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NIFS Healthy Living Blog

Fitness Rescue 911: New Workouts for the New Year

GettyImages-668003598.jpgGreetings NIFS friends! Hopefully your New Year’s resolutions are keeping you more active at the gym and less active at the buffet line. All joking aside, getting back to the gym can be challenging, especially if you are not sure what to do when you get there or if you are burnt out on cookie-cutter workouts that are barely working anymore. With that being said, introducing new equipment, ideas, and strategies can be a daunting task. Don’t let that get you down, though, because we are here to rescue your workout!

Breathing life into your workout can have numerous benefits. Sometimes the benefits allow us to break through plateaus, keep us interested in what we are doing (refocusing our goals), and give us variety (aka “the spice”). Highlighted in this blog are three pieces of equipment that may be overlooked by the simple reason that we just don’t know what it is or what it can do for our body. Without a doubt, just trying these exercises will not only be challenging, but also effective as you strive to reach your fitness goals.

Tire and Sledgehammer Workouts

The tire and sledgehammer workout was derived out of simplicity, necessity, and function. There are two main exercises to consider here, tire flips and sledgehammer strikes. With an optional smaller tire, one does not have to possess the strength of Paul Bunyan to complete this task (but there are bonus points if you do). To flip the tire, first squat low and get your fingers under the edge of the tire. As you stand up, use your legs and drive your body into the tire, leveraging it up on its end. The tire should tip over easily and come to rest square on the ground.

The other exercise is called sledgehammer strikes. This is not much different than chopping wood or driving a railroad spike. Because your goals may not include having the strength of a lumberjack, there are several sledgehammer weight options to choose from, ranging from 8lb to 16lb. Strike directly in the middle of the tire to avoid a glancing strike. Try this in your next workout:

5 tire flips, 20 strikes (10 each side) for 4 sets


The slideboard was designed as a means of training lateral movements as well as developing balance and stability in the lower body and core. If done properly, this exercise can also produce a high-intensity workout all while gliding side to side. As an application, the strength and power developed from this lateral movement translates well to the world of speed skating, where athletes are known for incredible leg strength.

Because the gliding might not feel as natural to everyone, there are other exercises to consider, including Slideboard Hamstring Curls and Slideboard Mountain Climbers. For both exercises, you will need to use the booties to decrease friction (otherwise, the exercises won’t work). For Hamstring Curls, position your body toward the end of the board, with your knees bent and heels on the slick part of the board. Keeping your back flat and head down, raise your hips fully. Finally, extend your legs and return to the starting position. For beginners, this can be done with one leg at a time.

The other exercise, Mountain Climbers, is done by positioning the body at the end of the slide board in an “all-fours” position. With your toes on the slick part of the board, rise up so that your knees are off the ground. At a quick tempo, slide your legs inward, being sure to alternate legs. Additional pushups can add some variety to this movement. Try this in your next workout:

12 Hamstring Curls, 30 seconds of Mountain Climbers x 4 sets

Slosh Pipes

One thing to consider when making workouts: most of the good equipment and exercises have already been invented. The slosh pipe, a unique, homemade piece of equipment, is both odd and beautiful at the same time. It allows us to think and work so far out of the box that everyone can benefit in some way from using it. Basically, a slosh pipe is a PVC tube (3 or 4 inches in diameter and anywhere from 40 to 96 inches long) filled halfway with water and sealed on both ends. The water is meant to slosh around inside the pipe, hence the name Slosh Pipe.

Thinking outside the box, the pipes can be used to develop strength as well as core, balance, and stability. Two exercises to try here include the half-kneeling overhead hold and the walking lunges. The first exercise, the overhead hold, is pretty self-explanatory: find a slosh pipe and hold it over your head for time. The pipe needs to be moderately heavy, but if there is a question about safety, always have a spotter on overhead lifts such as this one. As you hold that weight overhead from a half-kneeling position (one knee up, one knee down), seconds turn into minutes. There is a constant rebalance happening with your core, as water tips one way or the other. Grip strength and overall upper-body strength are challenged as fatigue sets in. Lower the weight back to the floor with the help of a partner.

The other exercise is a walking lunge. This is accomplished by holding the slosh pipe in the crooks of your elbows and performing a walking lunge. The same effects as the overhead hold are prevalent. Try this in your next workout:

45–60-second half-kneeling Overhead Hold, 20 walking lunges x 4 sets


As you can see, there are several pieces of equipment at the gym that you may have overlooked. Keep looking; there are more than you think. The NIFS staff of Certified Fitness Professionals strives to give you not only a good workout, but also to introduce you to new exercises and cutting-edge equipment. If you want a new routine to save your resolution from disaster, contact NIFS’ Fitness Rescue to set up a strategy session, testing, and workout.

