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NIFS Healthy Living Blog

Alex Soller

Recent Posts by Alex Soller:

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

caddy-smack-3.jpgIn my first Caddy Smack blog, I wrote to inform NIFS members of the importance of rotational power as it relates to the golf swing, and exercises that can help improve it.  Caddy Smack Deuce was a new and improved variation that took a look at different areas (including rotational power) that can help take you take your game to the next level. I also tried to hit a golf ball over the White River Bridge, which was an epic failure (must have been the winter rust on my swing).

Since that first blog was published, I have met probably close to 100 NIFS members, guests, and employees who share a similar interest and passion for a sport that I love. I’ve been out to play with a few members over the last year and try to play with my coworkers as much as possible. When I picked up the game about five years ago after college, I thought it would simply be something that I would do as a hobby to take the place of the hours spent on the football field and in the gym. Little did I know that the “game” would become a moderate obsession and a constant battle with myself to improve on the previous week’s score. And as I meet more and more individuals here at NIFS and at different courses, I realize that the obsession that I have now does not seem like it will be going away anytime soon.

No Two Golfers Are the Same

The most obvious observation that I have made from these years of being a strength and conditioning coach and watching individuals’ golf swing characteristics is this: no one is the same. There may be a few similar swings that you see on the PGA Tour or among groups of golfing friends, but everyone is going to get the club from the ground, to the back swing, to the down swing, to the ball in a slightly different manner. Most of the time, the person has molded their swing to what their body allows them to do.

My second observation is what the third installment of Caddy Smack is going to be based off of. And that is the idea that on any given golf course on any given day, there are no guarantees on what type of players will be present. Golfers can be young or older in age, tall or short, skinny or bigger, mobile or immobile (in the hips, shoulders, etc.)—characteristic combinations are endless!

Critical Strength and Power Areas

My goal for this blog is to bridge off of Caddy Smack Deuce but keep strength and power at the forefront. Below you will find four areas of strength and power that I believe are critical to the golf swing. Each area has three exercises (1 = beginner, 2 = moderate, 3 = advanced) to fit your current golf and/or fitness situation.

Vertical Power

Rotational Power

Hinge Strength

Pulling Strength

If you are not doing any of these movements (or similar ones), incorporate one from each category into one of your workout days during the week. Pick and choose between the degrees of difficulty as you become more familiar with the movements. Of course, all the exercises can be modified in different ways as well, so get creative. Remember that not every golf swing is the same, which applies to the gym as well. Find the right combination for where you are now and build over the next few months as you prepare to have the best golfing season of your life!

Check out my next video blog, which will cover a warmup that you will be able to do at the course right before hitting the practice range or teeing off. I will be filming at the world-renowned NIFS National Golf Course located just outside our back patio!

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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: NIFS strength exercises golf power golf swing

Mini-Marathon Training: 3 BIG Things for Running

mini.jpgNIFS' Mini-Marathon Training Program has started, with most individuals’ goals revolving around one thing: to run a new personal best. Come May, months and months of training will be put to the test against a tough 13.1-mile journey.

What are you doing to get ready? Many veteran runners of this race have programs that they have used year after year with repeated success. Some newcomers (or maybe even veterans) may still be searching for that training program that will allow them to reach their fastest potential. But where do you start? Obviously when preparing for a race (5K, half marathon, marathon, etc.), running will take up the majority of your training time. My only tip for the running aspect of your training is to be sure to utilize a running progression that fits your current training age (or level of fitness/training you are currently at). This will help ease your body’s adjustment into the longer distances as they build up over the next few months.

This blog focuses on the less obvious pieces of your running puzzle. Check out my “3 Big Things” to consider when preparing to race.

1. Have Your Functional Movement Screen (FMS) Done

FMS-5.jpgThis sits at #1 on the list for good reason. The Functional Movement Screen (FMS) can help identify different types of mobility issues and muscular imbalances. In my experience with runners, these issues are prevalent. These are also issues that can lead to a less efficient running stride, or potentially even injuries.

Think about it this way: do you get better, worse, or the same gas mileage when you drive your car with uneven tire air pressure? The answer is worse. Now think about it in terms of your body. If you have an ankle that is immobile, you will be spending your training time and the 13.1-mile race fighting that issue. If you identify that problem and improve its mobility (i.e. airing up the low tire pressure), the workload will be more evenly distributed between both sides of the body. This should allow you to run more efficiently and expend fewer calories per stride.

