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NIFS Healthy Living Blog

Skip the Abdominal Crunch and Try These Core Strength Exercises

Screen Shot 2021-09-07 at 4.16.27 PMWe all know that core stability and strength is an important factor in exercise, athletics, and even daily living. Being able to properly brace and stiffen the core is an important skill in preventing lower-back injuries when attempting certain movement patterns that occur every day. The abdominal crunch, which people often think of as a core exercise, is actually not a movement we see in our day-to-day lives. Try and think of a time you have had to mimic the abdominal crunch under a heavy load: it simply does not occur.

More often than not, we need to be stronger in the core in a more upright or natural standing posture. The abdominal crunch is now being found to stress the low-back area, can cause discomfort by compressing your back joints, and can even lead to injury after a while.

So you are probably wondering, how do I strengthen my core in an upright position? The answer is through anti-movement patterns. These could be anti-rotational, anti-flexion/extension, or anytime you are forcing your body to resist being moved from a normal posture. These patterns can be accomplished in an isometric hold or a dynamic pattern with bands, kettlebells, or weights.

Anti-rotational Exercise: The Paloff Press

An example of an anti-rotational exercise would be the Paloff press, shown here:

The goal is to press the handle from your belly button slowly and in a controlled manner so that the core has to work to not let your body turn.

Anti-Flexion or Extension Exercise: The Plank

An example of an anti-flexion or extension would be a plank, as shown here:

The goal is to keep your hips down and really engage the core area by pulling your belly button in. You can add weights to your back or increase the time you do these to make them more challenging!

Strengthening Exercise: The Kettlebell March

An example of strengthening the core in that normal standing position would be a kettlebell march, where you can either do two kettlebells in the front squat position or one held out in front. Both are shown here:

Marching slowly and controlled is the key for this exercise. While doing this, all the muscles in your core fire to prevent you from falling any direction while you balance on one leg.

Core Blog

See a NIFS Health Fitness Specialist to learn how you can start strengthening your core in a neutral position to assist with your exercises and your day-to-day life. See these links for more information:

ACSM core PowerPoint: http://forms.acsm.org/TPC/PDFs/23%20Best.pdf

PT Dr. Aaron Horschig: “The Big Three”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2_e4I-brfqs

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This blog was written by Grant Lamkin, NIFS Health Fitness Specialist. To learn more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: injury prevention videos core strength core exercises lower back pain anti-rotational anti-flexion

Baby Steps to a Stronger Core

GettyImages-463173555Low-back pain is an issue with so many people who are spending entire days sitting to do work. Stretching and mobility work will help ease the lower-back pain, getting the muscles to relax and loosen. Here are some moves to get loose and then start to strengthen the core to keep the pain away.

Cat-Cow/Child’s Pose Mobility Move

Start on your knees with hands under your shoulders, with your toes curled. Using your breath, inhale; then exhale as you tuck your chin toward your chest; and round your low back toward the ceiling. Think about pushing your belly button to the sky. Inhale back to your start position, then exhale looking up slightly and dropping your belly button toward the floor. You are thinking of tilting your hips downward. Inhale back to your start, but reach your hands in front of you, extending the arms and flattening your feet. On your exhale, drive your hips back and enjoy the nice long stretch from your arms through the low back.

Go slowly with your breath for 4–6 rounds. If one position feels good, stay for a few breaths. You can do this multiple times a day and up to every day.

Bird Dog

Start on your knees with hands under your shoulders, with your toes curled. Extend one arm ahead of you and the opposite leg behind you. Think of someone pulling your arm forward and pulling the heel of the extending leg into the wall behind you. Hold for a 5 count. Do not be surprised if your balance is off. (If it is, it’s easy to fix by closing your eyes). Come back to the start position and switch to the opposite arm/leg combination.

Hold each side for a 5 count, with easy breathing. Do up to 5 per side most days of the week.

Plank

Start on your elbows and knees, with the body forming a nice line from your ears to your knees. Think of keeping your glutes tight, and bracing your abs. Build your hold up to 1 minute. If that is too easy, extend your legs and form a line from your ears to your ankles. Think of the same holds, breathing easily. Work up to 1 minute. Then add sets.

NOTE: many people with weak cores will feel some low-back soreness. If this occurs, do a body check: are you in a good line? If so, stay in the plank only until you feel discomfort. Try the other exercises listed and build up your core strength, slowly.

