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NIFS Healthy Living Blog

Tony Maloney

Recent Posts by Tony Maloney:

Culture Club: How to Be a Strong Member of a Fitness Community

IMG_8261-1.jpgI have been in a gym environment of some kind for the majority of my life, first as a student athlete through adulthood and now as my profession. There really hasn’t been a time in my life when I haven’t been a part of the gym culture. There is a reason for that: I LOVE IT! I love to move, push myself beyond perceived limits, see successes, be around likeminded people, and witness amazing transformations and feats of strength. There is nothing like it, and I have done a great deal of growing up in a gym, and now it is my livelihood, literally.

In my opinion, a solid and enjoyable fitness community can rival any support environment out there. Fitness can bring people together and give feelings of belonging, help each other through life struggles, and provide smiles on days when smiles are hard to come by.

Ten Ways to Be a Great Gym Member

So how do we, as individuals, be strong members of a fitness community that allows for acceptance, belonging, safety, and fun? Like most places you visit, there are customs and rules of etiquette that help provide the culture that brought you there in the first place. Whether you are a lifelong gym-goer like me, or are just joining a facility for the first time to tackle your new year’s resolutions, follow these customs to be a strong member of your fitness community and provide an example for others to follow.

  • Lower the noise. I’m referring to the grunts and heavy breathing. Now, I am not advocating lowering the effort level of whatever it is you may be doing, but lowering how loudly you express your effort level. Your headphone noise can also be a negative distraction, especially if you enjoy songs with more colorful language.
  • Detach the phone from your hand. Okay, so I know that we are pretty dependent on technology these days, for good reason. And I am not here to argue the pros and cons of the mobile phone in society. But I would offer that real-life connection is far better than the virtual kind. With that said, put the phone away and connect with the people who are there for the same reason you are, to get better. Warning: Mobile Phone Head and Neck Pain Syndrome is a thing! Put the phone down and look up.
  • Put your stuff away. If you respect your fitness community, you should respect the idea that others would like to use the equipment as well and should be able access it from where it belongs. Help your gym brothers and sisters by putting your equipment back where it came from so someone else can use it, while at the same time keeping your community safe by removing trip hazards.
  • Wipe down your stuff after use. Another way to keep your community safe is to wipe down your equipment with the disinfectant and towel provided to you. It really only takes a second, and then be sure to show consideration and put the towel in the dirty towel bin.
  • Share your stuff. When you have completed a set, it’s just good manners to allow someone to work in on the same piece if they are waiting to use it. Sitting and looking at your phone (see #2) during your rest period while occupying the equipment just isn’t cool. Hop up and let someone in; you never know, you could meet a best friend!
  • Cover your stuff. Have you ever heard the phrase “No Shirt, No Shoes, No Service” (I’m going to go ahead and include pants here as well)? This goes doubly in your fitness community. More exposed skin equals more bio-fluids finding their way onto surfaces of equipment, mats, and floors. This can cause the spread of an array of communicable diseases. Also, in a fitness community, strong members appreciate modesty and acceptance of all body types. It is fantastic that you love the way you look; now wear your workout gear proudly and respectfully.
  • Mind the time. Be mindful and respectful of the hours of operation for your fitness community and plan your workout accordingly to stay within its working framework. Show up to group fitness classes on time, and if you are more than 10 to 15 minutes late, hit another class or ask for some help from an instructor on some exercise options.
  • Mind the advice. Be certain that someone new to the fitness community is looking for exercise advice from you. It’s great that you have a great deal of experience or read the latest article on BodyBuilding.com, but unsolicited advice can be annoying to some and can hurt the positive experience they are there to have. Trust me, in my experience, most people will ask if they are looking for advice.
  • Use the resources. Instructors and trainers are there for a reason: to help you and provide a great experience for the members of the fitness community. If you have questions regarding the equipment or exercises, don’t be afraid to ask. At NIFS, our instructors are here solely to help you and be the best part of your day. Let them help guide you in all aspects of the gym environment. You’ll learn a bunch of new stuff while you are at it.
  • Be friendly and considerate. A gym should be fun and a happy place to go to! That is guaranteed when people are being friendly and considerate of the needs of the entire environment and not just their landscape. Simple things like sharing your equipment, opening the door, and saying hi all add a positive vibe to the environment.

The Gym Is Like a Lot of Other Great Communities

If you notice, most of the actions on this list are the customs you will find pretty much anywhere you consider a great community such as neighborhoods, churches, restaurants, and fun gathering places. The gym shares so many similarities to those pillars of our lives, and it should be treated with as much respect and effort to keep it a place people want to belong to and visit daily. A gym can be a special place, where goals are sought after and obtained and friendships spawned and nourished; a place where everybody knows your name (cue the song).

