NIFS Healthy Living Blog

Specificity of Training: Know Your Fitness Goal and Plan Your Workouts

ThinkstockPhotos-500834439.jpgWhat would life be without mistakes? It would be pretty boring, if you ask me. Making mistakes is the best way to learn. One mistake that most people have made is arriving at the gym and thinking, “What am I going to do here today?” I know I have done this plenty of times. When this happens, your motivation for your workout might decrease because you may just end up picking something that doesn’t really light a fire under you.

How Can I Avoid Workout Uncertainty?

When it comes to exercise, there should always be a reason behind what you’re doing. Whatever that reason may be (heart health, losing some body fat to impress a significant other, or just looking good for beach season), you should know the purpose behind your exercise before you begin. (Here ’s how to get started on fitness goal setting.)

Once you have established your goal for exercise, the next step is to find a goal-specific training program to follow. I would highly recommend seeking a professional for assistance. They will assess where you are now, help you establish where you want to be physically, create a program that fits your needs, and help you get to that end goal you’ve been chasing.

What if I Enjoy the Freedom of Creating My Own Workouts?

Great! You are one of the few who stay on top of their own programs, and you like to concoct some fun workouts. However, this can be a bit tedious sometimes. Some days you feel rushed, and while getting to the gym for a workout is feasible, taking the time to plan for your workout may not fit into your schedule.

Also, there’s no shame in admitting that sometimes you just run out of ideas! That’s one of the best parts of the fitness community: sharing ideas. Other people in the fitness world are coming up with tons of different exercises and workouts, and you may not know about them unless you actively seek them out. Keep your eyes and ears open in the gym and you may just stumble upon your new favorite exercise.

The Bottom Line: You Don’t Become a Better Painter by Practicing Basketball

This is the idea of specificity. Practice the craft in which you wish to become better. Pick a goal and stick to it. If you are constantly switching up your goals, you will be trying to get to 100 different destinations all at the same time. Wait until you accomplish the task at hand before thinking, “What’s next?”

If you ever find yourself unsure of your goals, how to decide on a goal, or how to reach your goals, talk to any of the Health Fitness Specialists at NIFS. We can help to get you on a clear path toward a specific goal.

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This blog was written by Aaron Combs, NSCA CSCS and Health Fitness Instructor. To find out more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: fitness goal setting workouts training specificity

5 Lessons I Learned at the Wanderlust Yoga Retreat

YogaSlackers-_-Day-1-_-Tony-sitting-on-slackline-Photo-2.jpgI recently attended an event that was pretty far outside my usual activity base. I consider myself a lifetime mover and a lifetime learner, but I have to admit this event had me a bit concerned about my success rate, comfort level, and quite honestly my enjoyment. After all, I was supposed to be on vacation. The event I am referring to is a rather large one called Wanderlust, a three-day celebration of the practice of yoga and its branches.

Now you can see a guy like me was pretty concerned about my abilities stepping into this weekend of yoga, meditation, slacklining, and the like. I have little to no experience in many of the mindfulness practices on what I refer to as “that side of fitness,” nor was I confident in my abilities to slow down long enough to find some kind of connections while performing in the sessions. I’ve been known to be a bit on the intense side, especially when it comes to training, so I was worried about my presence at this kind of event. A bull in a china shop came to mind.

After the first few sessions of meditation, yoga, and some slackline training, I was quickly finding out the great benefits that come from mindful movement. I was able to slow down and connect with myself and my surroundings. I began to feel every part of the movement and how it affected the entire body. Even the very difficult poses of yoga were providing positive feedback that I am sure so many seek during their personal practice. Don’t get me wrong, there were some frustrations and many failures, but it became very enjoyable to experience those hurdles and challenges. Here are few more lessons I grabbed from my time at Wanderlust.   

1. Yoga Is Hard, and You Are Going to Fall

Tony-in-Crow-Photo-1.jpgPrior to this trip to Snowshoe Mountain, I participated in two group fitness yoga classes here at NIFS, and I struggled. After a few more sessions at Wanderlust, I was still pretty bad, but I was better. I learned from my previous failures and falls (usually on my head from a handstand or crow) and got a little better each time. Small improvements made consistently will always lead to success in anything that you do.

