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NIFS Healthy Living Blog

Choosing the Best Obstacle Course Race for Your Fitness

ThinkstockPhotos-481448438.jpgThe weather is getting warmer; people are starting to take their running from the treadmill to the streets and training for upcoming spring races. With the warmer weather comes endless options for races to run and events to participate in. Maybe you are up for a new fitness challenge this year, a type of race that you have never tried before.

Obstacle course races (such as Tough Mudder and Warrior Dash) are new and exciting to a lot of runners. They bring something different from the normal concrete road races—something enticing, new, and exciting! If you are considering an obstacle race this year, here are five things to consider when picking which one is best for you.

Distance/length: A cool thing about obstacle races is that the obstacles break up the total distance of the race. You may be able to run further than you do in a typical road race because you will get intermittent short breaks from running while completing the obstacles.
Number of obstacles: Some races are full of obstacles, while others have just a few along the course. Having an idea of how many you are willing to complete will help when picking the race. Most races give you the number of obstacles before you register.
Difficulty of obstacle/option to skip: It is important before you sign up for the race to make sure you are able to accomplish the obstacles at hand; in many races you are not able to skip over them. Electric shock, crawling through mud with barbed wire overhead, monkey bars, cliff jumps… while it may be fun for some, not everyone digs this! Be sure to check out the difficulty level to make sure you are up for the challenge.
Group vs. Solo: The great thing about races is that they bring everyone together, and people are generally friendly and “suffering” through the race right there with you. Some obstacles require teamwork to accomplish, and due to the nature of the course, no doubt someone will be there to help you out. If you do it with a group, you can help each other out; otherwise plan to use your new friends to assist you.
Training: If your typical workout consists of only running, changing up your training before the race is something to consider. You want to be prepared for the obstacles that will be thrown at you. Breaking up your run with different types of strength exercises will be a great start when preparing. Stop by the NIFS track desk and an HFS can help you design a program that will help you prepare for obstacles.

Although these are just five factors to consider when deciding what obstacle race to run, hopefully they will help with your decision. Go out and pick one that is the best fit for you.

Happy running!

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This blog was written by Kaci Lierman, Personal Trainer. To find out more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: NIFS fitness running obstacle course race spring

NIFS April Group Fitness Class of the Month: TRX

IMG_8764.jpgContinuing with our Group Fitness Class of the Month series, for April we are highlighting TRX. TRX suspension training is definitely one of my favorites both to teach and to participate in! If you have not tried a class yet or ever incorporated it into your personal workout plan, you are for sure missing out!You can complete an entire workout on the TRX system or simply use it to supplement any workout plan that you have going. No matter what your current level of fitness is, this minimal piece of equipment will enhance your overall health and fitness!

The Many Benefits of TRX Workouts

Let’s look at why you should incorporate the TRX into your workout regimen.

  • It’s versatile: One of the best things about the TRX system is that you can literally take it anywhere. Use it at home, at the gym, or outside around a tree branch. You can even strap it to the back of a hotel door when you are traveling. This small piece of equipment fits into any suitcase and is about the size of a toiletry bag.
  • Focuses on your core: No matter the exercise, the TRX is great because it utilizes your core in everything you do. Because you have to balance often, the core gets worked no matter what.
  • If you’re tight on time, NO PROBLEM!: This is the answer for those who have minimal time to squeeze in a workout. In even 20 minutes, you can get a full-body workout—and a pretty good one, in my opinion!
  • All workout types are possible: Using the TRX, you can do any workout you want. With the simple TRX straps, you can hit mobility, flexibility, strength, cardio, and balance workouts.
  • Anyone can do it: No matter your age, height, weight, or current fitness level, the TRX can be done by anyone. Each exercise is adjustable to meet all the levels from the first-time exerciser to the daily gym rat.
  • The combinations are endless: There is one thing that I can assure you: when working out on the TRX, you will never get bored. There are so many different combinations of exercises; no two workouts ever have to be the same. I have been a certified TRX instructor for 5 years now and can say I don’t know that I have ever repeated a workout twice.
  • It’s hard!: Don’t knock it if you haven’t tried it. For all those who look over at the black and yellow straps hanging down and think, “That workout is for sissies,” I challenge you to try it! Even the most elite athletes who get on the TRX and really hit some of the challenging exercises will walk away exhausted and satisfied.
  • It’s customizable: Whatever you’re looking for in a workout, the exercises done on the TRX can be customized to meet your needs. You can even begin to incorporate additional pieces of equipment, like kettlebells or dumbbells, into workouts to really up the ante.

