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NIFS Healthy Living Blog

Periodization of Your Workouts for Maximal Strength Gains

deadlift-3.jpgPeriodization is a fancy word for timing out your strength training to avoid mishaps such as overtraining, undertraining, or psychological “burnout.” A correctly periodized training program allows for maximal strength gains within the time frame of the program.

There are several different subcategories within the realm of periodization. The two most popular forms are linear and undulating periodization, and they can be similar in effect, yet they are quite different in execution.

Linear Periodization

This is a great example of the KISS (Keep It Super Simple) method. This type of programming calls for simply adding weight to your lifts, week after week, and trying your very hardest to outwork your previous workout. This tried-and-true method has shown results in all levels of lifters and athletes, from novice to advanced competitors.

“Linear” refers to the line of progression when you look at the weights used from each workout to the next. This line will slowly and steadily increase until the end of your program, when it is time to show off how strong you have gotten. A typical linear periodization program will last anywhere from 8 to 16 weeks.

Undulating Periodization

Now that you are familiar with linear periodization, take that nice straight line and make it a chaotic zig-zag from the first week of the program to the last, and now you have undulating periodization. Basically, instead of increasing weight or reps linearly throughout your program, you will consistently be adding or dropping weight and/or reps from each workout to the next.

The idea behind undulating periodization is to allow optimal recovery time between ultra-intense workouts, eliminating physical or mental overtraining. This is a method often used by more advanced lifters and athletes because of the commonly intense nature of the training sessions. For example, if a competitive powerlifter trained three days a week, a sample week of their program might look something like this (percentages shown are those of the respective one-rep max for each individual lift):

  • Day 1: Squat—80% 5 sets/3 reps
  • Day 2: Bench Press—70% 6 sets/3 reps
  • Day 3: Deadlift—75% 3 sets/8 reps
Which Method Should You Choose?

Neither of these methods has been proven to be better than the other. Each person will have their own opinions on which is better and why. I would suggest starting with linear periodization for two reasons:

  1. It is a very easy method to follow. There is no reason why anybody should start a linear program and not be able to finish it.
  2. It is a very accommodating method for beginner lifters. It is effort based, and what you give is what you get.

Like I said previously, these methods might not be ideal for everyone. They are great templates for individuals who want to get stronger, but they must be tailored to best fit you and your goals. For more information regarding training programs, ask of the NIFS Health Fitness Specialists to create one for you. If this methodology intrigues you and you would like to try it out, specifically mention this blog and they will create a program based on one of these training strategies.

There are a few spots remaining, so don’t wait to get registered for the NIFS 3rd Annual Powerliting Competition. Sign up today to be a part of a very special event hosted only once a year!

get registered for Powerlifting

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

Topics: NIFS workouts strength programs periodization

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 abireline@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 group training accountability muscles resistance strength HIT pain high intensity muscle building

Three Summer Training Lessons for Athletes

ThinkstockPhotos-491816300.jpgSummertime is in full swing, and whether you are a competitive or recreational athlete, changes are definitely happening to your normal schedule. For high school and collegiate athletes, more time is spent at home and for general fitness enthusiasts, more options are available to you to fulfill your exercise quota (in other words, doing more things outside). These are both extremely important changes that can be used to alter a routine that has lasted for the past 8 or 9 months of your life.

Student-athletes have been juggling class, competition, and training. Amateur athletes have been working (real jobs), training, and competing as well. When early spring hits, most individuals are sick of that stagnant routine and are looking to switch it up, which is why summer is welcomed by most with open arms.

Summer can also be a time when many physical aspects (such as power, strength, and speed) can decline if adequate “maintenance” of those aspects is not applied. The increase in other opportunities during summer can sometimes lead to a leniency of training that might do more harm than good.

Here are 3 things that I have learned over recent years as a strength coach, trainer, and collegiate athlete to hopefully help minimize this detraining effect.

1. Don’t focus on too much at one time.

Every summer when I would go home from school, I had a list of 5 or 6 things that I felt like I had to get better at. Each training session, I would have a ton of thoughts about how I could make those things better. Of course, I had a training packet from the football team, but felt like I had to do even more. I had to get faster, more agile, stronger, more flexible, and in better shape. At some point, I was doing more thinking about what I had to do to get better than just working hard with what I had.