2. Wandering Does Not Mean You’re Lost

Attempting new things and stepping out of the norm does not mean you are lost or unhappy with your current training methods and ideas; it is a positive thing to try new activities that provide a different kind of stimulus. Challenging your current limits once in a while is a good thing; you tend to find out some things about yourself you never knew, opening up new interests and opportunities for growth. It’s exciting to find strength in activities you never knew you had and jump out of that self-made comfort zone. Try new things and witness the benefits both positive and negative that will always lead to growth.

3. Balance Is Key

I think finding balance in your fitness world is as important as having one in the first place. Remove the blinders once in a while and work on aspects of your fitness that create balance in your body, like mobility, strength, endurance, and power. Repeating the same thing over and over again, constantly performing high-intensity workouts or only performing heavy strength workouts, is a good way to paint yourself into a corner. Find balance during your week of workouts to continue to get the best of all disciplines that will ultimately create the best version of you.

4. Just Let Go

Probably one of the major lessons for me during this retreat was finding ways to just let go and be where you are at that moment and absorb what that experience has to offer. Being in that moment and not stressing about what has happened and what is yet to come allowed me to get the most out of not only the activity I was participating in, but everything that surrounded it—like the beautiful day and scenery, for example. And by the way, here are a few things you should learn to let go:

  • Toxic people in your life
  • Being a victim
  • Trying to please and/or impress everybody
  • Worries about the future or past mistakes 

5. There Is Always a Way

Tree-on-top-of-Rock-Photo3.jpgI am a huge believer that if there is a will, there is a way, and to always find ways to get things done. Just like the tree in the picture growing on top of a rock, it found a way to get tall and strong even though it is out of its usual environment of growing from the ground. IT FOUND A WAY. You can always find a way to eat right, exercise, get enough sleep, decrease stress; you just have to reach and work for it. There is a way; find it. This tree did, and so can you.

Bonus Takeaways:

  • Find your “True North,” that reason you are here and what makes you happiest.
  • Have faith in yourself and be brave; don’t be afraid to make a mistake.
  • Find getaways that are out of the norm for you and redefine your boundaries.
  • Surround yourself with like-minded people who want the same things you want.

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This blog was written by Tony Maloney, ACSM Certified Exercise Physiologist and Fitness Center Manager. To find out more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.
Topics: NIFS fitness center yoga group fitness balance mindfulness

Triathlon Swimming Training: Tips from NIFS

tri.jpgFor many triathlon participants, the swim is the most difficult discipline. Open-water swimming is different than following the black line on the bottom of a pool. Here are some tips to help the swim portion of the race go more smoothly.

Get Good Equipment

Get a good suit and goggles (there are specific ones for different face shapes). Spend some extra money and get advice from a good swim shop.

Get Help with Form, Drills, and Workouts

You need to make sure your stroke is efficient and repeatable, so that you will be confident in the race. Here are a few drills to get you started. Most of your swim workouts will include a drill set. Pick from the variety of drills here:

  • Catch-up Freestyle: Promotes better rotation and arm-stroke mechanics.
    Start by kicking facedown with both arms extended in front of you. After 3-4 seconds, perform a complete pull with one arm and rotate fully to that side. Immediately rotate back on your belly and catch up to the forward arm with the arm that just pulled. Kick for 3-4 seconds and then pull with the other arm and rotate.
  • Count Stroke: Helps to improve overall stroke efficiency.
    Count the number of strokes you take while swimming one complete length of the pool with normal freestyle. Try to lower the number of strokes taken in each length. You will achieve this by taking longer, more powerful pulls, rotating more, and allowing yourself to glide a little bit. Feel free to exaggerate these elements in order to decrease the stroke count.
  • Fingertip Drag: Promotes complete arm extension and proper hand position in the release.
    Swim a normal freestyle stroke, except consciously drag your fingertips across the surface of the water during the recovery phase.
  • Fist: Helps with shoulder rotation and increases pull. 
    Swim with your fists clenched. This drill helps with rotation and working on the elbow bend in the catch portion of the arm cycle in order to create a powerful “paddle” for the pull.
  • Bilateral Breathing: Practice breathing on both sides.
    Most triathletes are only able to breathe to one side while swimming, but breathing on the non-dominant side is very important during a triathlon (and during training, too!). Swim your normal freestyle stroke while breathing on every third stroke (right-left-right) instead of every second or fourth (right or left only). Stick with it and you’ll steadily improve.
  • Sighting: Simulates race-day skills. 
    Sighting is an important skill when you swim in open water without lane lines to guide you. It consists of modifying your swim stroke to look ahead and spot a landmark to aim toward. In a normal freestyle stroke, you turn your head directly to one side to inhale and then turn your head back to a neutral position with your eyes looking toward the bottom. When you sight, you instead turn your head to look forward to spot a landmark, inhale, then put your face back in the water. When practicing, swim normally and sight every 4 to 6 strokes.