Try It at NIFS

If these things don’t sell you on the TRX, you are just going to have to get into the gym and try it out for yourself. With TRX being the class of the month, the staff at NIFS would be happy to have you join us! To get a free class pass for guests to NIFS, click here. Check out the group fitness schedule for when classes are offered.

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

Topics: NIFS equipment core TRX Group Fitness Class of the Month

Mini-Marathon Training: 3 BIG Things for Running

mini.jpgNIFS' Mini-Marathon Training Program has started, with most individuals’ goals revolving around one thing: to run a new personal best. Come May 6, months and months of training will be put to the test against a tough 13.1-mile journey.

What are you doing to get ready? Many veteran runners of this race have programs that they have used year after year with repeated success. Some newcomers (or maybe even veterans) may still be searching for that training program that will allow them to reach their fastest potential. But where do you start? Obviously when preparing for a race (5K, half marathon, marathon, etc.), running will take up the majority of your training time. My only tip for the running aspect of your training is to be sure to utilize a running progression that fits your current training age (or level of fitness/training you are currently at). This will help ease your body’s adjustment into the longer distances as they build up over the next few months.

This blog focuses on the less obvious pieces of your running puzzle. Check out my “3 Big Things” to consider when preparing to race.

1. Have Your Functional Movement Screen (FMS) Done

FMS-5.jpgThis sits at #1 on the list for good reason. The Functional Movement Screen (FMS) can help identify different types of mobility issues and muscular imbalances. In my experience with runners, these issues are prevalent. These are also issues that can lead to a less efficient running stride, or potentially even injuries.

Think about it this way: do you get better, worse, or the same gas mileage when you drive your car with uneven tire air pressure? The answer is worse. Now think about it in terms of your body. If you have an ankle that is immobile, you will be spending your training time and the 13.1-mile race fighting that issue. If you identify that problem and improve its mobility (i.e. airing up the low tire pressure), the workload will be more evenly distributed between both sides of the body. This should allow you to run more efficiently and expend fewer calories per stride.

Did I mention that NIFS members can have this done at our facility, FOR FREE?

Learn More

2. Practice Self-Care/Recovery

It’s not uncommon to see a runner’s performance struggle not for the lack of an adequate training program, but because of what happens after training has concluded. What do you have planned for your off days or light training days? Do you even have off, light training, or recovery days? These are definitely factors that need to be addressed as soon as your training commences. Depending on your training age, these variables may be adjusted.

Training for any type of race is definitely going to be stressful on the body, so finding ways to optimize your recovery throughout your training program is paramount. Three main areas that I recommend that you focus on include the following:

  • Sleep: At least 6–7 hours.
  • Soft-tissue work (for example, foam rolling): Hips, calves, shins.
  • Low-impact/low-intensity movements: Cycling or swimming.

The ultimate goal throughout these areas will be to allow your body to prepare itself for the next intense training bout. Training at 60, 70, or 80% of your absolute best probably won’t yield the greatest return on your training sessions. Being closer to that top level will allow you to push yourself each training session and get the best results.

Did I mention that you can talk to a trainer about how to optimize your rest and recovery at NIFS’ fitness center, FOR FREE?

3. Do Strength Training

Some of you are probably looking at this with a “yeah, right” thought in your mind. If strength training is not currently in your running preparation program, I challenge you to add it. I’m not saying you have to be lifting weights 6 days a week. I’m not saying that you need to look like Arnold. I’m saying that a couple days a week of resistance training might be the key to take you to the next level. And no, you are not going to get big or bulky. Training frequency and the exercise selection associated with a strength program for runners will not yield those results. Bodybuilders train to get bigger. Athletes (runners included) train to prepare their body for their sport.

After mobility issues are improved from the FMS, I usually focus on a few main areas with runners that I strength train. Those areas include unilateral (single-side) exercises, lateral movements, and core strength.

  • Unilateral exercises allow the strength training to mimic stressors that are similar to running, which is also essentially a unilateral movement.
  • Variations of lateral exercises allow a runner (who normally only goes in a straight line) to develop strength in different planes of movement. This can be good for running efficiency as well as potentially reducing the risk for injury.
  • Lastly, and certainly not least, is core strength. Strength of the hips and abdominal area is key to maintaining your form throughout a race as well as reducing impact on the joints. Form and posture are vital to your performance while running, which will be enhanced by training these muscles.

Also, did I mention that you can have a strength-training program like this made at our facility—you guessed it, FOR FREE?

Free Fitness Assessment


There are a lot of ways to approach how you train and a lot of ways that can make you successful when competing for your running goals. Make small changes with your current program to start, and slowly add in more as you see yourself improve!

