So I am extremely excited to introduce you to a whole new view of training and a paradigm shift when it comes to being fit. I know some of you reading this will have heard of Scott Sonnon, but I bet you haven’t read too many interviews with the guy. The reason for this is that he is one of the premier special forces trainers in the world right now. He is in serious demand right now, training counter-terrorism unit, Navy SEALS, police forces, SWAT teams, etc. He spent 6 years traveling all around Russia and masterminded with former USSR Olympic Coaches and trainers of Russian Special Forces. He took this cutting-edge research and improved upon it during those 6 years and has been introducing it to the U.S. These days, everyone wants to pick his brain when it comes to fitness and conditioning. He doesn’t have a whole heck of a lot of time to do interviews, but luckily I nailed a quick Q&A with him. The following is one of the best interviews I’ve had on this site so far.
[Ever heard of terms like “Stored Elastic Energy” or “Sequential “Summation of Forces”? When you learn conditioning from Scott, prepare add about 10-20 new terms to your vocabulary!]
How I Landed The Interview With Scott Sonnon
Back in October of last year, I purchased a fat loss course put together by Adam Steer and Ryan Murdock. I dropped my gym membership setup a private blog for people from this site who also purchased the course. I spent 3 months posting to this private blog daily and worked through this tough program along with everyone else. Out of the 200+ that joined me on the private blog, less than 20 finished the program to completion with me. I learned that Scott Sonnon was the guy behind what Ryan and Adam were teaching and that they learned these brutal (but effective) training techniques from him. All 20 of us who finished the program got great results, but it was a tough and humbling 90 day period. I knew that I wanted to eventually get an interview with Scott. It took some time, but Adam and Ryan finally hooked me up. Thanks guys!
Rusty: Okay Scott, you have some serious credentials. I have about a zillion questions that you could answer, but I will keep this narrowed down to Special Ops Training. So how did you go from martial arts to full blown trainer for the Russian Special Forces and Israeli Counter-Terrorism Units?
Scott: I happened to be in the wrong place at the right time, and I guess I had the perfect combination of character flaws to want to go places others are smart enough to steer clear of. As a multiple-time champion and national coach of SAMBO – Russia’s national wrestling style — I was offered a difficult choice.
I could be the first American to formally intern in Russia at the SAMBO-70 Academy, or I could be dropped into a government “think tank” of trainers made up of ex-USSR Olympic coaches, Russian Special Forces, Military Intelligence and Political Security. I chose the latter…
…and I spent 6 years traveling back and forth to Russia and all around that country. I gained incredible insights into the now defunct Soviet Superhuman Sports Machine. Fortunately, we were able to absorb their research and take it to the next level in our country.
Over the years our work has leaked out of the government side and into the sports community – the NFL, NHL, MLP, UFC, etc… – and eventually out into mainstream awareness through public fitness programs. But I still nurture my contracts in the special operation and federal law enforcement communities, because frankly, I find them easiest to relate to. I guess I’ve never been quite right in the head. I find that by going where I’ve never been within myself, finding out just how deep this apparently bottomless rabbit hole of human potential goes, seeing both life and training as a martial art to be mastered every day, I can only find solace with other like-minded spirits who revel in the same brand of spiritual masochism. For me, it’s an honor to train among them and to share my experiences with them, whether that be with our hard-core heroes here at home or when I’m invited to train allies like the Israeli special forces and the Italian secret service.
Rusty: I went through a course by Adam Steer and Ryan Murdock last year that was tailored around your Circular Strength Training principles. This might be the first routine that actually increased my flexibility and increased range of motion. Can you explain why your techniques are so much better than traditional stretching for flexibility?
Scott: In general, static flexibility training is meant to change the resting length of soft tissue. It stretches tissues long or hard enough to cause a permanent deformation, much like pulling a plastic bag until it can’t spring back to its original length. You certainly could address tight muscles that way, but ultimately it’s a danger to joint integrity, and it isn’t helpful for muscle growth or sports performance.
By contrast, mobility exercises focus on restoring the natural range of motion of the tissues surrounding a joint complex. It’s a little bit like shaking out a muscle when it’s tight. Tension is a frequency, and meeting it with vibrations of the same frequency releases and restores the natural resting length of all muscles involved. It’s more complex than just shaking out a muscle of course, but that can be a starting point.
[I turned 40 this year as did Scott. One of us is really flexible. Can you guess who? Hint: it isn’t me by a long shot!]
Understanding why mobility exercise produces superior results over static stretching requires a quick primer from the leading edge of anatomical theory. The structure of the body resembles two bags connected to each other. The inner bag contains the hard stuff: bones and cartilage. The outer bag holds the muscle, and it’s tacked down to the inner bag at the points we refer to as “insertions.” If you want to restore the resting length of a muscle, you must first release the inner bag at the points where it connects two or more bones – the “joint capsules.” Releasing the inner bag not only gives you the ability to load and absorb resistance in exercise, but since the body’s balance, coordination, agility and reactive strength all lies there, it also improves your sports performance and the contractibility of your muscles, allowing you to grow bigger and stronger.
