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NIFS Healthy Living Blog

8 Low-Cal Pumpkin Spice Drinks at Starbucks

GettyImages-856503922Pumpkin season is officially here, and I am SO excited! Call me “basic”—you would not be wrong. Starbucks has launched their pumpkin drinks. Food bloggers, including myself, are basically turning their kitchens into giant pumpkins. It is a whole thing.

Here is my hiccup with pumpkin season and all the yummy beverages: THEY ARE FULL OF SUGAR AND CALORIES. Basically, we drink this little serving that takes up a huge portion of our daily calories yet contributes very little to improving our satiety. When you combine no fiber, little protein, and minimal volume you get “hangry” feelings and a higher risk of overeating later in the day. This makes weight-loss attempts and health goals harder to accomplish.

Now, don’t get me wrong—I am one who believes all foods and beverages can fit into a healthy nutrition regimen, even the high-sugar drink from time to time. However, I also believe in finding alternatives that are lower in sugar and calories when possible. Don't worry, these “alternatives” I speak of MUST taste yummy or else I would just stick with having the “real deal” in moderation.

Here are 8 DELICIOUS Starbucks Pumpkin Spice drink orders that won’t take up the bulk of your calorie budget and are low in sugars.

Hot Options

Pumpkin Spice “Latte”

Order: Grande blonde coffee with 1 pump pumpkin sauce, 2 pumps sugar-free vanilla, 2 shots espresso, and 1 cup steamed almond milk (or about half-full of steamed skim milk)

Nutrition Facts: 95 calories, 14g carbs (9g sugar), 4g fat, 3g protein

Pumpkin Spice Americano

Order: Grande blonde caffe Americano with 1 pump pumpkin sauce, 2 pumps sugar-free vanilla, and light splash of half & half. Ask to put in a venti cup to allow room for the add-ins.

Nutrition Facts: 75 calories, 12g carbs (7g sugar), 2g protein, 3g fat, 255mg caffeine

Pumpkin Chai Tea “Latte”

Order: 1 venti brewed chai tea. Add steamed skim milk, 4 Splendas, and 1 pump pumpkin sauce

Nutrition Facts: 65 calories, 12g carbs (12g sugar), 4g protein, 0g fat

Pumpkin Spice Coffee

Order: Grande blonde coffee with 1 pump pumpkin sauce, 2 pumps sugar-free vanilla, and light splash of half & half. You can add Splenda for a little sweeter taste with no additional calories.

Nutrition Facts: 65 calories, 9g carbs (7g sugar), 2g protein, 3g fat

Cold Options

Iced Pumpkin Spice Latte

Order: Grande iced coffee with no classic syrup. Add 1 pump pumpkin sauce, 2 pumps sugar-free vanilla, 2 shots espresso, and 1 cup steamed almond milk (or about ½ full of steamed skim milk)

Nutrition Facts: 95 calories, 14g carbs (9g sugar), 4g fat, 3g protein

Iced Pumpkin Cinnamon Coffee

Order: Grande iced coffee with no classic syrup. Add 1 pump pumpkin sauce, 2 pumps sugar-free vanilla, and a light splash of half & half.

Nutrition Facts: 65 calories, 9g carbs (7g sugar), 2g protein, 3g fat

Pumpkin Cold Brew with Cinnamon Almondmilk Foam

Order: Grande Cold Brew with Cinnamon Almondmilk foam. Add 1 pump pumpkin sauce and 1 pump sugar-free cinnamon dolce syrup.

Nutrition Facts: 65 calories, 14g carbs (12g sugar), 1g protein, 1g fat

Pumpkin Cold Brew with Dark Cocoa Almondmilk foam

Order: Grande Cold Brew with Dark Cocoa Almondmilk foam. Add 1 pump pumpkin sauce and 1 pump sugar-free vanilla syrup.

Nutrition Facts: 65 calories, 13g carbs (10g sugar), 1g protein, 2g fat

Extra Hacks

Want more pumpkin? You can certainly add another pump of the pumpkin sauce. One pump of the pumpkin sauce is an additional 25 calories, 6g carbs (6g sugar), 0g fat, and 0g protein.

