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NIFS Healthy Living Blog

Stress Relief with Physical Activity: Sweat Therapy

GettyImages-896274520Throughout your life, you will come across times and situations that are tough, making you feel as though getting through it all is inconceivable and hopeless. There are more traditional ways to deal with these ups and downs of life, such as therapy, but there are other ways to overcome stress in life that can be as easy as taking a walk, shooting some basketball, or even lifting weights.

Forget Your Worries: Emotional Benefits of Exercise

There seems to be something about exercise that allows us to forget our worries and deal with our stresses while also improving our lives through wellness and fitness. With as much stress as we see in people's lives today, it would seem as though fitness would stand out as a blessing to anyone who wants to make their life better. Because this isn’t always the case, you can start as slow and as basic as needed to make sure you are getting the right exercise at the right amount at the right time.

The Anxiety and Depression Association of America has determined that exercise is essential for good mental well-being and that the benefits go beyond just reducing stress. Improved mood, increased energy, better sleep, reduced anxiety, and improved self-esteem all are payoffs too.

Get Your Endorphins Going

You might have heard of endorphins. They are the hormones that are released from the brain and nervous system and into your body. We feel good when endorphins are released into our bodies. This can happen as a result of almost anything that stimulates your brain, ranging from riding a rollercoaster to seeing your favorite band perform. With fitness, the same endorphins can be released through exercise, giving you similar feelings. We call this the “runner’s high.” You don’t have to be a runner to achieve this feeling, but exercise is the key ingredient, however you decide to score those endorphins.

Thomas’ Tips for Getting More Active

  • Start small, start smart. Take a walk around the neighborhood or with friends after work at the mall. Walking is definitely exercise and has many benefits. .
  • Do activities you like to do. If you are trying to keep this fitness and wellness going for a long time, you’d better like what you are doing (at least some of the time).
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Not only are there fitness professionals who can help you, there are other individuals who are in the same boat as you. Make time to commiserate and help each other overcome obstacles together.

Getting started in fitness can be a daunting task. Even knowing the benefits associated with exercise might not be enough to light your spark. NIFS has certified and degreed individuals ready, willing, and able to assist with every aspect of wellness and fitness, ranging from fitness programming to nutrition and wellness. Let us know how we can help you reach your goals and hopefully reduce stress along the way. Make a choice to be a better you today!

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

Topics: Thomas' Corner stress relief NIFS fitness and wellness endorphins emotional physical activity

Rest for the Wicked: Recovery from High-Intensity Training

GettyImages-701140898The peripheral pollution surrounding what fitness and wellness should look like and how you get there is near epidemic status. The topic of high-intensity training receives the majority of the attention, with using Olympic lifts for conditioning a close second. And oh, what is “Insta-worthy” is atop the pollution charts as well. Okay, so that last one was a personal gripe more than based on empirical data. No matter; there are so many messages out there, many of them incorrect and downright unsafe, that it is hard to wade through the muck to get to the clear and beneficial information.

The peripheral pollution surrounding what fitness and wellness should look like and how you get there is near epidemic status."

What I have come to appreciate more and more these days both professionally and personally is the concept of rest and recovery both during a training session and on subsequent days of the week. In my previous post, “This is 40”, I touched on how recovery is so important to get right as we age, but it is just as important for any age and fitness level. Rest and recovery do so much to help you reach your results, but they so often get forgotten due to the misguided messages out there saying that it has to be hard all the time no matter what. Here’s the thing: your immune system does not know the difference between disease and overtraining, which could leave you susceptible to a whole slew of infections. Not only are rest and recovery good for you physiologically, they can do wonders for your emotional self.

Here are three Rs to live by that will allow for the greatest training effect from the high-intensity work you are putting in at the gym, decrease the chance for injury and or illness, and hopefully increase the amount of SMILES you give to the world each day because you feel great!

Your immune system does not know the difference between disease and overtraining.”

Recover

Let’s look at recovery both during a training session as well as outside of a training day, shall we?

