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NIFS Healthy Living Blog

Stiff Hips? Try Hurdle Stretches

GettyImages-1243955198I wish I had a dollar for every time a coach has said to me, “That athlete has stiff hips,” or “That athlete folds over at the waist,” etc. So how do I help an inefficient athlete with stiff hips? I use simple hurdle stretches that train my athletes to bend.

Many times it’s an athlete with long legs and a short torso. I wish I was more consistent in hurdle stretches with my athletes, but in the perfect coaching world, I would use them at every strength workout and have an extra set of hurdles near the practice fields/courts for use before practices.

Hurdle stretches are great because you can complete four to six stretches in less than five minutes. A hurdle stretch routine is helpful before and after activity. It’s also great for efficiently training a large group of athletes if you have 10–12 hurdles separated into two different lines of 5–6 hurdles.

Set-up some hurdles at NIFS and take yourself through these drills to loosen up those “stiff hips.”

Hurdle Stretches

 

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

Topics: NIFS fitness center strength stretching exercises coaching athletes

My 4 Takeaways from the Squatober Weightlifting Challenge

GettyImages-1148247238Fall is hands-down one of my favorite times of the year. There’s a crispness in the air, the leaves begin to change, there’s pumpkin-flavored everything, football season is in full swing, and there’s the return of a little phenomenon known as Squatober!

Yes, you read that correctly: SQUATober. Squatober is known as “the world’s largest knee-bending party,” and consists of squatting 5–6 times per week for the entirety of the month of October. Crazy, right? Crazy awesome! The program is written and was originally created by Aaron Ausmus, NCAA D1 shot put champion and strength and conditioning coach. It culminates in a PR party sometime around Halloween (“personal record” for those of you playing at home), and all proceeds from shirts and merchandise are ultimately donated to outfitting a high school weight room in need of some upgrades.

I can almost hear the confusion, apprehension, or flat-out scoffs through the screen. Squatting, and squatting heavy no less, five days a week, every week for a month—why would anyone want to embark on something so outlandish? Well, a lot of strength coaches, fitness professionals, and gym junkies have taken the plunge into Squatober since its inception.

And while I understand that it’s not for everyone, there’s something about stepping up to the plate (or under the bar, I should say) that really appealed to me. It was a "challenge accepted” moment that took me back to the days of being a competitive athlete. Plus, I wanted to be a part of a larger, worldwide phenomenon that ultimately ended in giving back to communities and those in need. There have also been numerous stories of other coaches citing Squatober as the reason they overcame personal struggles such as addiction, mental health struggles, and much more.

After completing the sometimes grueling squat party for the first time last year, I came away with a little more than soreness. Here are my four biggest takeaways after completing Squatober.   

Our bodies are capable of some incredible feats.

Now, I’m not saying I broke the female world record for the back squat. But after squatting for 27 days, my estimated 1-rep max increased by over 10 percent! This definitely exceeded my expectations (seeing as all I wanted to do was make it to the end). And I understand that picking up things and putting them down might not be everyone’s favorite pastime. But if you’ve been debating signing up for that triathlon, or that Spartan race, or picking up trail running, or training to hike to the top of Pike’s Peak, my advice? Just start! It’s never too late, and our bodies are able to do some pretty cool stuff; you may surprise yourself with what you’re able to handle.

Coaches need coaches, too.

I’ve always been more of a nerd when it comes to training. I want to know the ins and outs when it comes to physiology, how certain periodization schemes affect the body’s ability to adapt. I view programming as a puzzle: trying to piece together the optimal exercises, at the correct dose, in the right order, in order to achieve the desired result. But when you do that for numerous clients, athletes, and friends, for hours at a time, week after week, I’ll be honest: I feel a little brain-dead when it comes to my own programming. Having another coach be in charge of the plan, so all I had to do was open my phone, see the workout, and get down to business? That was a huge weight lifted (pun intended). Since completing Squatober, I’ve reached out to colleagues multiple times to get not only their advice but also their take on my programming. I’ve found that this leaves me fresh, more motivated, and honestly more accountable.

If you want to improve a skill, do it every day (or close to it).

I’ll be honest, the first 6–7 days were a little rough. I was waddling around like I was learning to walk for the first time (hello soreness!). But once I progressed into week two and beyond, I noticed a few things. My depth was consistently better. I wasn’t compensating as much (toes turning out, trunk lean). And my bar path remained more constant (not moving forward or back). By addressing my ankle mobility each day, and my hip stability before each lift, the pieces started to come together. This premise holds true for any habit you want to start or any skill you want to learn. Even if you address it for only a minute a day, making your mission constant improvement, even if it’s only 1 percent each session, it can lead to profound results over time.

Get comfortable with being uncomfortable.