Want more sweetness? You can add a packet or two of Splenda for a noncaloric sweetener. No, this will not cause cancer. Research does not support that claim. So, if you want Splenda to help sweeten your beverage, add it.

Want more cream? Have them add a creamy milk, such as oat milk or almond milk. Both are fairly low calorie. Skim milk is great and offers more protein, but it is not as creamy.

Those are my tricks. And if you’re still hungry for pumpkin and that other fall treat, apples, check out these recipes. I hope you enjoy these drinks and ultimately have a great PUMPKIN SEASON while still reaching your health goals! Enjoy!

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This blog was written by Sabrina Goshen, NIFS Registered Dietitian. To learn more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: calories weight management sugar caffeine coffee fall pumpkin spice

Warming Up for Vertical and Broad Jumps with Pogo Jumps

GettyImages-1225454377Want to jump higher, jump farther, or possibly dunk a basketball? With all the athletes I have trained over the years, at some point within their sport they all jump. Competitive as athletes are, they want to be able to jump higher like in volleyball, or jump farther like swimmers coming of the blocks, for example.

Warming Up Your Lower Body

Before you start jumping, you need to warm up your lower body. A fun way to wake up your lower body and prepare for explosive work like vertical or broad jumps is to incorporate easy plyometrics into your fitness routines. Plyometrics refers to exercises involving rapid stretching and contracting of your muscles.

An easy warm-up drill into plyometrics for athletes is to start with pogo jumps. They are one of my favorite athletic drills to warm up with and incorporate within athletic workouts. Pogo jumps are a great tool for teaching athletes what it feels like to be fast and or explosive off the ground. I use pogo jumps primarily to target the calves and shins. To a lesser degree they also target the hamstrings and quads within our warm-ups.

Proper Form for Pogo Jumps

Here’s what we want to see out of athletes when doing pogo jumps: minimal ground contact time, and minimal knee flexion (knees over the toes). Each jump is mainly with ankle movement instead of hips and knees. Never let your heel touch the ground. Stay on the ball of your foot to utilize your lower-leg elasticity. Low pogo jumps look similar to bunny hops, and high pogo jumps are similar but emphasize more explosive power for height on each jump, making you look more like a kangaroo.

Pogo Jump Drills

Depending on available space, pogo jumps can be done in place for typically 10–20 jumps in a row, or you can do them for distance down and back in a 10-yard space. If doing pogo jumps laterally, I like to go 10 yards down right and switch halfway, and keep going 10 yards left. Like most exercises, you are only going to get out what you put into it, so really push yourself to jump for speed (quickness) or height (explosive) each time. As always, make sure that you are keeping good form when you jump as well.

Goal: Improve vertical leap, quickness, and footwork
Equipment Needed: None—just you!
Space: In place or 10–20 yards distance

Drill: Low Pogo Jump

Execution: Begin the drill in an athletic posture with the feet hip/shoulder-width apart. Raise heels up and stand on the balls of your feet. Quickly bounce up and down on the balls of your feet. Don’t let your heels touch the ground. 

Drill: High Pogo Jump

Execution: Starting the same as low pogo, stand tall with feet slightly spread apart about hip-width. Raise heels up and stand on the balls of your feet. Advance the low pogo drill by attempting to gain more height in your jump and still minimizing ground contact time.

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This blog was written by Michael Blume, MS, SCCC; Athletic Performance Coach. To learn more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: exercises plyometric sports warmups drills jumpings

7 Tips to Get Back on Track with Weight Loss

GettyImages-506933707You’ve told yourself that it would just be one “cheat meal,” but the next thing you know that one meal turns into everyday meals and you feel like you have fallen so far off the wagon that there’s no getting back on.

I’m here to tell you that LIFE HAPPENS, and it’s okay occasionally to stray from a healthy lifestyle. What’s important to remember is that the tools to hop back on and get back motivated are right at your fingertips, waiting for you to grab tight.