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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: NIFS Thomas' Corner workouts challenge new year personal trainer hammer workouts fitness rescue slideboard

NIFS Group Fitness Class of the Month: BODYPUMP

Bodypump-3.jpgOur Group Fitness Class of the Month is going to PUMP (*insert handclap) you up! Les Mills BODYPUMP™ has swept around the world for decades. Scientifically proven and successfully tested, it has grown to be one of the top strength workout programs and has been in high demand for group training schedules for many clubs over the years.

Within 55 minutes, you work your entire body, core, and brain while being coached through 10 motivating tracks of functional strength exercises. As a new official BODYPUMP instructor and previous participant in this class myself, I will attest to the fact that while this class has awesome playlists of upbeat and trendy music to squat to, it doesn’t mess around when it comes to getting down to the nitty-gritty hard work! However, it was created with everyone in mind.


BODYPUMP is a pre-choreographed workout program created by a New Zealand–based company called Les Mills. According to Les Mills, by definition it is “…a barbell workout for anyone looking to get lean, toned, and fit—fast. Using light to moderate weights with lots of repetition, BODYPUMP gives you a total-body workout. It will burn up to 540 calories.”

Some of the main aspects highlighted in a workout include building strength, getting lean, and working all major muscle groups. This, in turn, can lead to improved bone health, better overall body strength, and increased core strength and stability, which are all key factors in how well we function on a daily basis. The secret to this program format is in the science of what is known as the Rep Effect, which is “…a proven formula that exhausts muscle using light weights, while performing high repetitions….” This formula aids in building some of that lean, athletic muscle. So if you were reading this worrying that this program or lifting weights was going to give you crazy, bulky muscles, rest easy; it won’t.

What I love about this program, and Les Mills as a whole, is that their formats are studied and tested, and are constantly reviewed and renewed to make sure they are presenting the most functional and efficient movements to make for the most optimal results.

Workout Format

Speaking of the format, here’s what to expect when you come to a class. Classes can be presented in 30-, 45-, or 55-minute (usually listed on schedules as 60) formats. For a full class, you will run through the following tracks:

  1. Warmup
  2. Squats
  3. Chest
  4. Back
  5. Triceps
  6. Biceps
  7. Lunges
  8. Shoulders
  9. Core
  10. Cooldown

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Tips for Your First Class

Along with what to expect in your workout, here are a few tips for when you walk into your first class:

  • Talk to the instructor. They should introduce themselves if they haven’t already, and they will inform you of what types of weights you will need for class that day.
  • Allow some time for setup before class begins. Some basic equipment needed for this class is used in every class, such as a step, a barbell with clips, as well as a selection of weight plates to swap out between tracks. So grabbing your space and equipment ahead of time makes for a much smoother and more enjoyable class for not only yourself (in dealing with transitions during tracks), but for the class as a whole. This is also a perfect time for you to ask the instructor questions about form if you have them, or if you are new to class to ask what to expect.
  • Remember that you do not have to complete the entire workout on your first day. (See below about our “Smart Start” approach.). If you need to take a modification to keep correct posture and technique, please do so.
  • Bring water and a towel. As always, water and a towel are great to have handy when attending any group class, but I will say, you’ll especially want them for this workout. I am usually sweating already by track 2!

A Smart-Start Approach

Never tried BODYPUMP (or even group fitness, for that matter) before? No problem! With any class you take here, we encourage the “Smart Start,” which includes staying for the first few tracks/songs of the workout, or simply half of the class. Then, when you feel that you’ve had enough or if that’s all you can do for now, you head out for the day with the motivation to stay for one more track next time you come back, until you find yourself completing the full class. Check out the class times on our group fitness schedule and see some of the other classes we offer.

And if you have never tried a group fitness class at NIFS before, and want to take that first step and check us out, here’s how to try a group fitness class for free!

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This blog was written by Rebecca Heck, Group Fitness Coordinator and Health Fitness Instructor. To find out more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: group fitness workouts group training Les Mills core strength music Group Fitness Class of the Month BODYPUMP strength workout

What to Eat: Nutrition Before a Long Run or Workout

GettyImages-627524836.jpgYour body needs fuel! When you are planning to do a run or a workout that is longer than an hour, the way to ensure that you have enough energy to get through it is to make sure you are eating the proper combination of foods beforehand for endurance. This is tricky, though, because you want to make sure what you are eating doesn’t upset your stomach during the workout. Here are some suggestions to get you through the workout with the right nutrition for feeling great.