So follow these customs to be a fitness community leader and work together to make your gym special!

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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: equipment safety technology gym fitness community consideration etiquette

The Challenge with Challenges: NIFS Slim It to Win It 2018

Slim-It-logo2.jpgIt’s that time of year when millions of people around the world start looking for that next “best” thing to give them the body they have always dreamed of. Aggressive physical challenges, cleanses, elaborate diets that usually involve the removal of a food source (and result in you craving it even more); people will take some drastic steps to help erase the past year of poor nutrition and lifestyle decisions.

Unfortunately, the successes of these different “new year, new you” initiatives are short-lived, and many people will be looking again for another fix a year from now. Why is this so? I can list many reasons why weight-loss challenges don’t work and do not provide long-term, sustainable results. In a previous post I explained why mindset is crucial to fitness success, so it truly starts there. But what are some other reasons why New Year challenges don’t deliver? Most are…

  • Too much
  • Too fast
  • Too easy to quit

Many contests or challenges demand that you take too much out of your diet or exercise way too much. They also usually want to see these changes made and results achieved too fast. Lastly, many fail to provide ample accountability, encouragement, and motivation, making it too easy to quit. So does this mean that all contests, challenges, or programs are doomed to fail? Not if they are done right!

Slim It to Win It is one of NIFS’ longest-running programs, and has been helping so many people for just shy of a decade. We here at NIFS are super proud of the life-changing results that SITWI has been able to provide hundreds of individuals here in the Indianapolis area. So how do we do it?

Not Too Much

NIFS coaches focus on small behavioral changes piled onto one another during an 8–10-week period. We don’t want anyone changing too much too fast; that is proven to be an unsuccessful practice. Focusing on one or maybe two changes at a time is a proven method that we teach our teams. Slow and steady wins the race, and we want to provide our people with the tools to continue building a healthy lifestyle long after they have completed the program.

Too much exercise, especially from the get-go (and with those who might have been less than active leading up to the program), is another mistake our coaches do not make. With two training sessions a week to start, with supplemental workouts provided, our teams get the right dose of exercise at the right time.

Not Too Fast

Once again we focus on sustainable changes and results over the course of eight weeks and beyond. The journey is not over on March 11; it’s really just beginning. NIFS coaches work toward the individual’s specific goals over many weeks—not pushing to see drastic changes in a very short amount of time. It’s just not safe, and it just doesn’t last!

When the focus is more on speed, retention of critical lifestyle practices and education will suffer, leading to the “cramming effect.” Do you remember cramming for that chemistry exam in high school? If you are anything like me and most people, you probably didn’t retain a great deal of that information. We want our team members to keep the life-changing information so they can continue to use these best practices to maintain their success.

Screen Shot 2018-01-04 at 9.39.17 AM.pngNot Too Easy to Quit

Positive accountability truly is a key ingredient in a successful lifestyle-change process. A strong support group will provide the needed accountability and motivation to keep at it, even when you want to hang it up and return to old behaviors that got you in the situation you are in. During SITWI, you have a whole team cheering you on and providing support, because everybody is going through a similar battle.

A group of motivated, like-minded individuals can be unstoppable in the pursuit of its goals. Not only will you be relying on your team to pick you up at times, they are going to need you right back. And speaking from experience, there is no better feeling than when you make a difference in someone’s life, or help them see their true capabilities. You can be that to someone!

The idea of a New Year, starting over, or making some improvements can be very exciting. This excitement can lead to creating real change or a repeat of the past, keeping you in the cycle of thinking it will be better next year. Remember, mindset matters most, but a strong call to make changes followed by taking action to create that change are the next best steps. Let Slim It to Win It help you take action.

Learn More about Slim It to Win It

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 motivation weight loss accountability challenge Slim It to Win It behavior lifestyle change

Readiness and Durability: Better Movement Warmups for Fitness Training

I used to work at a golf course during my time as a teacher. It was a great way to spend my summers and be close to a game I truly enjoy playing. I mainly mowed greens and tees and dug a bunch of holes. I really enjoyed that time of my life very much. On all of the mowers there was a sign that read, “If this equipment can’t work, nor can you.” I think the message is self-explanatory: if the equipment is not properly cared for, it is a very good possibility it will stop working, leading to loss of productivity and failure to complete the job.

I believe the same can be said for our approach to preparing the body for training so that the body (equipment) can work when you need it to accomplish the job at hand. The most critical step in this process is changing the perception of the “warmup” as a secondary or unnecessary part of a training program—something you can skip if you are short on time. In actuality, warmups should be a major part of your training program (if you are truly looking for results, that is).