Practice in Open Water

This is important! The pool is great for getting in mileage and form work, but the dark water with no lane lines can add stress to race day. Try to find a open swim area to practice sighting and getting used to swimming in a straight line.

Do Plenty of Mileage

If your race is 500 meters, make sure you can do almost twice the distance. In the beginning that may seem like a lot, but you will be much more comfortable on race day if you are always doing extra work beforehand.

Train with Others in Your Lane (or in Your Way)

This is important if you cannot get to open water. During a race there are often fellow racers swimming by, over, or near you. Have someone swim next to you and occasionally hit you, splash you, or harass you. This will help you focus on your stroke, focus on breathing to the opposite side, and get you ready for all challenges on race day.

If you’re ready to train for a triathlon, check out NIFS’s Go Girl Tri-Training Program. Training is Tuesday nights starting 6/21 at 5:30 pm. All experience levels are welcome. Training options include race entry for the Go Girl Sprint Triathlon at Eagle Creek park on August 27, 2016!


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This blog was written by Kris Simpson BS, ACSM-PT, HFS, personal trainer at NIFS. To read more about Kris and NIFS bloggers click here.

Topics: NIFS equipment workouts swimming triathlon NIFS programs

Safe Workouts in the Dog Days of Summer

ThinkstockPhotos-497566061.jpgSo many people have been expectantly waiting for this hot summer weather to be able to get outside for their workouts. And I can tell you that I am also one of those people; but there are some dangers behind the dog days of summer that we all need to be aware of.

Taking your exercise outside is an awesome idea, but I wouldn’t cancel that gym membership so fast. Let’s take a look at both the dangers of the steamy outdoor workouts and ideas on how to stay cool.

Why Outdoor Exercise Can Be Dangerous in Hot Weather

When the temperatures and humidity rise, working out outside can become dangerous, and it can happen very quickly without anyone even realizing it. The hotter and more humid it becomes, the more you sweat, and the sweat cannot evaporate as quickly as it should. Because of this, your internal body temperature rises and can become deadly.

Some warning signs and symptoms of reaching that dangerous and potentially deadly state are weakness, dizziness, muscle cramps, confusion, headache, increased heart rate, and vomiting.

How to Keep Cool for Summer Workouts

But there are some ways that we can help ourselves during the dog days of summer if you do choose to work out outside. Take a close look at this list and consider taking these steps:

  • Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate. Drink as much water as possible for proper hydration.
  • Wear sunscreen. Lather up with sunscreen to protect your skin.
  • Wear sunglasses. This important piece of equipment protects your eyes and conserves energy.
  • Get the proper clothing. You want to wear light and loose, moisture-wicking clothing.
  • Consume the proper nutrition. Eat a well-balanced diet, and make sure to eat something small before you head out for a long run or Bootcamp class.
  • Check the air quality. This is important because it affects how you breathe. The higher the level of AQ, the harder it will be to breathe; the lower, the better. According to EPA standards, if the air quality number is over 100, it’s not good. If it’s below 100, it’s considered satisfactory air level.
  • Stay out of the sun. Look for shade to work out in.
  • Monitor your heart rate. If it gets too high, take a break.
  • Listen to your body. If your body is telling you stop or it’s too hot, listen to it!
  • Stay inside if it’s above 90. It’s better to hit the gym than to put yourself in danger.
  • Bring water to your workout. Try to keep hydrating yourself as you work out; don’t wait until you are thirsty.
  • Cool towels help. Take a cool, damp towel and put it over your head or around your neck.
  • Wear a loose-fitting hat. Wearing a tight hat holds the heat to your head, so in order to protect yourself from the sun, wear a loose-fitting hat that allows your head to breathe.

