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NIFS Healthy Living Blog

Alex Soller

Recent Posts by Alex Soller:

Pre-heat the Oven: Your Warm-up Guide to Maximizing Your Workout

GettyImages-629588986The “perfect” workout rarely happens. Every so often, you may have one of those training sessions where every block flows smoothly and programmed repetitions and sets are executed flawlessly. But for most days, there will be missed reps, you may feel more fatigued than you think you should, or the workout may not come together as you hoped it would. That is fine. Your goal should be to strive to be as close to perfect as possible, with the understanding that it may not always happen.

Prepare for the “Perfect” Workout

A ”perfect” workout cannot happen without preparing your body to perform in the correct way. Preparation in this instance is in reference to your warm-up and what you are doing to get your body ready to do what is on your program. Always remember the 5 P’s:

Proper Preparation Prevents Poor Performance.

Without a good warm-up, you can’t strive for the perfect workout and you are further set up for underachieving in the movements you will do for the day.

What Should Your Warm-up Look Like?

About five years ago as a younger strength coach, the dynamic warm-up was always my go-to. Plyometric day? Dynamic warm-up. Squat day? Dynamic warm-up. Bench day? Dynamic warm-up. Speed/agility day? You guessed it, dynamic warm-up. The dynamic warm-up has its place, obviously, when you are going to sports practices or training sessions that will require multidirectional movement, but as I grew in my knowledge base I asked myself one question: Shouldn’t your warm-up get you ready for what you or your athletes are actually going to do for their workout?

A Guide to Common Training Sessions

Below is a quick guide on some points to think about for common training sessions as you approach and build what might be one of the most important aspects of your workout day.

Plyometric Day

Mobility: Ankle and Hip (could add T-Spine if doing upper-body plyometrics)

Warm-up: Core, Jump Rope, Line Skaters, Lateral Line Hops, Small Box Jumps

Speed and Agility Day

Mobility: Ankle and Hip

Warm-up: Core, Dynamic Warm-up (Hi, old friend!), low-intensity plyometrics (i.e. skips, hops, bounds), agility ladders

Upper-body Day

Mobility: Thoracic Spine

Warm-up: Core, Rotator Cuff/Shoulders, lower-intensity exercises that mimic the bigger lifts for the day

Lower-body Day

Mobility: Full Body (ankles, hips, t-spine)

Warm-up: Hips (band/monster walks), Goblet Squats (squat/quad dominant day), Hinge Work (good mornings, hip thrusts, etc.) for deadlift day

The Staples of an Efficient Warm-up

As you can see, an efficient warm-up really consists of three staples: mobility of the joints you will be using that day, core (you are always stabilizing), and smaller, low-intensity movements that will mirror the bigger movements you are going to perform. An old coach from my college football days used to preach at us on the regular that, “You practice how you want to play.” Well, Coach Alex is offering the same sentiment: “You warm up with the same intent as how you want your training session to go.”

When you bake a cake, you don’t mix the batter, put it in the oven, and then turn it on. That gets you crappy cake. You pre-heat the oven. Always preheat the oven.

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

Topics: workouts plyometric speed warming up lower body upper body movement agility warm-up

The “Triple-A” Way to Dominate Your Athletic Off-Season

GettyImages-1277242858For many athletes and recreational athletes, the arrival of winter and cold weather usually signifies the end of their athletic season. Once the bulk of your outdoor sport competition has concluded or slowed down, reflections of the past year take place. You may have run a personal record in your first 5K, mini, or full-marathon; had your best record in your tennis league; or had the lowest scoring average over a spring and summer for golf. Whatever your sport is or whatever you worked on that previous off-season, the wheels start churning in your mind about how you might be able to continue that improvement for the next season.

As with most things in the athletic world, improvements we make start to get more challenging each year. When you were new to a sport or competition, you might have seen rapid increases in your skills and abilities. But as you progress further, these improvements can become more minuscule and harder to obtain. Below is my “Triple-A” approach to help structure your off-season and make the next year better than the last.

1. Analyze

When you look back at your season, the easiest thing to do will be to remember and reflect on some of your best performances. This is great. Keep those memories and the feelings you had when you performed at your highest level in the back of your mind and use them as motivation for consistency.

