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NIFS Healthy Living Blog

The Difference Between Compound and Isolation Exercises When Lifting

GettyImages-1368579391In a previous blog I discussed the importance of training within the movement categories. Those categories are upper body push and pull, squat, and hinge. To break it down even further within the categories, there are exercises that give you more bang for the buck than others. In this blog I differentiate between compound and isolation exercises. For those of you who are on a time crunch when you are in the gym, these exercises are crucial to get the most out of your training.

What Is the Difference?

A compound exercise is also known as a multi-joint exercise. This is an exercise in which more than one joint is required to move through the exercise. An example of a compound exercise would be a squat. To complete the squat pattern, three joints must move: the ankle, knee, and hip. Examples of compound exercises for the upper body are the bench press and overhead press. Both movements require the function of the shoulder and elbow. The reason that compound lifts have more payoff is that they work multiple muscle groups as well. A bench press uses the pectoralis muscles, deltoids, and triceps. This requires more energy to be expended than if you used only one of those muscle groups on a single joint exercise. Exercises that isolate a single muscle group are called isolation exercises. Examples of an isolation movement would be a bicep curl, triceps extension, leg extension, or a leg curl. The difference between a compound exercise and an isolation exercise is the number of joints that move.

Which Type of Exercise Should You Do?

Compound lifts are more challenging but less time consuming than performing multiple different isolation exercises. If you short on time while in the gym, a full-body workout full of compound movements will give you the most from your workout. I have written blogs about how to structure those types of workouts. If you want to sculpt your body in a particular way, and are focused on correcting muscle imbalances or injury rehabilitation, each may require the use of specific isolation movements to build up specific muscle groups. So, the question is, what are your goals? Once you define your goals, you can design your workout program.

Structuring a Workout

The most efficient way to structure a workout utilizing both methods is to perform a compound movement first in your workout followed by isolation movements to complement the muscles used in the compound movement. A quick example using the bench press would be bench pressing first, followed by isolation movements to isolate the chest and triceps. You want to save the most amount of energy for your compound exercises, which is why you should perform this one first. Fatiguing the triceps before a heavy bench workout will not yield the best results for bench press. This is why isolation exercises are best performed at the end of your workout.

For more information or guidance on how to structure your workouts, visit our training staff at the track desk in the fitness center. For nonmembers looking for help on your fitness journey, feel free to give us a call to set up a guest fitness assessment.

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This blog was written by Evan James, NIFS Exercise Physiologist EP-C, Health Fitness Instructor, and Personal Trainer. To learn more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: fitness center muscles weight lifting weightlifting muscle building joints gym isolation exercises compound exercises structuring workouts

The Role of Hormones in Resistance Training

GettyImages-625739874Hormones have an especially important role in dealing with resistance training. The endocrine system is a collection of glands that produce hormones that regulate metabolism, growth and development, tissue function, sexual function, sleep, and mood. Some of these hormones are anabolic, which promote tissue building, and others are catabolic, which are used to degrade/break down cell protein. Ideally for muscle building, it is important to produce anabolic hormones while limiting the production of catabolic ones.

Anabolic and Catabolic Hormones

Scientists have identified examples of anabolic hormones in the human body. These examples include insulin, IGF-1 (insulin-like growth factor), testosterone, and growth hormone. On the other hand, the catabolic hormones are cortisol, catecholamines, and progesterone. For our purposes, we can focus on two of these hormones: testosterone and cortisol.

Testosterone

Testosterone is the primary androgen hormone. The way to promote testosterone is short rest periods, 30 to 60 seconds, heavy resistance—85 to 95 percent 1RM (large motor units), and chronic resistance training (2+ years). Further, testosterone has a known effect on the nervous system: it increases neurotransmitters, and it acts on every tissue in the body. Men have 15 to 20 times more testosterone than women, and acute, or sudden, increases following workouts are small.