Here are 7 tips to get back on track and keep moving forward:

  1. Don’t take it so personally. You’re not a bad person or destined always to be overweight just because you slip up here and there. Just think of it as a minor setback for a major comeback!
  2. Don’t look for a quick fix. You might lose weight this way, but you’re almost sure to gain it back. This has the potential to set up an unhealthy pattern of gaining and losing. Slow and steady wins the race!
  3. Find an accountability partner. This can be someone who is just starting out, or starting back over, or an experienced, never-falls-from-the-wagon person. Finding someone who can provide you encouragement for your efforts will help you continue down the right path. Be sure to be upfront and honest with them about your goals and have them check in on you regularly.
  4. Plan ahead. We schedule meetings, and hair and nail appointments for ourselves; why not schedule a time out of our busy days where we can exercise? Even planning your meals ahead can help with overeating and you won’t get too hungry throughout the day.
  5. Track your food. Keeping an account of exactly what it is you eat throughout the day helps keep you honest and aware. It will help give you insight on your eating habits and where you might need to give a little.
  6. Understand you’re not alone. Thinking that you’re the only person in the world who has fallen off the wagon will achieve nothing but negative thoughts and make it even more difficult to get started again. Somewhere, some place, someone is going through the exact same thing you are or they’ve been through it before. You’re not the first person to have to start back over, and you certainly won’t be the last.
  7. One day at a time. This tip needs to be bold, underlined, highlighted, and anything else to grab your attention! Taking this journey one day at a time is so critical to your success. All you need to do is try. By doing your best each day, you’ve put together a chunk of how your future will look.

While it might be tough, it is definitely not impossible to get back on track. If you aren’t sure where to start, come in and talk to us. We would love to get you set up with one of our personal trainers, enrolled into a program like our Ramp Up to Weight Loss, or simply design a program for you to follow on your own. Whatever you feel you need, we are right here to help you!

You’ve got this!

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This blog was written by Ashley Duncan, CPT, Weight Loss Coordinator. To learn more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

 

Topics: weight loss healthy eating accountability NIFS programs personal training diets

Should You Take CoQ10 for Heart Health? A Look at the Research

GettyImages-940463278Coenzyme Q10, also known as ubiquinone, is a commonly used supplement by those with cardiovascular risks and disease, and especially those using statins. CoQ10 acts as a carrier in our cells to assist in oxygen utilization.  It also assists enzymes in the mitochondria. This allows the production of energy in a cycle referred to as the Krebs Cycle, and hints at why the mitochondria are the “powerhouse of the cell.” Some believe that those with heart failure have a buildup of reactive oxygen species (ROS), which can lead to adverse effects. Furthermore, they suggest CoQ10 antioxidant properties can combat the buildup of ROS. Additionally, CoQ10 is thought to balance calcium-dependent ion channels within the heart, which is critical for heart function. As far as supplementation with statins goes, people are led to believe that supplementing CoQ10 is essential because statins block the pathway that leads to CoQ10 production.

Researchers looked into these claims. Some found many studies that showed CoQ10 had no clear effect on how much blood the heart was able to pump (left heart ejection fraction), and other studies were inconclusive with poor research design. On the other hand, a Large study (a meta-analysis of clinical trials) revealed that those who supplemented CoQ10 had lower risk of death and increased exercise capacity, but no correlation between CoQ10 and how much blood the heart was able to pump. Lastly, another study observed those with heart failure receiving medical therapy. In addition to medical therapy, some of the participants received a placebo and some received Coenzyme Q10. Although the concentration of CoQ10 in the blood serum increased dramatically, those patients saw no greater effect in ejection fraction, peak oxygen consumption, and exercise duration. 

Drug Interactions and Additive Effects

CoQ10 has been known to interact with Vitamin K Antagonists, such as warfarin, a commonly prescribed drug in cardiovascular disease cases. Some cases have shown that CoQ10 blocks the anti–blood clotting (aka anticoagulant) effect of Vitamin K Antagonists, especially warfarin, which can lead to fatal blood clotting (according to Lexi-Drugs Online). On the other hand, some studies have shown that CoQ10 has done the complete opposite to Vitamin K Antagonists and actually enhanced the anti-blood-clotting effect, which leads to excessive bleeding.

Side Effects

Some side effects reported include severe gastrointestinal (GI) bleeding, allergic reactions, headaches, vomiting, urine discoloration, and abdominal pain.