Did I mention that NIFS members can have this done at our facility, FOR FREE?

Learn More

2. Practice Self-Care/Recovery

It’s not uncommon to see a runner’s performance struggle not for the lack of an adequate training program, but because of what happens after training has concluded. What do you have planned for your off days or light training days? Do you even have off, light training, or recovery days? These are definitely factors that need to be addressed as soon as your training commences. Depending on your training age, these variables may be adjusted.

Training for any type of race is definitely going to be stressful on the body, so finding ways to optimize your recovery throughout your training program is paramount. Three main areas that I recommend that you focus on include the following:

  • Sleep: At least 6–7 hours.
  • Soft-tissue work (for example, foam rolling): Hips, calves, shins.
  • Low-impact/low-intensity movements: Cycling or swimming.

The ultimate goal throughout these areas will be to allow your body to prepare itself for the next intense training bout. Training at 60, 70, or 80% of your absolute best probably won’t yield the greatest return on your training sessions. Being closer to that top level will allow you to push yourself each training session and get the best results.

Did I mention that NIFS members can talk to a trainer about how to optimize your rest and recovery at NIFS’ fitness center, FOR FREE?

3. Do Strength Training

Some of you are probably looking at this with a “yeah, right” thought in your mind. If strength training is not currently in your running preparation program, I challenge you to add it. I’m not saying you have to be lifting weights 6 days a week. I’m not saying that you need to look like Arnold. I’m saying that a couple days a week of resistance training might be the key to take you to the next level. And no, you are not going to get big or bulky. Training frequency and the exercise selection associated with a strength program for runners will not yield those results. Bodybuilders train to get bigger. Athletes (runners included) train to prepare their body for their sport.

After mobility issues are improved from the FMS, I usually focus on a few main areas with runners that I strength train. Those areas include unilateral (single-side) exercises, lateral movements, and core strength.

  • Unilateral exercises allow the strength training to mimic stressors that are similar to running, which is also essentially a unilateral movement.
  • Variations of lateral exercises allow a runner (who normally only goes in a straight line) to develop strength in different planes of movement. This can be good for running efficiency as well as potentially reducing the risk for injury.
  • Lastly, and certainly not least, is core strength. Strength of the hips and abdominal area is key to maintaining your form throughout a race as well as reducing impact on the joints. Form and posture are vital to your performance while running, which will be enhanced by training these muscles.

Also, did I mention that members can have a strength-training program set up for you by a NIFS Health Fitness Specialist for free...

Free Fitness Assessment

Conclusion

There are a lot of ways to approach how you train and a lot of ways that can make you successful when competing for your running goals. Make small changes with your current program to start, and slowly add in more as you see yourself improve!

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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 running core strength recovery strength training functional movement Mini-Marathon Training Program foam rolling

Music as Motivation: Give Your Workout a “Tune-up”

ThinkstockPhotos-499628790-1.jpgIn a world where trying to gain a competitive edge is at an all-time high, everybody is searching for the next big thing to help bring their workouts to the next level. Many individuals end up using some type of ergogenic aid. According to the National Strength and Conditioning Association, an ergogenic aid is any substance, mechanical aid, or training method that improves sport performance. Dietary supplements and special equipment are two common avenues that athletes use (sometimes legally and, unfortunately, sometimes illegally).

Consider Music as a Motivational Aid

Do you use any ergogenic aids? You may think that you do not, but chances are you probably do. One of the most popular ergogenics that gym-goers currently utilize is music. “Music?”, you’re probably asking yourself. Yes. I know it does not really fall into the category of substances, mechanical aids, or training methods, but the music can have very similar performance-enhancing effects.

Do you listen to music while you work out? If so, what kind of music do you listen to? For me personally, music allows for a sense of focus to happen. I pick my favorite workout song (Guns N’ Roses: “Welcome to the Jungle”) and I find every bit of energy I have to push through a personal record attempt or final set of a hard training session. That is what training is all about.

In many cases, regardless of the type of exercise you perform, you must break the barrier that stands between you and that next step. Music also allows for a positivity to flow throughout your workout. It makes everything more enjoyable! Let’s face it: if every training session were boring and stagnant, how long would you continue on that program? My guess would be not too long. You have to enjoy yourself to some extent while you are busting your backside, and music might be a way to do that.