Training session: For higher-intensity training sessions, mind your work-to-rest ratio and aim for 1:2 or 1:1. Be wary about a laundry list of exercises to be performed for :45 work and :15 rest for multiple sets. There is not sufficient recovery time at the higher intensity loads, and before long most movements are not executed well, leading to poor results and maybe even injury. Physiologically, not allowing the system to return to a more normal state (or closer to it) can play havoc on the systems needed for the results you are seeking as well as keeping you alive. If you are not using time, heart rates or a simple talk test can be used to determine when it is appropriate to take on the next bout. A good rule of thumb is 110 to 120 beats per minute for your heart rate, or you can complete a couple of sentences in a row. Hard work pays off, but you have to be able to work hard each round and set. Ample time to recover will allow for that.

Off day: What do I do on my days off for recovery? See below. But, let us talk training schedule for maximum recovery results. As always, fitness IQ and fitness level will determine both the training schedule and loads; and there are many very thick books on that topic, which I am not trying to cover here. My hope is to provide a few basic, typical, rules of thumb. Again, for higher-intensity training sessions, here are a few sample weekly schedules:

  • Beginner: 1 On, 1 Off
  • Intermediate: 2 On, 1 Off
  • Advanced: 3 On, 1 Off

These are very general ideas of what a training schedule could look like, and I would highly suggest that you let your body be your guide. Resting heart rate can be a key indicator of proper recovery and being training ready. If you wake up and you’re at 80bpm, you might want to recover that day. Build in those recovery days to help maximize your results.

“Hard work pays off, but you have to be able to work hard each round or set.”

Regenerate

Once again, let’s look at both training days and off days and what regeneration looks like for each.

Training session: Regeneration for a training session is made up of some drills that aid in elasticity of the soft tissues and prep the body for movement. This is typically completed before a training session but should also be done afterward as well to help aid in recovery and be ready for the next session. Elements found in regeneration are the following:

  • Breathing techniques
  • Foam rolling and trigger point drills
  • Active mobility and range-of-motion drills
  • Stability drills

Off day: Here is where we step away from the training stimulus and dig deeply into the regeneration of tissues and resetting energy levels through activities that encourage rehabilitation from training and focus on recentering yourself. The place to start is to get ample SLEEP! Enough said! If you are not getting 7 to 8 hours of restful sleep a night, consistently, reaching your goals will be an even tougher road.

Some other activities that will promote regeneration include the following:

  • Massage
  • Ice (my product of choice is HyperIce)
  • Yoga
  • Meditation
  • Hot tubs
  • Cryo-bath

Reflect

The third R should be reserved for reflecting on the week of training and life as a whole and should be an enjoyable training session. The session should emphasize play and nature. It should be an active session, but not nearly as intense as a training session (unless, of course, you play a sport for leisure). Mainly, take the time to be happy to be alive, spend time with the people you love, and do something you enjoy doing. Just as important to your health and well-being as the other two Rs, treat it as a mental-health day where you are being active. I don’t have a list here for you because you should do what moves you; but I highly recommend that it emphasize play, and that you connect with nature somehow.

I say again, hard work pays off, but you have to be able to work hard, and treat recovery as a training priority if you hope to get the most results from that hard work. These activities and days should be built into your training schedule, because it is still training, and a super-important aspect to the overall training plan. So there is rest for the wicked!

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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: recovery high intensity training results workouts

What’s In Your Gym Bag? Weight-Lifting Belts

IMG_7197Weight-lifting belts have become a staple in many gym settings for powerlifting, Olympic lifting, bodybuilding, and strongman, and for anyone who wants to lift heavy loads. Whether you use them for training or on the competition platform, you need to know the ins and outs of weight belts so that you can make a smart decision.

