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NIFS Healthy Living Blog

Back to Exercise Basics: The Strong Squat

We here at NIFS are what you can call “pattern people”; meaning our team of instructors focuses on fundamental movement patterns and how we can enhance them to allow for better function and goal achievement. Of course we start this process by having our members complete a Functional Movement Screen (FMS). The first assessment takes a look at the Squat pattern. Second in our series focusing on exercise basics, the squat will be the topic here, including how you can build a better one.

The Keys to a Great Squat

As we continue our focus on movement competency prior to attempting the most challenging exercise known to man (I still see this happening every day, in the gym and all over Facebook), we begin by taking a look at the major keys to a great squat. Much like the push-up described in a previous post, the squat is a super-versatile movement with so many real-life and performance applications in which it plays a role. From sitting into a chair (and standing up from that chair) to setting a PR in the back squat in your next powerlifting competition, the squat is a very powerful and functional movement we should all be training. Quite a few things are going on in a great squat; it employs core joint mobility in the ankles and hips, core stability, and motor control. These far-reaching aspects of movement are challenged and improved when incorporating a properly performed squat into your routine.

Cara_squat

Squat Pattern Checklist

Refer to the following checklist to ensure that you get the most out of your squat pattern by performing it correctly. Just as you learned to squat, check it off from the ground up:

  1. Feet 1: Just beyond shoulder-width apart
  2. Feet 2: Slightly angle outward
  3. Feet 3: Weight over the heels and spread the floor
  4. Knees: Tracking over toes
  5. Hips 1: Hips push back to begin movement
  6. Hips 2: At or below parallel
  7. Hips 3: Hips and knees flexing at same time
  8. Spine 1: Angle of spine and tibia are the same
  9. Chest: Keep up, proud chest
  10. Arms: (top of press) Push-up to straight-arm position
  11. Head: Keep gaze straight ahead

Squat Variations

Here are just a few variations you can try after mastering the pattern. Remember, do the basic stuff really well before moving on to the really hard stuff.

Overhead w. Dowel IMG_1201

2KB Front Squat

IMG_1211

BB Back Squat

IMG_1217

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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: exercises powerlifting squat pattern functional movement joints assessment squat functional movement screen

Out with the Old: Change Your Workout to Improve Wellness

GettyImages-529079056.jpgTake yourself back to the 1970s when Arnold Schwarzenegger was preparing for the Mr. Olympia contest. Everybody wanted to try his incredibly intense workouts. It has been rumored that Arnold’s workouts were so intense that at least three different trainers would have to give him separate workouts in order to keep up with him.

Following in the king’s footsteps, anyone who wanted to be a bodybuilder or get into shape undeniably thought that working out six days a week, two times a day, was the way to make this happen. Luckily for us and all of America, workouts have evolved from the old-school mindset to the new school.

Varying Your Workout

Old School: Sticking to the same workout for months.

Although this was the go-to, this pattern isn’t always going to work. When you do the same sets and reps for every workout, you miss out on allowing your body to change.

New School: Implementing the SAID principle.

The SAID principle is an acronym for Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demand. When the body is put under different stress, it starts to adapt. In other words, the body is trying to get better. By providing your body with different types of sets, reps, and loads, you are able to tap into more of your muscle fibers, increase strength, and avoid plateaus.

Targeting Training

Old school: Focusing only on the trouble spots.

This type of focus won’t work for the majority of people who are coming to the gym to work out or lose weight. When there is variety in your workouts, there is room for growth and development. Focusing only on the areas that are the weakest isn’t going to help the areas that are already strong continue to get stronger.

New School: Correcting trouble spots while also training strong areas.

Correcting a weakness and building on a strong point at the same time will enable you to improve your body as a whole. A way to correct those problem areas is to figure out exactly why they are causing you problems. The Functional Movement Screen captures fundamental movements, motor control within movement patterns, and competence of basic movements uncomplicated by specific skills. It will determine the greatest areas of movement deficiency, demonstrate asymmetries, and eventually correlate these with an outcome.

Cardio vs. Strength

Old School: Focusing only on cardio will increase weight loss.

While it’s important to incorporate cardio into your workout regimen to help build and keep your cardiovascular systems stronger, it is not the only type of exercise that is needed for weight loss. Focusing only on cardio will lessen your chances of building muscle.

New School: Getting a healthy dose of both cardio and strength training will improve overall health.

