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Part 1: Normative Velocity Scores

An Essential Guide To Velocity Based Training


by Dr. Dan Baker
1. Normative Velocity Scores
Normative scores DO NOT apply across all exercises and individuals ~
some variation between exercises exists, however, enough research exists
that shows very interesting data. So the exercise, the % 1RM and
sometimes the training experience of the athlete need to be considered when
considering what is a “normal velocity score”. Also an understanding of the
difference between average (or mean) velocity and peak velocity is critical.

Average velocity is the velocity score across the entire concentric or


“upwards” portion of the lift and this has most relevance to typical “strength”
exercises like squats, bench press, and other pressing exercises, deadlifts,
pull-ups, rows, and so on.

The Peak velocity is the highest velocity recorded in any small portion
(eg. 5-msec) of the upwards portion of the lift and this has more relevance to
“power” exercises.

Power exercises are those exercises that entail higher velocities,


irrespective of the resistance used and allow for acceleration all the way to
the end of range of the movement (even when the weight is lighter). Typically
this means the Olympic Weightlifting exercise variations (eg. power clean),
jump squats, bench press throws in a smith machine, or where “strength”
exercises have been modified by using a lighter barbell weight but with
additional band or chain resistance, a situation which allows for acceleration
to end range.

Normative Average Velocity Scores for Strength Exercises

The data in the tables below is not supposed to be a comprehensive


review, but more to provide a snapshot of some published research data
upon “normal” velocity scores. So far research has concentrated mainly
upon the squat, bench press, bench pull, and deadlift when looking into what
velocity scores are associated with different %1RM and strength exercises.
Some research has been published with lower strength individuals, some
with higher strength individuals, and some with competitive weightlifters and
powerlifters. Some research has been done in a Smith machine, some with
free weights. The tables will specify and then coaches and athletes can
discern which sets of data are most applicable to their situations.

Table 1 displays data for the Smith Machine prone bench pull. By
analysing scores for this exercise with that of the Smith Machine bench press
(Table 2), it can be clearly seen that the bench pull has much higher velocities
at every %1RM.

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In Table 2, Smith machine and free weight bench press scores for
resistance-trained males in both a paused repetition and the usual “touch &
go” method are displayed. There are differences as expected, with the touch
& go method faster when lighter %1RM loads are analysed, due to the effect
of the stretch-shorten cycle (SSC) which compounds the speed of muscle
contraction with the stored elastic energy inherent in the SSC. Surprisingly,
this advantage of SSC/touch & go bench press seems lost with these
athletes at > 80% 1RM. While comprehensive data upon free weight bench
pressing is not as established, the scores appear similar to those obtained in
the Smith Machine. Free weight touch & go versus paused bench press data
in not as widely researched but the strong bench pressers in the Ormsbee et
al. study and the competitive powerlifters from the Helms et al. study allow
for a comparison with resistance of 90 and 100%, with paused bench
pressing being 0.04 m/s with both resistances. However, of importance,
Ormsbee et al recently showed that stronger, more experienced bench
pressers have slower velocities at 100% 1RM. This is probably due to their
enhanced technical abilities with maximum weights and possibly a greater
mental drive to “embrace the grind” of maximal effort lifting. This will be
seen and detailed below in the free weight squat as well.

However it is important to understand, with every exercise and


especially with squats, that stronger athletes may possess different scores
than less strong athletes with higher %1RM. Tables 3 and 4 outline some
research that has clearly established that fact. Athletes that can squat over
1.6 x BWT tend to 1RM with a velocity of < 0.24 m/s and weaker squatters
tend to 1RM at a velocity in the range of 0.30-0.40 m/s mark. However, the
velocity scores at lighter %1RM (<80%1RM) may be similar. This was
confirmed by the work of Helms et al. who found that average velocity scores
best predict an athlete’s change in strength when the resistance used are >
80%1RM. Basically stronger squatters know how to “grind out” a maximum
squat and therefore their 1RM velocities are lower.

