Published on Enhanced Fitness and Performance (http://enhancedfp.com)

Vibration Training For Fighters by Scott Sonnon

By DMorgan
Created 09/20/2007 - 11:07am

John Sifferman of the International Youth Conditioning Association [1]asked some very insightful questions regarding the nature and purpose of “vibration training” drills in helping Alberto Crane prepare for mixed martial arts domination at his next UFC fight.

The National Strength and Conditioning Association’s Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research (May 29, 2005, 459-66) published research conclusions from the Canadian Sport Centre-Calgary, University of Calgary, Calgary, Alberta.

“Exposure to whole-body vibration has also resulted in a significant improvement in power output in the postvibratory period and has been demonstrated to induce significant changes in the resting hormonal profiles of men. In addition to the potential training effects of vibration, the improvement in power output that is observed in the postvibratory period may also lead to better warm-up protocols for athletes competing in sporting events that require high amounts of power output. These observations provide the possibility of new and improved methods of augmenting the training and performance of athletes through the use vibration training.”

Some figures like JC Santana have claimed that vibration training platforms are merely unstable sufaces like wobble / stability balls, that’s like saying a symphony is just like a shrill scream - the frequency is everything. That major advanced research centers like the US National Institute of Medical Health have positive research convinces me.

High Tech and Low Tech Vibration Training

When I first experienced this in Russia with their national and Olympic coaches, there were two ends to the technology: there was a high-tech version of standing for short periods in position specific stances on a vibrating plate; and there was a low-tech version of joint and breathing specific vibration exercises that the athletes perform through their own activation.

Because the rave across the world with professional teams is the vibration platform, many have overlooked the exquisite low-tech exercises that are to be performed after every exertion by the athletes themselves. As the story goes, where our NASA developed a million dollar pen which could write in outer-space’s zero gravity, the Russian cosmonauts took a pencil. This isn’t to deprecate the value of high technology, but moreso to point out that we get so seduced by the gadgets and gizmos that we overlook the obvious.

What’s Old is New Again.

Ancient cultures in China and Tibet (with tai chi and qigong), India (with certain styles of hatha yoga), and Persia (with Sufi spinning) all had indigenous versions of this approach, but are relatively overlooked because of all of the cultural baggage that they come with. Basically, their practitioners insist that in order to practice part of their discipline you need to assimilate into the entire system. The Russians - as a pragmatic people with sports performance as a political platform - selected techniques, evaluated them, and if the techniques had consistently reproducible results, were kept; everything else abandoned.

Having the unique opportunity to be the first American to intern with their national coaching staff, I sucked up what I could like a sponge in my six years of study. Among the crowning succcessful techniques for their combat athletes I found was vibration training.

Peter Levin in his book, Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma uses the following analogy: If you alert, say a white-tailed deer, by stepping on a branch, her head pops up, her ears focus in the sound’s direction. When no danger presents itself, she returns to grazing. Step on another twig and you see her spring into action galvanizing her entire body to escape. If she finds again that no danger exists, you notice a very interesting twitching. Animals do not store tension like human’s can. They discharge the residual muscular tension from survival arousal. Humans can obviously do this as well. And we do. There are countless rituals in various cultures to account for this, as well as just the very common-place, “oh, just shake it off, you’ll be okay.”

The Shakes

For those of you who fight, you’ve already experienced this many times. Training and competitive stress increases your heart rate and blood pressure, sending blood to your large muscles. Your breathing rate becomes rapid. Your pupils dilate focusing on the opponent at-hand. You sweat to cool off the engine. You can’t pee or poop at an inconvenient time, so right before you fight, you often have to run to the potty several times to ”blow the bilges” and get rid of unnecessary baggage. This reflex to perceived threats or challenges gives you the necessary opportunity to “arrive at the fight” because we all know what it’s like to walk into a fight cold.

This is your Optimal Performance “Zone”

This revved up engine is perfect for fighting… and has a correlary directly to our heart and breathing rate; i.e., your optimal performance heart rate is about 85% of your maximum heart rate (which is approximately 220 - age - in general). Everything that happens here is optimal: you have all of your mental faculties, physiological attributes and physical techniques.

The Adrenal Dump


Because your nervous system thinks that you’re in serious danger, it releases certain chemicals, which call up certain hormones, which turn on your endocrine system. You become supercharged with a “chemical cocktail” being injected into your bloodstream - epinephrine, norepinephrine, aldosterone, endorphins, et cetera. Many sport psychologists focus heavily upon drawing out these chemicals through visualizations, which I have learned is basically treating the symptom, not the disease. This hormonal “dump” was designed to fight or flee from predators using gross-motor reflexes, not compete in sport fighting at an elite level of athleticism. Sure, if you don’t have any skills whatsoever, then this is a helpful safety net in case you get attacked by a band of traveling ninjas. But in the ring, as soon as these chemicals hit the floor, your heart rate jumps up beyond 100% of your max, and you begin to lose your mental faculties and your physical techniques. There’s a great book on this and a pretty easy read - not too jargonized - by Robert Sapolsky named Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers.