Cortisol

Cortisol, on the other hand, converts amino acids into carbs and breaks down proteins and inhibits the synthesis of proteins, which is bad if you are trying to build muscle because proteins are the building blocks for muscle. Cortisol increases during exercise with high volume/short muscle rest, causing large serum cortisol. This does more damage to the muscle and is not good for muscle recovery. Chronically high cortisol levels have adverse catabolic effects.

Knowing that your body produces both testosterone and cortisol, the difficulty lies in the ability to produce more testosterone than cortisol to see muscle growth.

Ways to Promote Lower Cortisol Levels

Here are four ways to lower your cortisol levels so that you can build muscle:

  • Utilize proper rest times during high-intensity resistance workouts.
  • Eat enough protein and carbohydrates to help you through the resistance workout.
  • Perform resistance workouts when your body’s cortisol levels are lower, typically later in the day.
  • Make sure you are getting enough sleep.

***

Make sure you are paying attention to your hormones during resistance exercise. If you are not careful, hormones might be affecting your gains in a negative way instead of a positive way. As you can see from this information, these are just a few areas you can target to start producing testosterone and therefore, affect the tissues within your body. Hopefully, this information gives you a better understanding of the main two types of hormones, anabolic and catabolic, how they work in your body, and ways to achieve those gains you are looking for in your resistance training.

Source: Haff, G., & Triplett, T. (2016). Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning (4th ed.). Human Kinetics.

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This blog was written by David Behrmann, NIFS Health Fitness Instructor.To learn more about the NIFS bloggers, click here

Topics: muscle building hormones resistance training

Tips and Tricks to Improve Your Pull-ups Quickly

GettyImages-855620696Pull-ups are a great muscle-building exercise. However, many of us struggle to even do one or enough reps to truly take advantage of the muscle-building rewards of this exercise. In this blog I explain why that is, tell you how to improve your pull-ups, and give you a full pull-up progression intended to take you from 0, 1, 2, 3… up to 10 pull-ups in a row or moreLet’s be honest, pull-ups are difficult. First off, whether you weigh 100 pounds or 350, that will be the weight you will have to overcome with each rep. Secondly, pull-ups engage more than just your back. You may or may not have a big back and bicep muscles but still can’t do more than one or two pull-ups. No matter how big the muscles in your back and biceps are, if you have weak links in the chain of movement, you will still be limited in your ability to do more pull-ups.

Change Your Training for Strength

The first step to improving your pull-ups is to change your training for strength improvements. Based on where you are at, I like to break it down into three groups:

  • Group 1: 0–4 pull-ups
  • Group 2: 5–7 pull-ups
  • Group 3: 8, 9 and break through to 10

Group 1: 0–4 Pull-ups

If you are in the group 1 category, you currently can’t do a pull-up, or can’t do more than 4 in a row. You need to quickly build strength with a couple of exercises I like to do.

The first is inverted rows, which can be done under a bar in a rack or with the TRX Straps in the horizontal plane. 

The second exercise is negative pull-ups to assist and train your body in a vertical plane. With negative pull-ups you will work on lowering (descending) for time, adding seconds to each rep as you progress. Make sure to fight the lowering in a full range of motion. Do not hold yourself in the up position and then just fall. Control the descent for the full range.

Group 2: 5–7 Pull-ups

Group 2 is further along and ready for pull-up progressions. This is when we will build up volume and work toward getting in 2–3 sets, with the goal of reaching toward 20–30 reps completed. We will add assisted pull-ups to allow for reducing the amount of resistance you need to overcome reps the higher volume.  An easy way to do assisted pull-ups is to use a larger resistance band and loop it around the rack, giving you a platform to stand on while assisting your pull-ups. 

Group 3: 8–10 Pull-ups

Group 3 is essentially going to repeat what group 2 is doing but adding weight to your pull-ups to help you break through to 10. Adding weight can be as easy as adding a weight belt with 5 pounds on it or putting a 5-pound dumbbell between your feet. When you are doing the banded assisted pull-ups, start to use smaller, thinner resistance bands to stand on.

