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NIFS Healthy Living Blog

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

5 Reasons to Add Carries to Your Workouts

IMG_4805.jpegWe have all seen people in the gym just walking around carrying weights such as kettlebells, dumbbells, and maybe even sandbags. It may look easy since they are just walking, but carries are a complex exercise that, when you give it a try, you will realize are actually pretty challenging. Don’t knock them until you’ve tried them!

Ways to Carry Weight

There are several different carries:

  • Farmer’s carry: Two heavy kettlebells or dumbbells, one held in each hand.
  • Suitcase carry: One heavy kettlebell or dumbbell, held just on one side.
  • Racked carry: Two kettlebells or dumbbells, held in the clean position in each hand.
  • Waiter walk: One kettlebell or dumbbell held overhead.
  • Bottoms-up carry: Kettlebell held upside down. The bigger part of the bell is in the air.
  • Rack and suitcase: One kettlebell is held in the racked position while the other is in the suitcase position.
  • Rack and waiter: One kettlebell is in the racked position, while the other is in the waiter position.

Reasons to Add Them to Your Workouts

Carries are total-body exercises that have many benefits. Here are five reasons you should add them to your workout.

  • Work capacity—do total-body work. If you want to work on building overall strength, adding farmer’s carries or any type of carry to your routine will be beneficial. It’s a total-body exercise that should not be left out. They are taxing and will help increase your heart rate.
  • Improve grip strength. Carrying weight is one of the best exercises to improve your grip strength. Farmer’s carry really works in the development of your grip and the strength of your forearm. If you want to step it up and really challenge your grip, try kettlebell bottoms-up carries.
  • Help with your posture. Doing carry exercises forces you stand upright. If you round your shoulders and have a forward head position during the carry, you will not be able to hold the weight. The carry forces you into good posture and helps build posterior strength (for example, the backside).
  • Build a stronger core. No matter which type of carry you choose to do, your core is firing and working. If you choose to do a carry on one side like the suitcase carry or single-arm racked walk, you will really feel your oblique muscles working.
  • Shoulder health: Farmer’s carries help build shoulder stability. Gripping the weight turns on the rotator cuff and shuts off the deltoid, allowing the shoulder to get into the right position.

Carries are one of the most functional and effective exercises. You should add them to your program if you are not already doing them and see the many benefits in a short time!

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

Topics: workouts core grip strength posture carries total-body workouts weights

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

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