Further Research

Much of the research that shows a positive outcome when supplementing CoQ10 had small trial groups (not enough people). The number of participants in the trials, known as sample size, is too small for the evidence to be conclusive. Moving forward, is it possible to get a bigger sample size that can give conclusive results? As of now, many are torn on this topic.

The Clinical Bottom Line

There is not enough evidence to support the use of CoQ10 for treating heart failure or even lessening the risk of muscle weakness (myopathy) in those taking statins. Until more research emerges, I would suggest those with cardiovascular disease not take CoQ10, especially if they are taking a Vitamin K Antagonist. If you are torn about taking CoQ10, consider speaking with your Primary Care Provider and Registered Dietitian to see if it's right for you.

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This blog was written by Sabrina Goshen, NIFS Registered Dietitian. To learn more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: nutrition cardiovascular supplements drugs heart health dietary supplements cardiovascular disease

Hacks 4 Golf Hacks: Warming Up Before You Tee It Up

GettyImages-153066762Looking back on the history of my work in the blog world, I have found that every year around this time I tend to write about a sport I sometimes love to hate: golf. So, without further ado, it is time for my yearly “golf blog,” where I share a few insights from a hack’s viewpoint that will hopefully lead to some success in your game. If you play this frustrating yet beautiful game, you know that every round can either be 4 hours of bliss, or contemplating why you spent so much money on those clubs. And maybe that’s what makes the game so special for so many, the never-ending battle between good and evil (thoughts, that is).

Whatever it is that keeps you coming back to the links, obviously you want to play the best you can and as long as you can. The proper warm-up for any type of fitness or performance activity has been spoken and written about by countless fitness pros, yours truly included, but I would argue it’s super important to your game and your health to talk about warming up before you tee it up.

Before the Course

If you are like me, sometimes you get to the course with only a few minutes to spare before your tee time. Here are a few strategies you can implement that don’t take a lot of time and will benefit both your game and your body.

  • Be fit: Okay, I lied, this one does take some time, but being fit and healthy before taking on any activity is imperative to maintaining your health. I think we would all agree it might be foolish to hop into a 5 v 5 pickup game on the basketball court if you have been on the couch for the last three months. You would want to work on your cardio, power, and endurance so that you can compete and enjoy the activity. Same goes for golf. Don’t let the cart fool you: it is a physically demanding game—if you wish to compete with your pals, that is. So, take care of yourself and make sure you are getting that minimum 150 minutes per week of moderate to vigorous exercise recommended by the ACSM.
  • Soft-tissue work at home: If you have time before hitting the course to hit the foam roller, I highly recommend it. Spend some time on the glutes, lats, adductors, T-spine, and hamstrings. (link)

On the Course and in a Hurry

Here are some videos that demonstrate some important warm-ups and drills.

Screen Shot 2020-09-01 at 12.41.25 PM

  • Increase Tissue Temp: Walk, small plyometrics (jumping jacks), light jog

Drills:

  • Chest Stretch
  • SA OH Reach
  • Club windmills
  • Reverse Lunge with Lateral Reach
  • Lateral Leg Swings
  • Trunk Rotations (iso)
  • Back and Down Swings

Now, there may be a few things holding you back from completing a proper warm-up before enjoying a great day of the oldest game. You may not show up to the course in time. I make time to get there early to get outside and really begin the round before the first tee. You might feel a little “goofy” going through a proper warm-up in front of your friends. To that I say, “success favors the prepared,” and you can show them drills after you beat them on the course, or are able to play again immediately without soreness, or carry the bag for 18 holes and remain upright. A proper warm-up may not get you on tour, but it may save you a few strokes aside and keep you playing longer.

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This blog was written by Tony Maloney, ACSM Certified Exercise Physiologist and Health Fitness Instructor. To find out more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: videos golf warming up drills lifetime sports

A Quick Look at the Science Behind Exercise for Brain Health

GettyImages-1009819802Often I ask my clients or athletes why they exercise. The most common answers that I get from them are “because I want to look better” or “for good health,” which are great reasons for sure. But what if I told you that exercise helps one of the most important organs in your body that doesn’t include any visible muscle: the brain.

The Effects of Exercise

I like to think that seeing physical changes are the only side-effects of exercise, but the main benefit is that with exercise you can improve memory retention, create new neurons, and essentially become smarter.