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

Topics: NIFS running core strength recovery strength training functional movement Mini-Marathon Training Program foam rolling

Weightlifting for Women: Enhance Weight Loss and More

ThinkstockPhotos-512273152.jpgLet’s play out a little scenario. Judy just renewed her gym membership because it’s almost time for her annual summer vacation. She currently weighs 170 pounds but wants to lose around 30 pounds before she goes on vacation. She has taken herself through this transformation once before by running 4 miles on the treadmill every other day until she finally got to her desired weight. She plans to come to the gym this year with the same game plan as last time. Judy does not lift weights because she only wants to lose fat, not gain muscle.

Now here is the question: Should Judy repeat her cardio routine this year, or should she incorporate heavy resistance training?

Lifting Heavy Weights Has More Benefits Than Cardio Alone

This may be the approach many females take when trying to lose weight. Doing cardiovascular exercise is much easier and more effective at weight loss than weight training, right? WRONG! In fact, I strongly believe any woman who is looking to lose weight should invest more of her time into weight training. But I don’t recommend just any weight training; it needs to be heavy weight training!

Reasons to Add Weightlifting

It’s easy to understand why many females prefer not to lift heavy weights when in the gym. It often causes a lack of comfort if you are not used to pushing your body to its max strength levels. In addition, the female lifting recommendation for years has been to stick with light to moderate weight with an abundance of sets and reps. While this is not a bad recommendation, lifting heavy can add a great list of benefits that lighter weight (and cardio) just cannot compare to, all while possibly giving you faster, more dramatic results.   

  • Burn more calories. In terms of fat loss, forcing your body to lift heavy weight repeatedly will stimulate muscle growth, which creates a higher metabolism. The more muscle in the body, the more fat-burning potential will be created. When you are done lifting weights, your body continues to burn calories due to its need for muscle recovery. This is called EPOC, excess post-exercise oxygen consumption. So even when you are no longer in the gym working out, your body is still burning calories for you. EPOC does not happen with non-resistance training.  
  • Get toned, not ripped. Lifting weights brings out a woman’s natural curves and body structure. It’s easy to believe lifting weights will cause bulky muscles to form, just as many guys become bulky when we lift. However, there is one huge difference between males and females and that’s the presence of testosterone. As you may know, one responsibility of testosterone is muscle hypertrophy. Since females have very low amounts of testosterone, becoming bulky is often not a realistic expectation. Instead, when females participate in heavy weight training, their bodies actually become smaller due to more muscle and less fat. Females actually become leaner and curvier, which often leads to an increase in body image and self-confidence. 
  • Gain confidence. I believe a strong reason many females would rather do cardio instead of weightlifting may be due to their lack of confidence. If the treadmill or the elliptical has always been your best friend, you may find it hard to step out of your comfort zone and challenge yourself with a heavy weight-training program. However, what many females come to find out is once weightlifting barriers have been torn down, confidence levels rise. I have heard many women in the gym say there is nothing more satisfying than when they are finally able to lift a weight that they could not lift previously. It not only reassures you that with some hard work and consistency you can push your body to new levels, but it also confirms that women do, in fact, belong in the weight room lifting heavy weight.

The Question Again: Should You Add Weight Training?

I will raise my question again: should Judy repeat her routine this year, or should she incorporate heavy resistance training into her program for different results? Sure doing 4 miles a day may get Judy to her ultimate weight-loss goal, but how much of her weight loss will be due to actual fat loss instead of muscle loss? Typically when cardio is a large portion of the workout routine, you tend to lose muscle, whereas when resistance training makes up a large portion of the workout routine, you tend to gain muscle. Remember, the more muscle in the body, the higher the metabolism, and the higher the rate of caloric burn—and the more weight you lose.

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This blog was written by Darius Felix, Health Fitness Specialist. For more on the NIFS bloggers, click here.


Topics: cardio weight loss calories weightlifting women toning

Music as Motivation: Give Your Workout a “Tune-up”

ThinkstockPhotos-499628790-1.jpgIn a world where trying to gain a competitive edge is at an all-time high, everybody is searching for the next big thing to help bring their workouts to the next level. Many individuals end up using some type of ergogenic aid. According to the National Strength and Conditioning Association, an ergogenic aid is any substance, mechanical aid, or training method that improves sport performance. Dietary supplements and special equipment are two common avenues that athletes use (sometimes legally and, unfortunately, sometimes illegally).

