Some will argue that there is no substitute for heavy iron when it comes to packing on strength and size. Traditionally I’d agree with that sentiment. However, the body of literature regarding lower load, high velocity training for increasing athletic performance is quite convincing. Some of the drawbacks of maximal strength training pertain to the high risk nature of lifting with greater than 85% of 1RM as well as the potential wear and tear on the joints from chronic training. Lightening up the load and moving the weight faster may serve as an effective alternative. In traditional linear periodization, it is common to follow up a 4-6 week maximal strength training cycle with a “power” cycle. It appears that power training alone (moderate loads, fast concentric velocity) may be a sufficient stimulus to enhance physical performance on the field.
In a recently published study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, González-Badillo and colleagues tested the effectiveness of velocity-based training on performance outcomes in young high-level soccer players. A total of 44 players recruited from elite U-16 and U-18 club teams performed a maximal velocity training program twice per week over 26 weeks throughout a competitive soccer season. At pre and post, all players were tested on 20 meter sprint time, countermovement jump, isoinertial loading squat test (the heaviest weight with which they can squat at a velocity of 1 meter per second) and a maximal aerobic speed test. The training program involved several sets (4-8) of low reps (2-4) with loads prescribed as a percentage of their maximal load moved at 1 meter per second (not 1RM). Percentages ranged between 80-105%. The workouts consisted of Squats, weighted countermovement-jumps, sled towing, triple jumps, change of direction drills and sprints.
The U-16 and U-18 athletes improved their countermovement jump by 3-4 cm compared to a control group (U-21 team) who, on average, improved by only 1 cm. Only the U-18 group significantly improved 20 meter sprint time (average reduction of 0.04) compared to control and U-16 (average reduction of 0.01). The maximal load with which the athletes can lift at a speed of 1 meter per second increased significantly in all groups, but the training group improved the most (15-28 kg). Finally, the training group improved their maximum aerobic speed more than the control group. Moderate and significant correlations between changes in CMJ and 20 meter sprint and velocity load were found.
The results of this study support the use of moderate load training performed at maximal intended velocity for improving field markers of team-sport performance. It would have been interesting however, if the researchers compared these effects to a maximal strength training group to determine any potential differences. Hypothetically, it still seems intuitive that preceding the velocity based training with a strength phase would only serve to enhance the effects of the power training. One of the limitations of velocity based training is the need for equipment that can assess bar velocity. This is needed to determine appropriate loads and monitor performance throughout training. However, this technology is quickly becoming more convenient and affordable with the development of smart phone applications and wearable arm band accelerometers. Overall these results indicate that a variety of methods can enhance athletic performance, including velocity based training.
González-Badillo, JJ. Effects of velocity-based resistance training on young soccer players of different ages. J Str Cond Res, E-pub ahead of print.