Increasing Neurotransmitters for Connections and Learning

Exercise contributes to many factors that help improve brain health. When you exercise you don’t think about this, but it increases your BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor) levels. This neurotransmitter is responsible for many things in the brain, but I will list only a couple. BDNF is like fertilizer to neurons, which helps then grow. The more neurons you have, the higher your potential to make connections and learn new things. What BDNF also does is helps protect the neurons against cell death.

Increasing Glucose for Fuel and Learning

When you exercise, your muscles release IGF-1 (insulin-like growth factor) because your body needs fuel (glucose) to maintain that activity. In the brain, though, glucose is the main source of fuel. Some studies have shown that when IGF-1 is in the brain, it works with BDNF to increase learning instead of being used for fuel.

Increasing Growth Factor for New Brain Cells

The last benefit I will talk about is how exercise helps improve FGF-2 (fibro-blast growth factor). When you exercise, this is also transported to the brain and works together with BDNF to help with neurogenesis (growth of new cells). This has many benefits, such as new stem cells that can be used to learn new things as well as help with memory retention and reducing memory loss.

Learn More at NIFS

This is a very broad description of what goes on in your brain when you exercise and how exercise helps brain health. If you would like to learn a little more about this, I am happy to explain more in detail about the process that occurs in the brain. You can email me at pmendez@nifs.org.

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This blog was written by Pedro Mendez, CSCS, FMS, Health/Fitness Instructor and Strength Coach at NIFS. To learn more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

 

Topics: memory brain fitness exercise and brain health brain health

Take a Breath: Relaxation Techniques for Troubled Times

GettyImages-1167560354Seriously. Stop and take a breath. Don’t judge your technique, just breathe in and out. Failure to do both in and out will likely result in you fainting, and the ERs and urgent care centers have enough to do without you coming in with a cut forehead requiring stitches.

Take 5: A Relaxation Exercise

Hold your left hand palm facing up with your fingers slightly spread apart. Place the tip of the index finger of your other hand at the base of the left palm in the slot between the fat pads of the thumb and little finger.

To begin this short exercise, exhale; then as you inhale, let your index finger trace the length of your thumb. When you reach the tip of your thumb, retrace the length of your thumb as you exhale until you return to your starting point. Repeat this exercise for each finger.

If you chose to, you can reverse hand positions and repeat the exercise with your left index finger tracing the fingers of your right hand.

This exercise is short but a powerful way to calm down the fight/flight nerves and bring back physical and mental balance.

Breathwork

There hundreds of breathing techniques to explore and thousands of books written on the subject, going into great detail about what happens when you focus on your breath. I believe it is important and should be explored by anyone who wants to improve their health and wellness. That depth is well beyond the intent of this blog. However, here are some breathing patterns to try.

  • Box breathing: Inhale for a 4-count, hold for a 4-count, exhale for a 4-count, hold for a 4-count, repeat. This technique is used by the military to calm soldiers before shooting drills and live action.
  • 4 In, 6 Out: No holds, just simple in/out with a slightly longer exhale.
  • 4 In, 6 Hold, and 7 Exhale: This is the beginning of longer holds and exhales.
  • Focus breathing: Simply watch and follow the breath as it moves in and out. No judgment; just follow. This is the foundation of basic meditation practices.

Finding Balance

These are very stressful times for everyone. It’s like the world is standing thigh-deep in snow in the direct path of a sudden, fast-moving avalanche. With no point of reference, we don’t know if we are at the beginning, middle, or end. Use these techniques to find your own “life jacket,” a complement to the exercise ideas and nutritional information that NIFS provides. I hope it helps you find your breath, tone down the negative energy, broaden your perspective for your own mental and physical health, and perhaps help others as we go through together.

Your inner peace is your personal power. Therefore,

Peace and Power,
Rick

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

Topics: relaxation stress relief mental health well-being lifetime wellness breathwork breathing exercises

Safe Meals and Snacks for Going Back to School or Work

GettyImages-1257082950As many of us are confronted with the decision of whether to send our children back to school or continue with online learning, we are faced with many questions that we had never had to ask ourselves before. Breakfast, lunch, and often snacks are mainly consumed during these hours at school, so as we continue to see Indiana trying to return to normal and reopen, we might need to tailor our eating habits to ensure we are not risking unnecessary exposure to COVID-19 when refueling our bodies throughout the day. These ideas also work for adults who are returning to the workplace or have already returned to the workplace.