Much like how a car stays warm after it turns off, the same can be said about your body after you finish a workout. EPOC (excess post-exercise oxygen consumption) explains how your body’s metabolism can continue to burn more calories. Resistance training can provide a greater EPOC effect than running at a steady speed.

Out with the Old and in with the New

Training methods will come and go, and at some point the new-school methods will become old school. At NIFS we offer a wide variety of programs, assessments, and education to help turn those old habits into new routines. Stay positive, be willing to accept change, and explore to find what works best for you!

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This blog was written by Ashley Duncan, Weight Loss Coordinator. To learn more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: NIFS weight loss workouts calories resistance metabolism functional movement assessments programs wellness mindset assessment plateaus targeting workouts change oxygen

Flexibility vs. Mobility in Fitness: Why Not Both?

GettyImages-509723338.jpgWhen you hear the word stretch, you might think immediately about flexibility (or perhaps your lack thereof). Flexibility was always the term used for enhancing limited movement, until the word mobility arrived and took the fitness industry by storm.

As a NIFS Health Fitness Instructor for five years now, I’ve spent plenty of time in and around the fitness center using these terms. Whether I’m speaking to a client regarding their goals or sharing instructions on warm-up drills, these two words often get used interchangeably; however, they are not identical.

An Exercise Example to Illustrate the Difference

Generally speaking, flexibility can simply be defined as the greatest length a muscle can achieve during a range of motion (ROM), passively or actively. Mobility also requires achieving a certain ROM, but it also requires coordination and core strength to move around the joint under load.

Let’s examine a front squat to help make this clear. A flexible person may reach the deep squat position, enabled by the flexibility in ankles, knees, and hips, but then lack the mobility (coordination and core strength) needed to correctly complete the exercise by standing up. Similarly, without flexibility, that person wouldn’t even begin to reach the range of motion needed for the deep position required for the front squat, so mobility isn’t even a factor without the proper flexibility.

The Affects of Age

When it comes to flexibility and mobility, age is definitely not on our side. As we age, we lose the elasticity in our muscles, and the tendons and ligaments tighten, making flexibility hard work. It’s not until someone suffers from poor movement patterns resulting in limited functional movement that causes injuries for someone to start trying to combat the effects of aging. (You can learn more about your own condition by having a Functional Movement Screening at NIFS.)

Movement vs. Static Hold

Lastly, when looking to improve and enhance these two concepts, mobility requires movement, whether we are testing for it or training to improve it. On the other hand, flexibility is done more often with a static hold. It’s safe to say that you could have excellent flexibility (the length of muscles required for a deep squat) but very poor mobility because you do not possess the ability to stand up out of a deep squat position under load.

Let me share with you a few helpful movements to further differentiate between these two concepts:

Flexibility Mobility
Elbow to instep Elbow to instep w/ oscillation
Half-kneeling ankle Ankle moving in and out
Knee hug Hip drop

                

Be sure to stay tuned for part 2 of this series as I discuss the important addition of stability to your movement patterns.

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

Topics: exercise fitness muscles range of motion flexibility core mobility functional movement aging

5 Simple Ways to Keep Your Winter Fitness on Track

GettyImages-157353513.jpgIt happens every year. As the new year rolls around, we set our new fitness goals and get excited to get started on them and “make this year the year!” But with winter still here through the end of March, many of us end up with the goal to get fit, but with no motivating factors to flip the switch in our brains to get out of hibernation mode. It gets easier in the spring and summer, when we can start to change up the environment we work out in, the workload at the office might be lighter, and there is more daylight before the sun goes down. But what do we do until then?

As someone who used to go through this same cycle myself, let me shed some light on what seems to be a depressing beginning to this blog. Although there are multiple methods to keep your winter fitness going, that can tend to become overwhelming. So I would simply like to share five things that can help keep you on track during those dark winter days.

1. Get Your Baselines

So you have a goal to get fit, but how do you know that you’ve progressed? Even if you think you know where you are in your fitness, it’s always good to get assessed; you might be further along than you thought, or you might find something you need to address before getting started.

Assessments such as the Functional Movement Screening (FMS), which takes a look at range of motion and stability before doing exercises with a load, or the Fundamental Capacity Screen (FCS), which assesses power and strength capacity, are important before starting a workout because they help you establish where your body’s abilities are currently. Scores from these assessments can also zero in on areas to improve with corrective exercises to keep that area safe from possible future injury.