Even today, I send workout packets home with each of my athletic teams. The goal, obviously, is to continue to improve their physical and mental toughness. But for some, I just want to make sure that they don’t totally fall off of the bus with all of their training. I aim to keep workouts short, sweet, but challenging. They usually focus on sport-specific training aspects for each individual team (for example, single-leg strength for runners, and rotational power for softball players). I want to make sure that the “bread and butter” of the sport remains at the forefront.

2. Get creative.

Being creative in the gym during the summer months may be due to two things:

  1. Your gym doesn’t have the equipment you want (or need) to do specific exercises, or
  2. You are looking for alternatives to exercises you already do.

If your gym doesn’t have specific pieces of equipment for exercises that you are looking to do, think about what that exercise is trying to accomplish. For instance, your workout program might call for a kettlebell swing, but your gym has no kettlebells. Think about what the target muscle is for that exercise and plan an alternative. The main muscles in the KB swing are the glutes, so doing a weighted hip bridge or a Romanian Deadlift might suffice as an alternative. Sure, it’s not a perfect match, but it’s better than not doing it at all!

If you are simply looking to get out of the monotony of your 4-day split routine, you have a ton of options. Say Tuesday is considered your “squat” day, but you want to take a break from the barbell work you have been doing. Good news: You can squat with just about anything in the gym. Kettlebells, sandbags, slosh pipes, medballs, and weighted vests are just a few options that can give you that much-needed break from your regular program. Also, try switching up the reps. If you are used to doing 5 sets of 5 reps, try a workout where you do 5 sets of 20 or 3 sets of 50. It will definitely give a little shock to your system.

3. Don’t forget what summer is for!

Every competitive athlete, young or old, constantly thinks about their sport and how they can improve their performance. For most, there is no such thing as an off season anymore. There is never a chance to truly take their mind off of what they compete in, which can lead to burnout after a couple of seasons. Summer is meant for unwinding from heavy workloads, in class or with jobs. Mental and emotional recovery are just as important as physical recovery. If your mind has not recovered from the past year of training and competing, it will be very hard to devote the same amount of time and effort to the next season.

You still need to train for your sport, but post-training activities are a good way to unwind after a hard workout. Go to the lake, go fishing, go golfing: do something that allows you to enjoy the summer. You will only have a few months of opportunities like this. Work hard, play hard!

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

Topics: summer training strength power speed off-season athletes student athletes

A Hero’s Workout: Train Like a Firefighter (with Functional Movement)

ThinkstockPhotos-87452256.jpgFor just shy of a year now, NIFS has had the honor and privilege of assisting in the training of the Indianapolis Fire Department’s new Firefighter Recruit Class. We are currently wrapping up the second recruit class (Recruit Class #81, actually) trained here at NIFS.

To have the opportunity to work with such a distinguished organization, rich with history and a tradition in excellence, has been a true career highlight for me. Having two brothers who serve their communities as firefighters, I have been pretty close to this occupation and its phenomenal individuals for some time now. The respect and admiration I have for them, to do what they do and keep us safe, are immeasurable.

These soon-to-be firefighters take part in over 20 weeks of training to ready them to assume the huge responsibility of being a lifesaver and community protector. In essence, it’s “hero training.” Physical Training (PT) is only one aspect of the academy; combined with EMS and Fire School, these recruits battle long days of both physical and mental demands.

The Importance of Functional Movement

We take the training of these individuals very seriously with a main focus of movement first, performance second. We use the Functional Movement Screen (FMS) to guide our programming because the better the mover, the better the firefighter. I recently shared a great research article in which the FMS was used to determine the injury rates of first responders (mainly firefighters), and the findings are very telling. To sum it up, if you score a 14 or lower on the FMS, your injury risk skyrockets. We utilize the screen and corrective exercises associated with basic movement patterns to enhance the recruit’s movement with the hopes of increasing injury prevention, while at the same time improving their performance. Even heroes have some dysfunction.