Tips for Eating Before a Workout

The most important thing is to eat something that is familiar. You never want to try something new on race day or competition day. The old saying “practice makes perfect” will help decide what works best for your body.

Aim for a meal that has an easily digestible carbohydrate-to-protein ratio of 3:1. Typically you want something that is lower in fiber and not high in saturated or bad-for-you fats.

For most people, eating around 2 hours prior to running is ideal; but some people have found they can tolerate food 30 minutes before a workout, especially if you are doing the run first thing in the morning. If that is the case, something smaller might be best. Make sure to have a snack before bed that has a combination of carbs and protein (such as cheese and crackers, a yogurt parfait, or fruit and nuts).

Pre-workout Meal Ideas

These are suggestions that you can try to come up with your body’s perfect pre-workout meal depending on the time of day you are completing it.

  • 1–2 slices of wheat toast or an English muffin with peanut butter
  • Cup of Greek yogurt with berries
  • Cup of oatmeal with fruit and nuts
  • Banana with almond butter
  • Half a bagel with an egg and cheese
  • Turkey sandwich with a slice of cheese
  • Pita pocket with homemade tuna salad
  • Cup of quinoa with veggies mixed in
  • Cup of whole-wheat pasta with meat sauce
  • Cup of brown rice with chicken and veggies

Start practicing with some of these suggestions or with other meals or snacks that sound good to you that meet the 3:1 carb-to-protein ratio so you are ready to tackle those long runs and workouts.

Mini_logo_2018.jpgMini Marathon & 5K Training Program starts January 24th! Get registered today online! Learn more.


This blog was written by Angie Mitchell, RD, Wellness Coordinator. To find out more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.


Topics: nutrition running workouts snacks endurance protein carbs

NIFS December Group Fitness Class of the Month: PiYo

Piyo_2017.jpgI know what you’re thinking: PiYo…sounds like some contortionist/new yoga trend, doesn’t it? Only for the truly flexible mind-body gurus, right? On the contrary, PiYo—our NIFS Group Fitness Class of the Month—has made its mark over the last 10 years in the fitness world, and its actual format just might surprise you.

PiYo, by definition, combines the muscle-sculpting benefits of Pilates with the core-strengthening and stretching benefits of yoga. While this fusion format combines two classes that are normally slower paced, what sets PiYo apart is the speed in which the class moves. Instead of holding static poses, you continuously move from one position to the next, creating a solid flow of exercises plus a cardiovascular component that speeds up the flow of moves to more dynamically work and strengthen.

From the Beachbody Creator

PiYo was created by celebrity trainer Chalene Johnson, also known for other best-selling workouts such as Turbo Jam, Turbo Kick, TurboFire, and Chalean Extreme. She created the program after experiencing aches and pains and then later injuries after a long period of teaching group fitness classes. After seeking a doctor’s advice, she was directed to the realization that her body was too tight and that her flexibility was nonexistent.

Chalene wanted to have a workout to offer to individuals who want to work on those often forgotten yet crucial aspects of fitness that translate to our everyday life and impact our habitual mobility techniques later as we age. These aspects include dynamic flexibility, balance, stability, and bodyweight strength. Using your body as your weights, PiYo instructs you through multiple series of moves to challenge your strength, harness your core, and get you sweating within the first five minutes.

The Workout Format

The full format consists of 10 songs (11 songs as an option for more recent releases), and runs for 60 minutes, but feel free to build yourself up with a smart start approach, in which you simply start with the first few tracks and complete what you can and simply build on one additional track from there on your next visits back. Then, depending on how consistent you are in taking the class on a regular basis, your endurance will build to complete the whole class.

The track format consists of the following:

  • Warm Up
  • Heat Building
  • Lower Body
  • Full-Body Fusion
  • Power
  • Flow Right
  • Flow Left
  • Flow Fusion (Optional)
  • Core & More
  • Stretch & Strength
  • Cooldown

A Low-Impact Workout

As a PiYo Live instructor myself, one of my favorite components of the format is that it was primarily created to be a non-impact workout. For those of you who currently experience those aches and pains, low-impact workouts are what you should be looking for.

If you have ever taken the class, you will find that there are options to jump during some of the tracks for extra intensity; but again, those are always optional, and all of the moves are derived from working from the ground up. Even a chair can be used as an option if you have trouble getting down to the floor!