Keep in mind, you want each meal to be comprised of plenty of fruits and veggies (half of your plate), while one quarter of your plate is filled with a protein, and the remaining quarter is filled with a minimally processed grain like brown rice or whole-wheat pasta. Make sure to use leftovers to make the next day’s meal prep easy—think large-batch cooking. Snacks should have a protein (such as nuts, peanut butter, etc.) along with a high-fiber carbohydrate like a piece of fruit (think banana or apple) to keep you feeling satisfied throughout the day.

Tips for Safe Eating at Schools and Work

Here are some actions to consider when eating meals at work or school amid a pandemic:

  • Cut back on items that require heating up in the microwave to avoid touching a community microwave.
  • Use a thermos if you would like to take hot items (such as coffee or soup).
  • Pack a bottle of water (drinking fountains are likely to be closed).
  • Practice “hands-free” snacking. An example for kids: toothpicks already placed into small sandwich squares that they can pick up like an hors d’oeuvre makes for a fun and safe way to eat finger foods!
  • Use packaging to avoid touching food prior to ingesting food items.
  • Practice good hand hygiene. Scrub with soap and water for a minimum of 20 seconds and don’t touch other items prior to eating.
  • Bring your own utensils, napkins, and condiments.
  • Vary the times you visit the cafeteria if possible to avoid high-traffic times.
  • Keep your mask on as long as possible and try to sit at least 6 feet apart.

Meal and Snack Ideas

Take a look at some of these meal and snack ideas and give them a try. Keep in mind that these are suggestions, and I hope they provide inspiration. Although they don’t cut out your risk 100 percent, every little bit helps during this crazy time.

Breakfast Ideas

  • Smoothie: 1-2 cups of frozen fruit, a handful of leafy greens, a spoonful of peanut butter, and milk of your choice blended to your preferred consistency. Pack in a thermos and bring your own straw.
  • A banana and a squeezable almond butter packet (such as Justin’s).
  • Overnight oats: soak rolled oats in milk in the fridge overnight with a dollop of peanut butter. Add fresh or frozen fruit on top. Eat cold or throw in the microwave before leaving the house (it retains heat well!).

Lunch Ideas

  • Sandwiches on whole-wheat bread: wrap in parchment paper to avoid touching the sandwich when eating it. Skip the deli meats and try to load up on colorful and crunchy veggies with hummus in this option.
  • Pasta salad: bring your own utensils. Make a big batch of whole-wheat pasta and sautéed veggies and toss with balsamic vinegar and olive oil in the morning. Toss in a can of pinto beans or a handful of pine nuts for an easy protein.
  • Spinach salad: top with carrots, cherry tomatoes, walnuts, and chickpeas. Toss dressing on at lunch.

Snacks and Sides Ideas

  • Squeezable applesauce pouches
  • Larabars
  • Mamma Chia Squeeze pouch
  • Yogurt with a banana—I love the Silk soy yogurt for a dairy-free option
  • Individual bags of prepopped popcorn (try pouring it into your mouth straight from the bag—it might not look graceful at times, but it keeps your fingers out of your mouth!)
  • Precut fruit salad (apples, strawberries, blueberries, etc.)
  • Precut/bite-sized carrots, cucumber, and celery that you can easily stab with a fork or toothpick and dip into a little hummus

***

While this is not an easy time for anyone, trying to keep up your routine in eating habits is important so that your body is properly fueled and healthy. Best of luck this year, and stay healthy!

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This blog was written by Lindsey Hehman, MA, RD, CD. To learn more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: healthy eating snacks lunch breakfast disease prevention kids school viruses covid-19 coronavirus pandemic

Returning to Play and Activity Safely After Quarantine

GettyImages-1014940186The uncertainty of the last few months has taken a toll both mentally and physically on everyone. Many people did not have access to gyms and instead did at-home bodyweight workouts or virtual workouts—or did nothing at all. As time has passed, we are now returning to gyms and everyday normal lives. Returning to play and activity must be done in a strategic way. Going all out upon return can lead to many detrimental effects on the body. Making sure to take proper steps back into working out is vital to your body and your overall health. Sleep paired with hydration and a balanced diet will aid in the process of coming back stronger and more efficient. Taking a slow approach will also allow your body to get acclimated much more easily and quickly.

