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NIFS Healthy Living Blog

The Hidden Wellness and Fitness Benefits of Yoga

Yoga3.jpgMany of us know that yoga serves as a form of physical activity that increases flexibility for participants. Yoga focuses on putting the individuals in body poses that elongate muscles from head to toe. While this is very true, and I encourage anyone looking to improve their flexibility to incorporate yoga into their weekly workout routine, yoga has so much more to offer than just improvements in flexibility. In fact, the original context of yoga had very little to do with improving flexibility at all.

Originally the purpose of yoga was spiritual development practices to improve mind-body awareness. Over the years, however, many have begun to focus more on the physical benefits of yoga than the mental and spiritual benefits, which has led the practice of yoga to take on newly defined purposes. However, it is important to understand the mind-body awareness benefits of yoga, as they can be just as if not more beneficial than the physical attributes. Let’s take a look at what some of those hidden benefits are.

Nervous System and Digestive System

One major focus of yoga is to become more aware of and to control your breathing patterns. By learning to control breathing, you can move from the sympathetic nervous system to the parasympathetic nervous system almost instantaneously. The sympathetic nervous system is responsible for the “fight or flight” response, or the part of your nervous system designed to respond to stress. When the sympathetic nervous system is in control, heart rate and blood pressure rise as a response to fight a possible threat. You want to limit the activity of this side of the autonomic nervous system. This is important because when the parasympathetic nervous system (or rest and digest) is in majority of control, your heart rate, blood pressure, and stress levels lower while your digestion rate increases. Once your body reaches this relaxed state, anxiety becomes something of the past. A faster digestive system helps your body make the most of nutrients found in the food you consume while regulating regular bodily function.

Focus and Creativity

If you ask an experienced yogi what the hardest part of yoga is, you might be surprised by their answer. Typically, one might assume that holding the different yoga poses would be the most challenging aspect; however, there is an even bigger challenge, which includes focusing—on nothing. Meditation is another crucial component of a successful yoga session. Experienced yogis are able to focus their attention on nothing but their inner self; all outside distractions are eliminated, at least temporarily. This may sound very simple, but if you have ever tried to completely clear your mind of all inner thoughts besides what you are feeling at that exact moment, you may be able to grasp how difficult a task this is to successfully complete.

However, once one is able to control their center of attention, they will find their ability to stay focused on one particular task (especially those that require attention to detail) becomes better and better. In a 2012 study published by the journal Frontiers in Psychology, researchers were able to determine those who practiced meditation for at least 10 minutes a day for up to 16 weeks performed better with divergent-thinking tasks than those who did not participate in meditation at all.

Strength and Muscle Definition

Just in case you are not fascinated by the mind-body awareness benefits of yoga, there is a less discussed muscle defining and strengthening benefit as well, for those who are solemnly interested in the physical benefits. Who knew that yoga is actually great for improving muscle definition, and in rare cases even muscle hypertrophy? Because yoga focuses on moving and upholding your own body weight in various positions, it serves as a great strength workout in addition to flexibility and mind-body training.

Unlike traditional resistance training, which focuses primarily on the concentric contraction (the muscle contracts as it shortens) of a muscle, yoga focuses primarily on the eccentric contraction (the muscle contracts as it stretches) of a muscle. The eccentric contraction component gives muscles a more elongated look, while concentric contractions give muscles a shorter, more bulgy, look. If you have ever seen an experienced yogi’s physique, it may resemble that of a gymnast, basketball player, or even a track athlete versus those who participate in more traditional forms of resistance training, who might resemble a football player or bodybuilder with more muscle hypertrophy.

Yoga tends to train small and large muscles all over the body due to its high demand for muscles to work in conjunction with each other to perform the different body movements in various planes of movement. This is good for the reason that you often tend to work smaller muscle groups that may get little to no attention when practicing machine-oriented resistance training. With a machine that focuses on a one-dimensional plane of movement, it’s often impossible to train multiple muscle groups at the same time. Therefore, yoga tends to be a better option for improving overall body strength along with achieving a more proportional muscular physique.

Other Wellness Benefits

Some additional notable benefits of yoga also include (but are not limited to) immune system boost, pain management, increase in gray brain matter and increase in balance, and function ability. As noted above, the mental and nervous system benefits of yoga must begin to take back priority. Although improving flexibility can be a great thing, many have found that these additional benefits are what separate this form of physical activity from any other form.

