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NIFS Healthy Living Blog

Bar Crawl: Specialty Bar Training for Powerlifting at NIFS

Screen Shot 2018-07-12 at 10.42.59 AMAs a fitness professional I approach training and helping people from the direction that principles guide methods. The reason for this is that methods and fads will always change, but principles never do. It’s beneficial that the methods and variations of movements change from time to time, as long as the decision to change them is based on solid principles and reasoning. Variations are great, such as a change in foot position in a squat, adding load to a plank position, or varying the implement you are using during the exercise. One implement change that can pay heavy dividends (pun very much intended) is using a specialty lifting bar.

Specialty bars are not new by any means, but due to new waves of “strongman” training and the resurgence of powerlifting, the popularity of the specialty bar is constantly growing. Each different bar is designed to elicit a specific stimulus that will result in an increase in strength, stability, or performance. In fact, many bars were originally designed for the specificity of training certain sports. And although most are still widely used specifically for generating a particular training response for sports, the everyday fitness enthusiast can enjoy the benefits without having to be a pro athlete.

Bars with Benefits

Come with me as we journey through NIFS’s Bar Crawl and check out all the specialty bars that are at your disposal and some or our favorite exercises associated with each. Before we do, here’s a reminder that you need to master the basics with basic equipment before moving on to an advanced movement or piece of equipment.

Fat bar: A barbell that is thicker than a general-use bar. The typical bar has a thickness of approximately one inch, whereas a thick bar can be twice that or even more.

Benefits:

  • More muscle activation in the hands, forearms, and upper arms.
  • Harder contraction (experiment: flex your bicep without making a fist, then flex with a fist; notice the difference).
  • Grip training no matter what.
  • Greater focus on the lift/exercise.

 

 

  • Bench Press
  • Overhead Press
  • Deadlift

Safety bar: Also referred to as a “yoke” bar, it looks like what they put on oxen back in the day. There is a three-way pad that rests on your shoulders with handles, with a curved bar shape at both ends.

Benefits:

  • Great for lower-body and low-back strength and transfers nicely to the straight-bar variations.
  • Loads the anterior core.
  • Minimizes stress on the wrists and elbows.
  • Helps in maintaining proper spinal alignment.

 

 

  • Front Squat
  • Back Squat
  • Lunges

Log bar: Straight from the strongmen themselves, this bar simulates using a log for different movements. It looks like a log with bars on the end to add plate weight load.

Benefits:

  • Cumbersome and unusual shape increases the stability need in the trunk and entire body.
  • Neutral grip is safer on the wrists and shoulders and allows for a more natural movement.
  • Abbreviated range of motion due to its size is safer for the joints and allows for greater load.

 

 

  • Clean and Press
  • Overhead Press
  • Bent-over Row

Trap bar: Hexagonal in shape, this is a bar you stand in, and it is used mainly for deadlifts or floor-loaded squat motions. Top coaches like Mike Robertson and Mike Boyle almost exclusively use the trap bar for athletes for these benefits.

Benefits:

  • Combines the benefits of the deadlift and the squat.
  • Loaded closer to your center of gravity, making it great for beginners as well as seasoned athletes.
  • More natural body position for the deadlift.
  • High handles decrease the range of motion, minimizing the chance for lumbar flexion typically seen in the traditional deadlift due to the weight being out in front of the body.

 

  • Deadlift
  • Bent-over Rows
  • Farmer Carry

Swiss bar: A multi-grip bar ranging from neutral to wide-grip and mixed-grip options.

Benefits:

  • Lighter than a typical bar; great for beginners.
  • Easy on the shoulders.
  • Specific training for sports such as football.
  • Range of motion similar to using dumbbells but with more load capabilities.

 

 

  • Bench Press
  • Overhead Press
  • Bicep Curls
  • Makeshift pull-up bar

Get Help from NIFS

Be sure to stop by the track desk and ask one of your highly trained instructors how a specialty bar can be used in your programming. Train smart, and train safe!