But also reflect on some of your competitions where you just didn’t “have it.” These seem to be the ones that most people, myself included, remember most clearly. The goal isn’t to dwell on them, but to think to yourself about what you could have done better. Are there any common “problems” when you compare any of your subpar performances? If so, head to step 2 and see if there might be a way you can address it.

2. Assess

You’ve taken some time to look back on your less-than-optimal performances from last year, so now what? The next step is to try and see whether there is a way to quantify that issue in an assessment or testing window. Obviously, every individual will have their own unique situation, but here are some examples of things I have encountered in years past within certain sports and how you might be able to assess them:

  1. Lack of sprint speed or lateral quickness (tennis, soccer): Can be tested using 40/20-yard dash or 5-10-5 (see this blog).
  2. Knee pain (running, golf): Could be an issue with ankle/hip mobility or strength related. Schedule a Functional Movement Screen (FMS) or fitness assessment.
  3. Low energy at the end of training sessions or competition (all sports): Many factors could play into this, but nutrition is always a big culprit. Meet with our dietitian, Lindsey Recker (lrecker@nifs.org).

This will take a little work on your part, but help is always available from the NIFS Fitness Center staff. If you don’t assess, training is a guess.

3. Apply

Now the fun begins. Once you have pinpointed where some of your performance faults have occurred, it’s time to get to work. Your training program should consist of exercises or nutritional practices that are aimed at improving your subpar areas. If you lack speed or agility, add multidirectional running drills. If you want to improve your club head or racquet speed, add rotational power drills. If your pre-practice or competition meals don’t give you the energy you need, start formulating a plan that meets those needs.

As I said before, each individual has their own needs. A cookie-cutter “Triple A” approach may yield some improvements, but those serious about making improvements to their athletic skill set will invest a little more time and energy in finding out where the problems are and take a systematic approach to improving them.

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

Topics: off-season athletes student athletes athletic performance assessment performance

Flight School: Training to Improve Your Vertical Jump for Sports

GettyImages-1291852744When watching elite athletes during competition, there are many athletic traits and features that we novices or amateurs marvel at. We think to ourselves, “If I did something like that, I wouldn’t walk for a week!” Seeing an NFL running back or wide receiver make a cut at full speed, a baseball player hitting a 400-foot home run, or a powerlifter deadlifting the weight of a Volkswagen Beetle are feats that just leave you in awe.

One of my favorites is to watch the jumping ability that is on display in countless basketball, football, and many other sporting events. Nothing seems to get fans and folks like myself more fired up than to watch an NBA player effortlessly float in the air and dunk on an opponent, or an NFL receiver jump up over two or three defensive players and come down with the football. No doubt, the combination of high-level athletic ability and hard work has paid off for many of these professional athletes with what seems like superhuman abilities. There is a reason that we see these men and women on TV and pay to see them during competition. The capabilities of the human body are crazy!

Improve Your Jump to Improve Your Sport

So, many of you reading this are probably not professional athletes. You might be former high school or college student athletes who have since “retired” from your respective sport. Like many of us, the “athlete” in us never really goes away. We find other sports or competition to feed that drive that we had as we grew up by playing recreational-league sports like basketball, flag football, or soccer, or have picked up new sports such as golf (like this guy) or tennis. And if you’re anything like me, you want to try and continue to improve in your new sport as much as possible.

Regardless of where you are in the timeline of your athletic journey, the vertical jump and vertical power will always play an integral role in your performance. Basketball and volleyball are the most obvious sports that are reliant on these abilities, but golfers, tennis players, and athletes in any other sport that utilizes rotational aspects would benefit highly by increasing their vertical jump. I mean, who wouldn’t want to hit the golf ball farther or add a few more miles per hour on their tennis serve?

When it all comes down to it, the amount of force we can put into the ground will dictate a lot of the athletic actions that happen with our bodies.

Three Jump Training Styles

Below I break down three different types of jump training styles that will put you on your way to soaring above the competition.