Long ago I adopted, both for the people I work with and for my personal workouts, a process from a great coach on preparing the body for work. It involves four exercises in four major categories of movement preparation: mobility, stability, core engagement, and loco-motor (dynamic stretches and small plyometrics). For obvious reasons, this is referred to as a 4x4 approach to physical readiness and preparation.

Mobility Drills

Mobility drills refers to the exercises aimed at gaining and enhancing the range of motion in a particular joint. With a joint-by-joint, ground-up approach, these drills typically work to tackle mobility of the ankle, hip, thoracic and cervical spine, and shoulder. Here at NIFS, we work to mobilize movement patterns that involve these joints, and others, which we evaluate in a Functional Movement Screen.

Here are just two of my favorite mobility drills:

i. 1/2K—Abducted T-Spine Rotation
ii. Dynamic Pigeon—Knee & Foot

 
 
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Stability Drills

These drills work to help stabilize the mobility you just gained with the preceding drills. A mobile joint is a great start, but then you must stabilize it with exercises that will aid in alignment and strength of the joint. These exercises are generally used immediately after the mobility work to help in the retention of the alignment and position we are hoping to obtain. Check out a couple of these drills that you can add to your 4x4 warmup.

i. Band Lat. Walks
ii. Split Squat w/ Band Pull-apart

 
 
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Core Drills

Exercises in this phase of our preparation are to “fire up” the core to stabilize the trunk before loading the body with all the great tools we use in strength training and conditioning. A common practice is to save the “ab work” for last during your training session, which is all fine and good, but adding these to your 4x4 work before a weight is lifted can help your performance. A strong, “awake” center will keep you safe during your exercises and allow you to get the most out of them at the same time.

i. Foam Roller Dead Bug with Ext.
ii. Side plank and row

 
 
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Loco-motor Drills

After mobilizing and stabilizing the system, now it’s time to energize it! These drills are used to increase the body and tissue temperature that will prepare your body for the strength and conditioning work that lies ahead. These drills are typically fast and fun, and can combine some dynamic stretching with basic calisthenics. These can be as simple as a jumping jack or lateral lunges, or these two gems:

i. Snowboarders
ii. Sprinter Lunge

 
 
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***

To prepare your body for work and to limit the chances of injury, you must perform a proper warmup. No more skipping a major part of your training session! As soon as you begin to look at the 4x4 warmup as a must-do, the harder it will be to work without it.

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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: functional training core videos warmups mobility movement stability loco-motor drills

How the Half-Kneeling Workout Position Helps with Movement

For many years now, the half-kneeling position has been a favorite of mine and a workout program staple for the individuals I work with. As a “pattern–first” coach, the half-kneeling position not only provides another dimension to many exercises; it also helps in enhancing a few movement patterns at the same time.


Why It’s a Great Position

One of the reasons it’s such a great position is that it teaches us how we learned to move in the first place, from the ground up. Becoming proficient in the basic functional movement patterns carries over immensely into higher-order movements and exercises, as well as develops strength and stability in the trunk and core, which will be a benefit in many aspects of fitness and while we travel around this earth.

Getting the Most from the Movement

But the half-kneeling position is more than just putting one knee on the ground. There are a few intricacies you want to pay attention to in order to get the most out of the movement you’re performing in this position.

Let’s break down the half-kneeling position, shall we?

 
 
 
 
 
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As you can see, there is more to this position than simply placing one knee on the ground and performing a movement.

The Best Half-Kneeling Exercises

Now that we know the best way to set-up this position, here are a few of my favorite half-kneeling exercises for you to add into your workout program.

 
 
 
 
 
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  • Hip flexor stretch
  • Windmills
  • Cable chop
  • Cable lift
  • AR press
  • Sandbag halo
  • MB hip toss
  • SA land mine OH press
  • SA chest press
  • KB seesaw press
  • Lat pulls

Getting the most out of every movement in exercise should be a priority when designing a program or individual workout session. Concepts like combination exercises, multi-joint movements, and pattern-specific exercises provide maximal benefits to your fitness and routine. Take a knee and improve multiple facets of your fitness at the same time.

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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 workouts core functional movement programs movement knee

Back to Exercise Basics: The Proper Push-up

In our current state of fitness, many folks are continually looking for the next best exercise, program, or intense challenge. My challenge to you is to return to the basics, perfect those, and then explore the possibility of increasing the difficulty or completing some monster challenge. Gray Cook says it best: “Don’t add strength to dysfunction; move well and then often.” Translation: stop jumping right to something you are not prepared for just because you viewed it on “insta.” I challenge you not to focus on and post epic exercise fails, but to post a video of someone performing a stellar squat, a pristine pull-up, or the proper push-up.

