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NIFS Healthy Living Blog

King of the Gym, Part 1: Squat Alternatives

I enjoy all forms of exercise, but like many, I want the most bang for my buck when I’m exercising. Sure, I am always on the lookout for the new and best exercises that would not only kick my behind, but also have benefits all around. However, I always trend back to the “king of the gym”: an exercise that I do without fail—SQUAT

The Squat Reigns Supreme

Squats are often referred to as the “king of the gym” exercise, and for a good reason. When done correctly, squats utilize essentially every muscle in the body. If you want to get stronger, get bigger, or lose weight, squats will help. Although they aren’t a must in order to build your lower body, they are probably the most efficient exercise. Whether it’s building a stronger core, back, and legs; increasing bone density; or burning fat, squats are the best bang for your buck due to the engagement of many muscle groups activated at once.

Barbell Back Squat-1

 

But this post isn’t about just about squatting. In fact, in this four-part series, I want to show you that there are plenty of different alternatives to the “king of the gym.” We don’t always have the luxury of a barbell and rack or endless equipment resources from the gym. Perhaps you train from home or are on the road at a hotel. Either way, No worries!

Squat Alternatives Using Other Gym Equipment

First up are five effective squat alternatives you can do with access to gym equipment other than the traditional barbell back squat. Are there more than five? Yes, but these are my favorites. When I have an injury, or I’m bored, or all the racks in the gym are being used, I like to substitute these five exercises in place of squats. These five moves show alternatives to squatting that you can do efficiently in the gym when a barbell and rack aren’t available and still achieve similar or better gains.

Squat Alternatives

As you can see, an effective squatting workout doesn’t have to be limited to the “king of the gym.” If you don’t have a squat rack available, there are a variety of different squatting alternatives you can use instead.

More in the Series

In part 2 of this series, learn how to use bodyweight and light equipment like resistance bands to functionally train your lower body. In part 3 of the series, I focus on body weight only, and in part 4 I set up some different routines you can do in a hotel when you’re on the road. Regardless of your fitness goals, some form or fashion of squats can and should be added to your fitness routines.

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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: fitness center equipment weight loss strength core videos squat

Get Started with Group Fitness to Improve Your Mental Health

Screen Shot 2021-04-15 at 1.33.39 PMPicture this: It’s the last 10 minutes of your favorite group fitness class on the NIFS Fitness Center’s basketball court. You have already completed dozens of repetitions of strength-training exercises and now it’s time for a cardio finisher. You are sweating, tired, and ready to be done, but you keep going. You are so close… it’s the final 5, 4, 3, 2, and 1 seconds of cardio, and you made it. Wow, you feel exhausted, but accomplished. Your body is tired, but mentally you are at ease. Why does exercise make your mind feel so good?

Mental Health Benefits of Group Exercise

Exercise has many perks that are relevant to daily life, but focusing on mental health, exercise has loads of benefits.

  • Exercise increases the blood supply to your brain. More blood means more oxygen and more nutrients.
  • Exercise works as a distraction. When you’re working out and pushing yourself, the things that usually occupy your mind to make you anxious are not the main focus.
  • Exercise helps you sleep. Pushing yourself daily in a workout can help you regulate your sleep cycle.
  • Exercise reduces tension. Moving your body in a workout can help relieve the tension built up from stress.
  • Exercise boosts your overall energy. Yes, working out makes you tired, but it also releases endorphins that boost your mood, memory, and energy level.

Getting Started with Group Fitness

Now that you know some of the benefits of exercise, how can you get started on improving your mental health with group fitness?

If you do not regularly attend group fitness classes, start slow. Set a target of one or two classes to attend a week. It’s important not to push yourself too hard by trying to attend a class every day of one week, causing you to be burnt out or unmotivated to go the next week. The main objective for you is to set an attainable goal for several classes to attend weekly and then gradually increase your weekly participation once you are comfortable.

Don’t be afraid to mix up the formats. At this point, any exercise led by our instructors will be good for you. Try out formats that you have never tried before, or even try a format you have enjoyed in the past with a new instructor. Mix it up!

The key to success within group fitness is to find formats that you enjoy with instructors that you look forward to going to. After all, attending a class that you dread is not going to be beneficial for your mental health. The more consistent you get with your workout attendance, the more constant the benefits will be.  

Group Fitness at NIFS

Come join us in our group fitness community. NIFS has a wide variety of group fitness offerings, so you are sure to find a class to boost your mood, increase your energy, and improve your mental health.

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This blog was written by Payton Gross, Group Fitness Coordinator and Barre Above Instructor. Learn more about the NIFS bloggers here.