Body Weight

This is the most common type of jump training that you will see. Utilizing only the weight of your body, you perform these plyometric jump movements with little or no equipment. In the video below, you will see three movements starting from easiest to most advanced. These include the following:

  • Wall Touches
  • Box Jumps
  • Depth Jumps

 

HubSpot Video

 

Resisted Jumps

Now we get into some of the less common vertical jump training options. Resisted jumps add some type of downward-pulling resistance that will make your jump seem more difficult and hopefully help you generate more effort into the movement. The movements in the video below include the following:

  • Medball Powerball
  • DB Resisted Jumps
  • Band Resisted Jumps

 

HubSpot Video

 

Assisted Jumps

The third variation is assisted jumps. In my opinion, these are the most enjoyable. The goal here is to feel like there is a trampoline-effect going on where you just seem to spring up into the air. Most (if not all) variations will utilize a band. The three movements I have chosen for you are the following:

  • Banded “Belt” Jumps
  • Band Rack Pogos
  • Band Rack Squat Jump

 

HubSpot Video

 

All in all, the vertical jump is a very important skill to improve and master with regard to overall athletic ability. When it all boils down, the amount of effort you put into the training will dictate the results you get. Doing the majority of your jumps at 50 percent effort will yield an improvement in just that: jumping at 50 percent. Try to maximize your effort with each set and repetition where you are working at or above 90 percent effort, whether that be because of doing lower repetition ranges (1–5 reps) and/or making sure that you are fully recovered between sets (about 1–3 minutes’ rest).

Give great effort, get great results!

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

Topics: resistance videos sports body weight athletes athletic performance lifetime sports exercise bands vertical jump vertical power jumping jump training

Testing Progress Toward Your Athletic Performance Goals

GettyImages-1067160268In a world where people want results in an instant and take drastic measures to achieve those results as fast as possible, developing strength, power and athleticism in a long-term aspect is often overlooked. For any fitness-related result or outcome, improvements take time. Fat loss, overall strength and/or power in any particular lift, speed, and agility are all seeds that needed to be watered for a while before noticeable and permanent changes are evident.

In an athletic realm, this leads to the importance of the “testing” process and the use of that process over the course of months, semesters, and years. As a young athlete or athlete fresh out of high school entering the college world of sports and strength and conditioning, this is how you monitor your success and validate that the training and improvements you are making are the things that are actually working. Numbers do not lie. If your times in specific agility drills or weights have increased in certain lifts, obviously you have made improvements. If those numbers have not changed or have decreased, you need to address methods of training or overall compliance/intensity with the program.

Below are five performance tests that measure multiple aspects of your overall athletic profile.

40-Yard Dash

The 40-yard dash, or “40,” is one of the most common drills we use to measure straight-line speed. Sure, many sports are played in a multidirectional way, but overall top speed is an important puzzle piece. Setting up and performing this drill is relatively simple; however, you may need two people to help with the timing.

First, set up two cones exactly 40 yards apart. From here, go to the starting line and sprint from start to finish. The clock or stopwatch should start on your very first movement from the starting line and stop when your body crosses the finish line.

5-10-5 Shuttle

The shuttle run is one of my personal favorites. It allows you to see an athlete’s explosiveness and change-of-direction skills. With lateral movements being so important in many sports, this gives you a good idea of where an athlete stands. To set up the 5-10-5 Shuttle, you need three cones spaced out evenly at 5 yards apart. The athlete starts at the middle cone with their hand on the ground. They run to the right or left cone and touch the ground (5 yards), across the whole setup and touch the ground (10 yards), and sprint through the middle cone (5 yards). Timing of this test starts when the athlete’s hand raises up from the ground and finishes when they cross the middle cone.

Vertical/Broad Jump

Jumping ability is another “power” aspect that translates very well into success on the field or court. The vertical jump test is generally performed with a Vertec, or a piece of equipment where you stand underneath and jump to touch as many of the rings overhead as you can. Other than obtaining the Vertec, the test is fairly simple. First, you want to measure your standing reach, or simply the height that you can reach with your arm outstretched overhead. As I mentioned before, you jump and hit as many of the rings on the Vertec as you can. When the maximal height has been reached, you subtract the standing reach number to get the vertical jump height.

