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NIFS Healthy Living Blog

Step Class: Step Up to a New Level of Fitness!

Step-new.jpgWhether you are 18 or 80, man or woman, looking to lose weight or simply maintain, step class just might be the perfect addition to your fitness program. Have you ever considered taking a step class? Perhaps you have found yourself thinking, "I'm not coordinated enough," or “that's too intense for me (or not intense enough"). Well, give me two minutes to change your mind.

Does It Burn Calories?

The bottom line is, stepping up and down off of a raised platform burns calories. In fact, it burns a lot of calories. According to Self magazine, stepping up and down off of a raised platform burns more calories than doing jumping jacks, split lunges, power squats, or speed skating for the same length of time. A great exercise for weight loss? YES! Great way to maintain weight? YOU BET!

Am I Coordinated Enough?

Maybe you’re thinking that you lack the required coordination. But the reality of it is, if you can march in place, you can do step. The basic step is just that: basic. Up, up, down, down. Of course that move would get boring pretty quickly, so we add music, rhythm, and variations on that basic move. While it helps to have a little rhythm (can you clap your hands to the beat of a song?), anyone can step. It might take a few classes to really get the hang of it, but it is quite doable, and FUN! Don't be intimidated!

There is a first time for everything. At some point, every single person in the class, including the instructor, attended their very first step class. I’m not gonna lie, you probably won't pick up every single thing in the first class you take, but let's face it: what would be the fun of mastering it in the first hour? Half the fun is seeing yourself improve, seeing your cardiovascular fitness level improve, and becoming more efficient overall (more work with less effort). Step will get you there!

STEP_COM-2018.jpg

Is It Too Intense?

You might be thinking that step would be too hard or too intense for you. While step is designed to be a challenging cardio workout, the intensity level can be adjusted in a number of ways to meet the needs of each participant.

  • The height of the platform is not uniform; with use of individual risers at each end, the platform can be set as low as just a few inches off the floor (or as high as 8–12 inches).
  • Another easy adjustment, which your instructor will show you, is to limit your range of movement with each step. As you become more comfortable with the format, you will be able to add intensity by increasing range of motion with the steps, and by adding arm movements to further increase your heart rate. Because of this, the challenge never ends. There is no plateau.

Is It Not Intense Enough?

On the flip side, maybe you are thinking step is not intense enough. Perhaps you’re thinking that only girls take step, or that you are too fit to benefit from it. Regardless of your fitness level, step can be a very challenging cardiovascular workout. It is a well-known fact that the US military utilizes step aerobics to improve our troops' agility, coordination, and endurance. If it's tough enough for our soldiers, then it's tough enough for me! In addition to step, I also teach Insanity, total-body conditioning, and kickboxing classes. Step meets or exceeds these other formats in intensity level and calories burned per hour.

Step is the perfect group fitness format because it accommodates all fitness levels. (And if you haven't tried group fitness, well that's a whole other conversation.) But in short, try it! The camaraderie and accountability among the participants, the music, and the FUN factor will have you hooked!

So, are you ready to take your fitness regimen to the next STEP? See you in class soon, soon, soon!

Yours in fitness,
Rachel

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This blog was written by Rachel Pfeiffer, ACE and AFAA Certified Group Fitness Instructor, and proud NIFS Step instructor since 1999. To learn more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: cardio weight loss group fitness calories aerobic step class

Cardiorespiratory Fitness: Increase Your Strength and Endurance

GettyImages-671140578“Cardio day” are maybe the most dreaded words for a gym-goer. Or maybe you’re a cardio junkie and love nothing more than knowing it’s on the exercise menu for the day. In any case, most seem to have a love/hate relationship with cardio. We know we need it, but it can be a long and arduous task.

What the heck does it even mean, anyway? You hear about high-intensity cardio and low-intensity cardio, but surely one has more benefit than the other, right? Well, as always, it depends. Cardio is really just a fitness buzzword that’s been tossed around so much that it seems to have lost its definition (probably around the same time the Thighmaster started to fizzle).

What Is Cardiorespiratory Fitness?

According to Wikipedia, cardiorespiratory fitness refers to the ability of the circulatory and respiratory systems to supply oxygen to skeletal muscles during sustained physical activity. Blah, blah, technical jargon, blah, blah. Basically, it’s how well your heart and lungs can work together to pump blood, oxygen, and nutrients to exercising muscles. Again, it still doesn’t tell us a whole lot, but we’re getting somewhere.

Look at that simplified statement again and you’ll notice three key words: heart, lungs, and exercising muscle. (Okay, that’s four words, but you get the idea.) To simplify the discussion, I’ll focus primarily on aerobic adaptations, meaning improvements in the ability to use oxygen to produce energy, which are very different from anaerobic adaptations.

That being said, the primary aerobic improvements we’ll assume are the following:

  • We can help the heart and blood vessels improve their abilities to pump blood throughout the body.
  • We can improve the ability of the lungs to take in oxygen and put it in the blood.
  • Lastly, and this is often overlooked, we can train the muscles to become more efficient in using the oxygen from the blood.