A Full-Body Exercise

The push-up is easily the most versatile and effective exercise in the vast movement library in fitness and health. Challenging spinal and core stability, upper- and lower-body endurance, and strength, the push-up, done correctly is truly a full-body exercise. A great push-up starts with a strong trunk, so start there by improving your planks and hip bridges to strengthen the entire system.

Pushup.jpg

Push-up Checklist

Next, consult the following checklist to perform your best push-ups, and learn some variations to both assist and challenge yourself.

  1. Spine 1: Neutral spine with no sagging or hunching in the low back.
  2. Spine 2 (top of press): Push away from the ground and hollow out.
  3. Head: Don’t sag or extend—look at the ground.
  4. Chin: Pull the chin toward the spine (double chin).
  5. Hands 1: Just outside shoulder width.
  6. Hands 2: Dial hands counterclockwise, splay the hands, and grip the ground.
  7. Elbows: 45-degree angle creating an “arrow” position.
  8. Arms (top of press): Push-up to straight-arm position.
  9. Butt: Push belt buckle to the ground while maintaining spinal alignment throughout motion.
  10. Quads: Send the back of your knees to the sky.
  11. Feet: Press equally through the floor.

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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 fitness center endurance strength core movement push-ups

Powerlifting Prep Lesson #3: The Deadlift

IMG_4534.jpgIn my previous posts, Powerlifting Prep Lesson #1: The Squat and Powerlifting Prep Lesson #2: The Bench, we took a look at how managing the three key principles of mobility, stability, and tension can have a huge impact on your ability to perform those two lifts at a high level while decreasing the chance of injury. We turn now to the big daddy of them all, the deadlift!

This hinging/pulling lift is easily one of the most popular lifts on the planet, and everybody wants to pull a huge bar from the ground and slam it back down. There really is no feeling like it. And not only does it look pretty cool on Instagram, the deadlift is one of the most functional exercises you can do that transfers very nicely to the outside world. Since the dawn of time we have picked up heavy things and set them back down, essentially doing deadlifts day in and day out. In the powerlifting world, the deadlift is where champions can be forged, or injuries suffered.

So let’s break down this giant lift, focusing on the three key principles introduced earlier:

  • Mobility: The full range of motion of a particular joint(s).
  • Stability: Alignment, with integrity, under load.
  • Tension: Defined with terms such as stiffness and phrases like “bending the bar,” and “spread the floor.”

Mobility

You might think that mobility would not play a big role in this lift, but like most weightlifting movements, it’s imperative. I hope I have done a good job in this series of posts to stress that it all starts with mobility. Strength, power, endurance, and any physical attribute must start at mobility, if you want to be the best that there is. The deadlift is no exception; and if you can’t touch your toes, you probably need to take a few steps back before heavy loading the deadlift.

The deadlift is a hinge pattern, so we will start there by focusing on the active straight-leg raise to monitor and improve the mobility of that pattern. A great place to start is with a leg-lower exercise or a kettlebell butt touch exercise to help improve your mobility for the deadlift.

Stability

For stability, take one more look at the active straight-leg-raise pattern to ensure you capture the mobility you gained through the two movements described above. The lying leg raise with core activation looks a lot like the leg-lowering exercise from above, as it should, but here you are adding stability to the mobility you just gained. Trunk stability is key in the deadlift; without it, spines tend to hyper-flex and lead to injury. Planks and plank variations are always a great place to start, as well as loaded carries and dynamic-stability movements such as a sandbag plank drag to challenge and train the musculature of the trunk so you can pull more weight safely.

Next, and just as with the squat and the bench, intra-abdominal pressure will also be key in pulling the most weight possible. Remember to “fill the can” by inhaling fully and pressing the air against your belt during the set-up and first phase of the deadlift. This again will help fire all of the muscles of the trunk to provide maximum stability during the lift. If you want to learn more about breathing and stability in loaded movements, check out this article from Mike Reinold as he breaks down this concept even more.

Tension

Tension in the deadlift starts with grip! Many studies correlate grip strength to overall strength, so the stronger the grip the bigger the deadlift. Loaded carries and all the variations are my go-to to help train grip strength as well as any pulling motions such as chin-ups and inverted rows.

In the other two lifts I referred to “bending the bar” as a cue to create tension in the system (body) during the lift. In the deadlift, I want you to think about taking that tension out of the bar by preloading the system before pulling the bar from the ground. Pull the bar toward your body without it leaving the ground; you should hear the plates make a kind of clicking noise. This will fire the lats and other spinal musculature to brace before accepting the load of the bar. Ideally in doing so, your entire body will move as one system, like a crane lifting a two-ton I-beam. This will make you a stronger unit to pull the bar off the ground and help eliminate hyper-flexing in the spine that can lead to a bad injury.