How to Use a Belt the Right Way

Using a weightlifting belt is situational. It depends on several different factors, including the experience of the lifter, how heavy the load is in relation to 1RM (One Rep Maximum), as well as the number of repetitions in each set. Put on the belt as tight as possible with no room to slide your hand in, but enough room to allow a big breath and abdominal muscles to brace against it. It should be so tight that it’s uncomfortable if worn for several minutes. Placement of the belt is often by preference, but generally an inch or two above the pelvis.

According to studies from the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), a weight belt is used to help generate intra-abdominal pressure. This means tightening your natural stabilizers, such as abdominal muscles and erector spinae muscles in your back in order to brace the spine and stay safe. A belt can also be used as a proprioceptive tool to teach you how to breathe and brace because it allows proper response to occur and gives you something to brace against. This creates a constant feedback loop because now you can actually feel your muscles bracing and pushing up against the tight belt. In turn, this increases stability for the spine and core and adds support. For the record, a weight belt won’t protect against injuries caused by improper bracing and poor lifting technique. Not only is bracing an important skill to learn when lifting heavy loads at the gym; it can also keep you safe from back injuries even when you are just going through your daily life lifting objects here and there (ACSM).

Avoiding Over-reliance

Conversely, over-reliance on belts has been on the rise. It can lead to a weakened core and invoke ridicule if used when not necessary. Further research has shown that weight belts are known to spike blood pressure because of holding your breath, and have been linked to minor injuries such as hernias. Remember, the belt is needed only during the lift and only for exercises that mostly stress the lower back. It is not something to wear around the gym. A general rule of thumb from Barbend is to use the belt only for the lifts that are 85% or more of your 1RM. Lastly, investing in your own core strength by trusting yourself for lighter sets and saving the belt for heavy sets is a good way to improve core strength.

Types of Belts

There are several different types of weightlifting belts out there. Some use a single prong, a double prong, Velcro, or a lever to lock the belt tight throughout the lift. Organizations such as USA Weightlifting (USA-W) and USA Powerlifting (USAPL) have different specifications as to how wide and how thick the weight belt may be on the competition platform, thus creating a level playing field for all athletes.

NIFS provides a few options for weight belts, but don’t be shy about bringing your own if you have one! Before I go, I would like to personally invite you to participate in our Fifth Annual NIFS Powerlifting Competition on November 10. Here you will see nearly every lifter using some type of weight belt, especially during the heaviest lifts. Early Bird Registration opens 9/24!

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This blog was written by Cara Hartman, NIFS Health Fitness Instructor. To find out more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: weight lifting powerlifting NIFS Powerlifting Competition equipment injury prevention

Strength in Numbers: Benefits of Group Training

Bootcamp-1You either love them or you hate them… group workouts! In a world where technology is seemingly taking over the human connection and interaction, working out with a group can offer the opportunity to meet real friends instead of virtual ones online.

Whether you join a small group or just get a group of your friends to work out together, here are a few reasons why more is merrier for working toward your fitness goals.

Motivation

Group workouts give you motivation that you might not get by doing a solo workout. Unless you’re that rare person who can jump out of bed at the sound of an alarm and hit the ground running, odds are motivation will go away as quick as you pressing the snooze button. We all battle the everyday ups and downs of life, but once you get together with your group, the energy levels go up and worries go out the door. You will find that you are motivated by the people around you and that’ll make the workout much more fun and enjoyable.

Accountability

Remember when you were a high schooler and your parents would wake you up in the mornings? How nice of them to hold us accountable. A workout group can do the same thing for your health and fitness goals. There’s something about knowing you won’t be the only one getting your butt kicked that day. Not only will you have your group members to help hold you accountable, you will have a coach who is checking in on you. The effectiveness of a team member can influence the whole team. Therefore, don’t let your coach and classmates down by not showing up.

Support System

One day a month, all the members of the Ramp Up to Weight Loss program come together for a group workout followed by a post-workout snack. Not only do they get a chance to meet one another, work out, breathe hard, and sweat; but they also get a chance to see that they aren’t in this alone. They see that they have the support of all the other members who might be in a situation similar to theirs. Having a support system can give you a new sense of hope and encouragement because you know you aren’t in this alone.