All Groups: Work on Core, Scap Retractions

All three groups need to work on weak-link areas as well. First is core work; as I stated earlier, pull-ups are difficult and place concentrated demands on the core, also a known weak link. I like to use Planks and Hollow Rocks. Next, you need to work on scap retractions, and you can do small pulls to train it with scapular pull-ups and face pulls.

Shoulder Prehab

Start with prehab exercises. Prehab exercises should be used to bomb-proof your body and potentially prevent future injuries. The overall goal of prehab exercises is to increase durability in your physical activities with better-quality movements, which will improve performance and overall health. Here are two I like to start with. Pick one that works for you for today’s pull-up workout.

Option 1: Shoulder Prehab—Light Weights

x10 reps each
Standing: I, Y, T, W’s, Scap Taps
Lying: I, Y, T, W’s, Overhead Scap Taps

Option 2: Shoulder Prehab—Bands

x10 reps each
Standing: Band Pull-Aparts with Bent Elbows, Banded Figure 8's, Band Pull-aparts with Long Straight Arms
Banded Over & Backs
Half-Kneeling Lunge: Diagonal Pull-aparts with Long Straight Arms

The Pull-up Workouts

Now that you are warmed-up and have bomb-proofed your body, let’s begin the pull-up workout. Here’s the strategy to vastly improve your pull-ups. Reference your pull-up ability and progress accordingly from there. This is a full back workout performed once a week.

Group 1: 0–4 Pull-ups

Inverted Rows (under bar or TRX straps): 3–4 sets or 8–12 reps
Negative pull-ups: 3–5 sets or 3–5 reps  ** FULL RANGE OF MOTION**
(Starting out 3x3 reps at 3s descents… progressing to 5x5 at 5s descents for each rep.)
Elbow or Push-up Plank: 3 sets of :30s–2mins
(Starting out with 3x sets at :30s… progressing to 2mins eventually)
Alternating your workouts with Scapular Pull-ups and Face Pulls: 3–4 sets or 8–12 reps with 2s holds
(Hanging from pull-up bar, squeeze scapular muscles, as if beginning the pull-up motion and hold for 2s for each rep. Next workout alternate with Face Pulls, keep elbows up and thumbs toward temples, again squeeze scapular muscle for 2s.)

Group 2: 5–7 Pull-ups

Pull-ups: Sets of 2–5 reps aim for 20–30 reps total.
Assisted Pull-ups w/larger resistance bands: Mirror how many sets/reps you accomplished with pull-ups previously. Shooting for the same.
Inverted Rows (under bar or TRX straps): 2–3 sets or 8–12 reps
Alternating your workouts with Elbow or Push-up Plank and Hollow Rocks: 3 Sets of :30s–2mins
Alternating your workouts with Scapular Pull-ups and Face Pulls: 2–3 sets or 10–15 reps with 2s holds

Group 3: 8–10+

Weighted Pull-ups: Sets of 2–5 reps, aim for 20–30 reps total.
(If you are just getting into group 3 and graduated up from group 2, start back over with reps and sets you began that group with; you are adding weight to your pull-ups now.)

Example, group 2

I started with 3x4 reps and progressed to 5x6 reps. Now do the same but with weight.

Assisted Pull-ups w/smaller resistance bands: Mirror how many sets/reps you accomplished with pull-ups previously. Shooting for the same +2 reps. Try to do a little bit more volume.
Inverted Rows (under bar or TRX straps): 2–3 sets or 8–12 reps
Alternating your workouts with Elbow or Push-up Plank and Hollow Rocks: 3 Sets of 1–2mins
Alternating your workouts with Scapular Pull-ups and Face Pulls: 3 Sets or 10–15 Reps with 2s holds

Use the Plan Once a Week

That’s it! Use the plan once a week to improve your pull-up potential. You will want to max out and test your pull-ups once a month to see if you are making progress and moving up groups to level up your strength gains.