Other assessments to look into include the BOD POD, to check body fat percentage, as well as the Fit3D, to get a 3D scan of all of your body’s measurements.

2. Plan Your Workouts

This one is a game changer. How many of you have walked into the gym before and wandered around pondering all of the things you “could do” that day, or jumped on one weight machine, then meandered to the next one you saw available, then found yourself ending up on a cardio machine because that seemed like the best thing to get your heart rate up for a bit? Then all of a sudden, you look at your watch and you’ve been at the gym for almost 3 hours?

Now, for those of you gym members who already plan and are training for something sport specific, don’t fret. I understand the time you carve out to fit everything in. However, for all of you who have no idea what you should do until after you walk into the gym, this is your missing link to getting the most out of your workouts.

Whether it’s a plan as simple as attending certain group fitness classes during the week, or getting with a trainer to set up a plan for you that works during your week based on your goals, a game plan for when you get to the gym will not only make you accomplish more in a shorter amount of time, but it also eliminates the excuse of not going because there’s not as much to think about anymore. For more information on how you can sit down with a trainer to get started on your FREE strategy session and get a workout plan set for you as a NIFS member, click here to contact us. For our downloadable group fitness schedule, click here.

3. Set Up Your Environment

We all know that “too cold to get out of bed today” mentality that tends to set in during those cold winter days. To combat this, set yourself up for success by setting the thermostat timer to warm your house right before you wake up, so the need to curl up and stay warm is eliminated. Maybe make a change to a more enjoyable and uplifting tune to wake you up in the right mood rather than the normal ping. Setting out your workout clothes the night before or even having them in your gym bag and already in your car will help set you up for a stress-free day.

4. Continue to Stay Hydrated

Although it might be more appealing to drink an ice-cold glass of water during the heat of summer, the need to stay hydrated is imperative all year round. Drinking water not only prevents dehydration from the dry air that winter brings; it also helps your organs and cells continue to function well, assists in regulating body temperature, and boosts your immune system to help fight off common cold and flu sicknesses.

Tracking your water is a great way to aid in staying hydrated, and there are so many tools out there to use! For me personally, if I’m drinking it out of a pretty bottle, I’m more prone to fill it up and drink more. If you’re like me, here’s a great option one company has come up with to help you track your water intake in style! Zak Designs HydraTrak water bottle is an affordable, practical, and stylish bottle that includes bands to roll up and account for every full bottle of water you drink that day.

5. Accountability, Accountability, ACCOUNTABILITY!

I saved this one for last, because although all of the above tips are just as important, having something to hold you accountable is what’s really going to set you apart from the rest and keep you on track to reach your goals.

Accountability can be molded into different forms—whatever works best for you. Some find accountability in simply writing their progress on a calendar or taking measurements along the way. Others find it in someone else who can either coach them through their journey, such as a program, or be along for the ride and have similar goals, such as a workout buddy. That’s why gyms create programs for their members, such as the NIFS programs Slim It to Win It, Mini Marathon Training, Ramp Up to Weight Loss, etc. We know how important and how empowering it is to have that extra person there with you from day one, working to reach those same goals, among all of the obstacles that life throws at us. Even more so, your coach is ready to guide you every step of the way and check in on your progress to make sure you’re setting yourself up for success! Try telling that person you stayed home from your session because "…it was cold and I just wanted to snooze a little longer before getting up.” You might rethink that snooze option on your alarm next time!

Whatever your goal might be—weight loss, triathlon training, simply staying active for three days out of the week, etc.—we all have to deal with the business and daily distractions of life. Sometimes those distractions come with setbacks…and that’s okay. What counts is having strategies in place to help you overcome those humps and keep you from falling completely off the wagon!

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This blog was written by Rebecca Heck. To learn more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: winter fitness weight loss group fitness accountability NIFS programs Slim It to Win It BODPOD functional movement Mini-Marathon Training Program new year fit3d assessment workout buddy

Core Exercises to Take You from Snore to ROAR!

GettyImages-514734718.jpgSome of the number-one fitness goals are to strengthen the core, lose belly fat, and get six-pack abs. These are all pretty good goals that can be addressed by a fitness professional and a dietitian, but everyone might not have that luxury. From a traditional perspective, we have mainly used a few ab exercises such as crunches, sit-ups, and variations of them. For the most part, these are better than the alternative—nothing at all.