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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 equipment training powerlifting programs

You Got Shoe Game? Choosing the Right Athletic Shoes for Your Workout

GettyImages-905973914Believe it or not, shoes do serve a higher purpose than just to make a fashion statement—especially when you’re choosing shoes to wear to the gym. Now, my first example is rather obvious, but it gets the point across. Would you ever enter the gym for a workout wearing high heels? That’s for you to answer, but there are safety issues that arise from wearing stilettos to the gym. More specifically, footwear is of concern if any of the big lifts such as squatting, running, jumping, and weightlifting are programmed into your workout.

Let’s start by laying the ground rules. Given that your footwear is the avenue by which you gain momentum necessary for movement, it is extremely important to be conscious of your goals, your workout, and your footwear. After all, the only object in contact with the floor is your shoes! A wide variety of shoes are made for different surfaces and sports; however, they fall into three basic categories: performance footwear, running footwear, and cross-training footwear. Let’s take a deeper look at each specific type of athletic shoes.

Performance Footwear

First, the broadest category of shoes is performance footwear. This includes shoes engineered for nearly every specific sport, indoors or outdoors. Each shoe is carefully designed for specificity of sport as well as durability of surface, especially at the elite and professional level. A good example is basketball shoes, which are usually high-tops to help prevent ankle sprains. Soccer cleats, track spikes, football and softball cleats, and others all have spikes that can dig into the playing surface to make cuts sharper and aid in injury prevention.

Other specific shoes occasionally seen in a gym setting are powerlifting shoes and Olympic lifting shoes. Powerlifting shoes are low and flat, with a solid sole that is good for deadlifts because it puts you closer to the floor. It also allows you to push through the whole foot throughout the entire lift. Conversely, Olympic lifting shoes are made with a slight heel to allow athletes better mobility during lifts such as a squat and snatch, where lack of mobility would decrease performance drastically. They are also designed with a solid surface for the sole, tailored to the demands of the sport.

Running Footwear

The next type is the running shoe. Keep in mind that not one foot is the same size or shape, perhaps not even your other foot. Therefore, sizing can be difficult.

A standard running shoe tends to be manufactured with more cushion than other shoes, which in turn allows for less force on the hip and knee joints when running. The shoe design should offer sufficient traction needed to grip the surface and optimum weight distribution in order to ensure safety. They are ergonomically designed to absorb the ground-force reaction when the mid-foot strikes the ground, instead of sending the shockwave up the shin to the leg, commonly known to cause shinsplints.

Cross-training Footwear

Last is the training shoe, also known as the cross-trainer. This shoe is the most versatile of the three and can be used for small amounts of running, jumping, and lifting, but is mainly used to do lateral movement as well as plyometric workouts. Because the shoe is primarily a lower shoe with good support, it is made so you cannot easily roll your ankle or twist your knee when planting your foot into the ground to change direction as quickly as possible.

***

Choosing the right equipment for your workout is very important, so know the different types of shoes and choose the ones that are best for the activity that you will be doing.

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This blog was written by Cara Hartman, NIFS Health Fitness Instructor. To find out more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: running equipment workout sports powerlifting shoes cross-training footwear

I Don’t Always Use a Machine: The Athletic Training Platform (ATP)

In the great pursuit to build a strong body, push through preconceived physical boundaries, and feel great, we are in a time when the training options are close to limitless and at our fingertips. The world of strength and conditioning is full of pros who develop new ways everyday to challenge the human body and create systems and tools designed to push athletes and fitness enthusiasts to new heights. Many of these tools and training systems should stay in those late-night infomercials, but every now and again someone gets it right.

Louie Simmons of Westside Barbell (WSB) nailed it with the development of the Athletic Training Platform (ATP). Premiering about a year ago, the ATP was designed as a universal training machine suited for all fitness levels and many applications for anyone working to get fit, build strength, lose weight, and build a powerful body. We here at NIFS were fortunate enough to acquire one of these great machines recently, and we feel it definitely lives up to the hype.