What do I mean by all of this? Simple. PiYo is great for EVERYONE—for all levels, and for all ages. Plus, the music selection is always fun and motivating for each section, which in turn sets you up to finish and leave class feeling worked, fully stretched, and accomplished.

For more information on PiYo and when NIFS offers it, check out our group fitness schedule. Or click here for information on how to take your first group fitness class for FREE!

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This blog was written by Rebecca Heck, Group Fitness Coordinator. To find out more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: NIFS group fitness workouts flexibility core bodyweight Beachbody Group Fitness Class of the Month PiYo

How the Half-Kneeling Workout Position Helps with Movement

For many years now, the half-kneeling position has been a favorite of mine and a workout program staple for the individuals I work with. As a “pattern–first” coach, the half-kneeling position not only provides another dimension to many exercises; it also helps in enhancing a few movement patterns at the same time.

Why It’s a Great Position

One of the reasons it’s such a great position is that it teaches us how we learned to move in the first place, from the ground up. Becoming proficient in the basic functional movement patterns carries over immensely into higher-order movements and exercises, as well as develops strength and stability in the trunk and core, which will be a benefit in many aspects of fitness and while we travel around this earth.

Getting the Most from the Movement

But the half-kneeling position is more than just putting one knee on the ground. There are a few intricacies you want to pay attention to in order to get the most out of the movement you’re performing in this position.

Let’s break down the half-kneeling position, shall we?

Wistia video thumbnail - Half-Kneel Position

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As you can see, there is more to this position than simply placing one knee on the ground and performing a movement.

The Best Half-Kneeling Exercises

Now that we know the best way to set-up this position, here are a few of my favorite half-kneeling exercises for you to add into your workout program.


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  • Hip flexor stretch
  • Windmills
  • Cable chop
  • Cable lift
  • AR press
  • Sandbag halo
  • MB hip toss
  • SA land mine OH press
  • SA chest press
  • KB seesaw press
  • Lat pulls

Getting the most out of every movement in exercise should be a priority when designing a program or individual workout session. Concepts like combination exercises, multi-joint movements, and pattern-specific exercises provide maximal benefits to your fitness and routine. Take a knee and improve multiple facets of your fitness at the same time.

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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 workouts core functional movement programs movement knee

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

Steer Clear of Overtraining in Your Workouts

ThinkstockPhotos-sb10062340z-001.jpgOvertraining is something that is commonly experienced in the fitness world yet frequently not recognized. What exactly is overtraining? It happens when the volume or intensity of exercise goes beyond your capacity to recover. Progress is no longer seen, and as time goes on, individuals who are overtraining tend to lose strength and become weaker. This is something that by definition everyone would want to avoid, but it’s easier said than done!

A lot of exercise happens to be a mindset. We’ve all been there: “I’ll just go for a run since I ate a whole pizza last night,” or “I’ll grab a second workout today so I can pig out on dinner.” However, maybe these things are pushing you over the edge into the overtraining zone, a place that you really don’t want to be.

Let’s take a look at five signs that you could be overtraining, and then five potential solutions.

Five Signs of Overtraining

  • Repeated injury: Do you have an injury that heals and then comes right back again? One sign of potential overtraining is having repeated injuries pop up. Because you are not allowing proper recovery between training sessions, the injury will never fully heal and keep coming back.
  • Exhaustion: Do you feel like you just can’t quite seem to get enough rest between training sessions? When an individual is overtraining, the work capacity being done is greater than the recovery time allotted. If you feel your body is not quite ready for the next workout, consider taking a rest.
  • Lack of progression: Are you stuck in your workouts and not seeing any gains even with the greater work capacity? If you are overtraining, you will begin to see a lack of progression in strength and training gains. The workout plateau could be caused by other factors, but consider taking a look at your training if you are lacking in progression.
  • Nagging injury: Do you have a nagging injury that won’t heal? If you have an injury that you cannot recover from and it refuses to go away, you might be training too much. Taking a break will allow your body to recover from those nagging injuries.
  • Persistent muscle soreness: Are you constantly sore after workouts and never feel “normal”? A classic sign of overtraining is constant muscle soreness that will not go away. The lactic acid buildup in your body doesn’t have time to flush out of the muscles when the training regimen is too high.

If you are struggling with any of the overtraining signs, consider one of the following solutions.