Another great way to measure power would be with the standing broad jump. For this, all you need is a tape measure that is on the floor with a starting line for the athlete. To perform, the athlete starts behind the starting line and jumps out as far as possible and lands under control. The length of the broad jump is measured wherever the back of the athlete’s shoe lands.

Bench/Squat/Trap Bar Deadlift

In the preceding sections we looked at sprint and jump measurements, but we can’t leave out our strength numbers. Like the great Louie Simmons of Westside Barbell said, “Weak things break.” Truer words have never been spoken. Because of this, we want to measure those strength gains with every opportunity that we have. For me, my main three strength lifts that I measure are the bench press, the squat (front squat or back squat, depending on the athlete), and trap bar deadlift. These are three main staples in my programming and I always want to see if the way that I’m implementing them in workouts is yielding the best results.

These may look a little different for you. You may choose DB Bench Press, Pull-Ups, Farmer’s Carries, or something similar. My recommendation is to be sure that whatever you are testing are things that you are continually working on. It’s tough to test a back squat if you haven’t back squatted in 8–10 weeks.

Overall, the moral of the story is testing to see whether what you are doing is helping you achieve your goals is vital. Without testing you are just guessing. Remember, numbers do not lie!

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

Topics: strength goals speed athletic performance fitness goals fitness assessment agility testing fat loss

Push and Pull: The Ideal Workout Program for Restarting Training

GettyImages-1267535453Let’s face it: building your own workouts isn’t always the easiest thing to do. Sure, you probably strike gold a few times a year and the exercises you choose seem to be flawless, from the balance of muscle groups worked to the flow of the routine that you get into. There is nothing better than having that program that just seems to get the job done.


What Workout Program Should You Use When You’ve Taken Time Off from Training?

But let’s say that life happens and you took an extended time off from training due to school, work, or some other important reason (pandemic maybe?). So what now? Where do you go from here? The go-to for many individuals would be to jump right back into the same program they were doing before their long layoff. It worked great for them before their break, so it must be the best way to resume activity, right? More than likely, this might not be the most ideal situation to set yourself up for future success. When your body has become detrained from a long layoff, you run the risk of overtraining—which could possibly lead to those nagging injuries that linger throughout your rebuild process.

Find a Program That Balances Pushing and Pulling

To me, a GREAT training program is a delicate balance of “pushing” and “pulling” exercises. The general consensus of the “push-pull” method is that you alternate (or superset) upper-body push movements (for example, bench press, shoulder press) with upper-body pull movements (for example, bent-over rows, pull-ups). Even the great Arnold Schwarzenegger used this method to pack on loads of muscle when he was at the apex of bodybuilding. Now, are you Arnold? No. Are you trying to look like Arnold? Also no (more than likely). Below you will find another interpretation of the “Push-Pull” method that may better fit those who are restarting their exercise routine, or those who are looking to switch up their programming.

Benefits of Full-Body Workouts

As I mentioned before, the push-pull method often refers to two upper-body exercises from opposite muscle groups (for example, chest and back). The superior version (in my opinion) of this would be to couple either an upper-body push exercise with a lower-body pull exercise, or an upper-body pull exercise with a lower-body push exercise (see table below). This type of full-body workout allows for two main benefits:

  1. Ample rest time is allowed: While the upper body works, the lower body rests (and vice versa).
  2. There is potential for reduced soreness: Instead of hammering one muscle group for a ton of exercises, a more gradual stress is applied to the muscles over multiple workouts. It could also be a great option for returning to exercise or resistance training.

Movement Examples

If you think this type of workout might be what you are looking for, give it a shot. Choose one exercise from column 1 and one exercise from column 2. Alternate those two exercises for the desired number of reps and sets. When finished, either choose one exercise from the same two columns OR switch it up and choose one exercise from column 3 and one exercise from column 4. Remember, the ultimate goal is to match each push movement you perform with an opposite pulling motion.