***

Executed correctly, the deadlift is a super-functional and super strength-building exercise. It is also one of the more exciting lifts in any powerlifting competition, and it’s sure to make some noise once again at the NIFS 4th Annual Powerlifting Competition coming up on November 11. Registration is full, but you should still come out and support all the athletes competing. It is a great show of strength, competition, and sportsmanship and great way to spend a Saturday morning in November!

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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 weightlifting powerlifting competition mobility deadlift stability tension

Powerlifting Prep Lesson #2: The Bench Press

attachment.jpgIn my previous post, NIFS Powerlifting Competition Prep Lesson #1: The Squat, I showed you how managing three key principles can have a huge impact on your ability to squat low and heavy as well as minimize the risk for injury. As a reminder, here are those three key principles:

  • Mobility: The full range of motion of a particular joint(s)
  • Stability: Alignment, with integrity, under load.
  • Tension: Defined with terms such as stiffness and phrases like “bending the bar” and “spread the floor.”

Once again I will break down each of these principles and apply them to the next big lift, the bench press. First, be sure to check off your list a few of the basics of the bench press when you are setting up for your next set. As soon as you are up to speed on those weightlifting basics, take a look at how these three principles can impact your bench and how to work to improve your performance.

Mobility

In the bench press, this principle is generally focused around the mobility of the shoulder complex and thoracic spine. I could argue the effects of immobile hips, but we will save that for another time. The ability of the shoulder to pass through the full range of a pressing motion will play one of the biggest roles in determining your success. Just as with the squat, I would strongly recommend starting with soft tissue work of the lats, pecs, and upper back. Utilize different tools like a foam roller, or a tennis or lacrosse ball depending on your level of tightness.

After mashing the tissue surrounding the shoulder complex, the next step is to perform some active stretching of the shoulder area. This can be as simple as basic arm circles and a door stretch or a quadruped t-spine rotation exercise. One of my favorites for shoulder mobility is the hang. Get to a pull-up bar, grasp it with an overhand grip, and hang from it. Take long, controlled breaths while you hang with longer, more forced exhalation. Start with these or any other drills for the shoulder and upper body and you will increase your rate of success in the bench.

Stability

Trunk stability and core strength play a major role in this lift. To help strengthen the muscles of the trunk, I like to keep things simple by performing planks and plank progressions like the RKC plank. Secondly, and just as with the squat, intra-abdominal pressure is also key in the bench press. “Filling the can” with air is the best way to set this principle in motion. Before lowering the bar to the chest, inhale fully, attempting to fill your entire trunk with air (wearing a belt here helps). Hold that breath and lower the bar with the “can full” and explode from the chest.

Placing your feet flat on the ground will also add stability to the system. Even if you need to have some risers like me, get your feet flat on the ground. This helps with keeping your back flat on the bench, allowing you to utilize the trunk to do its job: to stabilize you.

One more thing: stabilize the shoulders with external rotating of the shoulder by “dialing” your hands outwardly like you were turning two large radio knobs (those still exist, right?). Stabilize the mobility you gained from the previous drills and really pack a punch in your bench press.

Tension

“Bending the bar” is a phrase introduced in the preceding post about the squat, and it holds just as much weight in the bench as well. During your setup, you want to act as if you are actively bending the bar before lowering it to your chest. This will create tension in the lats, shoulder complex, and upper back. This tension, as you will see more with the deadlift in the next post, allows the body to move as a “stiff” unit, expressing the greatest amount of strength during this phase. You can also increase tension by pushing your heels through the ground, another reason to have your feet flat on the ground during the pressing motion. Creating tension from the onset of the lift is what will separate a good lift from a failed lift.

***

The only secrets to a bigger bench are the principles I have listed above. These are standards to performing at a higher level and will allow your body to respond to heavier and heavier weights. Implement even a few of the suggestions from above and feel the difference.

The NIFS 4th Annual Powerlifting Competition is coming up on November 11. Don’t miss out on this exciting celebration of strength designed for all experience and fitness levels.

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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 weightlifting powerlifting competition mobility stability tension bench press

NIFS Powerlifting Competition Prep Lesson #1: The Squat

The 4th Annual Powerlifting Competition is slated for November 11, 2017, and we are pumped (pardon the pun) to host another high-energy and exciting celebration of strength on the floor of the NIFS fitness center. Many will enter with the goal of dominating their weight class as well as grabbing that coveted top male or female trophy and being the 2017 NIFS Champion.

IMG_7071.jpgIf you are one of the athletes who have thrown their hats into the ring, I want to give you three key principles that will help you be the best you can be on event day for each of the three lifts. Those lifts, of course, are the squat, bench, and deadlift. Today we will focus on the squat. We will get to the other two soon, so keep an eye on the NIFS blog. You can improve by using these three key principles, whether you are a competitor or a spectator.