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

Topics: yoga muscles focus flexibility digestion wellness nervous system mind-body

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

High Intensity Training (HIT): No Pain, No Gain

HIT-6.jpgIf you have ever participated in High Intensity Training (HIT), you will quickly discover what separates this style of workout from other popular styles you may know, like super sets or pyramid training. The main intention behind high intensity training workouts is that the workout will challenge your body to such a level of discomfort that its threshold or maximum capacity has no choice but to rise. Now don’t let the word “such a level of discomfort” scare you away; it’s the discomfort level that we all feel during exercise at some point, and of course you can push past it.

The Importance of Pushing Past the Pain

During resistance training, you will at some point begin to experience a level of discomfort. This happens because lactic acid begins to be produced by muscles during intense exercise bouts, which causes muscle fatigue. Although lactic acid may slow down muscle productivity and intensity, it does not mean you have reached muscle failure and are unable to continue. Quite honestly, this means your set is just now starting (if you want to bring down barriers and advance to the next level). Most individuals get to this point of discomfort and stop their set. However, if you stop here, you are more than likely not pushing your body past its threshold point, which is important in order to increase muscle strength, endurance, and even hypertrophy (muscle building).

Specifically, in high intensity style training, most often you will reach that lactate threshold and then be pushed beyond that. Just when you think that your body can go on no longer, you dig deep within yourself and the encouragement of your teammates and find that new level. And this is why we see so many success stories in people who attend HIT workouts. They push beyond what their bodies thought they could do, past the threshold, resulting in an increase in muscle strength and endurance.

hit-high-res-logo-web-new.jpgHow NIFS Can Help

If you need help discovering what those new levels are, and some accountability to keep pushing, then I invite you to try NIFS’s High Intensity Training. Our classes are designed to motivate you to push past the limits you think are there by utilizing short bouts of high intensity work, which will increase your body’s thresholds, causing an increase of metabolism. We use our training expertise to provide the necessary motivation to close the gap between you and your body’s threshold. Once you reach this threshold, we will teach you how to tap into that next level to take your workouts to the next step on the ladder of success!

We invite you to come experience a good workout, a good team feeling, and a good environment where each participant has the same goal: to get better! Get your first session for FREE by contacting Amanda Bireline at [email protected].

Yes! I want to try a HIT class!

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

Topics: NIFS group training accountability muscles resistance strength HIT pain high intensity muscle building

Thomas’s Corner: Functional Training Series (Part 1)

ThinkstockPhotos-523032469-2.jpgWhat Is Functional Training?

The term functional training is a mainstay in the current fitness/wellness vernacular, but what is it? In lay terms, it is training that supports movements that are performed in everyday life outside the gym, or that are naturally occurring movement patterns (whether or not you use them).

Where You See Functional Training

You encounter functional training anytime you are walking, running, pushing, pulling, twisting, or bending (almost every movement!). As Mike Blume, Athletic Performance Trainer at NIFS, puts it, “Functional training improves our activities of daily living (ADLs), which will then help us get through each day easier.” This improved quality of life could affect something as simple as tying your shoes, to playing with your children on the floor, to carrying your groceries to your second-floor apartment.

Choosing the Right Functional Training Movements

Not all functional training exercises are created equal. We find that exercises that are more specific or have a greater “transfer effect” can have a greater overall impact on the participant going as far as increased brain/muscle motor control). Exercises that are on the other end of the spectrum have a lower overall impact, however.

Preventing Functional Training Injury

We find the difficulty and complexity of an exercise must be taken into consideration and may be detrimental to a person’s health and wellness if they are not physically capable of performing the movement correctly. We all know that there is nothing functional about injury due to inexperience or physical limitation. See a NIFS fitness instructor or personal trainer to discuss functional training and how it applies to your workout level.

In part 2 of this two-part series, I'll look at lifting techniques for functional training.