Column 1 Column 2 Column 3 Column 4

Upper-body Push (chest/
shoulders)

Lower-body Pull (hips/
hamstrings)

Upper-body Pull (back)

Lower-body Push (quads)

Bench Press

Trap Bar Deadlift

Pull-Ups

Front Squat

Strict Shoulder Press

Slider Hamstring Curl

TRX Inverted Row

Step-ups

Half-kneeling Shoulder Press

Single-leg RDL

Band Face Pull

Lunges

Push-up Variations

Lateral Lunge

Seated Row

Split Squat

“Jammer” Press

Reverse Hyper

Dumbbell Reverse Fly

Wall Sit

 

Adjust Your Program Periodically

As with most workout structures, adding wrinkles into the program every so often will allow you to continue the muscular adaptations that are occurring and keep you engaged. That could mean an adjustment to the number of reps, sets, or rest periods you are currently using, or simply choosing different exercises. The ways that you can tweak this kind of program are endless, and I believe that with great effort, you will see positive changes in whatever physical adaptation or change you are after.

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

Topics: injury prevention muscles training lower body upper body workout programs adaptations pandemic full-body pull push restarting workouts

Plyometric Building Blocks: Creative Movements and Injury Prevention

GettyImages-601905120As an athlete there is no substitute for the ability to produce power and be explosive during your sport. From competitive weightlifters and NFL-caliber football players to distance runners, producing (and absorbing) high impacts is crucial for succeeding in your sport as well as staying healthy throughout your competition season. Are you incorporating any of these exercises into your current program?

Creative Movements

Finding plyometric, or more simply “plyo” exercises, has become relatively easy. They have become one of the staples of social media and other internet posts because of their ability to morph into unique movements that will get many likes and retweets. Many performance coaches are looking to become the first person to introduce a movement or show a variation that no one has seen, and plyo exercises allow for a lot of creativity to fit a certain sport or activity.

But should you choose a movement you have never seen and implement it into your program? My answer? It depends. The movement may benefit you in some way, but you must also ask yourself whether it is training a specific area that you are targeting and whether the movement itself is safe. Plyo exercises are meant to be very explosive. They are designed to tap into the high potential of the motor units of the muscle fiber, which are essentially the driving forces from the brain to the muscle. The goal is to reach these high levels of effort (85–100%) during repeated bouts, with the goal of the body adapting to those high levels with an increased recruitment of those high-level motor units. The more we express their abilities, the easier it becomes for us to do, leading to more power.

Injury Prevention in Plyometrics

Now you have to ask yourself a question: Can you perform a movement at full effort while being safe? If you are unsure, here are a few building blocks to consider when choosing a movement.

The Landing

Whenever I teach lower-body plyo movements, the first thing we learn is the landing. Regardless of the sport, landing on the ground always presents a potential risk due to the heavy forces that are coming down. Always be aware of your knees and make sure they are always stable when your feet hit the ground. Avoiding an inward collapse of the knees is a great place to start by making sure your hips are engaged, which will increase the stabilization of the knees.

A good place to start is a simple Box Drop drill. Step up onto a box that is about 12–18 inches high. Step off and land on the ground with flat feet, knees outward with a slight forward lean of the chest. This will start the healthy promotion of safe and soft landings.

Effort

I touched on this above, but effort is a nonnegotiable variable during plyometric movements. Your body and muscles have to have a reason to increase their power-producing capabilities. If you approach a plyo exercise with low effort or the “going through the motions” mindset, it will be a waste of time. For example, say you have a maximal broad jump of 10 feet. During training, the ideal distance you would jump might be around 8+ feet depending on the number of repetitions you are going for. Do you think that jumping to 5 feet during your training sets would tax your body to make improvements on that maximal 10-foot jump? Unlikely. Train with high effort and energy and you will be rewarded.

Simplicity

My final building block is to not overcomplicate things. It is so easy to get caught up in doing an exercise because it looks similar to movements you might perform on the field or court, but my advice is to step back and ask yourself whether there is more thinking involved during the movement, or are you allowed to focus on one aspect and give all you have for the sets and reps you are going for. If a plyo exercise you find has 3, 4, 5, or more aspects, “paralysis by analysis” will definitely kick in. Choose movements that do not require a lot of thinking and allow you to attack every rep.

BE POWERFUL!