As with any workout, to make gains, you must start somewhere, you must stay consistent, and you must work hard. Don’t be discouraged that you can’t do pull-ups yet. Stay the course and you will be blown away when you quickly increase your pull-up strength!

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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: workouts core muscle building strength training prehab pull-ups

No Such Thing as Too Strong: Strength Training for Everyone

Screen Shot 2022-05-03 at 11.23.18 AMHow many times have you or someone you know needed help because they were unable to open the pickle jar? Now, how many times have you heard someone get mad because the pickle jar was too easy to open. I’m guessing you haven’t. Nobody has ever complained about being too strong—a statement I like to tell people when they ask why they should start strength training. There are many benefits of strength training. As we age we lose the physical ability to carry out certain activities. Tasks that were once easy are now difficult to do alone or not at all. These are our activities of daily living. 

Activities of Daily Living

Your activities of daily living (ADLs) are your everyday activities that are essential to get you through the day: walking, getting up from chairs, carrying groceries, bringing in the bag of dog food, and so on. As a person ages, these activities get harder and harder to carry out. According to Harvard Health, it is estimated that after the age of 30, a person will begin to lose 3–5% of their muscle mass per decade. Loss of muscle mass will result in the loss of your ability to carry out your ADLs. Additionally, with loss of muscle comes the loss of muscular power, or the ability to produce force quickly. The loss of muscular power is the main contributor to the increase of fall risk as we age.

The loss of muscle mass as we age is termed sarcopenia. Age-related loss of muscle is, of course, preventable. With the correct diet, exercise plan, and regulation of hormones, a person can not only maintain but also increase their muscle mass as they age. This will ensure that you are able to maintain your ability to perform those ADLs with no trouble. Things such as yard work and playing outside with kids or grandkids are activities that should never be lost.

Athletics

Switching gears now to a different population. All aspects of strength are required to excel in a particular sport. From field sports to court sports to endurance running events, being strong will help everyone. The primary benefit that all athletes gain from strength training is an increase in joint stability. A well-structured resistance training plan will not only make the muscles stronger, but will also progress in a way to allow time to increase tendon strength at the same time. A more structurally sound joint is less likely to get injured.

Force is an influence that can change the motion of an object. Force is how we walk, jog, run, jump, change direction, and everything else we do in sport. There are two components that go into force, mass and acceleration. From a training aspect, we can manipulate these two components to match our needs. How this translates to the weight room is, we can move a light weight fast, or move as much weight as we can. Both forms of training will increase force production in their own way. Each athlete will need to train at different ends of the force curve depending on their sporting event and their biology. It is up to the strength and conditioning coach to make a plan for the individual’s needs and sport.

But I Don’t Want to Be “Bulky”

The common misconception is that resistance training will make you “bulky.” I only have one response to this question every time I get asked. I tell people to look at how track athletes and wrestlers train. These athletes are at peak performance but must maintain, and even in some cases lose, body weight. They do this by resistance training with very heavy loads for very low repetitions. This type of training increases muscular strength without increasing muscular hypertrophy (muscle size). If your goals are to increase strength and maintain your muscle mass, training with heavy loads and low volume is the route to take. This approach is also how powerlifters train. Their goal is to increase the amount they lift at a competition, but they must stay within their weight class. They cannot gain excess weight or else they will have to compete in a higher weight category.

The bodybuilders that you see at the very top level spend years and years building up their bodies to look the way they do. They train daily on individual muscle groups to sculpt their body to look perfect for the judges at a competition. Bodybuilders work in a higher-volume rep and set range than that of a strength athlete. Over an extended period of time, with the right diet, recovery habits, and in some cases the use of performance enhancers, bodybuilders are able to look the way they do when they step on stage. However, strength training two to four days a week to improve your health will not make you look like a “bulky” bodybuilder.

