Velocity Based Training for Baseball Players
Training for baseball is something we specialize in at 1RM Performance. We work with baseball players ranging from junior high to professional and everything in between. With all the hours spent working with baseball players, there is one thing you learn: the BEST baseball players are the MOST powerful. Yes, there are insane skills involved, but power is the underlying factor with all high level baseball players. This sounds obvious, but i feel like this often gets over looked, especially in the world of training baseball players. Remeber, Power = Force X Velocity. The amount of power we generate day to day is dependent on the reactivity and sensitivity of an athletes Central Nervous System (CNS). Success in baseball IS CNS dependent, and we have found the key to unlocking the CNS.
(Avery Tuck and Tommy Goodridge, some of my first guinea pigs that showed massive results with VBT)
In the training world, it is most common to see coaches working on the force piece of the power equation. Improving the speed piece is most commonly done with Plyometric and Shock training. However, there exists a tool that allows us to train force and velocity at the same time. Welcome to Velocity Based Training (VBT). VBT allows programming to be based on speed rather than load. This means force is improved as a component of speed. In terms of the power equation, we are no longer just focusing on force, but simulataneously putting an emphasis on the velocity and and force side of the power equation. At the same time VBT helps coaches regulate stress on an athletes CNS by accounting for the daily fluctuations in an athletes preparedness to train. Not doing this causes you to run the risk of wrecking your athletes CNS by over reaching and forcing them to grind out reps. Here at 1RM Performance, we use Velocity Based Training every day. To some this isn't knew info, but how and why to apply it with baseball is. Over the past three years, I’ve been trying to figure out the best ways to apply VBT with my baseball athletes and this is what I've got so far.
What is Velocity Based Training
Velocity based training is training based on bar speed rather than percentage of 1RM. It provides an avenue for me, the strength coach, to know the exact loads to prescribe on a given day. This data, in turn, provides objective feed back on the output and quality of each of rep for an athlete. With smart programming and great execution of training, it allows your athletes to get a hell of a lot stronger without grinding out reps, reduces the risk of over training, and adds internal and external competition; all leading to more bad ass athletes.
Noah Kaagan OF VBT<-----------video example of VBT with one of my high school baseball guys
VBT was first introduced here in the states in 2002 by the legend himself Louie Simmons with a tendo unit. Today, Bryan Mann has taken Velocity based training to the next level, to the point of authoring a book on the topic. Velocity based training is beginning to make its way into professional sport organizations and collegiate programs across the country.
Carrying out Velocity Based Training involves either a Gymaware, Tendo unit, or other VBT device. A Tendo and Gymaware are more of the gold standard since both use a tether that attaches to a bar to measure velocity, rather than Bluetooth. Here at 1RM Performance we use the Gymaware, it’s an investment that keeps on giving for my athletes.
Velocity based training allows you to train specific attributes with your athletes. We have all seen athletes that tend to be missing a little pop, or those athletes that don’t have enough baseline strength. To help with this, Bryan Mann has brought old Russian training zones and applied Velocity ranges to them. This ensures that the strength coach is programming within the appropriate zones for what an athlete needs.
For those of us that love drinking knowledge from the source, Yuri Verkhoshansky refers to this as the principle of Temporal Priority. This principle simply states when constructing block training you place an extra emphasis on specific strength loads, based on the need of the athlete.
Why Velocity Based Training for baseball
As mentioned above, Velocity Based Training is incredibly powerful for athletes that play neurologically driven sports. Baseball just so happens to be one of them. Playing a sport like this requires an insane rate of force development and an extremely fine tuned nervous system. These stresses and demands take a toll and increase the overall stress and fatigue on Central nervous system (CNS) of the athlete. Velocity based training automatically regulates the load based on fatigue.
For example, Professional Athlete A comes in after a long weekend in Vegas. This means 4 hours of sleep total in 3 days. Athlete A squats on mondays, and he wants to squat following 3 days of sub-par nutrition and rest. The previous week, he squatted 300 at a speed of 0.8 m/s. After the long weekend, he is barely hitting .8m/s at 275. Because of VBT he’s still training within the velocity zone to achieve the specific athletic attributes were trying to develop.
Now, If we were programming by percentages you would automatically program more than 300lbs since that’s how western linear periodization works. However, if you’ve ever tried to lift in a state similar to this, you know this day would result in failure and frustration. Or for another example more applicable to younger athletes, if you took 150 swings and just went through a weighted ball program or threw a bullpen, your CNS may be a little fatigued. VBT automatically adjusts the loads for the athletes as long as their output is the same.
Ultimately VBT replaces percentage based programming for an athlete. This results in less frustrationing for the athlete, less for the coaches, and less need and demand for maxing and having your athletes grinding out reps. Although I love maxing with my athletes, VBT is going to help long term progression and over reaching through training programs.