My Workout Music Preferences Survey

As I was contemplating music and this blog, I thought to myself, “Alex, does everyone listen to music when they work out? What kind of music do they listen to?” I decided to create a little survey that I sent out to the employees of NIFS to get the cold, hard facts about music. In total, 36 NIFS employees completed the survey. Check out the results below!

What best characterizes the type of exercise you perform most often?

  • Cardiovascular (i.e., running, biking, etc.): 16/36, 44.44%
  • Resistance training: 12/36, 33.33%
  • Cross-training: 4/36, 11.11%
  • Other (please specify): 4/36, 11.11%

Answers included: “Real work—kettlebells” (I wonder who that was), mental exercises, and combinations of resistance and cardiovascular training.

 What type of music do you generally listen to on a day-to-day basis? (not when working out)?

  • Alternative: 3/36, 8.33%
  • Blues: 0/36, 0%
  • Classical: 2/36, 5.56%
  • Country: 4/36, 11.11%
  • Jazz: 0/36, 0%
  • Metal: 1/36, 2.78%
  • Rap: 2/36, 5.56%
  • Pop: 11/36, 30.56%
  • Rock: 1/36, 2.78%
  • Classic rock: 2/36, 5.56%
  • Techno: 1/36, 2.78%
  • I do not listen to music: 0/36, 0%
  • Other (please specify): 9/36, 25%

Answers included: Folk, Christian, Dance/New Age, and combinations of the above genres.

 Do you listen to music while you work out?

  • Yes: 27/36, 75%
  • No: 9/36, 25%

 What genre of music do you listen to while you work out?

  • Alternative: 1/36, 2.78%
  • Blues: 0/36, 0%
  • Classical: 1/36, 2.78%
  • Country: 1/36, 2.78%
  • Jazz: 0/36, 0%
  • Metal: 1/36, 2.78%
  • Rap: 5/36, 13.89%
  • Pop: 11/36, 30.56%
  • Rock: 3/36, 8.33%
  • Classic rock: 1/36, 2.78%
  • Techno: 2/36, 5.56%
  • I do not listen to music: 7/36, 19.44%
  • Other (please specify): 3/36, 8.33%

Answers included: Skrillex, Dance, or “music in my soul OR Jerry’s loud music.”

 If you had to choose only one song to get ready for an intense training session, what would it be? (artist and song name)

Regardless of what type of music you listen to, try to make it part of your exercise routine. If you already do, keep at it. I think it will make your workouts more focused and potentially more fun. As the legend Lil’ John said, “Turn Down for What?” So turn up the volume and rock out with your weights out!

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 Note all songs are trademarks This blog was written by Alex Soller. To find out more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

 

Topics: NIFS motivation nifs staff workout music

Bored of Your Workout Program? Try a “Wild-Card” Week

Screen Shot 2017-03-02 at 2.12.51 PM.pngWe’ve all done it. New lifters, old lifters—everyone has experienced that week where your normal training program just doesn’t have the same motivation for you that it did in the past. Monday is chest-tri day, Tuesday is squat, Wednesday is back-bi, so on and so forth. No one is immune to this feeling, especially if you are as religious about following your program as many of the NIFS members are.


Would You Eat the Same Food for Every Meal?

Think about it in terms of food. Do you eat the exact same thing for each meal every day of the week? Some might, but I can guarantee it’s not the most enjoyable thing in the world. However, most people approach planning meals for the week with a slight variation on the meals they prepared the week before: similar main ingredients, but maybe with a different spice or two, which will make a world of a difference. (Mmmmmm, food. I’m getting hungry, so let’s get back to training.)

But what causes this? Why do you all of a sudden just not feel like doing your program for that day or week? The most obvious answer is the fact that you may have been on this program for multiple weeks. Mentally, you are drained from the regimen, and your body is telling you that it might be time to change it up.

I think this is one of the most common training mistakes. Your body is ready for a new challenge or stimulus, but you tell yourself to suck it up and do the same program for another two months. You have seen progress that you’ve made (and recently stalled) with that program and have a hard time thinking you will find anything better. I think many individuals stick to the same program for way too long. This leads to other weeks where you just don’t feel like completing what is assigned for that day.

How to Overcome Workout Boredom

So what do you do, decide to take a week off of training? Not recommended. What I do recommend is to have what I call a wild-card week. In a wild-card week, you choose exercises that work similar movements/muscles to what your normal program targets, but with different (or more fun) exercises.