Firefighters have one of the most physically demanding occupations on the planet. And it doesn’t just revolve around a big strength component; a firefighter’s aerobic capacity must be high as well. A firefighter may go from a position of rest into a full sprint in a moment’s notice and then breathe bottled air while running into burning buildings and homes and dragging victims from wreckage. This demands a high level of aerobic capacity, a level only gained through training. Our job as coaches is to ensure that recruits improve absolute strength, anaerobic and aerobic fitness, while always improving their movement.

A Typical Workout

So what does a typical training session for a firefighter look like? Check out this video to get a little taste of some of the best movements and exercises we use to help prepare these tactical athletes. Feeling confident that you can handle these exercises? Here is your chance to try it for yourself, and experience a workout straight from the programming page! Complete the workout that follows and let us know how it went. Do you have what it takes to battle this firefighting workout inferno?   

You will need a set of heavy kettlebells, a super band attached to a pull-up station for a nifty exercise I learned from Captain Jordan Ponder of Firefighter Performance Training, 1 heavy sandbag and 1 lighter bag, and a sled with a medium to heavy load. Complete the following round of exercises as many times as you can in 20 minutes. Want a little extra work? Wear a weighted vest or simply add more time.

  • Crawling x40 meters
  • Farmer Carry x40 meters
  • Sandbag Firefighter Clean x10
  • Pipe Pull x10 each side
  • Sandbag Stair Climb x5 flights
  • Over-the-shoulder sled drag x40 meters 



The physical and mental demands that are placed on these recruits during their training, and even more so when they are in the field, are mammoth. But with great training from their officers and their NIFS coaching crew, I am pretty confident that they will be ready to tackle anything. I can’t describe the respect I have for those who sign up to be our everyday heroes. I can only work as hard as I can to help prepare these phenomenal individuals for the battles that await them, and provide the city of Indianapolis with their superheroes!

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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 bloggersclick here.

Topics: NIFS fitness center workouts injury prevention strength functional movement

Allison Griner: A Complete Life Change Thanks to Weight Loss and NIFS!

allison.jpgIn October 2014, Allison Griner decided to join Weight Watchers through her work. Her reasoning was quite simple: “They were giving a discount through my job.” That day she weighed in at 301 pounds. It wasn’t long before Allison started seeing some results and realized that exercise needed to be a part of the plan as well, so she decided to sign up for an event to keep her motivated. The first thing that came across her radar was the Fight for Air Climb, and in preparation for it she signed up for the boot camp at NIFS.

Now for anyone who doesn’t know what the FFA climb is all about, I’ll just say it’s probably one of the hardest events you could sign up for! The climb is a race up the 49 flights of stairs in the Chase Tower in downtown Indy. And if that doesn’t sound hard enough, the boot camp at NIFS is not the easiest of tasks, either! But Allison completed the boot camp amid the severe challenges of not being able to do a burpee or climb the stairs in the workouts.

It’s been over a year now that Allison has kept to her weight loss journey. She consistently follows a workout schedule, meeting her cousin at the gym, and watches what she is eating; and she combines both cardio and strength training workouts to meet her goals. Allison also has PCOS. PCOS (Polycystic Ovary Syndrome) makes losing weight a very difficult task and is linked to an increased risk for insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and heart disease. Allison has spent lots of time learning to eat right and to focus on making sure that her perspective is not on how her condition inhibits her losing weight, but rather taking the stance of, “It’s not that I can’t lose weight, I just remind myself it’s easier for me to gain weight.” Despite the odds that are against Allison, she has lost 75 pounds since October 2014!!*

Here are a few things that Allison had to say about her journey:

What has kept you consistent in making a change?

I am a very goal-oriented person, and when I see success it makes me want to keep pushing to the next level. I keep setting milestones, and once I got the eating part under control I knew that adding exercise and staying consistent with that would keep me reaching those.

What things have kept you going?

People in my life are what has kept me going! My mom, my roommate, my friends, and other family have really supported me and helped me to believe in myself. Even in times when I start to feel down, they push me to keep going. There are times that I have hit a plateau and they keep encouraging me to keep it up!

What are your secrets to success?

