With advancements in technology, training prescription in the weight room has evolved. With the appropriate equipment, one can now prescribe 3 sets of 3 reps performed with a concentric bar velocity of 1 meter per second as opposed to the more traditional 3 sets of 3 reps with a given load at a self selected tempo. In the majority of team sports, time is almost always a limiting factor. Therefore, if two size and strength matched athletes can bench press 400lbs, it is the one who can move that weight faster that will likely have the upper hand. Training with the intent of moving the load as fast as possible stimulates high threshold motor units. These develop type II muscle fibers which we all know are essential to speed and explosiveness on the playing field.
Recent research from the International Journal of Sports Medicine provides a strong case for velocity based resistance training (Padulo et al. 2012). Twenty highly experienced, resistance trained men were divided into 2 groups; a velocity based group and a self-selected tempo based group. The athletes performed a bench press training session twice per week for three weeks. Both groups trained with 85% of their 1RM. The velocity group performed reps until bar velocity dropped by 20% below maximum (measured with a Linear Encoder) while the self-selected tempo group performed reps until failure. Periods of two minutes were allotted for rest between sets. Sets were performed until the velocity group could not achieve within 20% of max velocity or when the self-selected tempo group could no longer perform any reps.
After 3 weeks of training, the velocity based group improved their 1RM by an average of 10% and their maximal bench press velocity by an average of 2%, which was considered statistically significant. Strength and power changes in the other group were trivial. The velocity based training group performed a lower volume of work compared to the self-selected tempo group and yet still made such impressive gains. The authors attributed the gains in strength and velocity to a greater level of muscle activation during the explosive training intervention as measured by electromyography.
Linear encoders can be quite expensive and the majority of coaches will not have access to them. Furthermore, when dealing with athletes in a team setting, tracking bar velocity for each athlete can become a challenge (though the technology is improving and becoming more convenient). Performing sets of 2-3 reps with approximately 85% of 1RM as explosively as possible on the concentric portion of the lift appears to offer strength and speed improvements in experienced lifters. Inexperienced lifters may not be able to accelerate such a heavy load fast enough and therefore may require lighter loads. Given the impressive results from the study that were achieved in such a short time period (3 weeks), this method of training certainly deserves some consideration.
Padulo, J., Mignogna, P., Mignardi, S., Tonni, F., & D’Ottavio, S. (2012). Effect of different pushing speeds on bench press. Int J Sports Med, 33(5), 376-380.