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NIFS Healthy Living Blog

5 Core Exercises That You Should Be Doing

When most people think about core exercises, they just think of sit-ups or crunches; however, there are many options people don’t know about or forget. If you are only doing crunches, you’re not working your entire core. Think of your core as a cylinder; you have to work every part. Crunches target only one section, but they give you the “feeling the burn” sensation that makes you feel you got in solid core work.

Screen Shot 2018-03-08 at 10.45.11 AM.pngHere are the top 5 core strength exercises that I think you should try.

1. Deadbugs

Deadbugs are an underrated core exercise. They look easy, but don’t let that fool you! They will work your core. Here’s how to do it:

  1. To start, lay flat on your back, arm straight up toward the ceiling, leg up with a 90-degree bend with knees pointed toward the ceiling.
  2. Once in your starting position with your low back in contact with the floor, start by slowly lowering your right arm/left leg down to a hover above the ground.
  3. Then repeat on the other side.

The most important thing to remember with these is keeping your lower back pushed into the floor. Once you’ve lost contact, you’re no longer working your core as much as you could be. Make sure your movements are slow and controlled. If you go too fast, you won’t feel these as much.

2. Anti-rotation Hold or Press

When you think of working your oblique muscles, rotation exercises always come to mind. What many don’t know is that resisting rotation can be even more challenging than rotating. This can be done using a cable or a band. Follow these steps:

  1. The band/cable should be at chest height.
  2. Once you have the right position, grab the handle with the hand that is farthest away; then place the other hand on top. This prevents your shoulder from doing more work than it needs to.
  3. Once you have a hold of the handle, bring it in front of your chest.

If you would like more of a challenge, hold your arms out straight.

3. Chops/Lifts

Screen Shot 2018-03-08 at 10.51.56 AM.pngChops and lifts can be done with a medicine ball or with the cable machine. To start, you should do these in the half-kneeling position (watch video) so that you can’t get any help from your legs.

  • When you are doing chops, the knee closest to the cable machine (or your partner, if using a medicine ball) should be up. Think of this as a rowing-a-boat motion; you are chopping high to low.
  • When doing the lift, the knee farthest away from the cable machine is up. The start position is low, then you are lifting up and across your body.

4. Crawling Patterns

Bear crawl, dog crawl, alligator crawl, inch worm, scorpion crawl, lateral crawl—there are many different ways to crawl! These are great work for your core. Working on moving your opposite arm/leg works on the cross patterns. When crawling, to get in the most core work, you want to try to get little to no hip shifts. Trying to keep your hips square to the ground will allow your core to do more work.

5. Turkish Get-ups

Everyone’s favorite way to get off the ground! Turkish get-ups work much more than just your core, but are great to have in your core exercise bank.

***

Try these core exercises during your next workout. Stop by the NIFS track desk if you need to see a demonstration.

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This blog was written by Kaci Lierman, Health Fitness Instructor. To read more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: muscles exercises core strength core exercise

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

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

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 Tony Maloney at tmaloney@nifs.org.

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 cardio motivation group training accountability NIFS programs muscles resistance strength HIT pain high intensity muscle building strength training

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 (Part 1): 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.

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 stretching exercises workplace wellness core strength 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.

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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