I forgive myself a lot. If I get down or make a mistake I forgive myself, pick up where I am, and move on. I tell myself it’s a new day and I am going to do better than I did yesterday. I am constantly trying to look forward and not backward, which I think is the key.

How has NIFS helped you to achieve your goals?

This facility is fantastic! There are so many different things to do that I never get bored. There are tons of options with weight lifting, the versatility with the track, the canal, or a treadmill. It’s impossible to not get a good workout. FFA also helped me in the beginning to realize it will take hard work, but that I am capable of doing anything I put my mind to!

What has been the hardest part of this weight-loss journey?

The hardest part is that this is a mental thing. I am always struggling to not see myself as that 300-pound girl. I am not surprised by what people say or what I see in the mirror and how much weight I have lost, because the challenge is looking in the same mirror and seeing myself as not just the big girl that I was. It’s also a struggle if I slip up and eat something I shouldn’t. I have to overcome that mentally and remind myself there will be setbacks and I will make mistakes.

What has been the biggest reward from all your hard work?

I feel better!! I was having chronic back problems when I was at my heaviest weight, and those have been nearly eliminated! The best reward is definitely how I feel.*

Anything else you want to share?

When I was at my biggest weight I always felt like I was in the way. I was never able to go out and do things with friends; my biggest fear was being in a crowd and being in the way. I would get so nervous about the idea of having to maneuver through a crowd of people. If you think that way, you can do something about it! One of the biggest changes I and others have seen through this time is my social life. I am confident to go out and be myself now!

*Weight loss claims and/or individual results vary and are not guaranteed.

Congratulations Allison on all your hard work and success! We know this journey has not been easy and it’s not over yet, but we encourage you to keep going and sharing your inspirational story!


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

Topics: NIFS cardio nutrition motivation weight loss attitude boot camp strength stairs

Training the Aging Active Adult (Part 4 of 4)

ThinkstockPhotos-179075741.jpgThis is the final installment in my series on training for people 40 and over. Previously I’ve discussed training needs and health concerns for older adults, the importance of strength training, and the role of the glutes. Now let’s talk about the old-school way to reach your fitness goals while aging gracefully.

Someone on Facebook said she wanted to train her back harder than her grip would allow and asked which would be better, lifting straps or Versa Gripps. The answers bounced back and forth between the two options (usually bodybuilders doing the commenting), but I just had to offer a third option: neither.

“Old school–develop your grip strength so it’s not the weak link.”

Some of the clueless responses from a few bodybuilders about grip work interfering with arm and back day and how you couldn’t develop your back if you had to wait for your grip were sadly amusing.

Shortcuts Don’t Pay

If she did use the straps or Versa Gripps to allow for heavier loading of the back for the sake of back development (aesthetics), the grip would continue to be weaker than the muscles up the movement chain and would therefore be a rate limiter in the upper body’s functional strength. This imbalance could be a source of future injuries as well. And of course, this begs the question: why is there an imbalance in the first place?

When the focus of fitness is to look better in front of a mirror, concepts like correcting movement deficiencies, addressing strength weaknesses, and the effects of rate limiters on functional strength have as much interest as broccoli does to a 3-year-old.

It’s easy to pick on bodybuilding because to those on the outside, bodybuilding seems to be the extreme example of narcissistic frivolousness. But alas, all exercise and fitness pursuits have a huge egocentric component, whether it’s picking up more weight, running faster/further, or killing Fran or Fight Gone Bad.

Sometimes You Just Have to Eat Your Broccoli

The point is that we are all results-driven regardless of whether our fitness interests are functional training or just looking better. We want improvements to arrive quicker and the process to be easier, even if the shortcuts we take for short-term gains have a high price on the back end. Seemingly innocent lifting straps are at one end of the shortcut continuum, and PEDs at the other; but they all are attempts to circumvent the body’s natural processes. All the things you chose to ignore, neglect, and ill-advised shortcuts will eventually show up during your fitness “come to Jesus meeting” sometime in your 40s and 50s. And just know that the accompanying injuries that come during that meeting are served in a broccoli casserole, heavily seasoned with “I Told You So.”