Here are four typical exercise choices with a “wild” variation to each.


 

 

Remember, your training program should be enjoyable. That is what keeps bringing you back each week. Listen to your body when it is time to switch it up and don’t be afraid to add in a wild-card week to your workouts every once in a while!

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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: NIFS fitness center motivation workouts attitude training focus programs

Holiday Workouts for Traveling and Getting Ready for New Year's

ThinkstockPhotos-105756015.jpgHolidays are upon us and, for many, traveling is inevitable. For at least a few days you may be on the road, in a hotel, or at a family or friend’s home. What happens to your exercise and nutritional routines that you have built and finely tuned over the past year? Do you take a break from those routines, or do you stick to them?

Keep Your New Year's Goals in Mind

Fast-forward a couple weeks from now. Do you have any fitness or nutrition goals that you have been thinking about for the New Year? If you haven’t thought about them yet, what might they be? For many gym-goers, weight loss is the main goal. Has this been a resolution for past years? One last question: Why would you put yourself “in the hole” when it comes to diet and exercise before the new year even starts? I’ll leave your holiday nutrition information up to our Registered Dietitian Angie Mitchell and focus mainly on a few workouts and exercise habits you can use to put yourself in front of the eight ball rather than, you know…

Take Physical Activity Breaks While You’re On the Road

My first focus will be on something that many people probably don’t think about when traveling, which is the amount of time that you might spend in the car. For some, six- or eight-hour car rides each way await them. If passengers in your car are anything like the ones that are in mine during road trips, bathroom breaks basically come every couple hours. Use this time for, well, obvious reasons, like having a little physical activity break from the car ride. All you need is 3 to 5 minutes to get the blood flowing and burn a few calories after sitting in the car for so long. Bathroom breaks can be done after that.

Below you will find two physical activity breaks that can be done at a gas station or rest stop that will help break up some of those monotonous driving feelings.

Physical Activity Break #1                      Physical Activity Break #2

3 rounds:                                                    3 rounds:
Jumping jacks x30                                     Incline pushups x10
BW squats x15                                          Lateral line hops x20
Skaters x10/side                                        Lunge x10/leg

Two Simple Workout Programs That Don’t Require Equipment

Three years ago my finest reindeer, Tom Livengood, wrote a blog on exercises that you can do with limited or no equipment during holiday travel. I’m going to build off of Tom’s previous work and give you some exercise options to choose from when you are on the road. Here are two simple workout programs that shouldn’t take more than 20 to 30 minutes to complete and will “HIIT” (get it?) all of your major workout components during these hectic months.

Program 1:IMG_7854.jpg

Warmup (3 rounds)

  • Alternating reverse lunge x60s (photo 1)
  • Walking plank x30s
  • Step through w/rotation x60s

Strength/Core (3 sets)

  • Rear foot elevated split squat x15/leg(photo 2)
  • Wall plank x60s(photo 3)IMG_7842.jpg
  • Pushup xMax                                                                                 

HIIT (Every minute on the minute for 10 minutes)

  • Mountain climber x30
  • Squat jump x15
  • 1/2 burpee x5

Program 2:

Warmup (3 rounds)IMG_7859.jpg

  • Single-leg bridge w/ pulse x30s/leg
  • Side plank w/ rotation x30s/side
  • Plank reach x60s(photo 4)

Strength/Core (4 sets)

  • Lateral lunge w/ forward reach x10/side
  • Feet elevated pushups x10-15

HIIT (30s on/15s off: 12 minutes)

  • PushupIMG_7856.jpg
  • Step-up (30s/leg)
  • Cheetah

Elevated split squats and pushups can be performed with a chair, box, dog, child, or whatever…be creative!

If you have additional time, try your best to find a tennis ball, lacrosse ball, foam roller, can of cranberries, frozen water bottle, or SOMETHING to use for some soft-tissue work. I hear foam rolling while drinking eggnog is the newest fitness trend (kidding!). No matter what you choose to do, the number-one goal is to stay moving. Don’t let your active lifestyle take a “HIIT” (okay, I’m done) over these next few weeks.

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

Topics: workouts holidays strength core traveling new year's HIIT

Get a Grip on It: Four Powerlifting Grips

Alex-grip.jpgOne of the most important (and sometimes overlooked) pieces of the resistance training puzzle could be right in the palm of your hands. Have you ever thought about the way you hold onto an Olympic or powerlifting bar? For some, the answer may be no. You may be worried more about other techniques, such as posture or breathing. For others, the answer may be yes. The effort you put into how you grip the bar may be your key to success in lifts such as the snatch, deadlift, and clean, among many other resistance exercises.

