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NIFS Healthy Living Blog

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.

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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

The Benefits of the Hip Press Exercise in Developing Glutes

glutes.jpgThe benefits and importance of developing the glutes in sports performance, fitness, and physique is a popular topic these days and has been for quite some time. In fact, an entire industry is built around shaping the perfect backside for some, and developing the most powerful athlete for others.

“The big house,” a term I have adopted from Mike Boyle, is a part of the body that has so many important duties in human movement (and yes, for filling out a swimsuit as well) that it should be a focus in everybody’s program. Until recently we targeted this area through back squats, lunges, kettlebell swings, clamshells, and the like, which are all very good options. The hip press, also known as the hip thruster, has been found to be possibly the most effective exercise for gluteal engagement, strength, and development. It has definitely become one of my go-to exercises personally and with the individuals I work with.

How to Perform the Exercise

So how effective is the hip press in developing this important area of our body? My buddy Alex Soller did some of the legwork already for me in his post Are You Glute-n Free? The Importance of Exercises for Glutes, where he covers the structural importance of the glutes and some exercises to enhance them. But we will focus on the hip press here and why it has quickly became one of the best ways to get the most out of the big house. In the video below, Kaci demonstrates some of the most popular ways to perform the hip press using our newly acquired hip press bench that will set you up for success when training the hips.

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Programming for Glute Development

In a 2014 post, Eric Cressey and Bret Contreras compared the “glute-building potential” of the back squat and hip press. Their ultimate belief, as well as mine, is that both are important movements for glute development and should be a part of your programming. This is partially due to the differences the two movements have in the activation of the glutes and the tension generated throughout both exercises. What I found significant in their findings is the massive difference in the activation of the glutes during the hip press leading to the burning pump that you will feel performing a challenging set of presses. This is a feeling you will just have to experience for yourself! I also believe that the hip press is a safer and easier option for the average gym-goer whereas the back squat can be a rather technical exercise, especially when dealing with heavier loads. 

The bottom line is (see what I did there?) that the hip press is a relatively easy movement to perform that can result in building that big house you have always wanted for fitness and physique. Need to learn more on how to implement the hip press into your program? Be sure to schedule your Assessment and Personal Program with an 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: fitness exercises sports glutes programs

Glute Exercises for Runners

ThinkstockPhotos-517225814.jpgHaving strong glutes is essential for reducing your risk of injury and preventing lower back pain. Those muscles help protect your knees while walking and running, they help you with your speed, and they stabilize the entire leg. Without strong glutes, the entire lower body may fall out of balance causing other injuries

I could talk all day about this group of muscles, but instead I’m going to show you three simple exercises you can do anywhere to help strengthen them.

These exercises are just general recommendations, and you should never feel any pain. If you are experiencing pain, recovering from an injury, or need a modification make sure to talk with a NIFS Fitness Specialist in the fitness center downstairs.

3 Glute Strengthening exercises for runnersFor all of these exercises, complete 10-20 reps 2-3 times 3 times a week.

Exercise 1) Curtsey Lunge—Begin standing with your feet under your hips and hands on your waist. Cross your left leg behind your right, bending your knee and lowering down into a lunge position. Drive through your front heel as you stand and bring your back foot to starting position. Repeat on the other side and continue to alternate.

Exercise 2) Glute Bridge—Lie flat on your back, feet flat and hip distance apart, knees bent and arms down at your sides. Position your feet as close to your bottom as possible. Drive through the heels to lift your hips up to the ceiling. Hold for a count of 2, then slowly lower down to starting position.

Exercise 3) Side Lying Diamond Leg Lifts—Lie on your side with your body in a straight line.
Bring your feet together and your knees together, your knees should be slightly in front of your body. Rest your head on your hand or lie down. Gently open your legs like a clam then close them for one rep. Repeat on the other side.

While getting in the miles is very important when training for a half marathon, it’s essential to balance your running routine with adequate stretching and strength training exercises to keep your body in good running condition. This will help prevent injuries and you will feel strong as you cross that Mini Marathon Finish line!

Fore more glute exercises see our blog,  Are You Glute-n Free.

Comment in the comment section below with some of the exercises you incorporate into your running routine!

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This blog was written by Tara Deal Rochford, nutirition specialist. Follow Tara on her blog, Treble in the Kitchen. To find out more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: running mini marathon injury prevention exercises glutes Mini-Marathon Training Program

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

Are You Glute-n Free? The Importance of Exercises for Glutes

Gluten intolerance and celiac recently has become a very popular nutritional topic. Gluten is a protein found in grains, including wheat and rye. Digestive issues, joint pain, and headaches are a few of the health issues that may occur if you have this intolerance and eat foods that contain gluten. Many individuals adopt a gluten-free lifestyle, which could lead to positive changes when paired with exercise and overall health.

But what if I told you there was a certain lifestyle that would have an opposite effect on your life? This is also characterized as gluten-free, but has nothing to do with food. This “Glute-n Free” lifestyle may be holding you back from achieving many exercise or physical activity goals, or could lead to simple lifestyle issues, such as dealing with nagging lower back pain.

Gluten = Bad, Glutes = Good!ThinkstockPhotos-200069245-001new-1.jpg

This Glute-n free trend I’m referring to is minimal or absence of gluteal exercises during your workout programs. The gluteus maximus is the largest muscle in the body. It is essential in just about every physical activity and is the central core muscle. You could consider this muscle to be the body’s powerhouse. Along with glute max, you have other gluteal muscles with various responsibilities, like hip stability. You will use these muscles in just about every activity that you do. From swinging a golf club to picking up a box off the ground, the glutes are vital.

Glute strength is important no matter what at point you are in your life. You could be an elite athlete looking to improve your broad jump, or a grandparent wanting to be able to pick up your grandchild while playing. Regardless of your goal, the strength of these muscles should be a main focus in your training program. One of the main movement patterns that these muscles help produce is known as the “hip hinge” movement pattern. Some fitness examples of this movement include the kettlebell swing, deadlift, and RDL.

Success in these exercises, or this movement pattern in general, relies heavily on your body’s ability to maintain good form under load, which is much easier when the muscles are up for the task. If muscles do not have the capabilities to withstand these forces, many issues could arise, commonly in the form of lower back pain.

The Functional Importance of the Glutes

This example does not stop in the gym, either. If you are at home and try to pick up a couch while rearranging furniture, the same rules apply. If your body (a big part of which being the glutes) is not strong enough to deadlift the couch, how did you get it up in the air? The simplest answer is that you were able to compensate from some other area (lower back) to hoist the couch up and move it. If strength levels were adequate to lift it, my guess would be you would not be feeling any pain.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, you could be a Division I linebacker who is looking to become more powerful while tackling. Tackling requires an enormous amount of power from the hip hinge position that allows one to deliver the biggest strike possible to the ball carrier. If I told you I would make you a stronger tackle with a few modifications to a training program, would you do it? I’d hope so. 

Top 5 Glute ExercisesGlute-n Free

So now that I’ve given my spiel about why training the glutes is important, here are my top 5 glute exercises that will help you develop a backside that Sir Mix-a-Lot would be proud of. These exercises start with the most basic and end with the most advanced.

  • Single-Leg Glute Bridge
  • Lateral Band Walks
  • Cable Pull-Through
  • Barbell Hip Press
  • Deadlift

 

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

 

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Topics: functional training muscles weightlifting stretching exercises glutes