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

Topics: injury prevention plyometric sports student athletes athletic performance team sports

CON-ISO-ECC: Muscle Contractions for Weightlifting Variations

GettyImages-1219375851Your return to the gym will likely mean a return to the program that you were originally doing before your extended break. Exercise selection, reps, and rest periods may be altered slightly after time off; however, eventually you will be back to your pre-quarantine strength and power, among other athletic traits. When you think about that program and how it got you to the point you are at or will be in the near future, do you also think about the steps you will take to further advance your abilities? I’m here to break down a few ways specifically within the muscle that may help give you the variety to your program you are looking for.

There are three main types of muscular contractions that can happen, each of which serves a specific purpose for muscular growth, strength, and power. They are

  • Concentric
  • Isometric
  • Eccentric

Concentric

Concentric muscular contractions are generally the most common type that individuals focus on during their training sessions. Concentric contractions involve the shortening of the muscle during an exercise. If you imagine a lift, say the bench press, the act of pushing the weight up from your chest actively shortens the muscle. The pulling of a bent-over row or the ascent of the barbell back squat all utilize this contraction. An uncommon variation would be to slow down the movement, for example slowing the pulling movement of the bar during a Lat Pulldown. If it normally takes you 1–2 seconds to pull down the bar, try a 5-count with the same weight. The intensity will greatly increase.

Isometric

Isometric contractions are an underrated variation that people most often forget about during workout planning. Instead of a shortening movement like the concentric contraction, the isometric contraction actually involves the muscle staying at the same length during the work period. A simple variation of this contraction is a wall sit. The muscle never changes length, but the tension and effort build over time.

But the quality of this contraction is found in much more than just wall sits. Almost any exercise can utilize this method. Here are a few of my favorite variations using isometric contractions. The intensity of the holds in these lifts can be dictated by either the amount of weight or the time you hold it for.

  • Split Squat Holds (hold split squat in down position with knee off the ground)
  • Push-Up Holds (hold push-up in the “down” position; try at different heights!)
  • Pull-Up Holds (either chin over bar or with arms hanging straight)

Eccentric

The last contraction variation in this trio is the eccentric contraction. This is commonly thought of as the lowering or lengthening of the muscle during an exercise. Going back to the bench press example earlier, the bar lowering to the chest would be the eccentric contraction. Where this method is most useful is during time-under-tension exercises where you increase the amount of time that you lengthen the muscle during the lift. These are all about control and can get quite intense.

Similar to the isometric contractions, time is everything. For example, when you do a step-up and are coming down off of the box, try to control for 3–5 seconds before your foot hits the ground instead of coming down right away. Here are a few of my favorite variations on eccentric contraction exercises:

  • Incline Dumbbell Press (lowering the weight slowly and raising it at a normal pace)
  • Slider Leg Curls (pushing feet out in a slow and controlled motion)
  • Glute Ham Raises (slow on the way down)

***

The variations are not limited to this list. Feel free to get creative with any of your favorite exercises when trying out the different muscular contractions. Remember, time is your friend with any method you choose and can match any intensity you are trying to achieve.

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

Topics: workouts muscles weight lifting weightlifting exercises power muscle building strength training variety workout programs

The Stay-at-Home Athlete: Build Your Home-Based Athletic Performance Program

GettyImages-868064764nIn a world where situations are ever-changing and a new “normal” is developing, athletes around the world are scrambling to adapt to their new training environments. For most, this new environment is where you are probably reading this now, your home. For the time being and for many people, traditional training methods of using barbells, dumbbells, kettlebells, etc. have morphed into substitutions of paint cans, backpacks, gallon jugs, or just about anything that can act as the “resistance” that your body has become accustomed to using.

Am I Going to Lose Everything I Gained in the Gym?

The first thought you probably had when this situation came about was, “I’m going to lose everything I’ve worked so hard to gain in the gym.” I guess that because it was one of the first things that passed through my mind, and now I believe that a well-equipped gym is one of the most taken-for-granted things I had in my life. It was always there. I could do just about anything I wanted or needed to do there. If the work I needed to do didn’t get done, it wasn’t the gym’s fault; it was my own.

If the work I needed to do didn’t get done, it wasn’t the gym’s fault; it was my own.

