Velocity-based weight training proves less is more when it comes to lifting

LINCOLN, England — Imagine a world where doing less at the gym became the way for better results? Well, as it turns out, you can make this a reality. Sports scientists from the University of Lincoln in the United Kingdom have research to prove that the traditional method for weight lifting should be reversed.

Strenuous exercise is no longer the focal point, researchers say. Instead, optimizing how much one lifts instead of how much one can lift is achieved through “velocity-based training.” While traditional power lifting centers around a one-repetition max, trainers instead use a “velocity measurement” for lifters. This entails calculating the length of time it took to complete a maximum rep, and the distance the weight moved. The measurement is then coupled with the one-rep max to create a “load velocity profile.” The profile is used at each session to determine whether or not an athlete should lift more or less, depending on their velocity that day.

“The idea of velocity based training has been around for a while, but until now there hasn’t been any science to prove that it actually works; the science has finally caught up,” says lead author Dr. Harry Dorrell, from the university’s School of Sport and Exercise Science, in a university release. “There are a lot of factors which can contribute to an athlete’s performance on a particular day, such as how much sleep they have had, nutrition, or motivational factors, but with traditional percentage-based methods we would have no insight into how this effects their strength.”

Velocity-based training vs. traditional weight lifting

For the study, researchers compared two groups’ average weight lifted during two sessions weekly over a span of six weeks. One group used the one-rep max, while the other catered to velocity-based training.

Participants included 16 men between the ages of 18-29 years who had at least two years of prior weight training. The men performed a back squat, overhead press, bench press and the results were recorded at the beginning and end of each session.

The results concluded that the velocity training group became stronger. Researchers also recorded the  lower-body power jump (countermovement jump) and found only the velocity group improved.

“The velocity-based training enabled us to see if they were up or down on their normal performance and thus adjust the load accordingly,” Dr. Dorrell explains. “It’s about making sure the athlete is lifting the optimal load for them, on that particular day. If you lift too little then you won’t stimulate the body as you intend to; but if you lift too much you’ll be fatigued, which increases the risk of injury.”

Less weight, greater improvement

Specifically, by the end of the study the average participant in the velocity training group lifted 33 pounds more on the squat — while loads falling 9% less on average each session. Similarly, they bench pressed 17 pounds more in the end with a 6% load decrease each session.

On the overhead press, lifters added nearly 9 pounds of weight while taking on 6% less weight each session. And on the deadlift, they saw about a 26 pound improvement with an average decrease of 2%.

“While some of these changes could be considered as only small improvements and were similar to the group using the traditional training method, the velocity group lifted significantly less in order to see the gains they made,” Dr. Dorrell notes.

This study is published in Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research.

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