Five Solutions for Overtraining

  • Take a break. This tends to be the hardest one because of the challenging mindset, but you will do your body a huge favor if you take some time off. Maybe it’s a week or two weeks, but allow yourself enough time off to fully recover and see the gains that come from it.
  • Reduce volume. One way to break overtraining issues is to reduce the amount that you are working out. You can reduce length or frequency of workouts during the week. Either way, cut down on the volume and see how you feel.
  • Rethink your training plan. You may need to rethink the training plan that you currently have. Maybe you need to change up days or space workouts apart from what you currently have going. Take a look and make adjustments where necessary.
  • Try a massage. Sometimes a deep-tissue massage will help to push out some buildup within your muscles. Take a day and schedule a massage in place of your training session and see if that helps.
  • Reevaluate your goals. While no one wants to reduce a goal they originally set, sometimes if your body cannot take the load you are putting it under, you may need to make a change. This doesn’t mean that you need to reduce your goals; maybe just making small modifications would be acceptable.

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

Topics: workouts injury prevention overtraining exhaustion massage

4 Quick Workouts for Students

ThinkstockPhotos-177248545.jpgBusy college schedule? No time to fit in your workout between exams, papers, and class? Don’t let school be the excuse to skip or miss your workout. According to The Lancet, people who exercise as little as 15 minutes a day have a 14% lower mortality risk than people who don’t exercise at all. Just remember, something is always better than nothing!

Quick at-the-Gym Workouts

Here are some quick workout options, that require dumbells or kettlebells, that you can do if you are short on time.

Workout 1: 2–3 rounds

Workout 2: 2–3 Rounds

Fast Workouts That Don’t Require Equipment

No equipment, no problem. You can still get in a quick workout. Just because you do not have weights available doesn’t mean you should skip.

Workout 1: 3–4 rounds

  • Walking lunges x 8 each
  • Pushups x 10
  • Squat hold x 5 (hold the bottom position of your squat for 10 seconds)
  • Side plank lifts x 8 each side
  • March in place x 30 seconds

Workout 2: 3–4 rounds

  • Side lunges x 8 each side
  • Bear crawl x 30 seconds
  • Single-leg bridge press x 8 each
  • Eccentric pushups x 5 (8–10 seconds on the way down; 1 second on the way back up)
  • Jumping jacks x 30 seconds

Always remember, something is better than nothing! “No time” should never be the reason for not getting in some strength movements as a student. If you need more help for quick workout ideas, stop by the track desk at NIFS and a trainer can help you out.

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

Topics: exercise exercise at home fitness center equipment workouts strength college students

NIFS July Group Fitness Class of the Month: BODYCOMBAT

Brand-BODYCOMBAT-Poster.jpgHave you ever considered that punching and kicking is a form of exercise and fitness? Look no farther than the physique of boxers and fighters. And from time to time, we all need to do a little punching and kicking. In fact, not only is it a form of exercise, but you can burn a ton of calories doing it! If you like this type of stuff and are into different forms of mixed martial arts, you should really consider giving BODYCOMBAT™ a try.

This Les Mills class, will allow you to become more physically fit, faster, and stronger in less than 60 minutes. According to Les Mills, research shows that with a simple 55-minute class, the average caloric burn is 737! The class, inspired by mixed martial arts, is a cardio-based workout using just your body as the machine.

What to Expect from This Group Fitness Class

When taking BODYCOMBAT™, you can expect a whole lot of kicking, punching, and throwing elbows and knees (at the air, of course, and not at another class participant!). The class is a combination of kicks that work the lower half of the body, and blocks, strikes, and punches that are designed to work the upper half of the body as well as the core.

Who Is It Good For?

Everyone! For those who are looking for a cut upper body, BODYCOMBAT™ uses rapid boxing-style upper-body movements that work the fast-twitch fibers of the muscle. These fast-paced movements contribute to the “fit” upper body more than a traditional strength training workout that works more of the slow-twitch muscle fibers. Or maybe you are looking to become faster and more agile. BODYCOMBAT™ will help to improve your sprint time, jumping ability, and dynamic movement.

If you are looking for a different way to get more physically fit, this group fitness class of the month may be it. Discover the vast benefits of boxing and fighting—but without the black eyes, facial lacerations, and missing teeth!

To access the full group fitness schedule at NIFS, click here! Not a member? No problem! Click here to get a free class pass and try BODYCOMBAT™ on us!

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

Topics: cardio fitness center group fitness workouts core Les Mills Group Fitness Class of the Month BODYCOMBAT martial arts

NIFS June Group Fitness Class of the Month: Mat Pilates

mat-pilates-2.jpgWhen it comes to working out, I have always been the “faster, harder, stronger, better” type. If I’m not going to sweat and feel like I’ve accomplished something, what’s the use? As such, I never put much stock in mind/body classes. What could that type of exercise possibly offer that I wasn’t getting through my intense cardio and/or strength training sessions?