Table 1. Average velocity scores (m/s) for the Smith Machine Bench Pull
exercise from Sanchez-Medina et al. 2014.

Exercise 60% 70% 80% 90% 100%


1RM 1RM 1RM 1RM 1RM
Smith Machine Bench Pull 1.06 0.92 0.79 0.65 0.52
1RM = 80.2 kg @ 76.0 kg
BWT

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Table 2. Average velocity scores (m/s) for the bench press exercise
variations.

Bench Press exercise variations 60% 70% 80% 90% 100%


1RM 1RM 1RM 1RM 1RM
Smith Machine PAUSED Bench Press 0.73 0.59 0.46 0.34 0.22
1RM = 89.1 kg @ 81.4 kg BWT
Pallares et al. 2014.
Smith Machine Touch & Go Bench 0.85 0.66 0.50 0.34 0.19
Press
1RM = 92.1 kg @ 81.4 kg BWT
Pallares et al. 2014.
Smith Machine Touch & Go Bench 0.77 0.61 0.46 0.31 0.17
Press
1RM = 90.3 kg @ 76.0 kg BWT
Sanchez-Medina et al. 2014.
Free weight Touch & Go Bench Press 0.56 0.52 0.32 0.20
1RM = 89.5 @ 82.3 kg BWT
Ormsbee et al. 2017
Free weight Touch & Go Bench Press 0.61 0.49 0.29 0.14
1RM = 133.0 @ 90.2 kg BWT
Ormsbee et al. 2017

Table 3. Average velocity scores (m/s) for full squat exercise variations.

Full Squat exercise variations 60% 70% 80% 90% 100%


1RM 1RM 1RM 1RM 1RM
Smith Machine PAUSED Squat 1.0 0.85 0.67 0.54 0.37
1RM = 90.3 kg @ 81.4 kg BWT
Pallares et al. 2014
Smith Machine Squat 0.81 0.71 0.61 0.51 0.39
1RM = 97.2 kg @ 81.4 kg BWT
Pallares et al. 2014
60% 75% 90% 100%
1RM 1RM 1RM 1RM
Average Squatters ~0.67 ~0.60 0.46 0.34
1RM = 91.2 kg @ 80.3 kg BWT
Zoudos et al. 2016
Experienced Squatters ~0.72 ~0.55 0.34 0.24
1RM = 171.9 kg @ 91.6 kg BWT
Zoudos et al. 2016

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Table 4. Average velocity scores (m/s) for competitive powerlifters in the full
squat, paused bench press, and deadlift with resistances > 80% 1RM from
Helms et al. 2017.

Male NZ IPF powerlifters 80% 85% 90% 95% 100%


BWT = 87.9 (n=12) 1RM 1RM 1RM 1RM 1RM

Squat 1RM = 202.5 kg 0.66 0.54 0.44 0.33 0.23


Bench press (paused) 1RM = 131.8 kg 0.44 0.35 0.24 0.17 0.10
Deadlift 1RM = 237.3kg 0.46 0.37 0.29 0.21 0.14

Table 4 outlines the average velocity scores that competitive


powerlifters attain when lifting “raw” in the bench press (with a competition
pause), full squat and deadlift. Another recent study from New Zealand
compared Weightlifters, powerlifters and experienced trainers in “high bar”
and “low-bar” position squats. Both the lifters groups were raw (without a
belt or knee sleeves) squatting 2 x BWT and the strong trainers were 1.6 x
BWT. All groups, irrespective of their squatting style, squatted 100% 1RM at
velocities of 0.20 to 0.23 m/s (Glassbrook et al. 2017).

As yet, little definitive data exist for pull-up exercises. One recent
study looked at prone grip “dead-hang” (2-second pause at the bottom of
the rep) pull-ups in 82 male trainers who were quite proficient in the pull-up.
To qualify for inclusion in the study, each athlete had to be able to perform
15-reps of the pull-ups with bodyweight and the average 1RM was 1.47 x
bodyweight. The velocities are slightly slower as compared to bench press,
but they may be a function of the long pause in the dead-hang position. In
the author’s experience, if the repetitions are not “dead-hang” but a rapid
stretch-reflex style, they tend to be about 0.04 to 0.08 m/s than those listed
in the Table 5 below.