Great, so how do we do this?

Global Improvements vs. Local Improvements

Before we answer that, it’s helpful to make a distinction between the two types of improvements we’re chasing: global (or systemic) and local (or specific). The first two areas (heart/blood vessels and lungs) are considered to be global changes, while improvements within the exercising muscle are the local changes.

Car analogies are helpful here (even if you’re like me and know diddly about cars). You might think about the global changes as being similar to putting in a bigger gas tank or a better air intake, while local changes might be similar to adding lighter wheels and tires. One is making a change to the engine, or system, while the other is making a change to a specific part to enhance the efficiency of the system already in place.

How to Train for Cardio and Respiratory Fitness

Now, back to what we can do to make these changes in your body.

Cardio

Let’s start with your gas tank, err, I mean your cardiovascular system. Your heart can either be trained to fill up with more blood, or it can be trained to contract more forcefully with each beat. But you can’t do both at the same time. Depending on your training style, your heart will change in different ways. This is vastly oversimplified, but training more aerobically (think endurance athletes) will adapt your heart to fill with more blood, making it “stretchier.” Training anaerobically, on the other hand, will cause an adaptation to your heart, making it thicker and stronger with each beat. Again, this is not absolute, but different training styles trigger different hormonal responses in the body. Without guidance for your training styles, some of those hormones might compete with each other. Therefore, instead of training to become really good at one thing, you might be training to become extremely average at both. Now, for competitive athletes who need aspects of both endurance and strength/power, timing becomes invaluable, and I’ll refer to the great mind of Joel Jamieson on that front.

Respiratory

As for the second part, several different improvements can happen in regard to your lungs, or respiratory system. Let’s focus on the more basic adaptations. First, your lungs will improve in their ability to fill up with more air, similar to the change in the heart we discussed earlier. This is partially due to the strengthening of the respiratory muscles. However, how the ribcage moves (or doesn’t move) during respiration becomes increasingly important so that you don’t reinforce inappropriate breathing muscles. This is a topic for another blog post, but if you’re really curious, check out this in-depth intro to the mechanics of your ribcage during respiration for now.

The other major improvement in your respiratory system I’ll discuss is on a much smaller, even microscopic scale. The way we get oxygen through our lungs is through tiny little sacs, just like the one in the picture here. Each sac is covered in a net of tiny blood vessels called capillaries, which is where the oxygen enters the bloodstream. With proper training this net becomes more dense, which allows more oxygen to enter the blood with each breath. More oxygen means more energy, just like more air into an engine means more power!

Muscular

Lastly, we can make changes in specific muscles if we so desire. It makes sense that a runner would want to train the legs specifically, just as a baseball pitcher trains his arm. One improvement is very similar to the change in the lungs: capillary density. Your muscles have those capillary nets just like your lungs do, and aerobic activity in a particular muscle group triggers more capillaries to form in those areas. Ergo, we get more blood and nutrients to the exercising muscle.

Another major change we see within the muscle is that muscle cell’s ability to actually use the nutrients it’s receiving. So, you have to both get the energy source to the muscle and make sure your muscles are using every possible molecule that they can to generate energy for your training. This happens in a number of ways, such as increasing the size of the muscle cell, increasing the amount of energy-producing mitochondria within the cell, and increased levels of the enzymes responsible for aerobic energy production.

Get Aerobic Improvements, Then Endurance, and Never Get Bored

Of course, the type of training you are doing heavily influences the adaptation you will be stimulating, but for aerobic improvements, these are some of the general mechanisms of those changes. Because the majority of people associate the term “cardio” with high levels of endurance, my assumption is typically that when somebody says, “I need cardio,” what they really mean is, “I get tired really fast during my workouts.” Therefore, it is almost always my priority to place an emphasis on chasing aerobic improvements initially.

After you’ve established a solid aerobic capacity, you can really start to push harder for longer periods if you so desire or require. Remember, your body is smart, but it’s virtually pointless to be training for two completely different goals at one time, only to make crawling progress in each. Instead, if you time your training accordingly, you can consistently make the improvements you desire, and never get bored in your training!

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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: cardio workouts endurance strength strength training aerobic strength and conditioning cardiorespiratory

NIFS February Group Fitness Class of the Month: Step

Step-new.jpgStep aerobics has been around for some time. We are all aware of its huge popularity in the 80’s, and while some may have thought it was dead and gone, many know it is alive and kicking! With the launch of Zumba® and other choreographed classes, most gyms around the US still have those famous Reebok® steps and have step classes going on at least once a week. Take a close look at NIFS on Tuesday nights and Saturday mornings and you'll see step classes are far from dead. In fact, they happen to be one of our most popular group fitness classes!

Where It All Started

Let us take a moment to look back and see how step was created. It is so much more than music and choreographed stepping and learning how it was created make it all the more interesting! In 1989 Gin Miller, a competitive gymnast injured her knee in a competition. As she sought advice from her doctor on some rehab tactics, he told her she should work to develop muscles around her knees by stepping up on something like a milk crate. And that is when Gin started to use her porch step and music for some low impact stepping, and step aerobics was born!