Take shortcuts and ignore weakness at your own peril. There, I just told you so. Go eat your broccoli!

Learn more about your current fitness status with NIFS’s Functional Movement Screening or Personal Fitness Evaluation.

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This blog was written by Rick Huse, CSCS, WKC Competition Coach. To find out more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: functional training injury prevention muscles senior fitness strength goals

Training the Active Aging Adult (Part 3 of 4)

ThinkstockPhotos-523032469-1In earlier installments, I’ve talked about health concerns for active people over 40, as well as the importance of strength and functional training for people in this age group. As promised, I will now focus in on strength training, and we’ll start with your butt.

The glute complex (your hips) has the greatest potential for strength and power in the human body, and is the foundation for all ground-based movement. If used properly, it lifts things up (like the grandkids) and spares the low back. Let’s call this the “lifting things up” or the dead-lift pattern.

The Lost Glutes

Because of the enormous amount of sitting done in our modern lifestyle, many adults can’t find their glutes (through muscle activation) with a map, hand mirror, and a flashlight. When you place people on their backs on the floor with their knees up and feet planted on the ground, then have them try to raise their hips off the floor by contracting just their glutes, many will fire their hamstrings while their glutes remain totally quiet. This situation has been referred to as glute amnesia; more accurate would be to say it’s a disconnect between brain and muscle. The body will find a way to accomplish the desired task by resorting to Plan B (in this case, the hamstrings) if the primary movers, the glutes, are offline. The hips will move off the ground but at a cost: inefficient movement, lower performance potential, and higher risk of injury to the Plan B muscles—and also to surrounding tissue and joints.

Foundational Movement: The Hip Hinge

Learning to properly hinge the hips and to activate the glutes is critical for skilled and graceful movement and injury prevention as you age. This is life quality for now and into your future. So let’s try the foundational movement, the hip hinge:

  1. Stand with your feet about hip width apart and hands resting on the front of your thighs. You can also hold a light barbell or a pair of light dumbbells to provide a little resistance.
  2. With your lower legs perpendicular to the ground, push your hips backward while bending forward at the hips. Your upper body will fold over with your back in a straight line from the tailbone to the back of your head.
  3. Do not squat and do not bend forward at the waist (lumbar spine).
  4. Once your hands reach your knees, pause, focus on your glutes, and tighten them as you try to push the ground away with your feet. Return to standing with a straight line from the heels to the back of your head.
  5. Rinse and repeat until the movement feels natural.
  6. If in doubt, keep your hips higher while you bend forward and sense your upper body closing the distance with the ground.
  7. If you have health issues, balance problems, or serious muscle weakness, seek proper medical assistance. Watch this video as a guide.

Your body is programmed to avoid falling on your face by trying to stay more upright and bending your knees more into a squat pattern if it doesn’t sense proper muscle activation. If you learn to position your skeleton into the correct architecture for the movement you are attempting and recruit the target muscles for that movement (in this case, the glutes and core), you will not face-dive. If you do splat, see #6 above (and please post the video on YouTube).

Every day, at some point, you will need to bend over (hinge) and pick something up. Conventional wisdom dictates that we lift with our legs from a squat position, but our greatest power for this movement comes from the hinge pattern and the glutes. That’s why we call it the Big House. Heed the immortal words from Sir Mix-A-Lot: “You can do side bends or sit-ups, but please don’t lose that butt.”

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This blog was written by Rick Huse, CSCS, WKC Competition Coach. To find out more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: staying active injury prevention muscles senior fitness strength exercises

Training the Active Aging Adult (Part 2 of 4)

In the last blog, I discussed that the 40-plus age group had different training needs because of the effects of aging: loss of muscle strength fibers (sarcopenia), weakening of connective tissue with the resulting aches and pains and injuries, joint issues (arthritis and loss of range of motion), hormonal changes, weight gain (especially visceral fat), heart disease, and diabetes.

For many in this age group, other medical conditions seem to appear from out of nowhere. Theories for why range from genetics to reduction of stem cells, but the fact remains: unexpected conditions and diseases show up uninvited and certainly unwanted from about 45 and beyond. If you are in this age group and actively training, you need to know a lot more about your body, especially your age-related limitations.

