on a very complex topic. VBT can be complex, but there's no doubt the addition of VBT to our assessment protocol has been a game changer. Here's why.

What is Velocity-Based Training?

VBT is simply a style of programming that involves monitoring both the load of an exercise and the velocity of that movement at the same time.

These methods are not new. However, new technology has recently been introduced to the industry that continues to improve the tracking of movement speed in a very accurate and scalable way.

VBT methods can be altered for many training styles and desired outcomes, but the main difference is that the most important feedback tool during VBT sessions is the speed of the movement, rather than the load. In other words, it's not about the weight—it's about the work.

Since this isn't a discussion of actual training protocols, we get to skip the nitty gritty science of VBT. In assessment situations, VBT can simply provide better data to later be interpreted.

Using VBT in Assessments

To assess velocity of a movement, it's important to equip yourself with a top-notch device that delivers accurate and reliable data. At PACE Fitness Academy, we use PUSH Bands. We chose this device because you can attach it to an athlete or a barbell with ease. Instead of tracking the speed of a bar, we can actually look at human movement too, and that comes in handy with our assessments.

When athletes come in for assessments, we take them through a general conversational consultation, movement screening, and a few tests to look at common ranges of motion at the shoulder, ankles and hips. While our athletes all get a few of the same core assessments, even an assessment should be individualized to the athlete, so not every single person gets the exact same battery of tests.

After those initial assessments, we get to have some fun with the VBT testing – which we refer to as Performance Indicators. Our core items in this segment of the assessment are:

  • Vertical Jump (lower-body power)
  • Medicine Ball Slam (upper-body power)
  • Pogo Jumps (reactive strength)

Every person we see will get these three tests at bare minimum. It's helpful for us to have the baseline data on these movements to show progress, but it's also a great coaching opportunity on Day 1. I think implementing these three tests in your assessment protocol can be a powerful tool. Let's break down the logic behind each test and what exactly they measure.

Vertical Jump

First, let's look at the Vertical Jump test. This is probably the most common lower-body power assessment out there. Some people use jump mats, some use vertical jump towers, some use tape on the wall. But by testing the Vertical Jump with VBT tools, we're allowed to gain greater insights than simply the number of inches a person can get up. For example, we're also able to test the velocity of the jump.

By testing velocity of a jump, you also get power expression. Meters per second (m/s) is the velocity measurement, and watts (w) is the measurement of the power output. These two stats can give you a better understanding of what the athlete may lack, how they can improve, and provide a live look a movement quality.

Generally speaking, if the athlete has poor form on this test, and your corrections do not improve the test substantially, they lack the force it takes to produce a good jump. You have to use your coach's eye to determine why that is.

They could be overweight. They could be weak. They could lack mobility. They could be all three or a combo of any of those things. The data you get from your assessment will tell that story for you.

On the other hand, if the power output (w) is decent, but the velocity of the movement isn't quite where you think it should be, you may want to check the technique. This person may actually have the force needed to produce a good jump, but simply don't know how.

If you see a glaring issue, correct it, re-test and see how the results change. Share that with your client to drive the message home. Now you can keep that number in your records to measure changes throughout the training program, especially if the client has a major goal to improve their vertical, which is common for basketball, football or volleyball players.

Medicine Ball Slam

Testing the velocity and power of a Medicine Ball Slam is a great look at full-body power. It's also a great measurement of overhead shoulder ROM capabilities, triple extension, balance and many other movement quality items of importance to sports performance.

Again, you can use the test and re-test method to eliminate technique issues and get a clear look at the pure performance results. Here's the kicker though—if a person has a crappy looking slam, does their velocity really even matter?

Nope. Not in my eyes. Keep the data, but in your notes you should describe the flaws you saw.

Be picky with this test. Draw an X on the ground to make sure everyone slams the ball on the same spot. Make everyone wear their testing device on the same arm. Test using the same ball for everyone or have standards for gender, age or sport. It's not going to be sports lab status, but you do want to try to make this as clean as possible by being thorough in your testing protocols.

Here's the checklist to keep in your head when looking at this test:

  • Does this person triple extend?
  • Does this person achieve overhead position with no major compensations
  • Does this person snap the ball down in full-body unison?

If the answers to those are all "yes," then the score matters. If not, clean up the movement and introduce the data later. Once you have this data, you can use it as a great daily readiness indicator, a topic I intend to dive into in a later article.

Pogo Jumps

Lastly, the Pogo Jump test looks at the stretch-shortening cycle of the person being tested. This is a great tool to measure ankle stiffness, reactive strength and general athleticism. By stringing together a set of 10 Pogo Jumps, you get a score referred to as a Reactive Strength Index (RSI). The higher the score, the better. We use no countermovement on our pogo test, but that's just our personal preference.

The RSI takes into account the height of each jump as well as time spent on the ground between each jump. You want to maximize jump height and minimize ground contact time to get a high RSI score. This displays athleticism, springiness and physical/mental reaction time.

Once again, if you see a really problematic technique issue in these jumps, you can coach it up and re-test to see if that score improves. If technique coaching doesn't move the needle much, then you may have a mobility or strength deficiency in this person. You can refer back to other parts of your assessment to make the best educated guess on which of the two that is. Hint: It's probably strength.

This is another great daily readiness marker that you can use to see if an athlete just doesn't have that spark that day. Knowing the baseline data helps for identifying when an athlete may be lagging. Without knowing these things, we may train people through injuries, illnesses or other life obstacles our athletes are trying to mask.

The Ultimate Reason for VBT Testing

All of this data and sports technology talk is cool, but there's one ultimate overarching reason I love using VBT in an assessment.

It's fun. It's fun for me, the coach. It's extremely fun for the athlete. It's fun for the entire culture of your weight room. It's low-risk and science-backed. One the very first day, you are creating friendly competition within your facility and competition for the athlete within themselves.

Athletes, parents and coaches love to see quantifiable performance, and this is a really great way to deliver that in an enjoyable fashion. This is just a small taste of how we use VBT, and a small fraction of what your own coaching creativity can do with it.

At the end of the day, VBT provides extremely valuable data on the client, builds trust, develops standards, encourages hard work and promotes competition. It accomplishes all that in just a few extra minutes of testing. For me, it's been a priceless investment in my coaching career.

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