You can do this most days of the week but remember that all muscles need rest and recovery to get stronger.

Heel Touch

Lying on your back, bring your feet up with your knees at 90 degrees. Flatten the low back and keep it flat. Exhale and lower one leg until the heel touches the floor, raise back to start, and repeat on the other side. You may be surprised that it’s easier to keep flat on one leg. Keep working to get the sides even. Do 6–10 on each side. You can do this most days of the week, but remember that all muscles need rest and recovery to get stronger.

Lower back with Kris

There you go! Start (re)building your core with these moves. Stay in a pain-free range and use the exercises that you can do first, and then build to the more challenging ones later.

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Join Kris for her Core and More Fitness Master Class on Wednesdays at 11:15-11:45. Free to NIFS members, this class focuses on core and functional movement exercises with a fast finisher in a compact 30-min workout.

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This blog was written by Kris Simpson BS, ACSM-PT, HFS, personal trainer at NIFS. To read more about Kris and the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: yoga stretching core strength mobility core exercises core stability lower back pain low back pain

What’s in Your Bunker?: Fitness Survival Gear

GettyImages-1210720125The saying often goes, “success breeds success,” but I’m a big believer that failure leads to just as much and even more success. Being reactive in nature to a situation (as most of our population is) can delay a successful outcome, but often does lead to one. Obviously being proactive, anticipating and avoiding rather than catching and correcting, is a more successful model of living; but we find ourselves in situation we really couldn’t anticipate. There are some lessons to be learned and success that can come from this desperate situation we are all in.

How Can You Exercise When You Can’t Leave Home?

When the lockdown was put in place, many diehard exercisers and movers of all kinds were left clambering for ways to stay fit and active while under quarantine. Then came the barrage of social media posts from people like me offering up super-helpful fitness solutions to not having your favorite gym to go to and the ample equipment to use. The information and help that fitness pros around the world have offered has been inspiring, and I encourage you to continue to implement the strategies and techniques you are learning from real fitness pros (but be a smart consumer of content).

But a great lesson we can learn from this situation is that it is a good thing to have some fitness gear available to you in your home. After the pandemic, there will be many more reasons you might not be able make it to your gym or studio. Just life may alter your ability to get to where all your favorite equipment lies. What is your plan then?

Equipment for Exercising at Home

There are many cost- and space-efficient pieces of fitness survival gear you can have in your home that can keep the momentum going if you are unable to meet with your favorite people at your favorite gym. I’ve created a fitness survival list that you can use immediately or accumulate over time so that you will always have strategies in place to keep moving in a small space.

Cheap and Effective

Here’s some equipment that you can get now.

  • Foam rollers: You can do recovery and mobility work anywhere, and you can do it well with the proper tools. But did you know that you can use the foam roller for more than myofascial release? See this video!
  • Mini-bands: These are 2 to 3 bucks a pop—easy to use and very effective. And here’s a NIFS video showing you how to use them for a big sweat.
  • Super bands: There is so much you can do with these bigger bands, and they are still very inexpensive. Here’s a NIFS video using super bands for resistance.
  • Sliders: There are many things you can use for sliders, such as furniture movers, towels, and paper plates. Sliders can used for lunges, hinging, and core work. Here’s a NIFS video of slider exercises.
  • Tubing: Continuing with the band resistance, tubing with handles is a great tool to perform countless exercises.
  • Stability ball: This ball can be used for core work, and upper and lower body strength work, and you can sit on it while you work from home! Here’s a video using the stability ball.

Equipment for Leveling Up

The following equipment items cost a little more, but they have a lot more capabilities.

  • TRX Suspension Trainer: Fitness anywhere is their name for a reason. You can use the TRX anywhere and can perform thousands of movements in a small space. Enhance strength, stability, cardio, core strength—TRX can do it all. Here’s our video using the TRX outside.
  • Sandbag: Providing a dynamic load in a multitude of movements makes the sandbag a nice addition to your fitness survival gear. Here’s a video using the sandbag in a squat and press.
  • Kettlebell: Add some load to your movements. You can perform so many movements with just one kettlebell. Here’s a video of the kettlebell triplet.
  • Weighted vest: Add load to bodyweight movements and go for a nice long walk, or Ruck!

As another saying goes, success favors the prepared. There are some quick, easy, and relatively inexpensive means to keep moving at home—right now and in the future, no matter the reason you are not able to get out of the house.

