Oscillation Training for Sport

Intro

Is there a holy grail of training? No. But Oscillation (OC) training is a highly effective training strategy for athletes and people recovering from an injury.

Why Use OC Methods?

What separates the elite from the advanced in athletics is their ability to rapidly contract/relax, and relatedly produce force in the shortest amount of time (Smith, 2016). OC training looks like a rapid “push-pull” motion in an attempt to maximize the ability of an athlete to reverse the muscle action phase at a high-velocity. It is precisely this push-pull motion that OC training targets, with the adaptation being the ability to rapidly contract/relax, which is what separates the elite from the advanced in athletics.



Although it can look gimmicky, the benefits are real. Just to name a few (Van Dyke, n.d.):

  • improve strength within specific ranges of motion (general and sports specific)

  • increase motor learning skills

  • further adaptations in the three muscle actions in all dynamic movements

  • increase efficiency of the stretch-shortening cycle

  • increase neural drive for rate of force development

  • improve the maximal velocity of actions completed

In terms of the performance of this training method, there are varying levels to use to play with the intensity. A less advanced athlete may require a range of 5-7 inches in OC exercises because they’re unable to reverse the muscle action phase, whereas an advanced athlete will be able to complete that same high-intensity movement in a range of 3-4 inches.

OC methods are designed to train the most rapid possible acceleration and deceleration of a given movement, which is the most sport specific trainable skill (Van Dyke, n.d.). So it makes sense that athletes must utilize the push-pull intent to create the specific adaptations of the OC method. In other words, if an athlete doesn’t have the intent to rapidly accelerate and decelerate as they perform a given movement, then the intended adaptation will not be realized.


Strength Improvements

“You’re only as strong as your weakest link.” This phrase applies to sports performance training in the sense that an athlete is only as strong as they are in their weakest position. To illustrate this, the bottom position of a squat is where an athlete will be weakest. If an athlete can increase their strength at their weakest point (sticking point, like the bottom of a squat), then they will subsequently increase their strength throughout the entire movement. In other words, if an athlete becomes stronger at the bottom of their squat, then they’ll be stronger at squats in general because strength from the weakest point translates to throughout the movement.

OC training is effective at training those weaker positions because the athlete is forced to create movement against high loads of force in those weak points. Furthermore, the amount of reps completed in those weak points using oscillations is increased, which will yield higher strength gains, without having to expend more energy doing the complete movement. This allows for great focus on developing the strength in those weaker points. For example, if an athlete can squat 80% 1RM for only 4 reps (due to weakness at the bottom of the squat), then OC will allow the athlete to get 8-10 reps in that bottom position with the same weight, without having to also get reps at the higher ranges of motion where the athlete is already stronger.


Tissue Tolerance and Golgi Tendon Organs


OC movements will help athletes increase their tissue tolerance to stress in specific ranges of motion because of the increase in reps (exposure) to stress at those ranges of motion. To illustrate this, imagine a player jumps to dunk at 45 degrees knee flexion, but wants to jump faster off the ground and still dunk. If the goal is to jump faster off the ground, then less knee flexion should be a goal, so let’s say that the goal is 30 degrees knee flexion. Using OC’s at that 30 degree knee flexion will increase not only the strength on a neuromuscular level, but also the actual tissue will get stronger because of repeated exposure under stress at that range of motion.


In addition to raw strength gains and increased tissue tolerance, OC’s also train the golgi tendon organ (GTO). Because GTO’s inhibit a muscle when it reaches up to 60% of what the structure can actually handle. For example, if an athlete can squat 100 lbs., then the GTO will inhibit at 60 lbs. (Van Dyke, n.d.). The GTO’s threshold is trainable, and can be elevated if the body is taught to and adapts to handle higher loads in specific ranges of motion, which will ultimately lead to increased force output from the muscle and in turn strength.


Programming OC Methods: Peaking


OC methods build on top of previously built attributes, therefore this is an advanced training technique. A novice would get no real benefit out of this because of the lack of exposure to training strength in all three actions of a dynamic movement. Therefore, OC should be used to enhance previously developed adaptations in athletes who have already gone through explicit eccentric, isometric, and concentric training phases.


The OC method can be used to meet different training block goals based on the position that the movement is executed in. If the movement is executed in the disadvantageous (weakest) position, then increasing strength is likely the focus of that training block, specifically on a reactive day. On the flipside, if the OC movement is executed in the advantageous (strongest) position, then a speed training block is likely the focus because neural drive and contraction speed can be maximized from this position. By training each of these positions individually, the ability to drive specific adaptations is improved to the fullest extent.


With all of that said, early training cycle training blocks are best programmed to focus on tissue tolerance through energy system and GPP training, as well as increasing strength by using high-loads and specific muscle actions (ECC, ISO, CON) (Van Dyke, n.d.). As the competition season approaches, then blocks of power and speed with low-loads and high-velocities is best. This means then that OC training in disadvantageous positions is best programmed in early training blocks, whereas OC training in advantageous positions is best programmed in late training blocks to accentuate peaking.


Final Thoughts

Oscillation (OC) training is an outstanding training method to implement with more advanced athletes. Aside from its numerous neuromuscular benefits, the skill benefits of increased ability to accelerate and decelerate have a high correlation with improving sports performance. As effective as this method is, it should be programmed according to the training goal at that point in the athletes season.


References


Smith, J. (2016, March 03). Perform the oscillating split squat to sprint faster. Retrieved

February 11, 2021, from https://www.stack.com/a/perform-the-oscillating-split-squat-to-sprint-faster


Van Dyke, M. (n.d.). OC Training Methods. Retrieved February 11, 2021, from

https://vandykestrength.com/oc_training_methods


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