Setting Up the ATP

So how do you get started using this piece, you ask? Here is a quick tutorial on proper setup of the ATP.

 

 

When working with folks, it’s my belief that first you need to master your body with body-weight movements and functional movement patterns; move on to loading those patterns with dynamic equipment such as kettlebells and sandbags; and finally progress to more advanced and multi-joint movements. I typically do not use many machines in my personal or professional training other than a cable system. The ATP is a machine I can get behind and use frequently. The ATP is used for so much more than just belt-squats; it can challenge anyone in any plane of motion. It can also help with lower-back ailments due to its “traction” effect with the load coming from below.

Favorite Exercises

There are too many exercises to list in one post, so here are a few of our favorites:

 

 

You intrigued? You should be! The ATP is a versatile and effective piece that can help you achieve the fitness goals you have set for yourself. If you are interested in adding the ATP to your exercise program, I highly recommend that you see one of your highly trained and motivated instructors here at NIFS to show you more about the ATP. Stay tuned for more ATP exercises coming soon in future posts!

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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 fitness center equipment videos Athletic Training Platform

Culture Club: How to Be a Strong Member of a Fitness Community

IMG_8261-1.jpgI have been in a gym environment of some kind for the majority of my life, first as a student athlete through adulthood and now as my profession. There really hasn’t been a time in my life when I haven’t been a part of the gym culture. There is a reason for that: I LOVE IT! I love to move, push myself beyond perceived limits, see successes, be around likeminded people, and witness amazing transformations and feats of strength. There is nothing like it, and I have done a great deal of growing up in a gym, and now it is my livelihood, literally.

In my opinion, a solid and enjoyable fitness community can rival any support environment out there. Fitness can bring people together and give feelings of belonging, help each other through life struggles, and provide smiles on days when smiles are hard to come by.

Ten Ways to Be a Great Gym Member

So how do we, as individuals, be strong members of a fitness community that allows for acceptance, belonging, safety, and fun? Like most places you visit, there are customs and rules of etiquette that help provide the culture that brought you there in the first place. Whether you are a lifelong gym-goer like me, or are just joining a facility for the first time to tackle your new year’s resolutions, follow these customs to be a strong member of your fitness community and provide an example for others to follow.

  • Lower the noise. I’m referring to the grunts and heavy breathing. Now, I am not advocating lowering the effort level of whatever it is you may be doing, but lowering how loudly you express your effort level. Your headphone noise can also be a negative distraction, especially if you enjoy songs with more colorful language.
  • Detach the phone from your hand. Okay, so I know that we are pretty dependent on technology these days, for good reason. And I am not here to argue the pros and cons of the mobile phone in society. But I would offer that real-life connection is far better than the virtual kind. With that said, put the phone away and connect with the people who are there for the same reason you are, to get better. Warning: Mobile Phone Head and Neck Pain Syndrome is a thing! Put the phone down and look up.
  • Put your stuff away. If you respect your fitness community, you should respect the idea that others would like to use the equipment as well and should be able access it from where it belongs. Help your gym brothers and sisters by putting your equipment back where it came from so someone else can use it, while at the same time keeping your community safe by removing trip hazards.
  • Wipe down your stuff after use. Another way to keep your community safe is to wipe down your equipment with the disinfectant and towel provided to you. It really only takes a second, and then be sure to show consideration and put the towel in the dirty towel bin.
  • Share your stuff. When you have completed a set, it’s just good manners to allow someone to work in on the same piece if they are waiting to use it. Sitting and looking at your phone (see #2) during your rest period while occupying the equipment just isn’t cool. Hop up and let someone in; you never know, you could meet a best friend!
  • Cover your stuff. Have you ever heard the phrase “No Shirt, No Shoes, No Service” (I’m going to go ahead and include pants here as well)? This goes doubly in your fitness community. More exposed skin equals more bio-fluids finding their way onto surfaces of equipment, mats, and floors. This can cause the spread of an array of communicable diseases. Also, in a fitness community, strong members appreciate modesty and acceptance of all body types. It is fantastic that you love the way you look; now wear your workout gear proudly and respectfully.
  • Mind the time. Be mindful and respectful of the hours of operation for your fitness community and plan your workout accordingly to stay within its working framework. Show up to group fitness classes on time, and if you are more than 10 to 15 minutes late, hit another class or ask for some help from an instructor on some exercise options.
  • Mind the advice. Be certain that someone new to the fitness community is looking for exercise advice from you. It’s great that you have a great deal of experience or read the latest article on BodyBuilding.com, but unsolicited advice can be annoying to some and can hurt the positive experience they are there to have. Trust me, in my experience, most people will ask if they are looking for advice.
  • Use the resources. Instructors and trainers are there for a reason: to help you and provide a great experience for the members of the fitness community. If you have questions regarding the equipment or exercises, don’t be afraid to ask. At NIFS, our instructors are here solely to help you and be the best part of your day. Let them help guide you in all aspects of the gym environment. You’ll learn a bunch of new stuff while you are at it.
  • Be friendly and considerate. A gym should be fun and a happy place to go to! That is guaranteed when people are being friendly and considerate of the needs of the entire environment and not just their landscape. Simple things like sharing your equipment, opening the door, and saying hi all add a positive vibe to the environment.