There’s even a weird geek discovery called Hick’s Law which states that the more skilled you are the WORSE you will perform when “under the influence” of this chemical cocktail. (When I say “worse” I mean, that as an elite athlete, you will operate like a bumbling idiot to your teammates, not that you will be rolled by the local indigents.)These chemicals interfere with skillful performance by:

As the above implies, breathing and vibration aren’t separated. I demonstrated the basic version of this in the Explosive Sports Performance Breathing basic technique video [2].

Shaking blood volume into periphery avenues diverts blood flow away from large muscles - something like an off-switch for your “chemical cocktail.” It also serves to release stored muscular tension, just like the Power Plate - a vibrational plate which you stand on to stimulate tension to release. Researchers report instant non-deforming range of motion, and even performance and strength gains after only minutes.

Although I love my geek gear, I’m a low-tech kind of guy. The Vibration Training I learned in Russia from the Olympic coaches and special operation unit trainer allows you to minimize your energy expenditure (which their research concluded to be about 25%) while accomplishing the same if not improved performance. If you look at Alberto’s improvements to date - he’s dropped his resting heart rate by 10BPM, his active heart rate by 40BPM and his recovery heart rate by 20BPM and yet he’s performing MORE! Today, in 30 seconds, through my breathing techniques he lowered his heart rate by 30BPM!

Now the most important part of this is the implications this has. I keep saying that my goal as head conditioning and sports psychology coach for Team Crane is to give Alberto 100% of his skills for 100% of the fight. You see, everything above maximum heart rate is just this chemical burn. It’s not trainable. You can’t adapt to it. You can’t train up to “adrenal” strength levels.

So, what happens with these trainers who are running their fighters into the ground way above 100% heart rate max for hours? Things like adrenal fatigue happen. But also in the ring, as soon as those chemicals run low, they don’t have the physiological conditioning to fight. It’s like have a car that runs only on NOX, and then suddenly you’re empty with only fumes in your gas tank. I’m building Alberto a bigger gas tank and Marco Gonzales - his nutrition coach - is filling it with the right fuel set to the right timing burn. I’d say that our Team Crane plan is working brilliantly, thanks to having a world class athlete with the discipline to make difficult changes and a coaching team with the savvy support to make sure that Alberto doesn’t over-throttle.

Sure, there are guys out there who are borrowing methods from my approach, like Kevin Kearns, the trainer to UFC fighter Kenny Florian. Kevin uses my equipment here, and claims that he’s teaching Kenny “Circular Strength Training®” - which is the registered trademark system I created many years ago which I developed from my years as the USA National Sambo Team Head Coach and studying in Russia with their national and Olympic coaches. I’ve never met Kevin and never received one email from him even asking permission to teach what he thinks is CST.

Kenny Florian may be swinging my Clubbell®, but he surely isn’t being taught CST. CST is a system. Even though Kevin has watched my DVDs or read my books doesn’t mean he understands the recipe behind the ingredients.

I’m doing my best to share through this transparent blog what to date no one else has shared in my 15 years of combat athletic coaching. Regardless of whether you’re a fighter trying due diligence to find the best methods to train yourself, or if you’re a strength and conditioning coach trying to learn how to coach fight conditioning, or even if you’re currently a UFC celebrity coach looking to improve your methods, I posted this blog transparently so you DID have the opportunity to do that. If I see “Charlie-Sierra-Tango” micro-cycles popping up, I’ll be happy because I know that fighters are getting more out of their career, and more safely. It doesn’t take any food off my table, because people pay for me, my eye and my personal care. So, I’m doing everything I can to help others get started in this game, as I feel an obligation to give back to the martial arts which gave me so much in life.

In your prior fights, remember when your arms and legs felt like they were full of tree sap? Definitely a performance inhibitor to have the “pump.” Shake, however you see fit, in between sets, before and after, generally and selectively the muscles used. Slapping and punching the muscles also has the same effect. I have to admit that I had no idea what was coming when we would line up against wrestlers from the xUSSR and they would be violently shaking, breathing explosively and slapping and punching themselves. Lifting weight, like any skill, requires selective tension, so you need to focus your activation of the necessary muscles and deactivate superfluous movement and tension to maximize your lifts. The “pump” is our arch nemesis, and there are even techniques you can do to discharge residual muscular tension while doing high volume work. Something even as innocuous as wiggling the fingers at rest pauses or in technical lock-outs, enhances potential stamina by releasing marginal amounts of tension.

Hopefully this overview helps. I know it’s a lot of geek stuff, but you don’t even need to understand how it happens or why it works to practice my drills above. If you do them consistently for 30 seconds to 3 minutes 5-10 times per day, or whenever you need them before, during and after workouts, sparring and rolling, for 2-4 months, it will permanently rewire your nervous system.Please keep me updated on your progress, and thanks for all the great questions in the comments section of my blog. You guys and gals have been GREAT support, and we all appreciate it on Team Crane!

Distinguished Master of Sport

RMAX International [4]

COPYRIGHT© 2007, Scott Sonnon All Rights Reserved, Fair-Use Applies

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