Consider Music as a Motivational Aid

Do you use any ergogenic aids? You may think that you do not, but chances are you probably do. One of the most popular ergogenics that gym-goers currently utilize is music. “Music?”, you’re probably asking yourself. Yes. I know it does not really fall into the category of substances, mechanical aids, or training methods, but the music can have very similar performance-enhancing effects.

Do you listen to music while you work out? If so, what kind of music do you listen to? For me personally, music allows for a sense of focus to happen. I pick my favorite workout song (Guns N’ Roses: “Welcome to the Jungle”) and I find every bit of energy I have to push through a personal record attempt or final set of a hard training session. That is what training is all about.

In many cases, regardless of the type of exercise you perform, you must break the barrier that stands between you and that next step. Music also allows for a positivity to flow throughout your workout. It makes everything more enjoyable! Let’s face it: if every training session were boring and stagnant, how long would you continue on that program? My guess would be not too long. You have to enjoy yourself to some extent while you are busting your backside, and music might be a way to do that.

My Workout Music Preferences Survey

As I was contemplating music and this blog, I thought to myself, “Alex, does everyone listen to music when they work out? What kind of music do they listen to?” I decided to create a little survey that I sent out to the employees of NIFS to get the cold, hard facts about music. In total, 36 NIFS employees completed the survey. Check out the results below!

What best characterizes the type of exercise you perform most often?

  • Cardiovascular (i.e., running, biking, etc.): 16/36, 44.44%
  • Resistance training: 12/36, 33.33%
  • Cross-training: 4/36, 11.11%
  • Other (please specify): 4/36, 11.11%

Answers included: “Real work—kettlebells” (I wonder who that was), mental exercises, and combinations of resistance and cardiovascular training.

 What type of music do you generally listen to on a day-to-day basis? (not when working out)?

  • Alternative: 3/36, 8.33%
  • Blues: 0/36, 0%
  • Classical: 2/36, 5.56%
  • Country: 4/36, 11.11%
  • Jazz: 0/36, 0%
  • Metal: 1/36, 2.78%
  • Rap: 2/36, 5.56%
  • Pop: 11/36, 30.56%
  • Rock: 1/36, 2.78%
  • Classic rock: 2/36, 5.56%
  • Techno: 1/36, 2.78%
  • I do not listen to music: 0/36, 0%
  • Other (please specify): 9/36, 25%

Answers included: Folk, Christian, Dance/New Age, and combinations of the above genres.

 Do you listen to music while you work out?

  • Yes: 27/36, 75%
  • No: 9/36, 25%

 What genre of music do you listen to while you work out?

  • Alternative: 1/36, 2.78%
  • Blues: 0/36, 0%
  • Classical: 1/36, 2.78%
  • Country: 1/36, 2.78%
  • Jazz: 0/36, 0%
  • Metal: 1/36, 2.78%
  • Rap: 5/36, 13.89%
  • Pop: 11/36, 30.56%
  • Rock: 3/36, 8.33%
  • Classic rock: 1/36, 2.78%
  • Techno: 2/36, 5.56%
  • I do not listen to music: 7/36, 19.44%
  • Other (please specify): 3/36, 8.33%

Answers included: Skrillex, Dance, or “music in my soul OR Jerry’s loud music.”

 If you had to choose only one song to get ready for an intense training session, what would it be? (artist and song name)

Regardless of what type of music you listen to, try to make it part of your exercise routine. If you already do, keep at it. I think it will make your workouts more focused and potentially more fun. As the legend Lil’ John said, “Turn Down for What?” So turn up the volume and rock out with your weights out!

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 Note all songs are trademarks This blog was written by Alex Soller. To find out more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.


Topics: NIFS motivation nifs staff workout music

Time Under Tension: Slowing Down Movement to Speed Up Fitness Results

ThinkstockPhotos-177455750.jpgOne of the major misconceptions I am happy to battle as a fitness professional is the wildly popular idea that if a little is good, more must be better. One of my favorite quotes from movement guru Grey Cook is, “More is not better; better is better.” It is a motto I strive to live by in my fitness world as well as my personal life.

So if more is not always better, why do so many continue to focus on how many reps, and usually how quickly they can complete them, with the hope of getting stronger and prepping the physique for the upcoming spring break? I guess I can’t blame them; when it comes to getting those physical results, volume does play a role; however, there are more ways to create the volume stimuli than simply 100 reps of everything as fast as you can.