Safely Returning to Activities

You should return to play and activity with moderation. Jumping right back into the gym 5-6 times a week will lead to overtraining and other soft-tissue injuries. Trying to max out upon return after not lifting heavy weights is another challenge that will lead to injury or worse. Gradually getting back into the swing of things is the way to go, and will lead to the safest and most effective return.

Starting with bodyweight exercises and lighter weight is a great way to return. Focusing on form and taking the time to relearn movement patterns is another safe, effective tool to use. This is a great time to identify other imbalances you might have neglected before, or things that were brought about by the pandemic. Giving you the best possible options will not only help with longevity, but will also help with overall quality of life. 

There Is No Rush to the Finish Line

During lockdown, your focus should have been on trying to maintain a healthy, balanced diet and staying as physically active as you possibly could. I know times were hard and days were long, but it shouldn’t have derailed all the hard work you put in before the pandemic hit. That is why it is essential to take proper steps to gradually get back and acclimated to the weight room. Continue to set goals. Keep them within reason. There is no rush in achieving them. Staying healthy and creating longevity is the name of the game.

If your numbers are way down since the pandemic, trust that the process will lead you right back where you were and beyond. Find alternatives and alternative exercises that will gradually get you back into the swing of things. For example, if you love the squat, find other squat variations that will keep you healthy as you gradually work your way back to heavy squatting. Goblet squats are a great alternative. Cyclist squats are another great tool for developing the quadriceps. Utilize the TRX; it is a great functional piece that will aid in your return to play and activity.

Enjoy Being Back Outdoors and at the Gym

Staying healthy during this time is the ultimate goal. Doing it safely and properly is the way to go. Utilize your trainers and dietitians to help you on your journey. Never hesitate to ask professionals for advice on returning to the gym. We love seeing you back as much as you love being back. Continuing to practice safe and effective training methods with proper sleep and nutrition will make for a great rest of the year!

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This blog was written by Jason Quarles, IUPUI Athletic Performance Coach. To learn more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: exercise at home injury prevention weight lifting overtraining bodyweight quarantine covid-19 lockdown

Build a Bigger Engine with Aerobic Training (Part 2 of 2)

GettyImages-1217027916-1Last time, I covered a few of the benefits of building your aerobic base:

  • Ability to recover more quickly between bouts of high-intensity exercise
  • Ability to sustain higher-threshold movements for longer (think being able to hit more heavy singles on bench or deadlift with the same rest)
  • Ability to handle more acute rises in training volume
  • More efficiency, as you’re able to remain in an aerobic state for energy for longer periods (before resorting to another system like anaerobic/glycolytic)

Cool, Lauren! Now, how the heck do I train my aerobic system? How do I start to build that base? Here are a few examples of ways to incorporate aerobic training into your fitness plan.

Contralateral Circuits

As the name implies, a contralateral circuit involves working opposite sides of the body while performing a two-part, compound movement—for example, a step-up with the right leg followed by an overhead press with the left arm. Each movement is performed for time, typically 20–30 seconds, followed by a short period of rest while you switch to the opposite side to perform the movement.

By cycling between exercises that work opposite limbs and opposite sides of the body (think diagonally across), we are taxing the cardiovascular system in a relatively novel way. Specifically, as blood is pumped and pools in working limbs for 20–30 seconds (right leg/left arm), the heart has to work slightly harder to then switch to pumping blood to ensure that the next group of contralateral limbs is adequately supplied (left leg/right arm). Heavy weights aren’t involved; typically it’s a combination of bodyweight exercises, bands, or light weights. But after 20–30 minutes of near continuous movement, chances are you’ll see that some sweat has appeared!

