by Jacob Carr

Strength training takes time and effort. And when training pure strength, it can be taxing on the nervous system. What if there was a way to decrease your feelings of fatigue and increase your training efficiency? New research has come out that describes a way to do just that. By paying attention to your speed for each rep, you can improve your results and they might just come more easily. Velocity loss training is a relatively new training protocol that prescribes rep and set amounts not based on specific repetitions, but when the athlete cannot keep the same velocity during the lift.

You know the feeling: the last two or three reps of a heavy weight you are slowly pushing to the end range at maximum effort or trying to get your chin above the bar on a pull-up one more time. Velocity loss training asks the athlete to stop when the velocity of the lift has decreased below a normal rep speed. The amount of velocity usually determines how much fatigue has set in and can sometimes be misconstrued as “mini muscular endurance sets.” Velocity loss training stops athletes from becoming too tired and pushing themselves into that muscular endurance zone, which can be counterproductive for our strength (and climbing) improvements. A study was performed regarding the bench press to see whether or not fast reps were better than traditional reps. Two groups underwent a 3-week program with two workouts per week. The Fast Rep group performed as many reps as they could within 80-100% of their maximum lifting speed at 85% of their bench press 1 repetition maximum. The Self-Selected bar speed group performed as many reps as they could of 85% of their bench press 1 repetition maximum, each set. By the end of the 3 weeks, the Fast Rep group had increased their 1 rep max by 10% while the Self-Selected group had increased their 1 rep max by just over 1%. Additionally, the Fast Rep group did a whopping 62% less work than the Self-Selected group. Imagine your financial advisor telling you that you had to invest 62% less money than you had been and see a 10% increase on your money in 3 weeks. I bet you would do it!

In regards to strength training, higher-quality lifting is the way to go. When strictly training strength, the rep amounts, and load should be such that effort is high and muscular recruitment is high without muscular endurance becoming a factor. When using velocity loss training, the research suggests that the athlete should limit their velocity loss to 20 percent, however, most athletes won’t have access to velocity gauges. You can, of course, buy a velocity gauge if you desire. In most cases, it is not necessary and adds complexity where simplicity and efficiency is the goal.

Using Velocity Loss in Your Training

So how can you implement velocity loss training into your strength training program? Simply adopt intra-set rests and decrease the number of reps done at a specific load. For example, if you have been performing 3 sets of 8 and struggling to lift the last couple reps at a given load, decrease the reps and increase the sets within the set. What I mean is, instead of 3x8 try 6x3 with an added 30 seconds of rest between sets. In this way, we do the same amount of reps and load with a decrease in perceived effort and a decrease in velocity loss throughout the whole set. Instead of only getting 10-12 good reps and a few with a substantial decrease in velocity loss you can perform 18 reps of higher quality and less velocity loss

For instance, you are performing sets of weighted pull-ups with 30 lbs added. You can do your set of pull-ups at 6x3, with the 30 pounds added, and take at least 1 minute to do some mobility so that your body has ample time to recover before the next set. Do your best to move at the same pace throughout the whole set. I want to be clear: velocity CAN mean moving a given load more quickly. In this case, I don’t want you to be concerned about how quickly you’re moving the load, but make sure to allow your lifting velocity to stay constant throughout the set. 

Moving the same load at a higher velocity for a longer amount of time will increase muscle recruitment and provide your body with new stimuli to gain strength. Higher quality lifts and efficiency means more bang for your buck. Velocity loss training not only allows for the weight to be moved with higher velocity but it can, in some cases, allow more weight to be lifted than with a traditional rep scheme. This does not mean that traditional strength training should be outcast as it is a proven method to gaining strength, however, it can provide new training stimulus and can possibly help with pushing past a plateau. Again, in regards to the bench press study I mentioned previously, you can improve your strength tremendously when you can set up your weight and volume correctly.

 

Not sure where to begin?

We have training plans available for any level athlete!

Velocity Loss in Climbing Exercises

Implementing this into your climbing training can also be beneficial in decreasing the amount of fatigue we incur during a given set or climbing workout. For example, you are working on pure strength or pure power in a bouldering workout and you start to feel the “pop” fade as you go deeper into the session. 

A few things go through our minds when this happens. Either you feel like this is the time to push, or it's time to throw in the towel and get started on your recovery. In some cases, we have tried high-level bouldering for a given amount of time. We have attempted to perform a lot of low-level climbs over a longer period of time and it has only gotten us so far. However, if the intensity of climbing is adjusted to be able to continue climbing without a reduction in power, we can teach our body to be able to produce power over a longer period of time. 