This message was echoed from many of my coaches growing up. Similar sentiments float around the fitness industry fairly regularly. “Comfort is the enemy of achievement,” for example. And Squatober was a nice reminder of that. Again, going into week two, knowing that I had another heavy load that would literally be placed on my back, I started to shift my mentality. I began to look forward to the challenge. I wasn’t worried about any soreness that might ensue. I had begun to become comfortable with being uncomfortable. Now, I’m not saying we have to be uncomfortable 24/7, 365 in order to achieve results. But rather, what was once uncomfortable became the new normal. We adapt, we overcome. And we ultimately change for the better!

I admittedly was only able to complete some of the workouts this year due to scheduling. And I do want to reiterate that I understand this is not for everyone. Would I program this way for athletes? No. Is this the end-all be-all in terms of workout plans? No. Was it fun? For me it absolutely was. I loved the camaraderie it offered. I loved checking in with former colleagues and coaches as we all progressed from week to week. I loved that I could look back and say, “Yeah, I did that. I made it.”

So, if you are interested in hopping into Squatober next year, you can check out @sorinex or @penandpaperstrengthapp on Instagram for workouts. Don’t be afraid to modify when you need to, either. And at the end of the day? Just have some fun with it while accepting the challenge! Happy lifting!

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

Topics: workouts challenge weightlifting coaching squat

Tricks of the Trade: Exercise Coaching Cues to Avoid Injury and Pain

IMG_7980Coaching cues can really make a big difference in the outcome of your workouts. Sometimes it means the difference in whether you get injured during an exercise. Or are you even working the muscles you originally intended to use? Without cues, it would be foolish to have a client jeopardize their health because they saw someone else do a movement incorrectly or think they read it in a magazine or online. This is not to say that there are not many ways one can do to their exercises, or modifications to spice up their workout plan, but you need to make sure you aren’t compromising yourself and goals in the process.

I aim to clarify several cues you might have heard a trainer speak to their client, or have read about in a magazine or online. With this knowledge, hopefully you will have an opportunity to make more informed and educated decisions about the exercises you are doing in the fitness center.

Wall Sit Knee Pain

A great exercise to utilize on leg day is the tried-and-true wall sit. Due to the nature of the exercise and positioning of the body, it can cause a real strain on the knees.

Dissecting the exercise shows which muscles are active during a wall sit. This includes the gluteus, hamstrings, quads, and calves. The movement is basically a static squat while pressed against a wall, utilizing the principles of isometrics. Lowering the body to a position in which the knee is bent at 90 degrees and the back and head are flat against the wall is ideal.

Knee pain can be a side effect; if so, using caution is always rule #1. To help alleviate some discomfort, some cues to consider include the following:

  • Make sure your feet are flat on the floor.
  • Move your feet away from the wall.
  • Widen your stance a little.
  • Slightly point your toes outward at an angle.

You will still be using the same muscles, but the emphasis will shift away from the knees and more into your powerful glutei muscles. I also cannot stress it enough: keep your head back against the wall and your cervical spine in a neutral position. For an added challenge, you can try being in a wall-sit position, then add in a bicep curl to accentuate the movement.

Overhead Shoulder Press Pain

Yet another staple exercise you will see in the gym is the overhead press. There are many variations to consider, some with free weights and some with selectorized machines. Both ways, potentially, will get the job done, if done properly. The shoulder press is performed by pressing one or two dumbbells or a barbell overhead (if using free weights), or with a designated overhead press machine from your favorite selectorized machine line.

A typical issue that arises during a shoulder press is general overall pain in the shoulder itself, and sometimes discomfort in the upper middle back. If there are no underlying issues with the shoulder, this might only be a technique issue that could be resolved with proper cueing. You can discover whether you do have an underlying shoulder problem by completing a Functional Movement Screening (FMS) at NIFS.

Cues to consider here include the following:

  • Never allow the bar to travel behind your head or neck.
  • Try to keep your elbows forward of your shoulders as you press overhead.
  • Lower the weight until your hands are about at eye level, then press.
  • Use dumbbells only when your skill and experience level allows for it.

Lifting really heavy weight, such as during Olympic lifting, can also be hazardous and warrant special consideration. Sometimes an injury occurs during an overhead Olympic movement, but often injuries happen when a weight is being lowered to the starting position, safely to the ground.

Dropping weights from overhead is permissible when the weight being used gets to a range that cannot be safely managed on the descent. At this point, it is advisable to drop the weight, but there is a right and wrong way to drop. Consulting with an Olympic lifting coach or professional along with experience is the best way to learn how to drop the weights in a controlled and safe manner. Ideally, you are going to be safe, and the equipment maintenance guy appreciates your courteous and safe lifting efforts.

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Lat Pulldowns, the Safe Way

Our final cue is for the Lat Pulldown, which is a variation of a pull-up, using a selectorized machine. Although the motion and muscles are the same, the lat pulldown is an easier way to get good repetitions at an otherwise challenging movement. This doesn’t mean you can flub the exercise at the expense of your health.