So what are we talking about here, slowing down? Exactly! I know that can be a hard concept to grasp for many, but creating time under tension (TUT) or slowing things down can actually do more than twice the volume in a “reppy” workout. TUT simply refers to the time that a muscle is under load or under strain during a set of a particular exercise. Brad Schoenfeld, PhD, suggests you can achieve this with a heavy load for several seconds or lighter loads for a minute. This is definitely not a new concept, but it seems to have come and gone like a lot of fitness concepts due to something else becoming the next big thing in fitness, like the 6-minute abs. But TUT is worth keeping in the programming conversation because of the multitude of benefits that result from the concept of creating tension to build strength and muscle size.

Four Reasons to Slow It Down

We will discuss some examples of how to get some more TUT into your workout later, but here are four reasons you should keep tension in mind when you train.

  • Mindful movement: Although we use fitness and exercise for health, wellness, physique, and other reasons, exercise can and should be used for creating a mind at peace. I know that I use exercise to reconnect with both my body and the environment; exercise and movement can be spiritual. But being in the moment, or in this sense, the rep, is important. I think we get too caught up in getting things done so quickly that we miss most of the enjoyment of why we move in the first place. This is also a great time to practice proper breathing techniques throughout your movement and training session. Proper breathing throughout a movement will help in alignment, neuromuscular control, and overall enjoyment of the exercise. Concentrate on what you are doing and be in that moment; you will feel the difference.
  • Motor control/Movement enhancement: Enhancing specific movement patterns should be atop your “to-do” list when you head to the gym. If you don’t know how you are doing with movement patterns, I suggest scheduling a Functional Movement Screen with a NIFS instructor. This will provide you with the necessary information about how you are moving. We use TUT in this sense to aid in developing and maintaining motor control of a particular pattern. Holding a certain position for a period of time, slowly moving through a pattern, and pausing to complete deep breaths are ways your brain can make the connection of what a pattern should feel like. This will also allow you to “press save” on the pattern you are working on. So next time you are doing some goblet squats, pause at the bottom and take a deep breath (5 seconds in through your nose and 8 seconds out through your mouth), and then stand to complete the rep and help upgrade your movement software.
  • Muscle hypertrophy: Muscle tension created through resistance training stimulates the growth of new muscle proteins, making your muscles bigger, a process called hypertrophy. Simply put, lifting weights at a certain rate of time under tension will elicit different rates of hypertrophy. Generally speaking, when you are looking at rep counts per set, 3–6 reps = strength and power, 8–12 reps = hypertrophy, and 15+ reps = endurance. For hypertrophy (and there are different schools of thought on this point), 60–90 seconds a set will provide an optimal stimulus to promote muscle synthesis. What do you need to know? Volume and time under load is what will get those muscles bigger, given that the load you choose allows for greater volume. So if getting bigger muscles is your goal, slow it down and make each rep count.
  • Adding a new challenge: If you have ever tried to either hold a position for a period of time or complete a bodyweight exercise as slowly as you can, you know how much more challenging that exercise becomes. Not only will TUT provide the above benefits, but it will add a huge challenge to the movements and exercises in your training sessions. If you are looking for something new, don’t look too far; just slow down a bench press or a bodyweight squat, or anything you are currently doing. It will change everything, and the challenge will go through the roof. And that soreness that you feel the next day and probably the day after is your body telling you that you created enough stimuli to promote growth! Ultimately, that’s what we want, right?

How to Add TUT into Your Workouts

Here are some movements that will add more time under tension when you exercise.

  • Isometric holds: To increase TUT, add movements that rely on creating more tension. Isometric holds are a great place to start. Examples of these movements are planks, static squats and split squats, and static TRX rows. As I mentioned above, pick a movement and hold the position at the most difficult portion of the movement. These exercises are usually timed and start with a short amount of time and progressively build up.
  • Tempo reps: With this method, you slow down both the eccentric (lengthening) and concentric (shortening) phases of the movement. Typically 3–6 seconds per phase will increase the load on the muscle group being worked. Take the TRX row, for example; here Thomas would lower his body for 3 seconds and pull his body back up for 3 seconds for 8–12 reps, increasing his time under tension. You could go even more slowly for a super-slow set to muscular failure as another option of tempo reps.
  • Hypertrophy sets and reps: As stated above, to promote hypertrophy in a particular muscle group, a solid set and rep range is 3 x 8–10 with a tempo of 3:3 (total rep time of :6) for each movement. This is not fancy, but it will get the job done if you are hoping to increase size. So keep it simple and slow it down a little bit.

No matter whether you are looking to enhance your movement, muscle building to get those biceps ready for the beach, or find more joy and fulfillment in your exercise, slowing down can help get you there. If you need some assistance on how to implement TUT into your workout routine, schedule your free personal training session with a NIFS instructor today.

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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: exercise fitness center workouts muscles muscle building functional movement