The Gym Is Like a Lot of Other Great Communities

If you notice, most of the actions on this list are the customs you will find pretty much anywhere you consider a great community such as neighborhoods, churches, restaurants, and fun gathering places. The gym shares so many similarities to those pillars of our lives, and it should be treated with as much respect and effort to keep it a place people want to belong to and visit daily. A gym can be a special place, where goals are sought after and obtained and friendships spawned and nourished; a place where everybody knows your name (cue the song).

So follow these customs to be a fitness community leader and work together to make your gym special!

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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: equipment safety technology gym fitness community consideration etiquette

How Does TRX Help Your Workout? Try It at NIFS!

TRX-3.jpgStarting from the ground up might sound like a daunting task, but with TRX it is possible. The TRX, which can be done as a group or individual, allows its user to perform various movement patterns with varying degrees of difficulty, all while using only body weight as resistance and a routine of exercises assigned to help you reach your goals.

The Equipment

The setup, designed by former US Navy Seal Randy Hetrick in 1995, is comprised of two straps, two handles, two cam buckles for adjustments, and a locking loop for safety. The equipment can be set up nearly anywhere, including but not limited to a TRX frame, a tree branch, or a sturdy piece of furniture. The unit is rather transportable and easy to set up. With that being said, it would seem to be the most ideal piece of equipment for home exercise and gym use. Although this is true, there still is a small learning curve, which you can easily overcome with some practice.

Adjusting Intensity and Difficulty Level

When you examine the exercises, you discover that the majority of them utilize angles to both increase and decrease intensity and level of difficulty. Furthermore, relying on the handles more and more can make things much easier. When it’s time to up the workload, you can grip the handles less (which requires you to utilize more body strength to get through the exercise).

When we program a TRX exercise into your routine or in a class, we would expect that at any time someone might need a regression or a progression, so there isn’t really a reason to stop or quit—just readjustments to help you keep moving!

How to Get the Most from this Equipment

Like all equipment, there are ways to best utilize this tool to get the most out of your time. When you understand that the difficulty level is determined by balance, stability, and angles, making just a few adjustments can really help you get a better workout.

Here are some tips that may also enhance your workout.

  • Do not allow any slack in the straps. The constant tension will force you to be in control while working through your movements.
  • Practice good form by having the straps as an aid. If you are having trouble with proper form at the bottom end of your squats due to ankle mobility or posterior chain flexibility, use it to help you move into and out of precarious instances where typically you would be uncomfortable. Once you are able to do the movements proficiently, try them again without the TRX and then eventually with a weight load.
  • Add an exercise to a workout circuit. To mix it up and give you a great workout, the versatility and multitude of exercises allows you to change exercises, sets, reps, and intensity at a moment’s notice.