Here’s a quick example of exercises that can be linked together for a contralateral circuit:

  • Reverse Lunge Right + Band Row Left x 0:25/0:30 rest and transition
  • Reverse Lunge Left + Band Row Right x 0:25/0:30 rest and transition
  • Step-Up Right + DB Overhead Press Left x 0:25/0:30 rest and transition
  • Step-Up Left + DB Overhead Press Right x 0:25/0:30 rest and transition
  • Single-leg RDL Left + DB Row Left (Right stance leg) x 0:25/0:30 rest and transition
  • Single-leg RDL Right + DB Row Right (Left stance leg) x 0:25/0:30 rest and start over

Escalating Density Training (EDT)

This type of training not only trains your aerobic system, but also allows you to gradually build up volume on particular lifts. So if you in any way resemble me and aren’t the number-one fan of running, this might be for you! Escalating Density Training involves working for 5-minute blocks continuously. You alternate between two lifts, usually opposite in nature (upper vs. lower body), and complete only 1–2 reps of each before returning to the other movement.

For example, you can pair a Kettlebell Goblet Squat with a DB Bench Press. So, for 5 minutes you complete one rep of a Goblet Squat, followed by one rep of DB Bench Press. You can keep a tally of how many rounds you complete in 5 minutes and compare for future sessions to see whether you’re able to do more work in the same period of time. Typically, you can complete three blocks of EDT in one training session, separated by 3–4 minutes of rest. All in all, you’re completing 15 minutes of high-quality work.

Here’s an example of an EDT session:

  • Block 1: KB RDL/DB Overhead Press x 5:00 --> 3:00 rest post round
  • Block 2: Sandbag Clean & Squat/TRX Row x 5:00 --> 3:00 rest post round
  • Block 3: DB Incline Press/Goblet Reverse Lunge x 5:00 --> cooldown

A Long Walk or Hike, Focusing on Nasal Breathing

This one is pretty simple, but surprisingly effective. Getting used to nasal breathing, as opposed to mouth breathing, has more than a few benefits. One of them is that it allows our body to become better adapted to handling CO2 as we produce it during exercise and movement in general. Why does this matter? This has been shown to lower resting heart rate, improve pH regulation, and improve our body’s ability to cycle and filter out metabolites.

So, the next time you head out for a hike at a state park or a stroll through your neighborhood, see if you can maintain a moderate pace while only nasal breathing. If you feel the need to breathe out of your mouth, that’s fine! Each time you go out, simply see how much you can do with nasal breathing, trying to push that time or distance bit by bit each session. Bonus? You get to enjoy the great outdoors.

Low-intensity Modalities + Breath Holds

I came across this method after listening to Cal Dietz, Strength & Conditioning Coach at the University of Minnesota, at multiple conferences and clinics. He’s worked with numerous Big Ten Champions, NCAA National Champions, and Olympians throughout his career. When working with athletes as they return from a hiatus in training (i.e. post summer semester), he has employed a 2-week period focusing primarily on aerobic training.

One method he’s used is 10-second exhalation and breath holds while performing light aerobic exercise. For example, while on a Concept2 Rower, he’ll have his athletes find an easy, maintainable pace for 1–2 minutes. For the next 10–15 minutes while maintaining that pace, athletes will exhale at the beginning of every minute and hold their breath following that exhale. They will attempt to hold their breath until the 10-second mark of that minute. So, if it takes 4 seconds to exhale, they’ll then try to hold their breath for 6 more seconds. Once you start breathing again, the goal is to stabilize the breath as quickly as possible.

After trying this myself, it was surprisingly difficult. There was a sense of being uncomfortable, obviously the urge to breathe, some slight tinging, followed by immense relief after the 10-second mark. I’m listing this last because it’s something I would work up to. Can you try it right off the bat? Absolutely. But don’t feel that you need to continue the breath hold for the full 10 seconds. Maybe its only for 5–6 seconds while you acclimate to the training.

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All in all, there are various ways to train the aerobic system, and there isn’t one that fits all. But if you’re looking to sprinkle some variety into your routine, one of these modalities might be for you. As always, the goal with these workouts isn’t to leave you running for the trash can. If it does, take it down a notch.

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This blog was written by Lauren Zakrajsek, NIFS Health Fitness Instructor, Personal Trainer, and Internship Coordinator. To learn more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: walking workouts training weight lifting high intensity aerobic breathing