One of your training days may be climbing as many OS+1, or just above onsight level boulders, as possible in a given amount of time. This means that if your onsight level is v4 you will try to climb as many v5’s as you can in the allotted time. As you can imagine this can become a very taxing session. Depending on your fitness level the amount of time it takes for the “pop” to dwindle can vary. In any case, if we took away the time constraint and rested as long as we needed, most of us could give more quality effort over a longer period of time. This would allow us to provide our bodies with a greater volume of stimuli and produce pretty great results.

Unfortunately, not all of us have 2-3 hours to train and rest appropriately between efforts at this intensity. So if we re-introduce the time constraint of 1 hour to train, we can manipulate the intensity and produce results over a longer cycle of training. With the 1 hour we have, we can climb boulders OS-1 or OS level with a similar goal in mind, and climb as many as possible without getting pumped or powered down. If you notice your pump start to creep in or your power starts to decrease you can either rest longer or decrease the intensity of climbs. 

In either case, climb for the allotted amount of time and try your best to finish the session at the intended time you had in mind. If you intend to climb for an hour, climb for an hour and don’t manipulate the time, but manipulate the intensity or the frequency of climbs. In many cases, climbers with a limited amount of time can draw this session out over several days. If you only have 30 minutes of time on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays, climb 5-10 problems with high quality that are somewhat hard for you. In either case, you can progress the total number of climbs in that specific time interval or you can progress the total number of OS -1 or OS boulders. 

I understand that this may be hard for some climbers to have the discipline to do. We have a session called “Board 10” and the goal is to climb at or near your limit with only a few tries per boulder. This session is super hard to stick to because most of us would complete the prescribed amount of boulders and feel like we haven’t done enough and continue to climb. I will remind you that in the bench press study, the group with the most gains did 62% less work of a higher quality. If you can have the guts to do fewer boulders or reduce the climbing intensity, the quality of your sessions will increase. With a quality increase comes a performance increase which is the overall goal of training. 

An example of a workout you can implement can be found below. Remember, we will work from simplicity to complexity, so if this looks simple, just try it as written first and then add complexity the next go-round. 

 

4 sets of:

Goblet Squat - 4 (FAST!)

Kettlebell/ Dumbbell Press - 3 reps each arm (FAST!)

Hanging Straight Leg Raise - 8

Brettzel - 60s each side

And then complete:

4 sets of:

Goblet Squat - 4 (FAST!)

Kettlebell Deadlift - 8

Inverted Row - 5 ( FAST!)

L-Stretch - 60s each side

 

And then complete:

45- 60 minutes of Power Bouldering

In this example, and in most training, please remember to be patient. Write down specific weights for your exercises, specific time intervals, the boulders climbed, and how many boulders you climbed in that given time interval. If you continually try different stimuli or different sessions the point of your training becomes lost and you start to become trapped in a spiderweb of training sessions with nothing to show for it. You’ll just end up being the climber at the gym always failing at whatever new program they try because they refused to let the program run its course. Be patient and be disciplined. 

If you have more time to train, use it to provide your body with the best possibility to produce results over a longer period of time. If you don’t have a ton of time, know that producing results will require more patience and manipulation of either the difficulty or frequency of climbs. If you are patient, your ability to manage specific climbing movements will increase. When this happens, you will also be able to move with greater efficiency over a longer period of time. This training philosophy, of course, is in conjunction with a good training program that includes strength training, specific endurance, and power training. Once you complete an 8-12 week cycle of your training, start again, find weak spots, attack them, and remember to always go forward. 

Citations:

Padulo, J., Mignogna, P., Mignardi, S., Tonni, F., & D’ottavio, S. (2012). Effect of different pushing speeds on bench press. International Journal of Sports Medicine, 33 (05), 376-380

Velocity-based training: From theory to application, Strength and Conditioning Journal (2021). 43, 31-49

JACOB CARR

Jacob has a dual master's degree in Strength and Conditioning as well as Sports Nutrition. He is also a Certified Personal Trainer with the NSCA. Jacob started his Climb Strong journey as an intern with us as part of his education. He arrived just two weeks before we were forced to close for COVID in March 2019. Jacob kept in touch and is now with us full time as a climbing coach as well as taking on a personal training athletes at Elemental. He has worked in a Physical Therapy setting in the past and has interest in functional movement training to ensure athletes move well for their lifespan. He loves climbing, mountain biking, and surfing.

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