We will look at the same three weightlifting principles for each of the lifts, but each concept will be aimed specifically for each of the three different movement patterns. I learned long ago that principles should guide not only your training, but also your life. And as it relates to movement, variations of movement patterns may change, but the principles to train it will not.

The three key principles we will focus on for each of the lifts are

  • Mobility: The full range of motion of a particular joint(s).
  • Stability: Alignment, with integrity, under load. (A great lesson from Gray Cook that I learned in a workshop once.)
  • Tension: For our context in this and the two following posts, we will define tension as the word stiffness and explain phrases like “bending the bar” and “spread the floor.”

All three of these principles will directly impact how well you perform in each of the three lifts in specific ways. Let’s see how these can impact your squat and how to work to make things better.

Mobility

In the squat, and the back squat specifically, we continue to find the lack of ankle mobility to be a huge factor in how deep you can go and how much weight you can throw on your back. In a July article by Gray Cook (if you can’t tell, I learn a lot from him), Gray explains the importance of knowing your ability to flex your ankle and how it can disrupt the chain. Come see us and we can provide that screen for you. Improving your ankle mobility is a sure-fire way to improve your squat. The first step would be to do some soft-tissue work on the calf and surrounding areas using a foam roller, roller stick, or tennis/lacrosse ball. A simple drill that I would recommend is a wall ankle flexion drill, which you will perform in a few different directions.

Place your hands on a wall with one foot approximately 2–3 inches away from the wall and stagger the other foot behind you. While keeping the heel of the front foot “glued” to the ground, attempt to touch the wall with that same-side knee. Hold the position for a 2 count, return to the start position, and repeat for 4–5 more reps. Then aim that same side knee over your big toe and repeat for 5–6 reps, and then again but with your knee aimed out over your pinky toe. Switch legs and repeat the series. If you can touch the wall with your knee and your heel stays on the ground, move back one inch. The goal is to increase the degree of flexion in your ankle. You can measure your progress by how far from the wall your foot is.

Stability

Considering that powerlifters place huge amounts of weight on their shoulders and pretty much sit down and stand up, spinal stability is so important in performing technically sound and safe squats. Of course, planks and carries are great exercises to strengthen your trunk muscles, which will help prepare you for squatting, but what about during an actual mid-weight squat? Increase your intra-abdominal pressure by bracing your abdominal and low-back muscles. A great way to accomplish this is by wearing a belt. Tighten the belt and push your entire midsection against it, then squat. The belt also provides its own stability by reducing spinal flexion, or bending over. Lastly, wearing a belt is a requirement during competition, so if you are not training with one, you’d better get on it.

Tension

Tension, or stiffness in a lifter, is key when loading up the body with a challenging load. Without it, safety is at risk as well as success in completing the lift. “Bending the bar” is a phrase we use where a lifter will attempt to bend the bar on their shoulders by pulling the bar down with their hands. This, as they say, will take tension out of the bar and stiffen the lifter to move as one complete unit. Another major benefit of this cue is engaging the lats of the back by pulling the bar around your shoulders to help engage the glutes, which are key muscles in a strong squat. The lats connect to the glutes, the only muscle that connects the upper and lower body. Simply put, by creating tension in the lats, you increase the effectiveness of your butt.

The other cue that will increase tension in a lifter, specifically in the glutes, will be to “spread the floor” with your feet. Once in position and before you squat, feel as if you are trying to create space between your feet by pushing the floor away. Your position should not change, but your tension surely will. Maintain spreading the floor throughout the squat to reap the full benefits of this strategy.

***

So squat on, athletes, using mobility, stability, and tension to improve your positioning, which will ultimately lead to bigger lifts. Stay tuned as we break down the bench and the deadlift, focusing again on these key aspects.

Come watch our 4th Annual Powerlifting Competition here at NIFS, Saturday, November 11th at 9am.

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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 weightlifting powerlifting competition glutes mobility movement squat stability tension

STRENGTH: 6 Expert Weightlifting Tips to Be Stronger Than Ever

power.jpgStrength. We all want it, and many of us will go to great lengths to obtain it. Strength and the ability to be strong will find its way into all of our lives, from weightlifting in the gym to all the activities of daily living (ADLs). It was once explained to me that you should picture your absolute strength as a bucket; the bigger the bucket (the stronger you are), the more things you can put into the bucket. Aspects of health and fitness such as mobility, endurance, agility, and power can all be better developed and improved with the presence of strength. To put it simply: be strong—be better.