Fun

Some people like working out by themselves while others need a group around them. Being part of a group workout can really make exercising fun and enjoyable. You’ll benefit from the energy and hard work you can feel being created by you and the people in your group. The motivation you receive and the people you surround yourself with will make exercise fun, not a chore you feel you have to do.

Mental Health

Group workouts offer you the advantage of getting to meet people who have similar interests to yours. You will feel part of something by being surrounded by likeminded people. You might be afraid to step out of your comfort zone and make new friends; group workouts give you that opportunity to stay within your comfort zone while making new friends.

Although group workouts might not be for everybody, you should try it at least once. You might find that a group atmosphere is exactly what you need to push you past your health and fitness goals. There are so many ways here at NIFS to get involved with a community of supporters: Small Group Training, Group Fitness classes, the Ramp Up to Weight Loss Program, and many of the other programs we provide throughout the year.

“When we try to exercise alone, we can feel isolated and uninspired; together we can achieve our fitness goals.”

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

Topics: group fitness group training motivation accountability weight loss attitude NIFS NIFS programs

Healthy Eating Habits from Registered Dietitians

GettyImages-937435294There are so many diets out there that it can be confusing as to what you should follow and who you should listen to when it comes to healthy and balanced eating. If you aren’t sure where to begin to change your current routine, take a look at these tips that Registered Dietitians (the experts in healthy habits) recommend.

  • Eat breakfast daily. The most important meal of the day should not be missed. Aim for three food groups that combine a mixture of fiber and protein to keep you full and start your day off right. Oatmeal mixed with a nut butter and fruit, a whole-wheat English muffin with an egg and a glass of milk, a smoothie with frozen fruit and veggies and Greek yogurt, or a veggie omelet and toast are some quick, balanced, and fabulous options to have in the morning.
  • Eat mindfully. Mindful eaters will eat less than those who are distracted by their phone, television, computer, and emotions. Paying attention to whether you are hungry and then choosing foods that sound satisfying is the key to mindful eating.
  • Stay hydrated. Dehydration causes slowed metabolism, mindless eating, and feelings of false hunger. Drinking water throughout the day can help combat these. Have a reusable bottle on your desk at work as a visual reminder to keep drinking all day. (Here are tips for staying hydrated the easy way.)
  • Snack. Aim to have something to eat every four to five hours. A snack helps keep you satisfied until your next meal and prevents overeating caused by going too long without fuel. Be sure to grab a snack that has some fiber and/or protein to help you stay full and give your body the nutrients it needs. (Here are some easy smoothie recipes.)
  • Eat dessert. Believing that all foods—even dessert—can fit into a balanced diet is important. If you deprive yourself of your favorite foods, it can lead to a vicious cycle of guilt eating and feeling bad about your choice. Instead, enjoy your dessert with a balanced meal and then move on.

Following this advice from Registered Dietitians is the first step in lifelong balanced eating. Try to make each one a habit, so that healthy eating becomes a lifestyle instead of a challenge. Find out more about NIFS nutrition services

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

Topics: healthy eating healthy habits dietitian mindfulness hydration snacks breakfast weight loss

CXWORX: A Group Fitness Class for Core Strength

September_cxworxCXWORX is all about building core strength, which is important for living a more functional life. CXWORX targets the trunk, which is the area from the mid-thigh to the shoulders, and includes both the front and back sides of the body.

CXWORX is a 30-minute choreographed group fitness class created by Les Mills. It begins with a warmup and breaks off into working different sections of the core with movements both on the mat and standing. Participants use a resistance tube to add load to the muscles to increase muscle strength.

The Importance of a Strong Core

Most people think about a strong core as six-pack abs and doing sit-ups. The core is made up of more than just abs, but exactly as it sounds, it’s the core of your body. Building strength in those muscles will benefit you for the rest of your life. All movements stem from your core and provide support for everyday tasks you perform.