Both static flexibility training and regular resistance training cause the outer bag to become glued down to other bags, forming attachments or “adhesions.” If you don’t use mobility exercise to restore the resting length of these tissues, the tightly knotted muscles become thick and leathery, and they shorten. Short, tight muscles have less ability to contract, which means you’ll plateau fast in your training, and you’ll stop growing.
Mobility keeps your outer bags fluid and prevents them from being glued down. It also releases the inner bag, so you’re always growing.
Rusty: My guess is a lot of the special forces guys you train, and bodyguards are probably similar to me when they start out. They are traditional gym trained guys who are in great shape, but most likely get rocked by your routine. What do you find are the biggest weak points for guys who haven’t gone through your flow and Circular Strength Training based routines?
Scott: “Get rocked” is a pretty accurate description. The biggest lack I see in guys who come from the “Go Big or Go Home” mentality is that they’re incapable of moving pain- and injury-free through any obstacle with ease and imagination. By contrast, my guys and gals move very much like parkour or cirque performers within just a few weeks of training. It has to do with two geek concepts that I learned from Russian bioengineers: Stored Elastic Energy (the ability to absorb and retranslate force – to change direction, twist, bend, dive, climb, and leap suddenly and from odd angles), and Sequential Summation of Forces (or “expressible power” – the difference between getting hit by a bat and getting cracked by a whip; the bat will hurt and maybe even break a bone, but the whip will sever a limb).
Think of it this way. Most traditional exercises are performed by pressing or pulling front-back, up-down or side to side. But the body isn’t built to express power that way. The body expresses power through angles and diagonals.
You don’t walk by stepping forward with your right leg and right arm at the same time. Try it. You look and feel like a motor moron, don’t you? We walk asymmetrically: left arm forward, right leg forward, alternating with right arm forward, left leg forward. We also throw, swing, strike, etc that way. If you only train in 1 or 2 dimensions, you become less and less able to translate your power into other skills, eventually becoming encased in a coffin of your own dysfunction. And that’s how most of these folks train.
But with a couple weeks of TACFIT under their belt, these “go big or go home” guys suddenly feel like martial art masters. Why? Because that’s how old-school, hard-knocks martial artists have always trained – at least they did until the past couple decades, when “exercise physiology grads” decided to impose their robotic movements upon the lethal power of sophisticated movement in traditional martial arts conditioning.
Rusty: You are training guys to get in top condition to defend their life or the lives of others. What makes your principles so effective when it comes to combat, self defense, etc?
Scott: Because real fitness is self-defense. Real training is combat. There is no other determining factor. Ultimately, when we say “fitness” we mean “fit to perform in the worst crisis, for as long as possible.” I realize that my definitions are controversial, but frankly, I’m not concerned with what other organizations think about us any longer. I once sought their approval and I spoke at their conventions and conferences, but now I just call it as I see it.
What are you fit FOR? You should be fit to fight, and fit to fight for as long as humanly possible. If you’re not, then you’re just a hobbyist.
Now, don’t get me wrong, most martial artists nowadays aren’t fit to fight sleep, much less an attacker. They’ve memorized dance moves with as much expressible power as a 5 year old mimicking The Last Airbender.
If you’re actually FIT… you are tactically fit. And if you’re tactically fit, you’re far better off than the martial artist who has memorized thousands of techniques but couldn’t fight his way out of a wet paper death trap.
Conditioning is the ultimate submission hold. Whoever can absorb and retranslate collision, change angles, reorient and ground at odd angles, wins. Not bigger, faster, stronger. We’ve proven that in every arena, from the micro of human combat to air battles with armed and armored jets.
You walk into a room and you see a circus of puffed Jersey boys with Mr. T starter sets bedazzling their wife-beater cleavage. And then you see that one wiry, ripped guy leaning against the exit banister, smiling quietly amongst the noise – and you instantly recognize that the “commando in the corner” is the man you want at your 6 when the shit hits the fan.
Rusty: I have a work space in a downtown area that is getting tougher by the day. If I have an extra 2-3 hours per week to learn good self-defense techniques, how is my time most well spent. Any particular classes that you would recommend? What are your thoughts on Krav Maga?
Scott: You’d be best off working a generalized mobility session first solo, and then with a partner. Helping a person through mobility drills with your hands teaches you where he can be most efficiently manipulated for takedowns, throws and submissions. The movements encoded in TACFIT Commando are defensive tactics. They’re not just a random adjunct to defensive tactics but are actually the support system for them. You can’t do sometimes what you don’t do daily. TACFIT Commando is exactly what you need.
[Watch at around the one minute 30 second mark and see how Scott goes from the ground position to easily standing. He makes a really difficult move look easy. I actually didn’t know that was possible.]
Krav Maga in Israel is like Sambo in Russia or Jiujitsu in Brasil or Muay Thai in Thailand: ugly, brutal and short. Unfortunately, that doesn’t sell a lot of classes – and most martial arts schools are designed to put asses in the seats rather than power in your performance.