Most floor exercises with a TRX are more challenging due to the idea that you are using more energy to keep good form (including core muscles).

Try It in Group Fitness Classes at NIFS

What exercises have you tried? The group fitness classes offered at NIFS are for everybody. Your Fitness Specialist can modify an exercise if you aren’t ready for it or if you need a little more of a challenge. The classes also offer variety to help enhance your own “exercise library,” which will ultimately lead to more confidence. Remember that your exercises can vary from person to person, but as long as you can continue to challenge yourself, your body will continue to develop and become stronger.

Whether you are trying to improve form or get a total-body, no-nonsense workout, the TRX is an adaptable and highly useful tool you can use along the way. NIFS offers free classes weekly to help guide your workouts. If you still aren’t convinced, contact a NIFS Fitness Specialist to discuss ways we can help you reach your goals.

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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: NIFS Thomas' Corner equipment group fitness resistance workout TRX body weight

4 Quick Workouts for Students

ThinkstockPhotos-177248545.jpgBusy college schedule? No time to fit in your workout between exams, papers, and class? Don’t let school be the excuse to skip or miss your workout. According to The Lancet, people who exercise as little as 15 minutes a day have a 14% lower mortality risk than people who don’t exercise at all. Just remember, something is always better than nothing!

Quick at-the-Gym Workouts

Here are some quick workout options, that require dumbells or kettlebells, that you can do if you are short on time.

Workout 1: 2–3 rounds

Workout 2: 2–3 Rounds

Fast Workouts That Don’t Require Equipment

No equipment, no problem. You can still get in a quick workout. Just because you do not have weights available doesn’t mean you should skip.

Workout 1: 3–4 rounds

  • Walking lunges x 8 each
  • Pushups x 10
  • Squat hold x 5 (hold the bottom position of your squat for 10 seconds)
  • Side plank lifts x 8 each side
  • March in place x 30 seconds

Workout 2: 3–4 rounds

  • Side lunges x 8 each side
  • Bear crawl x 30 seconds
  • Single-leg bridge press x 8 each
  • Eccentric pushups x 5 (8–10 seconds on the way down; 1 second on the way back up)
  • Jumping jacks x 30 seconds

Always remember, something is better than nothing! “No time” should never be the reason for not getting in some strength movements as a student. If you need more help for quick workout ideas, stop by the track desk at NIFS and a trainer can help you out.

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

Topics: exercise exercise at home fitness center equipment workouts strength college students

Powerful Student Athlete Summer Strength and Conditioning Alternatives

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

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

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

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

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

Four Lifts and Their Alternative Exercises

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

Snatch: Single-Arm Dumbbell Snatch

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

 

Clean: Dumbbell Clean

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

 

Jerk: Landmine Jerk

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

 

Box Jump: Landmine Squat Jump

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

 

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

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

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

NIFS April Group Fitness Class of the Month: TRX

IMG_8764.jpgContinuing with our Group Fitness Class of the Month series, for April we are highlighting TRX. TRX suspension training is definitely one of my favorites both to teach and to participate in! If you have not tried a class yet or ever incorporated it into your personal workout plan, you are for sure missing out!You can complete an entire workout on the TRX system or simply use it to supplement any workout plan that you have going. No matter what your current level of fitness is, this minimal piece of equipment will enhance your overall health and fitness!

The Many Benefits of TRX Workouts

Let’s look at why you should incorporate the TRX into your workout regimen.