So now what? You are at home, you have a minuscule amount of equipment compared to what you had before (here’s another blog with some basics to consider), and your motivation may be low. The easiest thing to do would be the bare minimum and hope for the best when you can get back to the gym. The right thing would be to figure out a way to adapt your program to your environment and change the “maintain” mindset to the “gain” mindset. And I’m here to help you do that. The following are the essentials I believe can help you construct your home-based workout and continue to build on the progress you have made in the gym.

The Four Home-Training Building Blocks

As a coach, there are four main training blocks that can be completed at a very high level from home: mobility, power, strength, and conditioning. Follow along as I break them down!

Mobility

For many athletes (yes, me included), mobility is an area where we can always improve. This part of training is often overlooked or not taken as seriously as it should be. I’m here to tell you, being at home gives you the perfect reason to make this a focal point of your training. I say this because for many mobility exercises (shoulder/t-spine, hip, and ankle exercises), a big array of equipment is not needed. A couch or chair can serve as a perfect platform for you to improve mobility with very little time or effort setting up.

Power

No matter what sport you participate in, power development surely plays an integral part in your performance. In the gym we use medballs, boxes, and barbells to help foster this development. But at home, you can simply use an open space in your home/garage/outside to do this as well. Many “ground-based” plyometrics can be performed with minimal, if any, equipment. You can use vertical and broad jumps (both one- and two-legged) and various plyometric push-up variations, which should provide your body that same “explosive” feeling you have learned to produce. For the jumping exercises, this is a great time to work on the most important part of the movement, the landing.

Strength

This section might pose the biggest challenge to you simply because the heavy weights you are used to using are no longer accessible. I’m here to tell you that with a little creativity, you can still make improvements. One of the easiest ways to make simple bodyweight exercises more challenging is to elevate one of your points of contact, i.e. elevating your feet for push-ups or putting your back leg up on a couch or chair during split squats. Using a backpack full of books can serve as the extra resistance during these exercises, so dust off your old heavy college books and repurpose them.

Remember this as well: it’s not always about using heavy weight with low reps. If you are used to training in this fashion, doing more repetitions will help with your strength-endurance.

Conditioning

I believe that cardiovascular or conditioning work should be the easiest for you to adapt to while at home. With the exception of some of the specialized equipment you use in the gym (sleds, bikes, etc.), a lot of the training you do during this block requires only bodyweight resistance. Circuits (wall sits, mountain climbers, burpees), running (long-slow distance, interval training), and core work (plank and side plank variations, glute bridge variations) can all be performed with minimal equipment.

Take into account your “work-to-rest” ratio, which is how long you work versus how long you rest. Depending on what intensity you are working at, how long you are working for, or what activity you are doing, these numbers can be adjusted to fit your current fitness level. Generally, the longer your rest periods are compared to your work periods, the easier it will be. If you are unsure, start with 1-minute work to 1-minute rest and adjust for each subsequent workout as the days pass.

Which Will You Choose: Continued Progress or a Downhill Slide?

I leave you with this: the duration of the new normal can go one of two ways, the continuation of progress and improvements of athletic areas you need to work on OR a downhill slide of progress that leaves you fighting to get back to your current athletic state for the following months or years. Which one will you choose? If the work you need to do doesn’t get done, it wasn’t the home gym’s fault.

If the work you need to do doesn’t get done, it wasn’t the home gym’s fault.

This is a new challenge that you should accept and meet head-on with the attitude that nothing can derail your progress and a drive to continue to improve. In a few months, let’s look back on these days with pride knowing that you did everything in your power to get better.

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

Topics: exercise at home equipment endurance strength quarantine

Powerful Student Athlete Summer Strength and Conditioning Alternatives

Student athletes are home for their summer vacations. Some may spend a few weeks there and head right back to campus, while others might not return until the beginning of the school year in August. With them, they bring all of their necessities (furniture, clothes, etc.) from their dorms or apartments back to their homes, with the most important necessity to these athletes being their summer workout manual. This will be their strength training and conditioning guide for potentially the next 3–4 months. Simply put, these documents are critical for preparing their bodies for the upcoming season.