If you do decide to work out outside in the dog days of summer, do the best you can to take the proper precautions and protect yourself from harm. Listen to your body and be sure not to over-do it!

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This blog was written by Amanda Bireline, Fitness Center Manager. To find out more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: fitness center equipment injury prevention summer hydration sunscreen

Decoding Changes to the FDA's New Nutrition Facts Label

ThinkstockPhotos-522898575.jpgIn January I wrote about the confusing world of sugar and how it would get a lot less confusing when the FDA passed new changes to the food label that would make added sugar more prominent. On May 20, 2016, they finalized the new Nutrition Facts Label for consumers, and by July 26, 2018, all labels are required to show these changes.

The New Nutrition Facts Labels

So, how can the new food label help when you are at the grocery store? These are the major changes that will begin appearing on all labels.

  • The type size for “Calories,” “servings per container,” and “Serving size” will be increased and the number of calories and “Serving size” will be boldfaced.
  • Manufacturers must add the gram weight of Vitamin D, Calcium, Iron, and Potassium.Screen_Shot_2016-06-14_at_3.41.15_PM.png
  • The footnote will be worded differently to help consumers understand its meaning. It will read: “The % Daily Value tells you how much a nutrient in a serving of food contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.”
  • “Added sugars” in grams and a percentage of the daily value will be added to the label.
  • Calories from fat is being removed because research shows that the type of fat in your diet is more important than the total amount.
  • Serving sizes are changing based on what people are actually eating and not what they should be eating. Since the portion sizes have changed since 1993 when labels were first introduced, this will be reflected by soda increasing from an 8-ounce portion size to 12 ounces on the new label.
  • On packages that are between 1 and 2 servings, such as a 20-ounce soda or a 15-ounce can of soup, the label will reflect one serving since that is typically what people consume in one sitting.
In addition, the new label shows how serving sizes have changed to better represent how consumers actually eat.

If you have any questions about the new labeling changes or would like to schedule a personal nutrition coaching session, please contact Angie Mitchell at ascheetz@nifs.org.

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This blog was written by Angie Mitchell, RD, Wellness Coordinator. To find out more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: nutrition calories carbs sugar fat

Posture and Fitness: Kyphosis (Rounded Shoulders)

One thing I have really begun to pay special attention to within my exercise program lately is correcting my postural deficiencies. About a month ago as I was staring in the mirror (in awe of my handsome looks) waiting to begin my next set of shoulder presses, I noticed that both of my shoulders were comfortably rounded forward as I stood straight up. I made a conscious effort to pull them back in line with my ear, knee, and ankle (correct posture); however, this was very uncomfortable for me to maintain for a short period of time.

ThinkstockPhotos-148154696.jpgIt then dawned on me that if it was uncomfortable for me to maintain good posture for a few seconds, imagine the effect these deficiencies will eventually have on my muscularity, the efficiency of my resistance training in regard to compensation for the targeted muscles, as well as the greater postural deficiencies that naturally occur as we get into our later years. So for the next couple of months I will be doing a series of blogs on the most common posture problems and what causes them, as well as how to improve them before they get too far out of hand.

Many people find themselves hunched over a keyboard or office desk for many hours throughout the day. This can have a huge effect on your posture over time. Hunchback, or rounded shoulders, occurs because we often do not have the muscular endurance in our upper back and shoulder muscles to resist and fight against gravity. When we allow our shoulders to round forward (known as kyphosis), our anterior muscles (pectoralis major and minor) become tight due to always being in a shortened state while our posterior shoulder muscles (trapezius, rhomboids, and rotator cuff muscles) become lengthened and weak.

The best way to find out if you might have this problem is to have someone take a photo of you from the side in your natural, relaxed, standing position. If your ears, shoulder, knees, and ankles are not aligned with each other, you could have a moderate to severe case of kyphosis. No worries, however, as this is very common now, especially with the prevalent use of computers in the workplace and at home. Here are some quick solutions you can implement into your warmup to help your alignment.