  • It’s versatile: One of the best things about the TRX system is that you can literally take it anywhere. Use it at home, at the gym, or outside around a tree branch. You can even strap it to the back of a hotel door when you are traveling. This small piece of equipment fits into any suitcase and is about the size of a toiletry bag.
  • Focuses on your core: No matter the exercise, the TRX is great because it utilizes your core in everything you do. Because you have to balance often, the core gets worked no matter what.
  • If you’re tight on time, NO PROBLEM!: This is the answer for those who have minimal time to squeeze in a workout. In even 20 minutes, you can get a full-body workout—and a pretty good one, in my opinion!
  • All workout types are possible: Using the TRX, you can do any workout you want. With the simple TRX straps, you can hit mobility, flexibility, strength, cardio, and balance workouts.
  • Anyone can do it: No matter your age, height, weight, or current fitness level, the TRX can be done by anyone. Each exercise is adjustable to meet all the levels from the first-time exerciser to the daily gym rat.
  • The combinations are endless: There is one thing that I can assure you: when working out on the TRX, you will never get bored. There are so many different combinations of exercises; no two workouts ever have to be the same. I have been a certified TRX instructor for 5 years now and can say I don’t know that I have ever repeated a workout twice.
  • It’s hard!: Don’t knock it if you haven’t tried it. For all those who look over at the black and yellow straps hanging down and think, “That workout is for sissies,” I challenge you to try it! Even the most elite athletes who get on the TRX and really hit some of the challenging exercises will walk away exhausted and satisfied.
  • It’s customizable: Whatever you’re looking for in a workout, the exercises done on the TRX can be customized to meet your needs. You can even begin to incorporate additional pieces of equipment, like kettlebells or dumbbells, into workouts to really up the ante.

Try It at NIFS

If these things don’t sell you on the TRX, you are just going to have to get into the gym and try it out for yourself. With TRX being the class of the month, the staff at NIFS would be happy to have you join us! To get a free class pass for guests to NIFS, click here. Check out the group fitness schedule for when classes are offered.

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

Topics: NIFS equipment core TRX Group Fitness Class of the Month

Water Fitness: How to Get Better at Swimming

ThinkstockPhotos-103584574.jpgIn my previous blog on swimming, I talked about the vast benefits that can come from adding lap swimming into your off-season workout regimen. But maybe you are already comfortable in the pool and swim on a regular basis; wouldn’t you like to get better and become more efficient in your stroke? By taking small steps to improve the different components that make up the specific strokes, you can become a better swimmer in a decently short amount of time.

Focus on Form

As other sports, form tends to be one of the key players in overall success. Each stroke has a certain form that will allow the swimmer to be more efficient. Take some time to research the different strokes that you like to do and learn the correct form. Whatever swim stroke you happen to choose, the different pieces will consist of breathing, kicking, arm movement, location of chest and hips in the water, and what you do with your hands, feet, and ankles. I know it seems like a lot to think about, but you may really benefit by simply understanding what the stroke should look like.

Breathe More Efficiently

Breathing tends to be one of the hardest elements of a swimmer’s performance. Getting the breathing technique down right takes time, practice, and patience. Master breathing by using a kickboard or holding onto the side of the pool before combining it with the actual stroke and movement in the water. You also will need to learn your breathing cycle—for example, if I am swimming freestyle, do I need to take a breath every three or four strokes? You may need to learn to breathe on both sides and be able to turn your head to the left and right to get air.

Learn the Body Roll

This movement is used specifically in freestyle. Have you ever seen someone swimming freestyle (on their stomach) and when it’s time to take a breath, they pick their entire head up out of the water? The body roll will allow you to efficiently roll your upper body (and partially through the hips) to get air so that only part of your head is not in the water. This movement can be learned easily using different pool equipment like a pull buoy.

Slow Down

We all have the tendency, when getting into the pool to do some laps, to go a million miles an hour. Whether or not you mean to do it, you will quickly be made aware that you need to slow down because your breathing will remind you! Take your time, be patient, and learn the proper technique in every stroke by putting your foot on the break. You will be amazed, when you slow down the pace a little bit, at how long you can actually swim!

Develop an Efficient Kick

Another great way to improve your overall swimming skills is to learn the different kicks that go along with the various strokes. Each kick has specifics in how far to pull your heel back, how big of a splash you should be making, how far below the surface you want your hips and legs to be, etc. Utilize a kickboard or the wall, as you do in learning to breathe right, to master the different kicks.