A reminder for those training themselves: the ego is a great motivator for getting your butt off the couch, but it’s an absolutely terrible coach. The ego will beat the crap out of you to feel good about itself without regard for what the body can recover from, short and long term. It actually believes in such silliness as “no pain, no gain” and other macho slogans, and the ego is the reason for most training injuries and setbacks. Don’t get me wrong, I believe in training hard (which is a relative term), but I just don’t believe in training stupid.

“A true professional knows what to do and when to stop doing it.”

The Need for Strength

With that said, let’s discuss the need for strength. Here’s a story.

One of the leaders of the National Strength and Conditioning Association was recorded lecturing his graduating class in exercise science. He asked whether they would teach a 65-year-old woman, who had never weight trained, to do a barbell squat. The question was loaded: female, advanced age, no experience, and an athletic lift. As their professor, he was asking for a yes or no answer. Because they had been in his class all year, they knew if they answered the question incorrectly, he would nail them. So everyone sat in silence.

Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, he said. “Since you’re not going to answer the question, I will do it for you. She has to stand up from a chair. It’s the same movement pattern. We are going to work with her on a life skill and make her stronger in that pattern at the same time.”

Oh, that’s not what they expected. They were thinking leg press, leg extensions, and leg curls would be safer for a female of that age with no weight training experience than doing the squat. But he played the functional strength card and trumped their unstated answer.

But then he added, “I don’t think you really get it, and I want to make sure you do. Imagine its 15 years later and she is now 80 years old in a nursing home and she can’t get up from the toilet without assistance. She has lost her life independence. Did you do her any favor by not teaching her to do the squat?”

I didn’t believe it possible, but a client of mine beat the professor’s follow-up when she told me that her mother-in-law died in a nursing home six months prior to our conversation. She had gotten up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom. She had hit the assist button but no one saw it. The next morning, they found her dead on the bathroom floor. She had fallen off the toilet during the night and had broken her neck.

No one wants to be that 80-year-old woman. No one wants to spend their remaining years on this planet unable to move as a functioning independent adult, but if no effort is made to maintain strength fibers and joint range of motion, we’ll certainly slide down to the lower levels of movement quality until we’re stuck on the toilet for life.

A More Positive Thought

I don’t like motivating through negative imagery, but sometimes you have to hit people over the head with a chair to get their attention. I’d rather discuss the joy of connecting with your body, finding out what an amazing vessel it is to experience and travel through life, and to feel the power that resides beneath the outer shell.

Our bodies were designed to move and to work, actually to work hard and for long periods of time. If not, we would have been eaten by big cats thousands of years ago. It is just within the last 100 years that we have made life so physically easy that we are now dying from lack of movement, especially from a lack of intense movement that tells our cells that we are important to our family, the tribe, and the village—important enough for the cells to make a concerted effort to keep us around.

Think of exercise like a prescription drug. It is a concentrated dose of intense activity used to communicate the message that we are, in fact, really important for something all the way down to the cellular level.

Contrary to the common belief about the role of cardio, strength is the fitness component that sets the foundation for all of the other forms of senior fitness activities. If your muscles are not strong enough to support basic movement patterns, there is no way you can do cardio exercise for very long before something breaks down, and then you have to stop while joints, connective tissue, and/or muscles have time to heal.

In this article, I wanted to make it clear why you need to incorporate some form of strength training into your fitness program design, and why functional training is an important consideration. In future blogs, I’ll discuss actual strength training strategies and the rationale behind them. Don’t be surprised if kettlebells come up frequently, and I promise to continue my relentless attack on training stupidity.

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This blog was written by Rick Huse, CSCS, WKC Competition Coach. To find out more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: functional training senior fitness strength

Training the Active Aging Adult (Part 1 of 4)

There comes a day when you wake up one morning and realize you’re not 25 any longer. Usually, this happens when you’re 50—or in other words, after 25 years of denial and of being totally oblivious to nature’s less-than-subtle warnings: hair loss and color change, skin texture and wrinkles, where did that body fat come from, when did that thing (?) become so heavy to lift, and those stairs weren’t that high last year. The mind feels young but the body fades in and out of pretend youth. The body is also willing until it gets tired or pain rises above the level of annoyance.

