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What the Heck Are Micro-Oscillations?

A micro-oscillation refers to a small but rapid change in the state of the point of force application, requiring a proportional but opposite muscle reponse to maintain stability.

Because of the need to quickly respond to the micro-oscillation, an explosive muscle recruitment pattern is required. So even though there is no apparent movement during functional holds and functional isometrics the actual "contraction" is in reality a series of micro-contractions of an explosive nature.

During holds, the body develops the capacity to recruit fast-twitch fibers preferentially. Over the long run this makes you more explosive.

Improving your capacity to respond to micro-oscillations will improve joint stability and is one of the best ways to reduce the risk of joint/tendons/muscle injuries.

Force production increases in a pulse manner to micro-oscillations. Meaning that with each reactive contraction to a micro-oscillation, within the first 10 seconds your capacity to produce force increases.

Method 1: Ring Holds

Rings are the ultimate tool when it comes to micro-oscillation training because of the instability of the rings at the point of force application. Even with the most stable holds on rings, you'll have to fire a large number of rapid muscle contractions every second. The more of these contractions you have to initiate per second while staying stable, the more you improve muscle recruitment and the capacity to stimulate growth.

The micro-oscillation holds on rings, while gradually working toward holding in a stretched position, increases flexbility. Oscillatory (or pulse) stretching is one of the fastest ways to improve range of motion. So ring holds, working toward holding more extreme positions, not only will help you add muscle, but they will improve your range of motion and your strength in extreme positions.

With any form of micro-oscillation training, but especially with rings, no two reps will ever be alike. The micro-oscillation pattern will change every time (every second in fact) which means that your nervous system will never be able to create a motor pattern that will make an adaptation strategy automatic. This means that you will rarely plateau from ring work; if properly applied you'll be able to improve motor unit recruitment for a long time.

Method 2: Band Holds

Band holds are interesting because the micro-oscillations are due to a contant change in the resistance provided. So to keep the position stable you have to make rapid changes in the level of force production applied. This will not only improve motor unit recruitment, but strength-skill: the capacity to produce the perfect amount of force required to do a precise and forceful movement. This will improve motor control in high speed and high power movements.

Bands allow for micro-adjustment in joint position during the set. With a dumbbell you're producing force directly against the direction of the resistance, which is determined by gravity. With bands, the direction of the resistance is adjusted depending on body position. The micro-adjustments allow you to be able to focus on finding the perfect position to maximize muscle recruitment. This is especially effective for the back complex (lats, rhomboids, rear delts, traps, teres, and other rotator cuf muscles).

Bands provide for a more natural resistance curve since the actual resistance is gradually increased over the range of motion. This facilitates the ramping up of force production during a rep and allows you to reach a higher peak force level.

Bands also allow you to modulate resistance while in the hold/fixed position by walking forward or back; you do not have to change the joint angle to increase the resistance. This allows you to focus on maximizing force production at the hold position without being limited by a weak point in the range of motion.

It also allows for a pulse effect: maximum force can be maintained for about 3 seconds. You can get into the hold position, walk forward until you reach the max level of resistance you can handle, walk back while maintaining the position to reduce resistance, then walk up again to increase it.

The second pulse rep is always stronger than the first one, and in many people the third one is also stronger. By being able to stay in position while reducing resistance you drastically lower the amount of fatigue that you would accumulate simply by getting into position (e.g. to do pulse reps with a free weight you have to get out of position then get back into position with every pulse rep, which wastes energy since the money part is the hold).

Method 3: Free-Weight Holds

Free-weight holds have less adaptability than band holds and are thus better used with longer sets (10-15 seconds) held in a position where the target muscle(s) is under load in an elongated position.

Stretch holds are amazing for building muscle mass, especially at the insertion point. They also increase strength when the muscle is in a stretched position, which is normally very weak and vulnerable. They also improve active range of motion.

While ring and band holds are somewhat superior to similar holds done with free-weights, since the type of resistance is different, the three methods are complimentary: they require slightly different recruitment strategies. When you ask your body to use different motor recruitment stretegies you'll improve the capacity to adapt even more and as such the overall muscle-building result will be higher when using a combination of methods as compared to only using one type of contraction.

Because of the more stable nature of the resistance relative to rings (less movement micro-oscillation) and bands (less tension micro-oscillation) the body adapts much more rapidly to free-weight holds. You should thus rotate them frequently, whereas you can stick with the same ring/band holds for a very long period of time without stagnation.

-- Christian Thibaudeau

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