Benefits of Step

Like many classes out there, the benefits are more than what you see on the surface. And step absolutely has some benefits that will allow you to improve your overall fitness. Step is good because it is considered “low impact”, helping the stress on the joints and body to be minimal during the movements that are performed. It also burns calories and fat due to its mostly cardio-based format. Step helps to build cardiovascular and muscular endurance through upper and lower body movements and along with those movements comes improvement in coordination and agility! With the constant movement and stepping up on one leg, over time one can see improvements in their balance, not to mention how fun step aerobics can be if you are into the choreographed music style workouts!

As stone wash jeans, side ponytails, and high top sneakers seem to be coming around again, step has always been here and remains a staple of group exercise classes! In fact, I challenge you to step into NIFS on a Saturday morning this month and see that step is still reigning. You will find Rachel and her faithful followers doing what looks like the impossible, but don’t be intimidated! Just step (pun intended) in and go with the flow, it will only be a matter of time before you master the moves and get into the fun!

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

Topics: cardio group fitness step workout music aerobic Group Fitness Class of the Month

Fitness Training Types: Find Your Method

bands-1.jpgIf you take a few minutes to google the various types of fitness training out there, you will come up with a list of about 10 different ones, and then 10 more different variations of each of those. And each year more and more “fitness trends” come out, making it quite confusing for the consumer as to what to choose and where to start. It can be confusing and even frustrating choosing what is right for you and your body.

And to take it a step further, maybe the results you want that you aren’t getting are because you need to try something different. Maybe that different thing does not have to be some crazy, drastic change in gyms, your diet, or everything in your life. In fact, maybe it’s just a workout style that suits you better. Each product you see today—like CrossFit, Orangetheory, and Dailey Method to name a few—all follow a specific training method. And what works for one person doesn’t always work for the next.

I have narrowed it down to five categories of training methods, so let’s take a look at what each one is, and I’ll help you narrow down your focus.

Circuit Training

High intensity–style workouts that incorporate both aerobic exercise and strength training. These circuit workouts can be done with or without equipment.

    • Target: Building strength and muscular endurance. These workouts tend to keep you on the higher end of your heart rate zones and are usually designed in stations for time, with little to no rest in-between.
    • Goals: The circuit training method of exercise is good for those people who are looking for weight loss, are in a time crunch, or are looking for overall general fitness, a total-body workout, and toning. Many say this is where you get the most bang for your buck because you can get the results you are looking for in less time.

Aerobic Training

This type of training is generally summarized as meaning “with oxygen” or cardio training.

    • Target: These workouts tend to target the cardiovascular system, mainly the heart and lungs. In most cases it’s associated with running, biking, swimming, jumprope, step class, and other cardio-based exercises. This style of training helps to increase your cardiovascular endurance and open the gap in your heart rate zones.
    • Goals: The aerobic training style is good for those looking to lose weight, for specific training programs like marathons, for athletes looking to increase performance and endurance as well as recover appropriately, and for those trying to reduce the risk of chronic illness like obesity, heart disease, and diabetes.

Heart Rate Training

ThinkstockPhotos-520046406.jpegThis type of training is specific to each individual and their personal zones. You can read more here about HR training, but this training method is focused in on zones like fat burn, cardiovascular endurance, peak performance, and recovery. In many cases, HR training is viewed as the all-around best training method there is.

    • Target: Heart rate training helps to increase endurance and sustainability in workouts by allowing you to peak and recover in a way that is specific to your body. Training zones are identified by doing a VO2 test.
    • Goals: For anyone and everyone! Typically people training for endurance races like Spartans or marathons, or athletes honing in on max results and recovery, for the person who is totally burnt out after each workout, and all the way to people who are on medications that affect their heart rate.

Flexibility Training

Contrary to what I know everyone is thinking, it’s not just yoga! Forget the general stereotype of moms walking into the gym with lattes, flip-flops, and their yoga mat; this training style is probably the most important, yet the most neglected. It incorporates corrective exercises, stretching (both static and dynamic), and movements from head to toe.

    • Target: To improve flexibility, mobility, range of motion, balance, and better posture.
    • Goals: Another method of training that is for everyone! If you are not a yoga person, it’s time to start! Yoga folks, dancers, runners, meatheads: this is for you, too! Flexibility training is for every single person who wants to enhance their training in any way.

Strength Training

deadlift-3.jpgStrength training typically is done with heavy weight but can be done with lighter ones as well. This style of training is directly associated with Newton’s law: mass x acceleration = force.

    • Target: To increase muscle strength.
    • Goals: Perfect for those looking to put on mass; can be good for those who don’t have a bunch of time to train; also good if you desire to move heavy things.

What should you do from here? If you are stuck in a rut or want to find the method that is going to be most effective for you, take some time to define your goals, figure out what is realistic for you, and take into consideration your past exercise experience. All these things play into what will work as well as what you like to do while in the gym.

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This blog was written by Amanda Bireline, BS, CPT. To find out more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: NIFS fitness yoga circuit workout training flexibility strength core strength goals heart rate strength training methods aerobic