Of course you can google “how to get strong,” and you will find no shortage of philosophies and program theories to wade through to answer that question. Some may actually be safe and useful, but who can you trust these days? I tend to learn from those who have “been there and done that” and continue to do it because of a high success rate of most-wanted outcomes.

Get Strong Tips from Dan John

Dan John is one of the top fitness coaches, and I never miss a chance to hear him speak or read his weekly newsletters. I have learned so much from reading his materials and implementing his principles into my training and the training of others. Dan will be the first to tell you that he continues to learn from people like Pavel Tsatsouline and many others. Dan believes his tips are an “easy” way to get strong.

Following are six of his expert tips that I have integrated into my training (and the training of those I work with).

  • Lift heavy. This seems obvious, but it really is where it all begins. If you lift heavy weights to get strong, you have to challenge the system and force it to adapt. Without adaption, there will be no gain.
  • Perform the fundamental human movements. There are some variances in what is believed to be fundamental, depending on who you talk to. But I believe those movements are Squat, Hinge, Push, Pull, and Carry.
  • Keep sets and reps low. I love Dan’s “Power of 10” rule: never go over 10 total reps for any exercise. For example, 2x5, 5x2, 3x3, 6 singles, 5, 3 and 2.
  • Stop your set and workout before fatigue. Stay fresh and leave some energy for the next training session.
  • Don’t even struggle. Choose the proper load so that you can finish each rep with integrity, not sideways and crooked.
  • Never miss a rep. Choosing a load that you are 100% confident you can make can be hard for some. Most of us want to challenge the limits with every rep and set. Refrain from that for true gains.

A Challenge to Prepare for the Upcoming Powerlifting Competition

Following these tips, from time to time I will cycle in my training what Dan refers to as the 40-Workout Strength Challenge. With the NIFS 4th Annual Powerlifting Competition coming up on November 11, I wanted to share a program that I learned from Dan that added 10 pounds to my bench, 30 pounds to my squat, and 50 to my deadlift. Dan also has seen a few PRs fall in both throwing and weightlifting competitions. I am a big believer in the program’s concepts and simplicity. We are very good at overcomplicating things when it is not necessary. Here you work on fundamental movements all the time, and you make sure you hit every rep. This could be a great challenge for you leading into the competition; however, just like anything else, it might not work for everyone. Here’s the setup:

  1. Pick one exercise from the fundamental human movements described above. If competing in November is your goal, I would suggest a back squat, bench press, and deadlift. Add in a chinup and a farmer’s carry and you are good to go.
  2. Perform these exercises for the first 10 workouts every training session with varying sets and reps.
  3. Never miss a rep, and if the weight feels light, add more weight.
  4. After the first 10 workouts you can repeat them 3 additional times or make small changes to the movements every two weeks (for example, change to an incline bench, front squat, rack pulls, barbell bent-over rows, and racked carry). There are far too many examples of exercises and combinations to list here; I would suggest scheduling a personal program session with a NIFS instructor to help you out.

Here is how I set up my challenge that may help you develop yours. I can’t stress enough that this is what worked for me. It may not work for you, but it could be well worth the try.
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I found that after completing this 40-workout challenge, not only did I add pounds to my big lifts, but many of the other tasks in my life became easier. The other aspect of this challenge I really, really liked was that due to its simplicity, I can turn my brain down a bit and just lift. It provided that escape from our day-to-day tasks that I think we all need from time to time.

Sign Up for the Powerlifting Competition

The NIFS 4th Annual Powerlifting Competition is coming up on November 11, with early-bird registration starting on September 25. Be a part of this exciting celebration designed for all experience and fitness levels. You won’t regret it!

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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 weightlifting strength powerlifting

I Want a New Drug: Using Exercise as Medicine

ThinkstockPhotos-481324622.jpgWhat if I told you that I had a drug that could help cure the majority of your ailments, make your workday and life more productive, and help you sleep better? How much would you pay for this drug? But wait, there’s more! This drug can also

  • Increase blood flow to the brain, creating new blood vessels.
  • Help you withstand fatigue.
  • Decrease depression.
  • Improve memory.
  • Quicken learning time.
  • Increase bone density.
  • Help wounds heal faster.
  • Improve eye health.
  • Produce weight loss and fat cell shrinkage.
  • Slow the aging process.
  • Extend your life span by as many as 5 years.
  • Decrease the risk for heart disease, type-2 diabetes, COPD, CHF, and Alzheimer’s disease (that’s right, it’s currently the only known medicine to delay and even combat this disease).
  • Elicit feelings of joy and victory.

If I told you I had a drug that could do all that and more, would you consider it a wonder drug? I know I would! How much would you pay for that drug? Also, the most serious side effects of this drug are an increase in appetite and some muscle soreness from time to time. Now how much would you pay? What if I told you most forms of this drug are FREE? That’s right, EXERCISE is the drug I am referring to, but you figured that out already, didn’t you?