We will be getting back to the gym really soon, and I can’t wait for that day to come to see you all getting after it in the place you call your fitness home. Until then, make your home a place for fitness!

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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: exercise at home equipment kettlebell TRX videos core exercises core stability exercise bands

More Than Just Crunches: A 360-degree Approach to Core Training

Cross Body Rope Pull

Whether it’s the New Year or finally approaching the summer beach-going season, you’re almost guaranteed to see someone doing sit-ups, side-bends, or leg lifts in the gym. And I get it; who doesn’t want core strength with that little added aesthetic bonus too? But training the core is so much more than just crunches!

The two primary functions of the core are to transmit force to and from the lower and upper body and to resist motion. Throughout our day, we move in three dimensions, in all planes of motion, and not just in a straight line. In order to move our hips or shoulders without compensating at the spine, it’s our core that steps up to the plate to help stabilize the system. Whether it’s carrying all the groceries inside in one trip (a future Olympic sport in my opinion), reaching down at our side to pick up our bag off the floor, or carrying our child in one arm, our core stabilizes us through these movements and myriad others. In short, we don’t go through life in isolation, so the way we train our core should reflect that.

Videos of Exercises

Here are a few videos of some exercises you can add to your 360-degree core-training repertoire to help address core movements while adding a little variety to your workout routine:

  • Tall Kneel Cable Antiextension Hold
  • Half Kneel Rope Chop
  • Sandbag Contralateral Deadbug
  • Bird Dog Row
  • Uneven Farmer Carry
  • Copenhagen Side Plank

 

Why Add These Exercises?

There are several reasons to add these kinds of exercises to your workout programs:

  • We live our lives in three dimensions; our training should be three-dimensional, too.
  • Increasing core stability can improve performance in other lifts and movements.
  • A stronger core helps reduce injury risk in real-world situations (such as lifting from the floor, or going from a sit to a stand).
  • You get a bigger bang for your buck by addressing multiple joints and muscle groups (shoulder position, hip stability, glutes, adductors).

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

Topics: exercises videos core strength movement core exercises core stability core trainings

BOSU Returns: 4 Reasons to Come to a Class at NIFS

BOSU_SSWhen I first came to NIFS more than a decade ago (I know, right?), I brought BOSU Conditioning with me, and the NIFS community welcomed it with open arms (and legs, and core…you get the idea). I was fresh out of a training opportunity with the inventor of the BOSU, David Weck, while working at another gym. I took to the BOSU very quickly and loved the many training dimensions it provided and wanted to share it with as many folks as I could.

In its debut here at NIFS, BOSU was a hit and saw eight great years on the class schedule with many great instructors and class designs. But it needed a break. Finally that break is over, and BOSU has returned to the class schedule and is getting a lot of hype again!

What Makes BOSU So Awesome?

Here are few things you need to know about this powerful, multi-use fitness tool:

  • BOSU stands for BOth Sides Utilized. This refers to the ball itself. You can use the dome side as well as the platform (flat side) for so many different movements. Both sides utilized also pertains to using both sides of the body in harmony.
  • You can train all aspects of fitness utilizing the BOSU, including mobility, stability, core strength, power, strength, and cardio.
  • Movement options are endless and can be adapted to the fitness level of the user.
  • Movements can become three-dimensional, which is how we move in the real world.
  • Provides an unstable surface, forcing the user to use important stabilizer muscles of the entire body.

Here are some videos that show some of those movements:

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Five Reasons to Try BOSU

Now that we all agree that the BOSU is pretty awesome, here are some reasons to stop waiting and just take a class already. You won’t regret it!

  • Be different: There is no other tool like the BOSU, so a class session designed around this one-of-a-kind piece of equipment will be very different from any class you might have experienced. We use different body positions and equipment differently than most training disciplines, making each class different than the last.
  • Options for movement: There are countless options for different movement patterns that can be adjusted to suit any fitness level. No matter whether it is your first time on the ball or your 50th, the BOSU finds a way to challenge you.
  • Specific adaptations: As mentioned before, the BOSU is an unstable surface that will increase the usage of small stabilizing muscles that are found all over the body globally, and locally to the area directly in contact with the BOSU. An unstable surface elicits a specific adaption of stability. “Use more, burn more" is a direct effect from a class; the more muscle you have to use, the more energy you will burn. If the goal is to increase your stability, balance, and core strength, the BOSU will provide that specific adaptation.
  • Unique experience: There are exercises that are done on the BOSU ball, and then there are BOSU movements, both providing a unique exercise experience. There are also unique training effects that can only come from working with the BOSU. Effects such as the increased usage of the foot for grip and stability, which aids in all movement on a stable or unstable surface.