For me, getting the strength and conditioning manual from our coaches for the summer was always pretty exciting. Training was always something that I looked forward to doing (minus the 110-yard sprints for our conditioning test). I knew that as soon as we got back to campus, football season was only a few weeks away, so this was going to be really important.

What Happens if You Don’t Have the Right Equipment Back Home?

The biggest challenge that I faced during the summer months wasn’t necessarily due to the workouts themselves, but finding alternatives to exercises that were in our packets that fit with the type of equipment that I had access to. There were not a ton of training facilities in my hometown, and none of them had areas to do any type of Olympic lifting. They were more of the commercial-style gyms which would have only the basics (dumbbells, fixed bench-press racks, Smith machine, etc.). So training for any type of power or speed-strength with resistance was going to be a challenge. Luckily, I was a young Exercise Science major who saw this as a challenge and a way to learn and adapt to a less-than-ideal training environment.

A similar situation came about a few weeks back when I distributed the summer workout packets to all of my teams. One of my athletes contacted me and explained to me essentially the same situation that I was in from 2007 to 2011. She has access to a gym, but the facility does not have an area to do Olympic lifts, which are a staple in her team’s programming. Luckily, I understand much more now than I did back in my undergraduate years, which makes developing these alternatives easier.

Four Lifts and Their Alternative Exercises

Below you will find four common explosive lifts followed by an alternative weight-lifting exercise and a few tips on how to do them.

Snatch: Single-Arm Dumbbell Snatch

  • Dumbbell starts in front of your body with wrist facing outward.
  • Hinge forward at the hips to lower the dumbbell toward the floor.
  • Drive through the floor with your feet and jump straight up while simultaneously pulling the weight upward with a high elbow then punching it toward the ceiling.
  • Sink underneath the weight and control the catch.
MVI_8960

 

Clean: Dumbbell Clean

    • Start with two dumbbells outside hip-width with wrists facing outward.
    • Hinge forward at the hips to lower the dumbbells toward the floor.
    • Drive through the floor with your feet and jump while pulling the weight upward.
    • Snap the elbows underneath the weight.
    • The dumbbells should rest on your shoulders with elbows high upon completion.
MVI_8964

 

Jerk: Landmine Jerk

    • Start with a bar placed in a landmine attachment or supported by a corner wall with weight plates.
    • Start with feet parallel and bar close to the shoulder that you are pressing with.
    • Dip your hips slightly and jump up.
    • Split your feet so that the front foot is opposite the arm that you are pressing with and punch the weight upward.
    • Stick the landing.
landmine jerk

 

Box Jump: Landmine Squat Jump

  • Start with the bar placed in a landmine attachment or supported by a corner wall with weight plates.
  • Start with feet at hip width with the end of the bar slightly out in front of your body.
  • Squat and drive through the floor.
  • Jump as high as possible.
Landmine Squat Jump

 

These four variations on four common power exercises will give you some flexibility if the space you have to train in is tight or if equipment is limited. They could also serve as an alternative for some of you who are looking to switch up your program for a few weeks without completely straying from these exercises. As with many of the Olympic lifts, repetitions should be kept relatively low so that you can focus on being as explosive as possible. Have fun and get after it!

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

Topics: NIFS fitness center equipment summer weight lifting student athletes strength and conditioning

Golf Warm Up: What You Should Be Doing BeforeTeeing Off

As promised, this video shows some great exercises you can incorporate into your golf warm up. You can do these exercises before hitting the practice range or teeing off. This warm up may help improve your stroke and even increase yardage on your shots, but more importantly, it will help prepare your body for activity and reduce the chance of injury when hitting the range.

Filmed at the world-renowned NIFS National Golf Course located just outside our back patio, I hope these exercises help you have a better round of golf!


Caddy Smack 3

Don't miss the other blogs in this series including:

“Caddy Smack”: Fitness Tips to Improve Your Golf Game

"Caddy Smack Deuce": More Fitness Tips to Improve Your Golf Game

"Caddy Smack 3": Strength and Power Exercises for a Better Golf Swing

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This blog was written by Alex Soller, Health Fitness Instructor and Athletic Performance Coach. Click here for more information about the NIFS bloggers.

Topics: exercises golf core strength golf training warmup dynamic stretching