Solution One: Maintain Correct Positioning When Sitting at the Computer

Maintain correct positioning (shoulder blades back, chest open wide) when sitting at a computer desk. This may seem obvious, but if it was as obvious as it seems, we wouldn’t be having this conversation in the first place. The more time you spend in this position, the quicker your body will adapt to being in proper alignment.

Also try to avoid excessive use of laptops. Laptops naturally put your body in a rounded-shoulder positioning because of how low the computer screen is when placed in the lap. Instead, try stacking the laptop on top of a box or a stack of books so that the upper edge of the monitor is just below eye level. This will help you maintain a natural, “unrounded,” or upright shoulder position because you no longer have to be hunched over looking down at the computer monitor.

Solution Two: Foam Rolling

Foam roll the thoracic spine to improve thoracic extension range of motion. Myofascial release (foam rolling) will help you regain full extension in your thoracic spine that might have been lost due to weak upper-back muscles and constant downward pull on the anterior pectoral and shoulder muscles.

Solution Three: Static Stretching

Statically stretch the pectoralis major and minor muscles to free up any tightness in the chest. Hold each stretch for about 30 seconds and repeat two to three times before your resistance or cardio training workout. This will help eliminate some pulling of the anterior shoulder muscles, which will make it easier for you to maintain proper postural alignment. Here’s a video of some static chest stretches you can try.

Solution Four: Upper Posterior Chain Muscle Exercises

Increase muscular strength and endurance of the posterior shoulder muscles by performing various upper posterior chain muscle exercises. By strengthening these muscles, maintaining proper alignment of the shoulders will become much more natural and manageable for an individual over long periods of time. When our posterior shoulder muscles lack strength, they have little chance of winning the fight against gravity when hunched over a computer keyboard.

One example of an exercise you can implement is the floor cobra. This will help with thoracic extension (as stated above) as well as retraction of the shoulder blades and opening of the chest muscles.

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Remember, it took a great deal of time for your body to eventually adapt to the poor postural alignment, so you can expect the same with the correction process. Even though these tips will help you regain postural alignment, you cannot expect to see a great deal of change overnight. These tips have to be implemented into your daily life in order to see long-term changes.

Stay tuned for my next blog, where I will be covering another common postural problem: Anterior pelvic tilt.

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This blog was written by Darius Felix, Health Fitness Instructor. To find out more about the NIFS bloggers, click here. 

Topics: fitness muscles exercises workplace wellness posture

The Importance of Post-Season Active Rest

ThinkstockPhotos-78322425.jpgOver the past six to eights weeks, I have been creating summer workout manuals for the teams that I work with during the school year. These manuals are meant to bridge the strength and conditioning gap between the time they leave for summer break and when they return for the fall semester. There is much to be gained, or lost, through a summer of hard work (or lack thereof). Although summer break is a true “break” for most athletes academically, there never really is a true break for training.

Many of the teams I work with are spring sports. Their seasons begin a couple months after the turn of the year and may not finish until after school is out. They go from the playing field, track, course, or court, back home where family, friends, and summer jobs await. Being spring sports, their summer usually begins with a recovery period that occurs when their competitive season comes to a close. The components of this recovery process include mental, emotional, and physical aspects that need to be met in order to fully prepare for the next bout of training and the following season.

For the sports that I work with, the first portion of the training calendar for the post-season is called active rest. Active rest is an approximately two-week period where the athlete performs light physical activity at least two to three days per week. These physical activities should have nothing to do with the sport that they participate in. Think about it: after spending six to seven days per week over the past four months participating or thinking about their specific sport, the last thing many individuals want to do is continue to do just that. Although this is the sport that you may love, getting away from it for a short period of time can do wonders.

Taking a Break from Training

Active rest can mean a lot of things, and the best part is the fact that you basically have free reign over what you choose to do, as long as you are staying active. This gives you the opportunity to choose something totally unrelated to your sport and do it for the next few weeks.

I would recommend that the intensity of the activity you choose not climb above “moderate.” The low to moderate style will allow adequate blood flow to working muscles, which will help promote physical recovery of the muscles that were taxed so much during your competitive season. Another recommendation I would make would be to limit the amount of impact (foot strikes) you have during this period, especially if your sport requires a large amount of impact. This will allow your body to recover from the constant “ground and pound” that you might have during track, tennis, or softball season.