Having a strong core is of huge importance when it comes to balance and stability. Strong core muscles will also help improve your posture. Having good posture is better for your spine, prevents lower back pain or injuries, and allows you to breathe easier. Having a strong core helps you stand taller and straighter.

Working the Core

Working the core is more than just doing sit-ups. CXWORX is beneficial because it incorporates many movement patterns and exercises to strengthen and tone all muscle groups associated with the core. Trunk flexion and extension, trunk rotation, lateral trunk flexion, abdominal compression, and spinal stability are all movement patterns that you will perform in a CXWORX class to help build a balanced, strong core.

Check NIFS’s Group Fitness Schedule to find a class time that’s convenient for you!

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This blog was written by Brittany Ignas, BS in Kinesiology, 200 Hour Yoga Alliance Certified, Stott Pilates Certified, and Fitness Coordinator. To find out more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: CXWORX Les Mills core strength muscles group fitness posture balance stability core stability

Get a Grip: Exercises to Increase Your Grip Strength

GettyImages-505776960How long have you been stuck on your max for bench press or unable to become efficient at
pull-ups or even able to do a good pull-up? More often than not, people have many areas of concern; upper-body strength, stamina, and technique come to mind. Outside these main aspects of lifting weights, what else is there that you can focus on to help improve your personal bests without making it too complicated? One area you can focus on that gets relatively little attention is grip strength. You already use it a lot, right? The answer might surprise you when you take a look at how it can improve your overall fitness experience.

For the most part, most upper-body lifts require some grip strength. The exercises that require the most tend to be the ones for which you have to hold dumbbells, barbells, kettlebells, or chin-up bars. Whereas other exercises on machines can provide safety and ease of use, they sometimes lack the grip strength aspect that is required with the free-weight exercises. In the fitness world, there’s a saying that goes, “If you want to get good at push-ups, do push-ups.” You can focus some of your exercise time on developing these muscles.

Exercises That Increase the Strength of Your Grip

Here are some easy ideas to implement into your own workouts next time you are at the gym.

  • Farmer’s carry: This exercise can be a little deceptive to the beginner, but as you will find out, there's more than just legs at work. Other than legs, core, shoulders, and back, you will notice that it is imperative that you have some grip strength to be able to complete the exercise, or else you won’t get too far. Remember the saying above.
  • Weightlifting: When you are lifting weights, be sure to grip the bar tightly. Always practice squeezing against the bar when you lift. Conversely, try to incorporate a grip aspect into other exercises as well. Tools to help you work on grip include Fat Grips, the Axle Bar (aka the Fat Bar), and Grippers. Grippers have been around for a long time, with the “Captains of Crush” being known as the toughest around.
  • Stress ball: The stress ball, which is extremely cheap and easily available, can act as an on-the-go tool. There actually may be more stress balls available in the US than there are people, so if you do not have one, I’m sure someone you know does. Simply put one in your car and while you’re stuck in traffic or at a red light, grab that ball and squeeze out 50 reps on each hand. Not only will your grip strength improve, but you may experience actual stress relief.

Let a NIFS Health Fitness Specialist Help Increase Your Strength

As you can see, there are many ways to help your grip strength. The most important thing to remember is that if you want to improve, you will have to use it and use it often. When you think about all the muscles you use for exercise and how they work together, you must understand that you are only as strong as your weakest link. If your grip is the weakest link, every exercise that requires you to hold weights, or yourself, will be subpar. With increased strength, those plateaus will fall.

NIFS has several options in the fitness center to help aid your quest for improved grip strength, including hand grip dynamometer testing (yes, we can test your grip strength). See a health fitness specialist to schedule an appointment to talk about your goals and fitness assessment options. Take control of your workouts, and get a GRIP on your life.