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This blog was written by Thomas Livengood. For more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: Thomas' Corner running walking functional training muscles range of motion flexibility

Posture and Fitness: Kyphosis (Rounded Shoulders)

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

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

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

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

Solution One: Maintain Correct Positioning When Sitting at the Computer

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

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

Solution Two: Foam Rolling

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

Solution Three: Static Stretching

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

Solution Four: Upper Posterior Chain Muscle Exercises

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

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

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

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

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

Topics: fitness muscles exercises workplace wellness posture

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

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

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

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

2. Learn how to breathe and use a belt.

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

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

3. Determine your best stance.

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

***

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

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

Topics: NIFS fitness center injury prevention muscles weightlifting deadlift

Five Resistance-Training Mistakes that Slow Muscle-Building

ThinkstockPhotos-517048740.jpgBuilding muscle is perhaps the most common goal (second to fat loss) of an exercise program. Many people eventually hit a plateau with exercise routines and muscle-gaining processes and find it increasingly difficult to continue putting on new muscle. Once the body becomes too familiar with certain exercises or a certain style of training, your results will be hindered.

However, you might in fact need to take a closer look at your training habits before you jump to the conclusion that you have hit a plateau. Take a look at my top 5 muscle-building mistakes, and how to power through the plateau and continue making gains.

1. Overtraining

Overtraining is a very real trap to which many people trying to gain muscle fall victim. In our society we often think that when trying to gain muscle, “more is better.” However, when it comes to training, more is often not better. Only the right amount of the right type of training will be beneficial to increasing muscle in the body.

The easiest way to explain this concept is to first point out that in order for muscles to grow in size (hypertrophy), they must be allowed to fully recover from micro tears experienced during an intense resistance-training workout. If we fall into the trap of thinking more is better, we often find ourselves either doing an absurd amount of sets and reps for each muscle group, or training the same muscle group multiple times a week, and not allowing proper recovery time. While I do applaud the effort in this technique, I have learned from personal experience that sometimes instead of training harder, we must train smarter.

2. Under-training

As opposed to mistake number 1, numerous people also often under-train when working out. Under-training happens when you walk into the gym and head over to the leg extension machine, perform a set of 12 reps at low-moderate intensity, and play with your phone for 2 or 3 minutes while resting, waiting on your next set. When trying to build muscle, the number of reps you complete does not mean anything if you are not bringing the correct intensity to those numbers. If you are on rep 12 and it feels like you are trying to lift a car, you are at the correct intensity for that exercise. If you get to rep 12 and you are already looking forward to your next set because you felt as though 12 reps was not enough, you might not be training with the proper intensity to build muscle. A good workout should come with challenges; therefore, you should almost be reaching failure on each set you do. If a person does not push themselves close to their limits, gaining new muscle and improving lifts will be rather difficult.

3. Avoiding the Hard Exercises

Most of us are guilty of this (including myself). We tend to avoid the hard exercises because they challenge our comfort level in the gym. However, since a majority of the “hard exercises” we tend to avoid happen to be compound exercises, we are actually doing ourselves a huge disservice. Compound exercises are extremely beneficial when trying to build muscle. They tend to use multiple muscle groups at the same time (even the ones we are not accustomed to working out individually). Therefore, compound exercises are great not only for working the major muscle groups in the body, but are also great for working the smaller muscle groups, which will result in improved strength levels overall that should transfer over to other lifts.

4. Failure to Build a Foundation

Before you can move to the “hard” or compound exercises, you must first build a solid foundation through muscular strength, muscular endurance, and proper movement patterns. These three components tie into one another very closely. If a person does not have a solid foundation with correct movement patterns, he or she will be performing compound exercises with improper lifting techniques, causing untargeted muscle groups to compensate. If the targeted muscle is not firing as effectively as it should be within the compound exercise, how can you expect a great deal of muscle growth?

Conversely, if a person has not improved their muscular endurance before attempting to improve their muscular strength, he or she might only be able to lift a certain amount of weight for only a short time (due to lack of muscular endurance), even if the person has learned proper movement technique. Lastly, if a person has not improved their muscular strength, it will be very difficult to continuously improve the weight needed to lift in order to create muscle hypertrophy (or size). So as you can see, building those three foundations first plays a huge role in long-term increase of muscle.

5. Nutrition

The last and arguably most common mistake seen when trying to build muscle is actually undernourishing the muscles themselves. Can you really expect your muscles to be able to grow when you are not giving them the proper amount of nutrients? That’s like expecting your car to survive a family road trip from Indiana to California without putting gas in it first. It simply won’t happen.

The mistake we usually make is thinking that as long as we are allowing our bodies to be in a “caloric surplus,” we will grow new muscle as long as we participate in a consistent resistance-training program. Unfortunately, not all foods are created with equal nutritional value, meaning there are foods we consume on a daily basis that are not giving us the proper amount of protein, carbohydrates, and healthy fats our muscles need in order to grow. Instead they fill us up with “empty calories” (no nutritional value) that include calories from sugar and saturated fat that provide little to no health benefits.