But there is hope: you can be cool without being young, but cool doesn’t make you stronger, quicker, more flexible, thinner, and the owner of painless joints.

What Motivates Senior Fitness?

When you were younger, the goal of exercise was to look better naked. It seems reasonable, because younger people look better naked than old farts. Besides, older people have more pressing issues like serious joint pain, heart disease, diabetes, age-related weight gain, hormonal changes, and perhaps even the chilling shadow of cancer has visited them. No doubt that looking better and feeling better about yourself is really an important motivator to exercise, but they pale in comparison to these life-altering issues. Therefore, the motives for training of an aging active adult are more complex than a 25-year-old and must be recognized and honored when designing training programs.

Specific Health Concerns for Active Seniors

If you happen to be a fitness enthusiast over 50, these are things you need to be aware of.

  • Sarcopenia: An interesting word to say, but not so good to have, because it means a loss of muscle mass. Heavy-chain muscle fibers start dying out around age 30. Most professional athletes retire in their 30s because they have lost a step (in power and strength) and can no longer compete with younger athletes. Since most adults do not push their athletic genetic limits, they become aware of this loss of step in their 40s, or certainly by their 50s. This fiber loss is called sarcopenia. Unless there is some attempt to retain strength through formal strength training, this strength loss will continue at a ever-increasing and very noticeable rate. Common movement patterns—sit to stand, picking things up, pushing away and pulling back, pushing up and pulling down—will become increasingly more difficult as life quality decreases. Many people just give in to the process and call it “getting older.” It doesn’t have to be that way. Strength training can certainly slow it down.
  • Joint issues: Connective tissue seems to injure more easily and take longer to heal. Tendonitis becomes an all-too-common answer to the question, “How are you feeling?” Dynamic joint mobility training helps regain joint range of motion and lubricate joint surfaces with synovial fluid for cartilage health. Older athletes have to allow time in the program design for something the young take for granted.
  • Slow recovery: It takes longer for the body to repair and to make new tissue. This seems to be related to changes at the DNA and RNA levels as we age; and of course, changes in hormonal levels further compound the problem. Knowing this, nutrition and rest are key for proper recovery. The aging active adult has very little margin for error. Without proper nutrition and rest, progress will stall and the likelihood for injury will increase.
  • Balanced training: Cardio exercise is still important for overall health, but must be managed in such a way as to not interfere with the recovery for strength training, and not to add to the training volume to the point of over-training and adversely effecting the immune system. The body also does not respond well to being forced to adapt to opposing stimulus (cardio vs. strength). It gets confused as to what exactly it is being asked to do. How much cardio is very individual, but it is easy to err on the side of too much. Interval training may be an answer to those concerns by reducing the training time factor while still challenging the alactate, anaerobic, and aerobic substrates for improved conditioning.
  • Shared epiphany: There is a common experience at this age that there is a price to be paid for all of the fitness and health-related issues you chose to ignore when you were younger. Pain, discomfort, illness, and excess body fat are the reasons for your body’s “come to Jesus” meeting. Your body demands corrections, and your currency for payment is time and effort spent bringing the body back into balance. The aging active adult has been humbled enough by aging to be open to addressing these issues if the guidance they receive makes sense.

With the number of active aging adults increasing, both trainers and the older clients should understand the training needs and limitations of this age group in order to develop the best program designs that will effectively produce results and at the same time do no harm. So far, the fitness industry and fitness media have chosen to ignore the 800-pound gorilla by focusing on the 25- to 40-year-olds; but it is the aging active adults who have the greater need. They understand that the youth genie is not going back in the bottle, but that their life quality can be a whole lot better through proper training and nutrition.

In part 2 of this series, I talk more about the need for strength training at this age.