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

Topics: grip strength grip exercises fitness assessment NIFS weightlifting carries

Overcoming Life Challenges with Fitness: You Don’t Forget the Hills

IMG_2506Fitness is a great tool to use to train the mind. Yes, often people work out for physical health, but exercise is also getting a lot of hype from psychologists. Many studies are proving that exercise and movement increase brain function, memory, and thinking skills. Not just that; the motivation, positivity, and strength learned and gained from an exercise session can all be used in daily life situations. 

I began doing yoga and running in 2009 as a way to de-stress when my mother was ill with cancer. At the time, I never knew that the real-world challenges I was going through would turn into my passion and lead me to my full-time career. I can honestly say that the motivational lesson of learning through sweat sessions helped me overcome daily life challenges and inspired to me share that with others.

From Yoga to Real Life

Yoga taught me to breathe. Breathing is a necessary human function, but one of the hardest things to do in a challenging situation. Learning breathing and mindfulness on my yoga mat taught me how to take it into my daily life. If I’m facing a challenge, it probably means I need to slow down, breathe, and evaluate what needs to be done.

Running taught me that there are days you are tired, sore, and don’t want to do something, but showing up and doing it will always feel better. My mom’s motivation to wake up every day on her weakest, saddest, and scariest days helped inspire me along my fitness journey to be fearless and “Just Do It™.”

As I began doing yoga and running, I fell so in love and developed such a deep passion for these things that I wanted to continue to learn about them. I got my 200 Hour yoga certification in 2014. I never knew that it would turn into a full-time career in NYC where I was inspiring packed rooms and training celebrities. That sounds great and glamorous, and honestly it was, but again yoga really just taught me to breathe and open my mind. I realized that going to New York was running away from dealing with my past. I was ready to face it again. New York is a stressful environment. I was keeping up just fine, but was pushing out family because I was “too busy training Victoria’s Secret models,” although I knew the real reason was fear and not fully living out what I was learning.

Letting go of ego is another lesson I learned on my yoga mat, and I knew that I could find balance between family and doing what I loved if I took some deep breaths, tuned in, and followed my head and heart at the same time. After three years in the Big Apple, I decided to live out my fitness and move back home to build my family bond and let go of anything from my past that challenged me, just as I had been doing for years in the gym.

From Running Away to Running Home

Along with my personal training success came my “glory days” of running. I was a runner because I loved how it felt. I had no clue I would one weekend wake up and call a friend asking whether I could run a marathon in her city the following weekend, and then show up and actually complete it. Well I did. And I don’t remember much about that race except a few things—the times I was challenged the most. My first challenge came at mile 6, my first hill. I remember that thing looking like a mountain. The second thing I remember was turning to my family in my time of need. At mile 13.1, I called my dad, crying:

“What am I doing? Should I just run a half marathon today?”

He responded with, “Just take a deep breath.” Well, at that moment my heart might have felt like it was going to burst out of my chest, and my mind was in a negative state underestimating my strength, but that connection and reminder to take a deep breath and tune in to my ultimate goal helped me complete 26.2 miles that day, and with the biggest smile on my face. I now coach others in running, and in the challenging times I bring out some of the lessons I learned to teach and inspire them, letting them know that I get it and understand because I’ve been in that headspace too. But I also remind them that this is no challenge you can’t overcome if you just take a deep breath and tune in. I also like reminding people that if 30-second fitness challenges or hills are the hardest struggles in their day, week, or life, they are pretty lucky!

At-Home Exercise Your Mind

So, here’s your chance to exercise your mind:

  • What has challenged you in the gym?
  • What did you do about it?
  • What words of encouragement helped you overcome it?
  • What was the feeling of overcoming challenge?

Now take that into your daily life. What is challenging you, and can you breathe and stay positive through that situation?

“JUST DO IT ™” —Gary Gilmore

Just Do It is a trademark of shoe company Nike.

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This blog was written by Brittany Ignas, BS in Kinesiology, 200 Hour Yoga Alliance Certified, Stott Pilates Certified, and Fitness Coordinator. To find out more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

 

Topics: running yoga fitness stress emotional attitude marathon