Ever since the beginning of strength training, an iconic image in the gym is the “behind the neck or head” lat pulldown. A trainer who cares about you will tell you not to do this movement because it’s bad. “But why not?” you may ask. Without a doubt this is a high-risk exercise, but not for the reason you might be thinking. The equipment you are using is checked, double-checked, and deemed safe, but there is always a chance that the cable will give way, causing the bar or handle to come at your noggin at a high rate of speed. We can all agree that a behind the neck lat pull down is not worth a concussion (or worse).

Here are some cues for a safer lat pulldown:

  • Grab the bar or handle with hands evenly spaced,
  • Pull the bar or handle down to around eye level in front of the body and control the motion both on the way up and back down.

Many people may have other perceptions, but safety is the number-one priority when you are a personal trainer.

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Do you have a trainer who has given you cues for exercise? Cues can really make a big difference. If you are interested in safer, more effective exercise, and learning about how your body works in exercise, contact a NIFS personal trainer or health fitness specialist to schedule a meeting to discuss your goals, questions, and next steps to a better workout. Getting the most out of your time at the gym also makes sense. Now get back to work!

Muscleheads rejoice and evolve!

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

Topics: Thomas' Corner injury prevention pain personal training exercises coaching functional movement screen cues

Crucial Conversations: Working with a Coach or Personal Trainer

buffy5years.jpgI recently received a lesson on the origin and true meaning of the word coach. A coach can be defined as something that takes you somewhere, such as a stage coach or coach seat on an airliner. But a COACH is someone who takes you where you want to go. One of the many powers of a coach is the ability to make memories and lessons that stick with you forever, that take you places every day. I have been coached for the majority of my life before ultimately becoming one because knowing the effect these special people had on me, I wanted to be that for someone else.

But that’s me, that’s the way I am wired. But I wanted to find out from people like you why a COACH is so important. I had a great conversation with longtime NIFS member Buffy Linville and I posed the question: Why did you want to work with a coach? She had plenty so say, and I am honored and excited to share her thoughts with you.

Why did you want to work with a coach, Buffy? 

My own experience with a personal trainer came after many years of unsuccessfully trying to lose weight. I finally accepted the fact that I didn’t know how to do it on my own. With great apprehension, I approached a coach at my gym and inquired about personal training. I had to fight off the desire to “get in better shape” first (kind of the same mindset that tells you to clean your house before the housekeeper comes)! For some reason, we’re embarrassed to admit that we need help. That’s sad. In the beginning, it was scary. I didn’t know what to expect and I was afraid of looking foolish. I had never been an athlete or done sports of any kind, so I didn’t know what it felt like to challenge my body—to feel fatigue in my muscles or get my heart rate up. But I also didn’t know what it felt like to feel strong or to be able to run, jump, or climb. I didn’t know what good movement was, or how good it felt to conquer mental and physical challenges*.

“I had to fight off the desire to ‘get in better shape’ first (kind of the same mindset that tells you to clean your house before the housekeeper comes)! For some reason, we’re embarrassed to admit that we need help.

Fast-forward 6+ years… After several years of personal training and group training to various degrees and with various coaches, and after a sprint triathlon, two bodybuilding shows, and three powerlifting meets, I myself am now a personal trainer—a personal trainer who still seeks out personal training and coaching. This is partly because I want to keep learning from people who know more than I do, but also because in spite of all the knowledge I have about how to train and eat well and recover, I still need help. And I still fight the embarrassment of not being where I think I need to be fitness-wise. But this is why a coach is so important—you quickly find out that you’re not the only one. Everyone ebbs and flows in their journey to become better (be it with fitness, career, finances…coaching is valuable in any walk of life that’s important to you).

“Having someone help you establish realistic goals, create a plan, and then push, encourage, and support you along the way makes all the difference whether you’re brand new or a seasoned veteran.”

What are your major reasons to work with a coach?

  • Time and energy: Let someone else make the game plan. All you have to do is show up.
  • Expertise: No matter how much you know, someone else will know, if not more, at least something different than you know.
  • Education: It’s a professional’s job to stay current and always be learning. If you hire a reputable coach, you will likely always be learning something new—new exercises or a new/better way of doing something.
  • Accountability: You may already know what to do, but it’s easy to let things slide when there’s no consequence, no accountability. If someone is paying attention to and following up with you on your progress, you’re more likely to stay on track.
  • Assessments: A professional can take regular quality assessments to determine your progress and help you establish new goals.
  • Motivation: In addition to accountability, a coach will be your number-1 cheerleader. They know how hard you’re working and will celebrate your successes with you and encourage you through rough patches.
  • Efficiency: More than likely, you will work harder with a coach than you will on your own, which will help you achieve your goals faster.
    *Weight loss claims and/or individual results vary and are not guaranteed.

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I would not be where I am today if not for the coaches in my life, or people like Buffy who have coached me just as much as I have coached her. Working with someone who can get the most out of you, even when you think there is nothing left, is a powerful relationship. Find a COACH, and watch them take you somewhere.

GT-logo-revised.jpgInterested in trying Small Group Training? Contact Tony today to attend a free session!

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: NIFS motivation group training accountability personal training Crucial Conversations coaching