Strength Training Is for Everyone

Being strong is never a quality that someone wishes they did not have. A simple strength training regimen will not make you bulky, or weigh you down for everyday tasks. It will make you stronger and healthier. It will give you confidence to do new things, or things that you have been unable to do or wish you could do. Strength training will give you the ability to play with your kids, and then your grandkids after that in the same way. Not everyone wants to be a bodybuilder or a powerlifter, but everyone wants to feel good in their own skin. After all, nobody has ever complained about being too strong. 

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This blog was written by Evan James, NIFS Exercise Physiologist EP-C, Health Fitness Instructor, and Personal Trainer. To learn more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: muscle mass muscle building strength training athletic performance ADLs

Five Benefits to Olympic Weightlifting for the General Population

GettyImages-1281363470The first thought that comes into most people’s heads when they hear the word weightlifting is, more times than not, “bulky.” The perception is that heavy weightlifting will cause an undesired large gain of muscle mass. This is true; weightlifting will cause you to put on muscle mass, but it will take a lot more than just lifting weights to be “bulky.” Please do not let your goals steer you away from certain exercises.

What Is Olympic Weightlifting?

The sport of Olympic weightlifting is comprised of the snatch, and clean and jerk. The snatch is a lift in which you take the bar from the floor to overhead in one swift movement. The clean and jerk is a lift in which you take the bar from the bar to the shoulder in one swift movement, and then take it from the shoulder to overhead in a second movement. The Olympic lifts are full-body, explosive movements that require the use of every muscle group in the body.

Take a look at any high-level athlete who competes in events such as track or wrestling. They have to get as strong as they can without putting on extra weight. They achieve this by lifting heavy loads for lower rep schemes as fast as they can. This is one reason why you will see athletes in these sports utilizing the Olympic lifts in the weight room. In the off season if they need to put on size, they will move to the higher rep ranges.

Benefits of Olympic Weightlifting

There are many benefits to learning and performing the Olympic lifts within your exercise routine. The lifts can be programmed in many different ways depending on your specific goals. These are my top five benefits of learning the lifts from a certified coach:

  1. Body composition: The snatch and clean and jerk are full-body lifts that use the legs, glutes, back, abs, shoulders, and arms. Performing the lifts burns more calories in a shorter period of time compared to performing isolation/single-joint movements. The lifts and accessory lifts can be used to put on lean tissue, increase strength, and ultimately decrease body fat.
  2. Muscular power and strength: Muscular power is how fast you can move a load. Decrease in muscular power over time is the main cause of falls in older adults. In Olympic weightlifting, nothing is done slowly. All loads are moved at max velocity, therefore increasing power. If your goal is to run faster and jump higher, power is the key ingredient.
  3. Coordination: The Olympic lifts require precise coordination, rhythm, and timing. Improving body awareness and coordination is great for the activities of daily living. Learning new things also increases cognitive abilities in old age.
  4. Range of motion: Most people associate heavy lifting with being stiff and bulky. The Olympic lifts, however, require the lifter to control a load through a full range of motion in the knees, ankles, hips, and shoulders. If the range of motion is not there now, or at the start of your lifting journey, over time training through a full range of motion will increase flexibility more effectively than static stretching one time per week.
  5. Work capacity: Depending on how the lifts are programmed, they can be used to cause a range of positive changes to your body. One way to increase work capacity is by limiting the amount of rest time in between sets. Over time you will be able to recover faster from higher-intensity training.

The Olympic lifts should be performed under the eyes of a certified, experienced coach. Learning the lifts on your own can be done, but will take much longer and will not produce the results you are seeking. If you are interested in learning the Olympic lifts, visit our Master Class here at NIFS, which is free to members. If you are looking for one-on-one or more personal coaching, you can visit us at the track desk and one of our staff will get you going in the right direction.

