VBT for Powerlifting: Volume Phase

So you want to do velocity based training for powerlifting? It’s a great way to make sure you’re hitting the right training loads each given week, as long as you plan well and supply the relevant context. Those two things, a good plan and relevant context, aren’t trivial matters, and they tend to trip up beginners in the world of VBT. This program is a good way to get your feet wet in the world of velocity-based programming, and we’ll dig into the details here to help you get started.


The Program

The program itself has a very simple structure. It’s four sessions per week, with 3x per week frequency on the squat and bench, and 1x per week frequency on the deadlift. The level of volume is moderate, and should prove to be a challenge for beginner lifters, and possibly intermediate lifters depending on training history. Feel free to add an extra set or two to each squat and bench session if your previous program included higher weekly training volume.


The progression is between 1 RIR and 0.5 RIR in intensity increases each week, in the form of reductions in velocity targets. We’ll get into this in more detail in a later section.


You may have noticed an almost complete absence of accessory movements. This is because modern exercise science research tells us the vast majority of strength gain comes from exercise-specific training volume, and since powerlifters compete in the squat, bench press, and deadlift, that’s where this program is focused. With that said, feel free to include accessory movements if you perceive them to target specific weaknesses, or if they’re prescribed by a sports trainer or physical therapist.


Rest and Recovery


Each squat/bench session should be split by one rest day for recovery purposes. An example of a good split would be as follows:


Monday: Day 1 (Squat, Bench)

Tuesday: Off

Wednesday: Day 2 (Squat, Bench)

Thursday: Off

Friday: Day 3 (Squat, Bench)

Saturday: Day 4 (Deadlift)


If a day is skipped or missed, rather than shifting the program or training on an off-day, that days training volume can be split and added to the two following training sessions for the exercises missed.


Rest between sets should be as long as necessary for full recovery prior to the next set. That differs between individual, but can be anywhere from three minutes to ten minutes. Ideal rest time is four to six minutes. For cluster sets, rest time is prescribed for each set of one rep. Between clusters, rest as long as needed.


Velocity Targets


Velocity targets are useful because we can use them to guide load selection on a set by set basis. The most common set metrics used for velocity targets are last rep velocity or slowest velocity. Other metrics can be used as well, such as first rep velocity, average set velocity, or peak-end velocity. We recommend last rep velocity as it tends to correlate closely with rate of perceived exertion.


The mechanism for adhering to a velocity target is a big complex when you first read it, but becomes intuitive in practice. The rules are as follows:


  1. If your last rep velocity is within plus or minus 0.02 m/s of the target velocity, the weight stays the same. If the last rep velocity is greater than 0.02 m/s above the target velocity, increase weight. If it’s greater than 0.02 m/s below the target velocity, reduce weight.
  2. If your last rep velocity is greater than 0.05 m/s above the target velocity, it doesn’t count toward your set goal for the day.


Context Via RPE/Velocity Correlation Tables

There are two options for setting the necessary context for accurate velocity-based targets. The first option is quite simple, estimate your velocity at one-rep max and include it in the top right of the spreadsheet. The targets will adjust accordingly. This may be necessary to start the program, unless data has already been collected and can be input into the spreadsheet.


The second option is to use the included RPE/Velocity correlation tables. In the ‘set up’ tabs, log your velocities in the appropriate reps-per-set and RPE cells. As these are filled out, the correlation table will automatically interpolate between these cells to create a full set of contextual data points that can be used even after this program is finished. The program will automatically reference the correct cells in the table if this option is chosen.


Templated programming can have drawbacks. We don’t know your training history, we can’t adjust if something comes up, and velocity can’t autoregulate for a mis-grooved rep. We also can’t help with form or prescribe tailored accessory movements. We’ve done our best to work around these facts, and have added extra guidance for safety purposes. Since velocity is a dynamic method of load prescription, we highly recommend keeping all sets below 9 RPE (one rep left in reserve). If your v1RM isn’t set correctly, or a data point in the tables is incorrect, feel free to abandon a set if you ever feel like the next rep could put you within a single repetition of failure.


If you’re looking to improve further, feel free to reach out to us and ask us for a reference for coaching with Velocity Based Training. We work with some of the best coaches in the world and are happy to help.

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