But how should you grip the bar? Are you sure that the grip you are currently using is the most ideal for that lift? Maybe a switch of grips is what you’re looking for to break through your current plateau.

Here is a breakdown of four grips and different ways that they can be used in the gym for exercises or other technique purposes.

1. Pronated (or Overhand) Gripovergrip.jpg

The pronated grip is generally the most common grip used during resistance training. You place the hand over the bar, dumbbell, or kettlebell with your knuckles up. Your thumb can either be wrapped around the bar (closed grip) or not wrapped around the bar (open or false grip). I would not recommend the open grip because you do not have full control of the bar. The closed grip allows the thumb to prevent the possibility of the bar slipping from the hands, especially during exercises where the weight is held above the body (for example, during pressing movements).

When to use a pronated grip: You can use a closed-pronated grip for pretty much every lift that you perform in the gym. I would recommend this for many of the pressing movements and for stability during the squat.

  • Bench press
  • Shoulder press
  • Barbell squat
  • Basically anything

2. Supinated (or Underhand) Gripunder.jpg

The supinated grip is the exact opposite of the pronated grip. The hands are placed underneath the bar so the knuckles aim backward or toward the floor. I generally only categorize the “closed” variation of the supinated grip versus the open/closed options in grip #1. The thumb being wrapped around the bar allows for maximum grip throughout any lift you are performing. I utilize this grip during many of my pulling movements.

When to use a supinated grip: You can use a closed-supinated grip as a variation for many of the main vertical and horizontal pulling movements.

  • Row
  • Inverted row
  • Chin-ups
  • Bent-over row
  • Lat pulldown

3. Alternated Gripalternate.jpg

The alternated grip is a combination of the preceding two grips. In the alternated grip, one hand is pronated and one hand is supinated. It is common for grip strength to be a limiting factor in your ability to lift heavy weight, especially when performing a pronated grip. The bar tends to roll out of the hands very easily, especially during maximal-effort lifts. The alternated grip places the hands in a more favorable position to prevent the rolling or slipping of the bar from the hands. This is also a useful grip to use when you are spotting someone, especially on the bench press.

When to use an alternated grip: You can use this grip for deadlift variations as well as spotting.

  • Traditional/Sumo Deadlifts
  • Spotting

4. Hook Grip hook.jpg

The hook grip is a nontraditional grip that can sometimes be difficult to master, but could yield great results in terms of the lifts you use it for. It is similar to a pronated grip, but the thumb is placed underneath the middle and index fingers. The benefits of this grip are similar to those of the alternated grip. It prevents the bar from rolling out of the hands because of the placement of the thumb and fingers. This makes it an ideal grip for heavy and explosive movements like the clean and snatch.

I recently finished a new certification course called the CWPC or Certified Weightlifting Performance Coach. This certification is based on two Olympic lifts, the snatch and the clean and jerk. I gained a lot of great information through that course, but one key piece of information that I took away to implement into my own training program was the use of the hook grip. I had previously used a closed-pronated grip for both the clean and snatch, but have switched to the hook grip over the past five weeks. I can definitely see improvement in my ability to grip the bar, but there was definitely a bit of a learning curve.

My main issue was the comfort of the grip itself. It was definitely not pleasant through the first couple of weeks; however, the last couple have been some of the best weeks that I have ever had in Olympic lifting. I feel like I have more control of the bar in my hands, and now I do not have to worry about the bar flying out my hands when the weight becomes challenging. If you can get past the discomfort through your first few training sessions, it will be well worth the switch.

When to use a hook grip: You can use this grip for just about any exercise, similar to the pronated grip.

  • Clean and Jerk
  • Snatch
  • Pullups
  • Deadlift

***

When choosing a grip, go with what makes sense to you. For many exercises, you have a variety to choose from. This just adds more options to your training regimen. By simply switching the grip, you are essentially switching up the exercise as well. Play around with them and see which one feels best!

For more on how to improve your grip strength, see this post.

Source: Baechle, T. R., Earle, R.W. (2008) Essentials of strength training and conditioning (pp. 326-327). Chicago, Illinois. National Strength and Conditioning Association.