There are plenty more reasons why should try a BOSU class right away, but there are only four letters in the word. So what are you waiting for? Come see me on Sundays at 10am and realize what the BOSU can do for you!

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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: NIFS cardio group fitness balance strength core strength mobility stability core exercises BOSU

Core Exercises to Take You from Snore to ROAR!

GettyImages-514734718.jpgSome of the number-one fitness goals are to strengthen the core, lose belly fat, and get six-pack abs. These are all pretty good goals that can be addressed by a fitness professional and a dietitian, but everyone might not have that luxury. From a traditional perspective, we have mainly used a few ab exercises such as crunches, sit-ups, and variations of them. For the most part, these are better than the alternative—nothing at all.

But what if there is a way to get more out of your workouts that allows you to get core exercise without doing sit-ups and crunches? If you are tired of the same old ab routine, or if you are finding it hard to get to the floor to do exercise, this may be exactly what you need to know to break plateaus and possibly change your life.

How You Use Your Core

Out of the many instances in which you use your core (basically your torso, minus your arms and legs), you could find occasions where you use sit-up movements, but not to the extent that we train them (hello 300 sit-ups, yes we are looking at you!). Overall, normal functions include standing; walking (sometimes up and down stairs); sitting at a desk, in the car, or in a recliner; and standing some more. The core really doesn’t move that much; however, it does stabilize all the time. Therefore, it would make sense to train for stability rather than movement, at least some of the time. This is true for everyone from beginners to seasoned athletes, and from young to elderly. Core stability is a part of your life and you use it all the time.

Before I talk about these exercises, know that good form and good posture is the backbone that makes this all work. This goes for every exercise, but also includes standing, walking, and sitting. People tend to slouch, mainly because it’s easier to do than sitting up or standing tall with good posture. Unfortunately, slouching does not activate the core at all. Good posture, however, allows the core to engage (which also helps in the calorie-burning process throughout the day). Focusing on this daily will help strengthen the core, even when you are not at the gym.

Core Exercises and Techniques

In addition to focusing on posture, you can easily add several other exercises and techniques to any routine.

  1. Plank: Create a plank with your body. Your back must be flat; if not, you can go to your knees or introduce an incline. Proper form is imperative. To increase the difficulty, I suggest adding a leg-lift motion, alternating legs.
  2. IMG_2617.jpgAnti-rotational holds: Using either a cable machine or bands, stand perpendicular to the anchor point while holding your handle directly in front of your midpoint. To increase the intensity, I suggest introducing a kneeling or half-kneeling position, making the core work even harder.
  3. Suitcase carry: This is an adaptation to the farmer’s carry. Instead of using two balanced weights, I suggest using only one weight on one side (think about carrying a heavy suitcase through the airport). Try to keep the top of your shoulders parallel to the ground. To increase the intensity, I suggest trying the same walking pattern, but on a narrow line. This will enhance the balance difficulty. You can also go in reverse!
  4. Single-arm dumbbell press: This is a spin on a traditional exercise, the chest press. Using a flat bench and only a single dumbbell, proceed to doing a normal press pattern. If you place your other hand on your stomach, you should feel muscles in there working to keep you from rolling off the bench. You will have to engage your core to maintain posture, though. Be sure to keep your head, back, and feet in contact with the bench and floor respectively.
  5. Overhead sit and stand: What is more functional than sitting and standing? In order for you to sit and stand, your core is engaging constantly. To increase the intensity, begin by sitting and standing without using your hands. Once that is easy, try holding a weight plate or medicine ball overhead while you sit to the box and stand. Notice how much more your core is working?

As you can see, several exercises and techniques are available to assist your core training regimen. Adding one or more of these will add some much-needed diversity that will not only keep you interested in exercise but also able to break through plateaus that may have been giving you trouble for years.

If you want more information, contact a fitness professional or personal trainer at NIFS to develop a strategy to build your own core exercise knowledge library.

Knowledge is power.

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

Topics: muscles core strength functional movement posture personal trainer stability core exercises core exercise core stability plank plateaus