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This blog was written by Rick Huse, CSCS, WKC Competition Coach, and originally appeared on his blog. To find out more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: cardio injury prevention muscles joint health senior fitness endurance strength pain

The Importance of a Maintenance Phase for Athlete Training

The NFL season is only three weeks old and injuries are running rampant through the league. Week after week, a star player is lost for multiple weeks, months, or possibly the whole season because of injuries that usually are the result of bad luck or possibly not being as physically prepared as they could have been. Hopefully your team, **knock on wood**, does not or will not have to deal with this at any point during their season. My team, my beloved Detroit Lions, look like a dumpster fire for reasons other than injuries.

The physicality of football increases every year. The players are getting bigger, faster, and stronger in training facilities across the country getting ready for that next season. Guys are always looking to take that next step during the offseason to ensure that they are a better player than they were the preceding year. Countless hours are spent in the gym and on the field trying to achieve this goal. Some training programs start the day after a season is over, whether it be after week 17 in the regular season or if your team wins the Super Bowl. It’s no secret that being a professional or collegiate athlete is a year-round commitment. 

Changing Training After the Season Begins

But what kind of training do players do after their season begins? Do they continue to train five or six days a week like they did in the offseason? Of course not. With large time commitments for practice, watching film, and simply resting, an athlete must shift their focus to making sure all of that hard work is not wasted over the course of the season. The most effective way to salvage the progress that you have made over the past five or six months is to enter a maintenance phase.

A maintenance phase is one phase or “macrocycle” (a large portion of a training year) that you should use during the start and duration of each athletic or competitive season. As mentioned before, this phase is used to preserve the strength, power, and muscle mass that was built in the many months prior to the season. 

What Does a Maintenance Phase Look Like?

Some characteristics of a maintenance phase include the following:

  • 2 (±1) workouts per week
  • 45 to 60-minute sessions
  • 2 (±1) sets per exercise. Main exercises should focus on strength, power (plyometrics, Olympic lifting, core lifts [bench, squat, deadlift]), and functional mobility.
  • Promoting overall health
As you can see, these phases don’t take much time, but could pay huge dividends throughout your season. The ultimate goal for many (if not all) sports, like the NFL, is to make the post-season. The teams that always seem to perform the best in those scenarios are the ones that are the healthiest or freshest. Continuing to lift throughout your competitive season will help you maintain the overall function of your body instead of gradually losing it throughout the season. As a wise man (Dr. Alan Mikesky) once said, “If you don’t use it, you lose it.”

Impact on Future Seasons

Don’t underestimate the importance of a maintenance phase, due to the implications that it could have on subsequent seasons. Think about this scenario:

Imagine you start training for your freshman year of college football squatting a maximum (1RM) of 315 pounds. After 4 months of preseason training, your 1RM has gone up to 365 pounds. Once the season starts, you stop lifting weights and focus on football. Three months later when the season is finished, you hit the weight room for the first time. Your 1RM squat is back to 315 pounds. Your body had no reason to keep the neural drive of the muscles because you no longer required it to. You start your offseason conditioning program and increase your squat back up to 365 pounds and exceed those numbers by squatting 380. Once your sophomore season starts, you stop lifting weights once again. At the end of the season, your 1RM squat is back to 315. 

This is a vicious cycle that never allows for any solid progression. You start from square-one every year. Now think about the same scenario with a few changes:

Imagine you start training for your freshman year of college football squatting a maximum (1RM) of 315 pounds. After 4 months of preseason training, your 1RM goes up to 365 pounds. Once the season starts, you begin an in-season maintenance phase. You lift two days per week, making sure your squat loads are significant enough to maintain your 1RM (80-95%). Three months later when the season is finished, you hit the weight room for the beginning of your offseason training program. Your 1RM squat is 355. Although you dropped 10 pounds, it is not as significant as the 50-pound loss from the previous scenario. From your offseason program, your 1RM increases from 355 to 410. Once your sophomore season starts, you begin another in-season maintenance phase. At the end of the season, your 1RM has only dropped to 405. 


As you can see, progression of strength (and power with other lifts) has to be maintained year round. This goes for all athletes throughout their seasons. If they want to continue to improve, they must prevent the loss. It is as important of a cycle of training as any. Without a properly structured in-season maintenance phase, you will be starting from the same place every time you start a new offseason training program.


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: training weightlifting strength power professional athlete muscle mass