Topics: NIFS fitness center group fitness group training emotional mental health

The Three P’s of Group Fitness at NIFS

bootcamp-outsideGroup fitness classes are fitting for many people because the classes provide participants with predetermined workouts led by highly motivated instructors in a group setting. The niche of group fitness is constantly evolving. Classes in the category of group fitness look a lot different than they did 10 or 20 years ago. Not only do the classes look different, but they are more diverse than ever. Many participants use group fitness as supplementation for a typical workout at the gym because all you have to do is show up. Ease of participation coupled with the accountability of other members makes group fitness classes a unique environment.

NIFS takes pride in its group fitness offerings. This is why I want to share a little more about the three P’s our instructors prioritize in every class.

Prioritizing Purposeful Education

Educating members by encouraging them to attend workouts in complementary categories to get the most from their workouts while protecting their bodies.  

Group fitness classes are goal-oriented. No matter the format, every class has a goal that falls into one of these categories: endurance, strength, flexibility, or toning. A balanced group fitness schedule for a participant could look like this:

  • Monday: Les Mills Core and BODYATTACK Express
  • Tuesday: Cycling
  • Wednesday: Vinyasa Yoga
  • Thursday: Interval Training and Les Mills Core
  • Friday: Yoga
  • Saturday: Cycling

Group Fitness Schedule

Prioritizing Positive Experiences

Group fitness is a community. Studies have shown when you work out with others, there is a level of trust formed that enables people to be vulnerable and push each other to reach fitness goals. 

Encouragement within the group emphasizing small victories within classes makes the environment positive for participants. Our main goal is to make sure everyone feels good after their workout here at NIFS.

Prioritizing Participation

Group fitness cannot be group fitness without a group. NIFS instructors make participant needs and wants a priority. If a class time is not working to maximize participation, we edit it. Monthly revisions to the schedule are common to test and try class times and formats. 

Whatever works for participants, works with us. Additionally, these are unprecedented times; this is why a majority of our classes take place on the basketball court. We know how important mirrors are when checking form in group fitness classes, so we bought safe, glassless mirrors specifically for group fitness. Participation is the heart of group fitness, so the more the better. Come join us!

Come work out with us. Joining is easy, and once you’ve committed, the community is for a lifetime.

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This blog was written by Payton Gross, Group Fitness Coordinator and Barre Above Instructor. Learn more about the NIFS bloggers here.

Topics: NIFS fitness center motivation group fitness accountability Les Mills education

NIFS Supports Your Physical and Mental Wellness

GettyImages-1216431174The current COVID-19 pandemic is unlike anything most have experienced in their lifetimes. The dangers of this virus are still real and need to be taken seriously. Even though it seems monotonous, it is important to recognize the importance of wearing a mask and maintaining physical distancing, because at times it seems the public is becoming numb to these terms.

We know that many people are still working from home as we are at the one-year mark of shutdowns. We all want to reach a sense of normalcy sooner rather than later. But with new stressors of the inability to “unplug” from work, balancing work within family life, and keeping businesses afloat that rely on in-person transactions for revenue, these times are arguably more stressful now than they have ever been.

What Is Wellness and How Can NIFS Help?

Wellness is the act of practicing healthy habits daily to attain better physical and mental health outcomes so that instead of just surviving, you’re thriving.

We want to encourage you to eat, exercise, and sleep like we are not in a pandemic. Plan a routine, eat on a schedule, set aside a time to increase your heart rate, and rest.  

We offer virtual personal and small-group training options as well as nutrition coaching to create your very own personal action plan. Our trainers can work with you at a time that is convenient for you from the comfort of your own home. In addition to tailored workout programming, we also offer a variety of group fitness classes livestreamed on Zoom weekly.

Why Is Prioritizing My Wellness Important?

Numerous areas of your lifestyle tie into your overall wellness. Those areas include social connectedness, exercise, nutrition, sleep, and mindfulness. Every single one of these aspects impacts your physical and mental health. To starts, consciously make one or two simple and healthy choices each day. Go on a walk, try new food, or call a family member or friend. Making small changes daily can lead you to a better-rounded and well-balanced lifestyle during the current pandemic. 

Implementing new habits that you look forward to can make a positive impact on your life. By consciously making the daily choice to be well, your actions will lead you on the path toward reduced stress, positive social interactions, and optimal wellness.

***

NIFS wants to help provide you with the tools you need to be well both physically and mentally. Our facility is open with sufficient distancing, mask-wearing policies, and additional cleaning measures in place. However, we understand that in-person is not the best way we can serve everyone at this time. NIFS is meeting you where you are to support your wellness. If you want more information about online classes or online training please contact us today at 317-274-3432 ext 262 or by email.