But what if there is a way to get more out of your workouts that allows you to get core exercise without doing sit-ups and crunches? If you are tired of the same old ab routine, or if you are finding it hard to get to the floor to do exercise, this may be exactly what you need to know to break plateaus and possibly change your life.

How You Use Your Core

Out of the many instances in which you use your core (basically your torso, minus your arms and legs), you could find occasions where you use sit-up movements, but not to the extent that we train them (hello 300 sit-ups, yes we are looking at you!). Overall, normal functions include standing; walking (sometimes up and down stairs); sitting at a desk, in the car, or in a recliner; and standing some more. The core really doesn’t move that much; however, it does stabilize all the time. Therefore, it would make sense to train for stability rather than movement, at least some of the time. This is true for everyone from beginners to seasoned athletes, and from young to elderly. Core stability is a part of your life and you use it all the time.

Before I talk about these exercises, know that good form and good posture is the backbone that makes this all work. This goes for every exercise, but also includes standing, walking, and sitting. People tend to slouch, mainly because it’s easier to do than sitting up or standing tall with good posture. Unfortunately, slouching does not activate the core at all. Good posture, however, allows the core to engage (which also helps in the calorie-burning process throughout the day). Focusing on this daily will help strengthen the core, even when you are not at the gym.

Core Exercises and Techniques

In addition to focusing on posture, you can easily add several other exercises and techniques to any routine.

  1. Plank: Create a plank with your body. Your back must be flat; if not, you can go to your knees or introduce an incline. Proper form is imperative. To increase the difficulty, I suggest adding a leg-lift motion, alternating legs.
  2. IMG_2617.jpgAnti-rotational holds: Using either a cable machine or bands, stand perpendicular to the anchor point while holding your handle directly in front of your midpoint. To increase the intensity, I suggest introducing a kneeling or half-kneeling position, making the core work even harder.
  3. Suitcase carry: This is an adaptation to the farmer’s carry. Instead of using two balanced weights, I suggest using only one weight on one side (think about carrying a heavy suitcase through the airport). Try to keep the top of your shoulders parallel to the ground. To increase the intensity, I suggest trying the same walking pattern, but on a narrow line. This will enhance the balance difficulty. You can also go in reverse!
  4. Single-arm dumbbell press: This is a spin on a traditional exercise, the chest press. Using a flat bench and only a single dumbbell, proceed to doing a normal press pattern. If you place your other hand on your stomach, you should feel muscles in there working to keep you from rolling off the bench. You will have to engage your core to maintain posture, though. Be sure to keep your head, back, and feet in contact with the bench and floor respectively.
  5. Overhead sit and stand: What is more functional than sitting and standing? In order for you to sit and stand, your core is engaging constantly. To increase the intensity, begin by sitting and standing without using your hands. Once that is easy, try holding a weight plate or medicine ball overhead while you sit to the box and stand. Notice how much more your core is working?

As you can see, several exercises and techniques are available to assist your core training regimen. Adding one or more of these will add some much-needed diversity that will not only keep you interested in exercise but also able to break through plateaus that may have been giving you trouble for years.

If you want more information, contact a fitness professional or personal trainer at NIFS to develop a strategy to build your own core exercise knowledge library.

Knowledge is power.

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This blog was written by Thomas Livengood, Health Fitness Instructor and Personal Trainer. To read more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: muscles core strength functional movement posture personal trainer stability core exercises core exercise core stability plank plateaus

Which Fitness Assessment Is Right for Me? Part 2: Functional Movement Screen (FMS)

FMS-New.jpgMaximize Your Workout with the Functional Movement Screen at NIFS

Everyone wants to move better, to maximize their potential in their workouts, and to be free of any aches and pains that linger in the body. Some of these issues within the body can stem from imbalances between your right and left sides. Or maybe the issues lie within your mobility (the ability of your body to move freely and easily) or stability (the ability to stay balanced in both static and dynamic movement). We all compensate with movement even though we feel like we are moving “normally.”

However, the good news is that the majority of these things are fixable through corrective exercises. So where do we go from here? How do we figure out what those imbalances are and what to do to get better?