You may also be saying to yourself, that’s easy for a fitness professional to proclaim all those benefits of exercise, but it’s science, not my personal feelings about exercise. And if only the medical community and our society would listen to the science, Americans might not spend $3.35 trillion this year in health care, an all-time high! The U.S. spends more on health care than all other high-income nations, yet we are still the most unhealthy and diseased country. I’m not a scientist, but something doesn’t seem right about that equation.

But back to this drug that can do all the above and won’t even come close to touching that $3 trillion mark—EXERCISE! Here’s a quick rundown of what we know about exercise and its disease prevention impact.

The Science

In a recent special edition of TIME magazine, you can read about the science of exercise. It also tackles the idea of exercise as medicine, looking at the notion from several angles and different vantage points. Here is just a little of the science surrounding exercise and how it truly is a super drug.

  • In 2011 a team led by Mark Tarnopolsky studied genetically diseased mice that caused them to age prematurely. Half the mice were sedentary and the other half ran on a treadmill for 5 months. At the study’s end, the sedentary mice were barely hanging on, and the active mice were “nearly indistinguishable” from healthy mice, even though they were suffering from this genetic disease.
  • According to a 2006 University of Georgia review of 70 studies, it was found that regular exercise increases energy and reduces fatigue in adults of all ages with various health conditions and healthy ones as well—even those who suffered from ailments that cause fatigue, such as fibromyalgia.
  • Research shows that the less you move, the higher your risk for just about every health problem increases substantially.
  • Data from the National Weight Control Registry, which is an ongoing decades-long study, shows that people who lose a considerable amount of weight maintain the loss in part by exercising most days of the week.
  • A 1999 Duke University study found that adults suffering from depression who did 45 minutes of aerobic exercise three times per week improved their mood as much as individuals who took the antidepressant Zoloft instead of exercise.
  • In a three-month study, Martin Gibala tested how effective a 10-minute workout could be compared to the standard 50-minute session. The shorter workouts resulted in identical improvements in heart function and blood-sugar control.

The Prescription

The current guidelines from the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommend getting 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise or 120 minutes a week of moderate–vigorous aerobic exercise, or a combination of both. The ACSM, myself included, also highly recommend strength and endurance training as a part of a balanced exercise program.

A lot of activities count as exercise that many don’t realize, and people feel that they have to have an extensive exercise program and fancy health club to exercise. But we really just need to move. Now don’t get me wrong, I strongly recommend seeking the counsel of a fitness professional to help get you on your way to a healthier lifestyle or to redefine your current fitness level and aspirations. But until then, the prescription to stay healthy is simply to increase your movement throughout the day.

If you are unable to dedicate 30 straight minutes a day, break it up into three 10-minute sessions. We should all be able to spare 10 minutes to be able throw away the bottle of pills. Don’t forget that lawn work constitutes exercise, and so does taking the stairs.

Here are a few more physical activities that can allow anyone to meet the standard recommendations for exercise and physical activity: Walking, household chores, dancing, golf, basketball, tennis, volleyball, hiking, jogging, running, shoveling snow, raking the lawn, carrying heavy loads, biking, cross-country skiing, swimming, soccer… the list goes on and on! There are so many options to get the recommended amount of exercise for health. Choose the one that you enjoy and go do it!

The Takeaways

Until recently, the healthcare system was inching toward a model of value-based care as opposed to volume-based care, and docs and hospitals were essentially going to be penalized for longer patient stays and reoccurring patient visits. On the surface, that makes a great deal of sense to me; if you are not helping a person get back to being healthy, you shouldn’t be rewarded for it. I’m also not naïve enough to think there are not a lot of “hands in the pot” when it comes to healthcare, and many have a say as to the logistics of the current health care system. But the ACSM, with the Exercise Is Medicine initiative, have their heels on the ground marching toward the value-based system that will hopefully create real change in the health of our nation. I’m sure you can agree that a change of this magnitude will take some time, but there are some things we can be doing in the meantime.

First and foremost, talk to your doctor about how exercise can help you with any current conditions or battle future ones. If your doctor is unable to give you the advice you need, remember, they are not fitness experts. Seek out the assistance of a fitness pro to help. More simply, get up and move, and take someone with you! We can all help create change.

Hippocrates wrote many years ago that “Eating alone will not keep a man well. He must also take exercise.” We knew then what we should be practicing now: exercise is the true medicine for the ailments that plague mankind these days. So instead of looking at the next prescription drug label, let’s take a walk and talk about how we can be truly healthy by using exercise as medicine.

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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: fitness disease prevention exercise as medicine drugs weight control