You’d do much better by training to the point that you can’t see, can’t talk and can barely think, and then going one repetition further with good form. That final repetition, where you’d do anything to surrender but you manage to keep form and go one more step, is more valuable than any “black belt.” Take that from someone who has earned several black belts that are buried somewhere in my closet.
Rusty: I know that most of your training is geared toward strength, mobility, and function…but what about a guy who wants to look great on the beach? How does a body trained using your principles look different compared to a typical gym trained body?
Scott: Puffy jiggly bumps do not make a beach body. The girls just laugh at them anyway… or at least they do as soon as some badass steps out of the waves with his skin shrink-wrapped around the gnarled limbs of a commando physique LOL. No, I can’t say that my program will give you the typical gym-trained body. And I’d sell my soul to the Devil before I’d do you the dishonor of giving you the appearance of strength alone. I give you both GO Muscle AND Show Muscle. A body that’ll serve you just as well on mission as it does on shore leave.
Rusty: I am pretty darn interested in TACFIT. I didn’t get back in February when you guys launched it…mainly because I was launching a muscle building course.Can you give me an outline of what this program is all about?
Scott: Sure. We put the Commando program together to maximize continued muscle growth while ensuring optimal fat loss. The program targets the energy systems of tactical response: that means high intensity, three-dimensional movements done for repeated bursts of short duration, with fast recovery. Each “mission” can be completed in less than 30 minutes, and those 30 intense minutes melt fat faster than hours of cardio-style exercise. When you’re on vacation, too busy to get to the gym, or simply want to shake things up a bit while still building muscle, this is the perfect equipment-free solution.
Each individual exercise in the program has been carefully chosen to forge the highest level of specific conditioning while building and reinforcing tactically relevant skill sets. This translates to tireless stamina, extreme range reactive strength, ballistic speed, the agility and coordination of a Free Runner, and active recovery and pre-habilitation. And it’s simply a hell of a lot of fun to do.
Oh, and each exercise in the 3-month plan comes with 3 different levels of movement difficulty, so it’s completely accessible to beginners while still difficult enough at the higher levels to challenge even elite athletes. If you follow all 3 months of the program and then repeated them with each level of movement difficulty (building your neurological sophistication as you increase your “go muscle”), you’ll have 9 full months of challenging training right there at your fingertips.
Rusty: I was looking at your Facebook page and it looks like you travel around to train Police Departments with TACFIT. Is this the same material as what is in the course?
Scott: Yes, police, military, security, fire. Everyone trains with the same program, just not at the same level. Most systems toggle variables like intensity, volume, density, frequency, speed, etc. But what sets TACFIT apart is that it manipulates complexity. When an agency comes to TACFIT, they have a diverse fitness population that needs to train together as a team. That’s one reason why there are several levels to each exercise in the TACFIT program.
The way the program is trained is more important than the specific level of the technique, and the level of the technique is more important than the type of tension produced, and the type of tension produced is more important than the tools. That’s why we can do a TACFIT session with absolutely no equipment: anywhere, anytime.
And many times that could be in the desert, in the jungle, on a mountain, on the tundra, on a ship, at a hotel, or wherever you happen to be.
There are no excuses. Everyone trains, no one quits. Everyone finishes with perfect form, just not at the same level of movement complexity. And that’s why TACFIT commandos are always improving at such a rapid rate. They don’t train poor technique just to finish.
Your nervous system is the only real weapon you’ll ever have. We treat it like gold.
Rusty: I love traditional gym workouts with free weights, etc. Can I successfully alternate TACFIT for a few months along with my favorite gym routine for a few months? Is there something I should do to insure I maintain joint mobility when not doing TACFIT?
Scott: Yes. It’s not the type of tool that’s important, it’s the formula used. If you understand the formula you can alternate in some of your other favorite workouts, if you wish. Understanding how to use “mobility” as a specific warm-up and “compensation” as a specific cool-down holds true whether you’re doing a traditional gym program or TACFIT. And you’ll learn how to incorporate these elements by doing the TACFIT Commando program.
Rusty: Chuck Norris in his prime vs Bruce Lee in his prime….who comes out on top?
Scott: Whoever’s friend shows up first with a gun.
Rusty: I appreciate your time in answering these questions. I know you are extremely busy, but I know the readers here really appreciate hearing directly from the originator of this cutting-edge training program.
Scott: Rusty, it’s my pleasure. Warriors aren’t born, they’re made. They’re forged in small towns and in garage gyms, and they’re hardly ever what people expect. They’re usually the ones who simply bust ass every day while others blab about the latest reality show or game station. They’re out there, and if you’re any indication of what your readers are like, I suspect you’ve got quite a few “commandos in the corner” brother. Be safe.
[Scott recently made his advanced TACFIT body weight workout available online. Click the banner above to get the details of perhaps the most advanced body weight conditioning program ever devised.]
Note: I don’t think people (including myself) did a good job explaining just how innovative this program was when it first launched back in February. I mean…How many people have Scott’s credentials? Really innovative cutting-edge stuff here!