Let us help you positively impact your well-being.

This blog was written by Payton Gross, Group Fitness Coordinator and Barre Above Instructor. Learn more about the NIFS bloggers here.

Topics: NIFS fitness center personal training small group training fitness and wellness physical fitness mental health covid-19 pandemic remote fitness virtual training

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

Stuck in a Rut? How to Avoid Plateauing in the Weight Room

GettyImages-679304968Let me ask you a question. Have you ever hit a plateau in the weight room when it comes to increasing strength? What about when it comes to increasing power output (vertical jump, short-distance sprint)? Well if you have, you are not alone. I know I have hit plateaus in the past and it can definitely be frustrating when you are not able to get past it.

The question I always asked myself was, “What am I doing wrong now?” Well it wasn’t necessarily that I was doing anything wrong. I followed the basic recommendations for strength gain (2–6 sets of 2–6 repetitions). I used to follow those parameters religiously because that’s what I learned early in my undergrad classes. What I didn’t know is that there are virtually endless ways to get past that plateau. I will share my favorite here.

Traditional Strength Training

Let me first describe what strength really means. Strength is essentially how much force a person can exert, or to simplify that, how much weight a person can lift. What traditional strength training is, is lifting a certain amount of weight—typically about 8095% of your 1 rep max by sets of 2–6 of 2–6 repetitions (NSCA, 2016).

Tempo Training

Tempo training is essentially lifting a certain amount of weight for a certain amount of time. What I mean by this is that I can manipulate the amount of tension I want during each rep by varying how long I have my athletes either lower the weight or bring the weight back up. This type of training has been found to elicit more strength and power output gains than traditional strength training (Dolezal, 2016).

I can have my athletes train at two different types of tempos that will essentially give me the outcome that I desire, whether that be more strength gains or power gains. The first tempo would be more eccentric based (lowering the bar during a squat, lowering the bar during a bench press, etc.). I typically have my athletes lower the bar for about 3–5 seconds and then explode up. The parameters I use and that have been found to have the rest result are about 65–85% of their 1 rep max for about 3–4 sets of 3–6 reps (Dolezal, 2016).

The second method of tempo training I use is velocity-based training. This essentially means I have my athletes perform a certain amount of reps as fast as possible. This type of training has been proven to increase both strength and power output in both athletes and the general population (Banyard, 2019). Performing 3–5 sets of 3–5 reps at about 50–70% is enough to elicit these changes.

The Verdict

In my opinion, tempo training is a much better tool to use versus traditional strength training. The reasons are that with traditional strength training, you really have to make certain you stay within the parameters. With tempo, there is more freedom in how you want to train as well as the additional benefit of improving power output as well as strength, where traditional training does not really increase power output (Banyard, 2019).

I realize that I have oversimplified this topic, but the actual mechanisms of why tempo training is more beneficial than traditional training are out of the scope of this blog. If you would like more information, I would be happy to explain in more detail in another blog or in person.

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This blog was written by Pedro Mendez, CSCS, FMS, Health/Fitness Instructor and Strength Coach at NIFS. To learn more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: fitness center weightlifting strength training plateaus tempo training

Work Capacity Training with Kettlebells

GettyImages-1001563404The Russian kettlebell is unique among exercise tools. It is an offset-handle weight that travels easily between the legs in a pendulum movement that can be easily seen in the kettlebell swing (two-hand and one-hand swings). If done correctly, the hips hinge straight backward as if you were trying to push a swinging door open while holding a tray. If you squat, even a little bit, there is little rearward movement and the door doesn’t open. Hip power is lost.

The Swing

When I teach future kettlebell instructors, I spend 2 and a half hours on teaching the swing. It is that complicated, and as you will see, that important. Hopefully, a future instructor can take that information and skills and teach a client how to do a reasonable swing in 10 to 20 minutes, reasonable enough to get through a workout. Regardless of how long someone has been lifting kettlebells, their swing skills can always be improved.

That hip hinge swing movement is used for kettlebell cleans and for the glamour lift, the kettlebell snatch. Without proper swing skills, it is impossible to progress very far into the art of kettlebell lifting and to truly get the unique rewards of kettlebell lifting.

Weight Exercises

Kettlebells are a weight and can be used for typical weight exercises—sometimes successfully, sometimes passable, and many times just plain head-shaking stupid. What most people miss is what the Russians discovered a long time ago. In one-on-one athletics, the first athlete to fatigue is likely to lose. In military hand-to-hand combat, the first soldier to fatigue is likely to die. The repeatable hip hinge–based movements (swings, cleans, snatches, clean and press, clean and push press, and clean and jerks) are tremendously effective in building strength/endurance, and work capacity. The variables are time of lifting, reps per minute, and of course the amount of weight used.