An Assessment of Limitations and Imbalances

The answer is to start with a Functional Movement Screen, or FMS. The FMS will take you through seven basic movement patterns that encompass all movement and exercise. The FMS certified trainers are looking for different things within each of the seven tests to help them score the assessment and understand what is going on in the body. And don’t let the word tests or assessments scare you off; the FMS is designed for all ability levels and ages! From the elite athlete in the NFL to the everyday exerciser, the FMS will help to identify functional limitations and imbalances in each individual.

Watch this video for a quick look at the FMS.

Get Your List of Exercises

Then what? Great question! Now it’s time to get your list of corrective exercises. You will then be entered into a database called FMS360. With this, you can have full access to your scores from the screen, exercises that are safe for you to keep doing, things that you should steer clear of until you earn a better score, and exercises that will help you work to correct those imbalances. Our trainers can also help you through how to correctly perform the exercises that are given to you.

The secret to success: You must consistently do the correctives! These exercises are simple and easily can be added into a warmup as you prepare for your workout. Stay on top of them and don’t let days go by without completing them; it’s only for the betterment of your movement!

The FMS will allow you to move as you should. No matter where you are in your training plan, I would highly encourage you to get one now, improve your movement efficiency, and reduce the risk of injury.

To schedule your FMS, call the NIFS track desk at 317-274-3432 or email fitness@nifs.org.

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

Topics: NIFS workout exercises mobility functional movement assessments

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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Wistia video thumbnail - Half-Kneel Position
 

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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

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

Conclusion

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

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

Posture and Fitness (Part 2): Anterior Pelvic Tilt

ThinkstockPhotos-611184084.jpgIn part 1 of this series covered kyphosis (rounded shoulders). Now we move on to another posture issue, anterior pelvic tilt.

What Is It?

Anterior pelvic tilt (APT) is a postural deficiency that results in an excessive forward tilt of the pelvic region. Essentially, it protrudes the abdominal region while creating an excessive lower-back curvature. This postural deficiency can cause one to have lower back pain, more abnormal movement mechanics, and muscle accommodation throughout the body, which we refer to as reciprocal inhibition.

What Causes It?

APT is commonly caused by excessive sitting. While in the seated position, your hip flexor muscles become very tight from being in their shortened position. When the hip flexors become tight, they pull down on the pelvis, which causes a forward tilt. Tight hip flexors also keep the gluteus muscles from firing efficiently, which causes the hamstrings to compensate for the lack of use, which in return causes them to become overworked. (The root cause for tight hamstrings may be anterior pelvic tilt.) APT is also a cause of weak abdominal muscles. The abs become loose and overstretched, which allows the pelvis to tilt forward even more. This may lead to a false conclusion of having too much fat around the abdominal region because your belly tends to stick out farther than what is natural.

Why Is It Bad for Fitness?

APT causes an overextension of the lumbar spine, lack of glute activation, and quad dominance, which leads to compensation patterns and poor exercise technique.

How to Fix It

There is a solution! In order to fix this problem, you must attack the root cause. Most commonly you will need to improve your hip flexibility, which can be done with a variety of hip stretches and proper warmup and movement patterns that I will list below. Once the hips have regained flexibility through stretching, the gluteus and hamstring muscles should be allowed to fire more efficiently. This will allow the pelvic region to rotate back into proper alignment, which will make movement patterns such as the squat and deadlift more comfortable, especially for the lower back. It is also a good idea to strengthen up the abdominal region as this will pull up on the quadriceps muscles, also allowing the pelvis to be pulled back into place.

Muscles to Stretch

  • PSOAS
    Hip stretches: Butterfly stretch, pigeon pose, kneeling hip flexor stretch, etc.
  • Quads
    Quad stretches: Standing quad stretch, kneeling quad stretch, etc.

Muscles to Strengthen

  • Glutes (Gluteus Maximus and Minimus)
    Glute exercises: Hip thrust, squats, etc.
  • Hamstrings
    Hamstring exercises: Straight-leg deadlifts, Swiss ball leg curls, lying hamstring curls
    Anti-extension abdominal: Planks, hallow holds, hanging leg raises, reverse crunches, lying pelvic tilt 

See a NIFS Health Fitness Specialist today if you believe APT may be keeping you from proper exercise mechanics.

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This blog was written by Darius Felix, Health Fitness Instructor. Click here for more information about the NIFS bloggers.

Topics: NIFS fitness muscles stretching strength training glutes functional movement assessments posture glute abs hamstring APT anterior pelvic tilt