Active rest is also a good time to incorporate corrective exercises from the Functional Movement Screen (FMS) that your coach or trainer gave you. These exercises focus mainly on mobility and require very few pieces of equipment for the most part. Spending two to three weeks working on any muscular imbalances that may have developed during the season will give you a leg up when you begin your intense off-season training program in a month or so.

Active Rest Recommendations

Following are my top 5 recommendations for the rest period of your training:

  • FMS corrective exercises
  • Swimming
  • Hiking
  • Bike/elliptical/arc trainer/rower
  • DO SOMETHING FUN!

Physical recovery is definitely important during this time, but recovery of your mental and emotional well-being may be just as or possibly more important. Let’s face it—any competitive season has a multitude of ups and downs, which creates an emotional rollercoaster that could send anyone through a loop. You have spent 48 out of the past 52 weeks preparing or playing your sport. You owe it to yourself to do something a little different and come back refreshed for the preparation for the next season.

If you have any questions about how to set up active rest for your post-season training, or need help constructing an off-season training program for your sport, contact me at asoller@nifs.org. To read more about setting up training programs for athletes, see my blog series that begins here.

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This blog was written by Alex Soller, NIFS Athletic Performance Coach. To find out more about the NIFS bloggers click here.

Topics: training sports recovery functional movement post-season rest student athletes

Bring New Life to Your Deadlift: 3 Must-Know Weightlifting Tips

deadlift-2.jpgThe deadlift is a creature all its own. There is no other exercise like it, and there are so many reasons behind that. It can be one of the most beneficial total-body exercises, yet at the same time, one of the most detrimental if performed incorrectly. Numerous factors go into this very important lift, but there are a few tricks to keep in mind to help you set up and perform well consistently while avoiding injury.

1. A straight line is the fastest path to your destination.

The deadlift starts at the floor and ends at a fully upright stance. There are no two ways about that. Isn’t the quickest way from point A to point B a straight line? Absolutely. This means that the path of the bar during the lift should be as straight as possible. If you’re saying “I have no idea whether my bar path is straight,” take a quick video of your deadlift from the side. A great smartphone app for this is Iron Path. It lets you track your bar path, and it has definitely helped me out.

2. Learn how to breathe and use a belt.

People ask whether they should wear a belt. There is no one-size-fits-all answer here. It completely depends on why you are wearing a belt in the first place. Contrary to popular belief, wearing a lifting belt will not save your back from bad deadlifting. Bad deadlifting (for example, rounding of the back) will place a lot of torque on your entire spine, and this is why most deadlifting injuries occur. A belt is not your safety net. The proper use for a belt is to, along with proper breathing, help create intra-abdominal pressure to brace the midsection for a heavy lift.

First, learn to breathe correctly. If the lift is heavy (80% or greater of your 1-rep max), you will want to take in a big breath before every rep and brace your abdominals and obliques to maintain spinal alignment. Once you can deadlift with proper breathing, a belt becomes helpful during your heavy lifts.

3. Determine your best stance.

I can’t tell you what your best stance is. You will have to find out on your own. The two traditional stances used are conventional and sumo stance. With conventional, your feet will be somewhere around shoulder width apart. With sumo stance, your feet will be much wider (typically 6 to 8 inches outside shoulder width). Certain body types tend to work better for each style. For example, someone who is considered to be tall and lanky might have a good chance of being a better conventional-style deadlifter. Certain limb lengths create different leverages that give advantages and disadvantages with each style of deadlifting. Long story short: try both.

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Done correctly, the deadlift is one of the best overall exercises out there. It is a closed-chain, multi-joint movement that involves lower- as well as upper-body strength, stability, and mobility. Warning: the deadlift is not easy, and you may have to lighten up the weight to get the correct technique. Give these tips a try and make sure you ask a NIFS Health Fitness Specialist for more help with technique and how to better yourself as an athlete.

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This blog was written by Aaron Combs, NSCA CSCS and Health Fitness Instructor. To find out more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: NIFS fitness center injury prevention muscles weightlifting deadlift