Tasha Nichols, a group fitness instructor here at NIFS, won her 58Kg weight class in Dublin, Ireland 2015, doing the one-arm snatch for 10:00 (hand switch at the 5:00 mark) with a 16kg KB with a total of 203 repetitions. The time was 10:00, averaging just over 20 reps per minute, and the weight was 16kg (35.3 pounds). That is work capacity!

Work Capacity Kettlebell Workout

Here is a little workout to give you an idea what work capacity training feels like.

Maxwell Circuit

  • Swings: 15 
  • Goblet Squats: 5
  • Push-up: 5
  • One-arm row: 5/5

That is 1 round and the workout is a minimum of 8 rounds and a maximum of 15. Rest long enough to complete the next round but no longer. Swings can be done with a dumbbell if a kettlebell is not available. Be careful when holding a dumbbell by the bell end. It can slip.

Block off the space you’re using to swing anything. Children and pets can walk in when they are least expected

Goblet Squat is done with the weight held at chest level. If this bothers your shoulders, hold the weight at arm’s length between your legs but be sure to actually squat. Do not allow it to become a sloppy deadlift.

Kettlebell Training

Training with kettlebells properly, anyone can seriously improve their strength and endurance. Like most activities, you must put in the time to practice and get better to see real results. Interested in learning more about kettlebell lifting and how you can increase your work capacity? Contact Rick Huse for more information. 

Enjoy the pain!

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This blog was written by Rick Huse, CSCS, NIFS Health Fitness Specialist. To find out more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: fitness center workouts nifs staff endurance weightlifting strength kettlebell work capacity

Do’s and Don’ts in the Gym: Videos from NIFS Fitness Instructors

March is typically a make-or-break month for many folks as it relates to reaching their health and wellness goals for the new year. The resolutions are losing steam, weather tends to sway fitness decision-making, and focus begins to shift a bit away from what brought them to the gym in the first place. My message to many at this time of year is to continue to WIN EACH DAY! By that I mean have more checks in the win column than in the loss column. It’s natural to slump a little—we haven’t seen the sun in a month, for crying out loud. But continue to focus on doing those things that constitute WINS and limit those things that would be considered a LOSS.

NIFS Instructors Share Their Observations in the Gym

This is also a great time of year to hit a few reminders of what you should and should not do in the gym I asked the experts (the highly trained NIFS instructors): What are some things you see gym-goers do that needs immediate attention and correction? Along with a few of my own, here is what the team had to report on the common things we see in the gym that you should and should not do.

Screen Shot 2020-03-09 at 4.37.04 PM

Tony: Control the Weights

  • Not controlling the weight of an exercise throughout the entire ROM.
  • Dropping the weight unsafely.
  • Holding on and hunching over a climb mill.
  • Standing the wrong direction in a squat rack.

Lauren: Deadlift

  • Tuck the chin in neutral spine
  • Use clips for safety

Thomas: Bicep Curl

  • The emphasis on bicep curl contraction is more pronounced when we isolate the muscle.  this can be done by avoiding movement and momentum from arm swinging by pressing the elbows toward your sides
  • Sometimes, more weight does not make the exercise better, but better movement patterns can make the exercise more effective and safer
  • An easy way to also accomplish this would be to press your back against the wall and perform the exercise

Ashley: Proper Plank

  • Hips in the air/not a flat back
  • Proper way is flat back, hips level, core tight

Tinisi: Proper Lunge

  • Keep your upper body straight, with your shoulders back and relaxed and look straight ahead
  • lower your hips until both knees are bent at about a 90-degree angle
  • Core tight

Keep Striving for Wins and Contributing to Your Fitness Community

We covered a great deal of information here—pretty important stuff for both proper technique and fitness community etiquette. As I covered in my post Culture Club: How to Be a Strong Member of a Fitness Community, we are all in this together! And a community of support and positive energy is a place we can all thrive in, and must all contribute to. I know that some of the new year perspective may have lost a little sparkle, but you are still on the right track. Just remember, have more WINS than LOSSES and you will continue to improve!

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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: fitness center resolutions workouts nifs staff videos new year's ettiquette fitness community technique instructors

Go With the Flow: Spice Up your Warm-ups Using Flow Circuits

With the winter months settling in, and maybe traveling becoming part of your routine, it may become harder to carve out time for workouts. Limited access to equipment may also throw a wrench into your plan for a quick training session. But by incorporating bodyweight movements into a flow circuit, you can bypass the excuses and be workout ready any time, any place.