Utilize Equipment

There are so many great tools out there to help you learn to swim better. Utilize things like kickboards to improve your breathing and kicking, pull buoys to work on your stroke, and fins to work through power kicks and master the body roll. At most pools you will usually see hand paddles to work on power in the pulling motion to propel you through the water faster, and maybe even gloves that have webbed fingers. All of these things will allow you to work on certain pieces of form one at a time.

Learn the Turns

When I was younger, I spent hours in the pool trying to learn how to do the flip turn. And while many think it’s simply “cool,” the flip turn happens to make your swim efficiency shoot through the roof. This move will also take some time to learn, but if you are patient and work on the timing of the flip turn, your lap swimming will soon be quicker.

Watch and Evaluate

Do not be afraid to have someone watch you and evaluate the different strokes you are working on. Often someone outside the water can easily tell if you are kicking too hard, slapping the water during your stroke, or not efficiently breathing. Take some time to have someone watch and give you tips to work on.

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While this can seem like an overwhelmingly large list of things to work on, just choose one thing at a time. Each small tweak will make a huge impact on your overall swimming performance.

Remember Natatorium lap swimming is now free with your NIFS Membership! Learn More.

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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: fitness equipment swimming workout sports

10 Winter Fitness and Wellness Tips

ThinkstockPhotos-619079130-1.jpgAs much as no one wants to admit it, the winter months are in front of us. Even though I grew up in a northern snow belt along the Great Lakes, cold weather is not my thing. In fact, I really don’t like anything about it. And often along with the winter blues comes a decrease in health and fitness due to the lack of motivation. To counteract that feeling, let’s look at ten tips that can help you be healthier this winter.

  1. Work out. I know it’s easy to lose motivation to keep working out when it’s cold out, it’s dark by 5, and you have to put on your snow boots and warm up the car before going to the gym. But working out actually helps to build your immune system and keep you healthy. So make sure that you build those workouts into your schedule.
  2. Eat well. It’s important to make sure that you stick to clean eating, especially through the holidays. All the additional sweets, snacks, drinks, and other goodies that come with the holidays are sometimes hard to resist; do your best to stay focused on your goals.
  3. Drink lots of water. Being sure that you have proper hydration is always important regardless of the time of year. Carry around a water bottle everywhere you go and make sure you keep drinking.
  4. Cover your head in outdoor workouts. If you do decide to work out outdoors, be sure to wear a hat or something to cover your ears. Making sure you stay warm and don’t catch a cold will be vital to your winter wellness success. (Here are some more tips for dressing warmly for winter workouts.)
  5. Get some sun if possible. Studies show that getting your vitamin D is essential. If you can dress appropriately, try to get outside on a nice day or plan that beach vacation during the cold winter months.
  6. Wash your hands. I know this is the standard thing you see in every public bathroom or on the back of the stall doors. But for real, wash your hands to help prevent you from getting the flu or other illnesses going around. Catching something could really set you back in getting in your workouts and healthy eating.
  7. Set a goal for the spring. Have a goal in place as the winter months start so that you can keep it on the forefront as something to work toward.
  8. Get a trainer or workout buddy. There is no better time to treat yourself to some additional accountability. Hire a trainer for the winter months or find that accountability partner to keep you in check!
  9. Watch your intake. You must be mindful, especially around the holidays, of what you are taking into your body. Also, keep in mind that drinks add a lot of unwanted calories, so watch what enters the black hole!
  10. Join something. The options are endless…group exercise, HIT classes, group training, a training program of some sort, co-ed sports…the list can go on. Find something you like and sign up to keep you engaged.

Whatever emotions the winter months may bring you, use these tips to be successful with your winter fitness and wellness!

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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: NIFS winter fitness nutrition fitness center goal setting equipment group training accountability NIFS programs hydration HIT outdoors personal training wellness vitamin D