Table 5. Velocity data for males proficient in the Pull-up. Extra weights were
added via a pull-up belt to allow a 1RM to be attained. From Munoz et al.
2017

Weight BWT = +8 = +16 = +22 = +28 = +34 = +40 =


82kg 90kg 96kg 108kg 108kg 114kg 120kg

%1RM 70 75 80 85 90 95 100
Average 0.73 0.66 0.59 0.51 0.43 0.34 0.26
Velocity

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The point of normative velocity data for key strength exercises is not
to establish daily maximums so that %1RM can be prescribed – that is a
flawed process to some degree. The value of testing and monitoring velocity
scores for strength exercises is to then observe changes in the best velocity
score within a set, as this would designate a change in strength.

Key Take Home Point:


Changes of ~ 0.04 m/s from the usual, best velocity
scores with a given resistance > 80% 1RM usually
indicates a change in 1RM strength of ~ 2-2.5% 1RM

Peak velocity scores for power exercises

Peak velocity is often used for jumping, throwing and Olympic


weightlifting exercises. Table 6 depicts some Peak velocity data from jump
squats with no weight and no arm swing (aka CMJ) as well as with added
resistances. While untrained males typically achieve peak velocity scores of
3.09 m/s (Cormie et al. 2007), more explosive athletes tend to achieve scores
of well above 3.5 m/s and very explosive athletes tend to be over 4.0 m/s.
With the addition of extra barbell resistance, peak velocity scores
decline. However, better athletes or more explosive athletes still tend to
display a velocity advantage ~ compare the higher and lower ranked MMA
fighters from the James et al. study.
For Olympic weightlifting exercises, there are norms for competitive
lifters and some norms with pronounced variability for athletes who merely
perform these lifts in their training. For competitive lifters, at 1RM, snatches
tend to be 1.68 to 1.98 m/s whereas cleans tend to be around 1.50-1.60 m/s.
Lighter lifts < 90% 1RM also tend to exhibit higher peak velocities in both
lifts.

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Table 6. Peak velocity scores for a few different types of athletes during
jump squat tests with different resistances. The jump squat with just BWT
(i.e. a dowel rod on shoulders or hands on the hips aka CMJ) test is also a
simple test of “readiness and recovery” which can be performed weekly or
more often, if desired.

Peak velocity Jump + 50% + 75% + 100%


Squat BWT BWT BWT BWT
Olympic Rugby 7’s players 3.9
Mitchell et al., JSCR 2015
High Level MMA fighters 3.77 2.50 2.15 1.86
James et al IJSPP 2016
Lower Level MMA fighters 3.29 2.34 2.01 1.74
James et al IJSPP 2016
U/18 Male team sport 3.1 2.35
Athletes
Taylor & Taylor, JASC 2014
U/18 Female team sport 3.0 2.1
Athletes
Taylor & Taylor, JASC 2014
Male National swimmers 2.09 1.83 1.62
Garcia-Ramos et al SS & M
2015
Female National swimmers 1.78 1.52 1.34
Garcia-Ramos et al SS & M
2015

Table 7. Peak velocity scores for snatch and clean for high level competitive
weight lifters.

Group Lift

Elite lifters (Ho et al., JSCR 2014) Snatch 1.68 –1.98

Chinese Female (Deming et al.) Clean 1.57

Male elite (Garhammer 1991) Clean 1.59

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For athletes who merely perform variations of these lifts (eg. power
clean, power snatch, clean pulls, mid-thigh pulls) as part of their training, the
velocity scores are more disparate (see Table 8). This is because of marked
variation in technical proficiency and physical stature. Taller athletes tend to
attain higher peak velocities. Weaker or less technically proficient athletes,
much like less strong squatters, can attain higher velocities because of their
“false lower strength”. Stronger and more technically proficient athletes tend
to display peak velocities closer to competitive lifters (see Table 9), however
their velocities drop off markedly in the high 90%+1RM.