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

Topics: NIFS weightlifting powerlifting grip strength grip

The First Rule of NIFS Barbell Club: Talk About Barbell Club

Today marks the beginning of our Barbell Club here at NIFS. This is a free Olympic and Powerlifting program for anyone who is looking to:

  • barbell.jpgImprove performance of one or multiple lifts
  • Improve technique
  • Learn the basics about the lifts
  • Do all of the above
You may have years of experience with these different types of lifts, or you may never have attempted or thought about attempting them in your life. Regardless, everyone can benefit from what the program has to offer. As NIFS coaches, we have great experience coaching these movements in safe and effective ways that take you through the progressions. The importance of this is paramount due to the fact that the ballistic nature of many of the movements requires injury prevention. When you think about weightlifting in terms of a food chain, Olympic and Powerlifting are the king of the jungle.

What Movements Will You Learn?

Here are the movements that may be coached during your session:

  • IMG_7315.jpgClean (Hang or Power)
  • Clean and Jerk
  • Snatch
  • Deadlift
  • Squat
  • Bench Press
How Can Barbell Club Help You?

As one of the coaches of the NIFS Barbell Club, my plan is to help out with any individual questions that members may have. If you’ve been around these lifts in the past, you know that there are many details that go into making the movement safe and successful. One of my favorite tools to use is slow-motion video. Many people have done these lifts for years and have never seen themselves do it on video. This can give you an idea of your bar path as well as visual cues with posture (head/foot position, and spine angle).

Another tool that can help you achieve your goals will be advice in programming. You may have been working on a lift for months and have made steady progress but have recently plateaued. Where do you go from there? After ensuring that your technique looks sound, my next goal would be to give you a few ideas on other lifts that you can perform to improve the main lift. For instance, you want to improve your snatch and have failed for the past 2 weeks at 93kg. Instead of continuously failing at 93, how about adding a few sets of “snatch pulls” at that trouble weight or even higher? This will help your body start to adapt to handling that amount of weight.

Can New Powerlifters Join?

But what if you have never attempted to do any Olympic or Powerlifting movement? Are you still allowed to attend? Absolutely! Beginners are my favorite individuals to instruct in these techniques because they have no preconceived notion of what the lift is supposed to be. We will help you learn the basics of the movement and let the session lead to wherever it may. As a beginner, the goal is not to be doing a full snatch or clean and jerk on day 1. More than likely, you will not be able to absorb enough knowledge within that one-hour session to do that. Instead, our goal is to build the foundational movement pattern that will allow you to excel in future training sessions.

No matter your experience level, come give Barbell Club a shot. Did I mention that IT’S FREE? You have nothing to lose and a wealth of knowledge to gain!

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

Topics: NIFS group training NIFS programs injury prevention weightlifting safety personal training powerlifting

Three Summer Training Lessons for Athletes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. Get creative.

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

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

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

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

3. Don’t forget what summer is for!

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

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

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

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

The Importance of Post-Season Active Rest

ThinkstockPhotos-78322425.jpgOver the past six to eights weeks, I have been creating summer workout manuals for the teams that I work with during the school year. These manuals are meant to bridge the strength and conditioning gap between the time they leave for summer break and when they return for the fall semester. There is much to be gained, or lost, through a summer of hard work (or lack thereof). Although summer break is a true “break” for most athletes academically, there never really is a true break for training.

Many of the teams I work with are spring sports. Their seasons begin a couple months after the turn of the year and may not finish until after school is out. They go from the playing field, track, course, or court, back home where family, friends, and summer jobs await. Being spring sports, their summer usually begins with a recovery period that occurs when their competitive season comes to a close. The components of this recovery process include mental, emotional, and physical aspects that need to be met in order to fully prepare for the next bout of training and the following season.

For the sports that I work with, the first portion of the training calendar for the post-season is called active rest. Active rest is an approximately two-week period where the athlete performs light physical activity at least two to three days per week. These physical activities should have nothing to do with the sport that they participate in. Think about it: after spending six to seven days per week over the past four months participating or thinking about their specific sport, the last thing many individuals want to do is continue to do just that. Although this is the sport that you may love, getting away from it for a short period of time can do wonders.

Taking a Break from Training

Active rest can mean a lot of things, and the best part is the fact that you basically have free reign over what you choose to do, as long as you are staying active. This gives you the opportunity to choose something totally unrelated to your sport and do it for the next few weeks.

