High Velocity Training Leads to Better Maximal Strength Gains?

May 25, 2012

bench press

Velocity of movement is in an important variable in many training studies.  The idea usually being that athletics is performed at high velocities of movement, athletes need to be able to produce large amounts of power, and that training should be designed to optimize athletic power production.  Having said that, it is assumed that as one trains for maximal strength one’s velocity of movement is going to slow greatly (it’s more difficult to move heavy weights quickly).

 

Padulo et al look at this with a three week bench press training program in the June issue of the International Journal of Sports Medicine.  The authors are looking at pretty experienced subjects (mean age in the early 40’s with almost 20 years of resistance training behind them) and divide the subjects into two groups.  One group performed each set of the bench press at 80-100% of maximal speed, the other at a self-selected training speed.  Both groups trained two times per week at 85% of 1-RM.

 

The speed group performed each set until the speed of movement decreased by 20%, they finished each session when they were unable to achieve 80% of their maximum velocity.  The self-selected group stopped each set at exhaustion.  The self-selected group ended their training session when they could not perform another repetition at 85% of 1-RM.  Both groups rested for two minutes between each set.

 

At the end of three weeks:

  • The speed group increased their 1-RM bench press by more than 10%, the self-selected group increased their bench press by .17%.
  • The speed group increased their movement velocity by more than 2%, the self-selected group by .11%.
  • The speed group increased the number of repetitions performed per session by 35% over three weeks, the self-selected group increased the number of repetitions performed per session by 12%.
  • The authors also looked at EMG activation of the upper body muscles and found that the activation (as measured by EMG) was greater for the speed group.

 

These results are interesting, it’s worth it to take a moment to consider what is going on in this study as the results are counter-intuitive because the self-selected group performed more repetitions than the speed group.  This would seem to argue for the self-selected group having a bigger training effect as a result of the study. The authors argue that the greater barbell velocity during the speed group’s training (.154 meters/second vs. .146) did a better job of activating (and therefore training) the fast-twitch muscles.  This (their argument) can be seen by the greater EMG activity for the speed group.  Also the high velocity training might increase the ability of the muscles to recruit motor units.  If that’s the case, then it would explain the increased benefit for the high velocity training.  Now, it has to be pointed out that many speed-of-movement studies are looking at pure power production and focus on smaller loads (0-70% of 1-RM).  While these loads allow for greater speeds of movement (and greater power), they are often too low to have a positive impact on maximal strength.  For this reason, a study that looks at an appropriate training intensity (85% 1-RM) and shows that high velocity training is superior in terms of strength gains is interesting.

 

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