What Is a Bodyweight Flow?

Flow circuits typically include bodyweight movements that are linked in succession one after another with minimal or no rest in between. They can be used as a dynamic warmup, a low-intensity recovery circuit, or an entire workout in and of itself. They can also be a great way to sprinkle some physical activity into your day, especially if time and equipment are lacking.

How to Implement a Flow Circuit

If you’re looking to spice up your standard dynamic warm-up (or add one in general), a simple two-minute flow circuit fits perfectly. You can perform each movement three to five times, and when the movements are linked together in succession, they help increase blood flow, improve mobility, and increase your overall core body temperature to prep you for the workout ahead. Bodyweight flow circuits also allow you to hit large, compound movements that address stability at multiple joints in a shorter amount of time. Overall, they are a great bang for your buck. Examples of movements include bear crawls, cross-under lunges, inchworms, and rocking patterns.

Here are a couple of bodyweight flow options that you can take for a spin next time you’re at the gym in need of a warm-up.

  • Video 1 (Hip Flow Series)

Screen Shot 2020-01-28 at 2.36.48 PM

  • Video 2 (Crawling/Rolling Patterns)

Screen Shot 2020-01-28 at 2.34.31 PM

If you’re interested in learning more about how to use bodyweight movements and flows for warm-ups, circuits, cool-downs, or recovery routines, check us out down in the Fitness Center. You can also reach out to me via email to lzakrajsek@nifs.org for any and all questions. Happy lifting!

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

Topics: fitness center circuit workout videos recovery warmups bodyweight flow bodyweight flow flow circuits low-intensity

Winter Weight Loss and Fitness: Pushing Through the Cold

GettyImages-1125853893There is no debate that it’s easier to make healthier choices and lose weight in the spring and summer months. The sun is shining and warm, the days are longer, and you feel motivated to get outdoors and be active. But when the cold, harsh months of winter come around, all motivation goes out the window. Let’s take a look at ways to keep your motivation high and get over those hurdles of temptation.

Temptation Is All Around

The cold months are full of occasions that bring temptations. Hot chocolate, cookies, cakes, holiday parties, and family and friend gatherings are everywhere. If you’re not careful, it can be easy to slip into the mindset that all indulgences are bad. When you label your food choices as “good” and “bad,” every decision becomes a loaded one. Any time you stray from your eating plan, you might feel a bit of guilt or shame. These emotions can trigger the body’s stress response, and when stress is involved it can set you up for more trouble.

Instead of sweating over the “shoulda, coulda, wouldas,” try making food choices that are right for you. Plan ahead, or maybe choose one small indulgence per day to satisfy your sweet tooth and engage in those fun winter activities.

Come Out of Hibernation and Get Motivated to Exercise

The snow is falling and ice is everywhere. The days are still short and daylight is minimal. Winter itself is enough to tank your motivation to exercise. Who wants to go out into the freezing weather to go for a run or to the gym when you can curl up on the couch with a blanket and be perfectly content? There are tons of ways you can stay active from the comfort of your own home.

  • Stay active while watching your favorite show or movie: Every commercial/intermission, get up and knock out a circuit of 10 pushups, 10 squats, and 10 crunches. Maybe even jog in place until the show comes back on.
  • Use apps: We have cut the cord when it comes to cable. We use our Apple TV, which is just like having an iPhone on your TV. Download an exercising app that you can play on your TV and get a quick 15–20-minute workout.

Keeping up with a fitness routine will help with more than weight loss. The benefit of working out is that it gets oxygen to the cells, keeps your body working, and gets you energized.

Staying Hydrated

It is so easy to indulge in all the sweet, alcoholic seasonal drinks such as eggnog. Don’t forget to make sure you are staying hydrated. Fun fact: According to a 2003 study on the metabolic effects of different water temperatures published by The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, when you consume liquids that are colder than your core body temperature, your body has to work to warm it up, and it burns extra calories in the process. So consider drinking ice water instead of hot chocolate!

Drinking water can give your immune system a boost and prevent you from getting sick during peak cold and flu season. Drinking water can also increase your metabolism and help you feel full longer. This in turn could help curb your appetite and enable you to maintain healthy eating habits.

Come Visit Us!

Get bundled up and come and see us. We would love to have you in one of our classes, write a program for you, conduct your assessments, provide training for you, or be here to walk around the track with you. Whatever you need from your staff at NIFS, please ask and let us help set the tone for your 2020!

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This blog was written by Ashley Duncan, NIFS Program and Weight Loss Coordinator. To learn more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: NIFS winter fitness fitness center motivation weight loss hydration winter