How we use it
As mentioned above, at 1RM Performance, we use VBT as a monitoring tool, a teaching tool and a way to precisely program based on daily fluctuations in strength and power. The programming for my pro guys this off season looked a little like this. Two lower days and two upper days. Lower body days involved a squat and hexbar with the high handle. Upper days involved one day of benching with the gridiron bar and one day of a vertical chest press in the cable column. Overall the total volume of squats, pulls, and benching when using VBT stayed roughly the same 24, 30, and 36 reps in three week waves for each training block with accomodating resistance. Speed increased with each wave, with the final 3 weeks being the fastest. The details:
Week 1-3 Movement assessment, correction, and Volume to build a base.
Guys were sore, sometimes grouchy, always trying to skip out of movements
Week 4-6 Accelerative Strength - Velocity Range - 0.5 - 0.75 m/s
Results – Well, I ended this block of training early for the lower body work. We kept it for one day on the bench press and changed the second upper day to heavy overhead press. Just kidding, a standing cable column chest press. Why did we do .5 for the lower days after two weeks? Well, there are two reasons for this. First, I believe my time with these guys is way better suited moving fast. Baseball is based on power. In my opinion, there is no real need for a professional athlete to grind out reps and place unnecessary strain on their CNS. Second, when things get heavy and you’re a professional baseball player, some lifts tend to get a little sloppy. Professional athletes don’t have the wiggle room to do something wrong in the weightroom and miss 4 weeks of their off season training because of it.
Week 6-9 Strength speed - Velocity Range - 0.75 m/s - 1.0 m/s
Here I had my guys sitting around .8m/s with lower volume for their reps and sets. We started introducing more contrast sets and increased the volume of plyos. Lower body plyos were chosen based on the athlete’s reactive strength index. Upper body plyos were based on position and speed.
During this training block, we started using accomodating resistance in the form of bands while squatting and benching. I also tried to use the Gym Aware to track velocity on the standing chest press, but it didn’t work as smooth and it took too long between sets for athletes. So a coach has to be a coach, use his eyes, and cue to punch faster.
The results during this training block started to get interesting. We went from 26-28 inches on the just jump to 29-31. Hundreths of a second start chipping away in 10’s and 20’s.
Weeks 10-12 Speed Strength - Velocity Range - 1.0 - 1.3 m/s
We spent 3 weeks working speed strength, sitting at 1.0 during training. The volume of squats, presses and plyos stayed the same in lower body, but loads decreased since we were moving faster.
Lower body plyo volume stayed the same but upper body plyo decreased slightly. The guys were starting to hit and throw every day, so to maintain balance I reduced volume on the right side but kept it the same on the left side.
By the end of the third week, squatting loads were roughly where they were when we were squatting at .8 m/s. The kicker here though was reeling my guys in and not having them jump with each rep. After two weeks of accommodating resistance for upper body work, we took the bands off, based on the suggestions of one of my guys. It was a great suggestion because the bar was exploding!!!!!!!! I giggled like a little kid when I saw the output on the bar and heard the difference in med balls smashing into the wall.
Results kept getting better, verts moved up another two inches and 10’s kept getting better.
Weeks 13-15 Starting Strength - Velocity Range >1.3 m/s
This was the best! I kept this phase as an option. Either continue to move at 1.0 or start training at 1.3 m/s. Reasons for staying at 1.0 m/s was just enjoying the feeling of more load. Those that did move up became like little guinea pigs for me. Results continued to get better. We had the top measured verticals of the off-season, topping at 37.1 inches (by a super athletic catcher), everyone else was consistently 33-36 inches. And it is safe to say by the destruction that the med balls went through that rotational power was way up as well.
This was my first full of season using VBT. It made my life as a coach a little easier yet harder. But that doesn’t matter too much because it made the gains and results of my athletes that much better. I’m willing to deal with discomfort to make my athletes the best that they could be in our short time together!
Some more results to chew on…
- 635 lb hex bar pull without lifting over 425 all off season
- 50 lb improvement in lifetime bench press of 275 with only benching 215 for two workouts 9 weeks before
- Improvements in vertical of up to 7 inches for multiple athletes
- Upwards of 2 ft gained in double broad jumps for multiple athletes
- No injuries
- No overtraining
- No drop offs in training even as field work picked up
I only wish I could have had another 2 months to see how things would have continued to progress!
We will keep playing and tinkering with programming as we continue to grow at 1RM Performance. My athletes know I’m always trying to figure out more cool things that makes them better. VBT isn’t only reserved for my pro guys, my high school and college guys all get a heavy dose of this type of training. It isn’t always as structured since their schedules aren’t as consistent, but the results and continued progress is pretty spot on. Stay tuned for more articles with more detail on that topic!