I would recommend that the intensity of the activity you choose not climb above “moderate.” The low to moderate style will allow adequate blood flow to working muscles, which will help promote physical recovery of the muscles that were taxed so much during your competitive season. Another recommendation I would make would be to limit the amount of impact (foot strikes) you have during this period, especially if your sport requires a large amount of impact. This will allow your body to recover from the constant “ground and pound” that you might have during track, tennis, or softball season.

Active rest is also a good time to incorporate corrective exercises from the Functional Movement Screen (FMS) that your coach or trainer gave you. These exercises focus mainly on mobility and require very few pieces of equipment for the most part. Spending two to three weeks working on any muscular imbalances that may have developed during the season will give you a leg up when you begin your intense off-season training program in a month or so.

Active Rest Recommendations

Following are my top 5 recommendations for the rest period of your training:

  • FMS corrective exercises
  • Swimming
  • Hiking
  • Bike/elliptical/arc trainer/rower
  • DO SOMETHING FUN!

Physical recovery is definitely important during this time, but recovery of your mental and emotional well-being may be just as or possibly more important. Let’s face it—any competitive season has a multitude of ups and downs, which creates an emotional rollercoaster that could send anyone through a loop. You have spent 48 out of the past 52 weeks preparing or playing your sport. You owe it to yourself to do something a little different and come back refreshed for the preparation for the next season.

If you have any questions about how to set up active rest for your post-season training, or need help constructing an off-season training program for your sport, contact me at asoller@nifs.org. To read more about setting up training programs for athletes, see my blog series that begins here.

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

Topics: training sports recovery functional movement post-season rest student athletes

How to Build Training Programs for Competitive Athletes (Part 2)

In part 1 of this blog, I explained training periodization, and talked about the first two macrocycles: off-season and pre-season. Now I’ll talk about the remaining macrocycles: in-season and post-season.

In-Season

ThinkstockPhotos-100324402.jpgOnce the competitive season begins, scheduling time to get in to lift is a lot more difficult due to the practices, games, and travel that are happening. To me, in-season lifting is sometimes undervalued in the competitive/athletic world because of the fact that the primary focus is to win games or matches, not lift weights. However, I believe that this is one of the most important (if not the most important) times during the year because of what lifting can do for the athlete throughout the competitive season and into the off-season.

The goal of in-season lifting is simple: maintain what you have built in the off/pre-season and make sure that no muscular imbalances develop. This is not a time to try and increase your squat or bench by 50 pounds. It is a time to make sure that your body stays healthy and you are able to preserve the muscle, strength, and power that you have built throughout your season. Doing this will not only keep you healthier for your sport, but will also set you up for better long-term development during the subsequent off-season. Think about it: If you lose the vast majority of strength, power, and muscle mass you’ve built over the in-season, you are basically starting at square one when the season is over. If you are able to preserve 85% of that strength and power, you are starting further along than you were the year before, which allows you to make bigger gains.

Recommendation:

Training Frequency: 2 days per week
Mode: Medium Sport Specificity
Volume: Low

Post-Season

When your competitive season comes to a close, there should be some time to relax and recover from it. Take time and reflect on how you performed and what you could have done to be better in different aspects of your activity. Start creating a plan on how to improve those things once your training ramps up again.

As for training during this period, it should still happen. Your body is still recovering, but you want to make sure you do not totally fall off the map by not doing any type of exercise or physical activity. This is a perfect time to play or participate in some other sports or change up your weightlifting routine. You basically have free reign on your choices under one circumstance: get away from your actual sport/complete lifting routine.

This macrocycle does not last long, but it is an important one. You have been competing for months and want to avoid being burnt out on the sport you love, so getting away will be good. Do something different; just be active. After 3 to 4 weeks of light activity, you can begin your off-season program and start the quest to better yourself for the next competitive season.

Recommendation:

Training Frequency: 2 to 4 days per week (light activity)
Mode: Low Sport Specificity
Volume: Low-Medium

***

Overall, there is no exact science that is going to work perfectly every time when you are building your own training programs. You will always need to make tweaks, even to the best programs around. This blog provides the framework for developing a solid program, but the devil is in the details. You want to make sure that you have everything planned out as you progress through the competitive season. Some things may not go as planned, but that is okay. The ultimate goal is to make you the best athlete you can be in the sport or activity you are doing!

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

Topics: NIFS mini marathon training weightlifting competition post-season programs off-season athletes athletic performance