Table 8. Data for different variations of the Olympic weightlifting exercises by


sports athletes. From: 1. Cormie et al, MSSE, 2007 2. Suchomel et al JSCR
2015 3. Hardee et al, JSCR 2012 4. Comfort et al, JSCR 2012 5. Jones
et al. JSCR 2007. 6. Haff et al JSCR 2003. References are in guide 1.

Group Exercise 50% 60% 70% 80% 90% 100%

College Power clean 2.5 2.4 2.3 2.2 2.1 2.02 (2)
athletes, (1)
College Power clean 2.0
athletes, (3)
Athletes Mid-thigh 60% 80% 100% 120% 140%
(4) Clean Pull 1.6 1.4 1.25 1.15 1.0

Athletes Mid-thigh 45% 60% 80%


(5) Clean Pull 1.95 1.78 1.68

Athletes Clean pull 90% 120%


(6) 1.72 1.37

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Table 9. Sports athletes who are not competitive lifters, but still experienced
and strong in exercises like power cleans, rarely attain the velocities of
competitive lifters at 1RM level. Typically in the power clean athletes attain
1RM with PEAK velocities of 1.35 to 1.50+ m/s and average velocities of 0.95
to 1.05 m/s ~ however taller athletes can attain much higher velocities, even
at 1RM.

Athlete 1 Peak Average Athlete 2 Peak Average


Velocity Velocity Velocity Velocity
100 kg ~ 1.59 m/s 1.13 m/s 100 kg ~ 2.17 m/s 1.58 m/s
69% 1RM 67% 1RM
120 kg ~ 1.59 m/s 1.14 m/s 120 kg ~ 1.64 m/s 1.19 m/s
83% 1RM 80% 1RM
130 kg ~ 1.44 m/s 1.03 m/s 130 kg ~ 1.55 m/s 1.12 m/s
90% 1RM 87% 1RM
140 kg ~ 1.43 m/s 1.02 m/s 140 kg ~ 1.53 m/s 1.11 m/s
97% 1RM 37% 1RM

145 kg = 1.36 m/s 0.97 m/s 145 kg = 1.51 m/s 1.10 m/s
100% 1RM 97% 1RM

150 kg = 1.42 m/s 1.03 m/s


100% 1RM

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References
Glassbrook et al. The high-bar and low-bar back-squats: A biomechanical
analysis Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 2017 (published
ahead of print)

Gonzales-Badillo et al. Short-term Recovery Following Resistance Exercise


Leading or not to Failure. Int. J Sports Med. 37(4):295-304. 2016.

Helms et al. RPE and Velocity Relationships for the Back Squat, Bench
Press, and Deadlift in Powerlifters. Journal of Strength and Conditioning
Research. 31(2): 292-297. 2017.

James et al. The Neuromuscular Qualities of Higher and Lower-Level Mixed


Martial Arts Competitors. International Journal of Sports Physiology and
Performance. 2016. Published ahead of print.

Mitchell et al. Variable Changes in Body Composition, Strength and Lower-


Body Power During an International Rugby Sevens Season. Journal of
Strength and Conditioning Research. 30(4): 1127-1136. 2016.

Pallares et al. Imposing a pause between the eccentric and concentric


phases increases the reliability of isoinertial strength assessments . Journal
of Sport Sciences. 32:1165-1175. 2014.

Pallares et al. Effects of velocity loss during resistance training on athletic


performance, strength gains and muscle adaptations. Scand J Med Sci
Sports. March. 2016.

Sanchez-Medina et al. Velocity- and power-load relationships of the bench


pull vs. bench press exercises. Int J Sports Med. 35. 209–216. 2014.

Sanchez-Medina et al. Velocity loss as an indicator of neuromuscular fatigue


during resistance training. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 43:1725–1734. 2011.

Zoudos et al. Novel resistance training-specific RPE scale measuring


repetitions in reserve. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research.
30(2): 267–275 2016. 


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