To make matters even worse, you actually intake more calories per gram when you consume fats compared to carbohydrates and proteins.

Nutrient Calories per Gram Calories in 50 grams
Carbohydrates 4 200
Proteins 4 200
Fats 9 450

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Many times people overlook these mistakes when trying to build muscle. However, if you begin to understand that all of these factors play a huge role in the efficiency of the muscle-building process, you will finally be able to get past the physical barriers you have unintentionally created for yourself.

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

Topics: nutrition muscles resistance overtraining recovery muscle building

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

Morning Exercise Benefits: Increased Metabolism and More?

ThinkstockPhotos-78716025.jpgOkay, so maybe you’re not a morning person, and would much rather remain cozy in your queen-sized bed for several hours after waking up before finally finding the energy and motivation to make your way to the gym during the middle of the day. Maybe you’re the type of person who likes to take care of your priorities first during the day, and then only if left with enough time sneak in a late-afternoon or nighttime workout before ending your day.

Don’t get me wrong; if you are either of these individuals, I applaud you in every way for finding some time in your day to work out. However, a number of studies have researched the benefits of working out in the morning compared to working out midday or at night. Below I shine some light on those benefits that might encourage your brain and body to transition into working out at the crack of dawn.

The Question of Increased Metabolism

I’m sure a majority of us have heard at some point in our life that working out in the morning helps to boost our metabolism. Sure we can take a leap of faith and believe this theory to be true based on popular belief, but let’s actually take a look at the physiology side of things and expose whether this is true.

Metabolism is process by which your body converts the food you eat into energy. So in simple terms, the higher your metabolism is, the more calories you burn on a daily basis. Obviously, the more active you are during your workouts, the more calories you are going to burn. It is also important to remember that even if you are working out in the morning, your metabolism will not increase if you do not put forward the proper effort during your workout.

So as you might have just guessed, if you’re not a person who is full of energy and motivation during the morning hours, your workout performance may be hindered by these factors alone, which will limit your morning metabolism increase. Therefore, it is important to experiment with workout timing to see which time of the day will benefit you the most. So does working out in the morning help to increase your metabolism? Well, the answer is, “it depends on the individual.”

On the flip side, if you are a person who doesn’t mind working out in the morning, there are many reasons why this can help spike your metabolism. One of the first biological reasons working out in the morning can be effective is the increased levels of testosterone (especially in males) that happen first thing when you wake up. Overnight our bodies begin to increase their testosterone production. Because of this, our testosterone levels are highest upon awakening. As you may or may not know, testosterone is the hormone that promotes muscle growth. The more testosterone we have in our bodies while working out, the more efficient our bodies will be at muscle production. Taking advantage of this morning boost of testosterone can help build muscle more efficiently.

*Fact of the Day: For every 1 lb. of muscle you gain, your body will burn an extra 6 to 10 calories per day at rest. Gain 10 lbs. of muscle and you could be burning an extra 100 calories while at rest (Source: BuiltLean).

More Reasons to Work Out Early

Here are some additional reasons why you may want to work out in the morning:

  • Easier to follow high-volume training systems: Working out in the morning before gym peak hours makes it easier for you to perform supersets/trisets without having to wait for the next guy to get done with his set on the machine you need.
  • Leaves time for other priorities: Now that your workout is done and over with first thing in the morning, you have the rest of your day to complete other tasks.
  • Increased energy levels during the day: Exercise has been proven to increase energy levels and focus throughout the day. By working out first thing in the morning, you are getting a head start on your day.
  • You’ll be less likely to skip your workout: It can be easy to get distracted at various points of the day that might sabotage your workout (less motivation, fatigue, overdue school work). By working out first thing in the morning, when your mind has very few things to concentrate on just yet, you will be less likely to skip your workout later.

When trying to stick with an exercise routine that will get you great results, it’s not always about working harder. In fact, sometimes it’s more about working efficiently. Finding the optimal time for your workout can sometimes be difficult; however, considering all the benefits, a morning exercise routine might be just what you need!

NIFS fortunately makes it easy for members to participate in morning exercise with early opening hours and morning group fitness classes, so try one today!

Try a group fitness class for free

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

Topics: fitness center motivation muscles metabolism high intensity morning workouts