Fellow cardio lovers, weightlifters, and HIIT people, does this sound like you? If so, you can imagine my surprise when I discovered Pilates to be one of the most challenging workouts—physically and mentally—that I have ever done. Adding it to my weekly regimen has pushed my limits, helped me break through plateaus, changed my body composition, and ultimately made me “harder, faster, stronger, better.”

How does Pilates do this, you ask? The short answer: by building a strong core, creating overall muscle strength and balance in the torso and limbs, and improving posture. Please allow me to elaborate.

A Little Background

Joseph Pilates, a performer and boxer who, through years of self-study and practice, developed a method of exercise that would not only prove to last, but gain immense popularity, developed Pilates in the 1920s. The original exercises of Pilates in their purest forms were performed slowly in either the seated or lying position. They were carefully designed to train the body to be conscious of movement control, and thus move more efficiently. Joseph’s wife, Clara, learned her husband’s techniques and developed modifications to train those with injuries. Springs and pulleys were incorporated with the exercises to add resistance, and many could even be adapted to benefit bedridden clients.

Mr. Pilates died having never trademarked his method. His pupils went on to train numerous others, maintaining many of the original concepts but adding their own personal styles. Thus, since its creation nearly 100 years ago, many schools of practice have emerged. In 2000, a federal judge declared “Pilates” to be a generic term. As such, it is impossible to know exactly what to expect from a class simply titled “Mat Pilates.”

The Constant: The Core

Despite the plethora of styles, this remains constant: while the core remains at the “core” of the exercise, Pilates evenly conditions the entire body, thereby creating muscle balance and improving posture. No one muscle group is overtrained or undertrained. While the core musculature is the focus, the extremities are utilized to add load to the core, and thus the entire body reaps the benefits.

Take one of the basic exercises, the Plank. Think of all the muscles that must fire to correctly hold, simply hold, a high plank: rectus abdominis, internal and external obliques, transverse abdominis, glutes, latissimus dorsi, rhomboids, trapezii, paraspinals, BUT ALSO deltoids, triceps, hip flexors, quadriceps, anterior tibialis, and more. Then add a movement such as a pushup or a leg extension, and engage even more muscles.

The plank is just one example; all of the exercises and progressions performed in a Pilates class work multiple muscle groups in a very controlled manner, so as to promote muscle and movement awareness and fine-tune strength. Pilates is intense, but low-impact. It is challenging, but modifiable. It will push your limits, but it is sustainable. And it is extremely effective. When performed correctly, it will create an evenly conditioned body, improve sports performance (your golf swing will be considerably more impressive when it’s backed by a strong core and balanced muscles), and prevent injuries.

What Can I Expect in a Mat Pilates Class at NIFS?

mat-4.jpgSo the ultimate question is, what specifically can you expect when you walk into the NIFS Group Fitness Studio shortly before 5pm on Wednesdays? You can expect a low-impact entire-body workout that flows nonstop for 50 minutes to upbeat, current, familiar music. You can expect careful instruction on form. You can expect an occasional self-assessment on strength and flexibility. And, even though this is not a cardio class, you can expect to sweat! Mats will always be used, and often you will be instructed to grab a small piece of equipment (small weighted balls, light dumbbells, springloaded rings, small towels, and exercise bands are commonly used). Shoes are optional. Let the instructor know if you have any injuries.

As the music comes on (which, did I mention, is always familiar with a driving beat and all original artists?), realize that the next 50 minutes is all yours. It’s yours to discover how strong you are, and build on that strength. It’s yours to get lost in the flow of the moves, or the flow of the music. It’s yours to take breaks or stretch when you need and to modify the moves as necessary or desired. It’s yours to build joint stability, improve your balance, and become more flexible.

Pilates has something to offer everyone, from the beginner to the elite athlete. So grab a towel and your water, and I’ll see you at 5pm on Wednesdays!

To access the full group fitness schedule at NIFS, click here. Not a member? No problem! Click here to get a free class pass and try Mat Pilates or any group fitness class on us!

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This blog was written by Rachel Pfeiffer, ACE and AFAA certified Group Fitness Instructor and Board Certified Neurologist. To read more about the NIFS bloggers, click here. Photos by John Bragg.

Topics: group fitness workouts group training balance core stretching Pila