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This blog was written by Evan James, NIFS Exercise Physiologist EP-C, Health Fitness Instructor, and Personal Trainer. To learn more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: muscles range of motion weight lifting weightlifting strength muscle building body composition building muscle strength and conditioning coordination work capacity

Build a Workout Program with Full-Body Training Splits

Screen Shot 2021-06-01 at 2.24.57 PMAs a young trainer, I struggled to find my training style. I spent the first few months trying to make my clients happy, trying to make every session as hard as I could with no real connection between workouts. Our training had no direction; they were individual workouts according to what my clients wanted to work on that day. More times than not, this turned into working out one muscle group for the entire 30 minutes. I did a good job at working one muscle group, but that did not benefit them in the long term. As I grew in my education and as a trainer, I learned that there was a better approach to training: the full-body training split

The Full-Body Split

The full-body training schedule reduces the amount of time you need to spend inside the gym while still working the different muscle groups more than once per week. A typical bro split is push, pull, leg. On that schedule, if you miss one day, you more than likely will not train that muscle group for another week. Now you have gone at least 14 days without training a specific muscle group. By training full-body in each training session, you will never miss hitting your lower or upper body within a week.

Putting It All Together

Using the movement patterns discussed in my previous blog, along with your weekly schedule, you can put together your weekly training schedule. There are a few different ways to schedule your week to make the full-body routine.

Three Days per Week

On a three-day-per-week schedule, your training days should be at least 48 hours apart. An example of an ideal schedule would be Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. With this schedule you will hit each movement pattern with at least one exercise per category. There is room, depending on how much time you have, to add more isolation movements at the end. A very basic week would look like this:

Day 1–3: Monday, Wednesday, and Friday

  • Bench press
  • Pull-up
  • Back squat
  • Kettlebell deadlift

Four Days per Week

For the four-day-per-week program, you will do a full-body push day and a full-body pull day. The full-body push day will consist of an upper-body press and a lower-body squat pattern. The full-body pull day will consist of an upper-body pull and a lower-body hinge pattern. The workouts can be done back to back at least 24 hours apart. An example of an ideal schedule would be Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday. A basic four-day-per-week schedule would look like this:

Days 1 and 3: Monday and Thursday

Days 2 and 4: Tuesday and Friday

  • Deadlift
  • Pull-up
  • RDL
  • Rows

Five and Six Days per Week

This is a more advanced version of the four-day-per-week schedule. You use the same full-body push/ pull split, but with not as many rest days. A five-day-per-week schedule cycles through each week, alternating between push and pull days. Week 1 has three push days and two pull days. Week 2 then starts with a pull day, giving you three pull days and two push days. After a four-week cycle, you will come out with the same amount of push and pull days. A six-day-per-week cycle is much easier to make, with alternating three push days and three pull days. A basic five- or six-day-per-week schedule looks like this:

Days 1, 3, and 5: Monday, Wednesday, and Friday

Days 2, 4, and optional 6: Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday

Get Help Structuring Your Program at NIFS

For more information on how to properly progress and structure a training program, visit us at the track desk to set up a session. We are more than happy to help at any time, and as a part of your membership here at NIFS, you can receive as many free workout programs as you would like. All programs are tailored to your fitness goals by our health fitness professionals.

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This blog was written by Evan James, NIFS Exercise Physiologist EP-C, Health Fitness Instructor, and Personal Trainer. To learn more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: muscle building leg day workout programs full-body programming pull push arms training schedule

CON-ISO-ECC: Muscle Contractions for Weightlifting Variations

GettyImages-1219375851Your return to the gym will likely mean a return to the program that you were originally doing before your extended break. Exercise selection, reps, and rest periods may be altered slightly after time off; however, eventually you will be back to your pre-quarantine strength and power, among other athletic traits. When you think about that program and how it got you to the point you are at or will be in the near future, do you also think about the steps you will take to further advance your abilities? I’m here to break down a few ways specifically within the muscle that may help give you the variety to your program you are looking for.

There are three main types of muscular contractions that can happen, each of which serves a specific purpose for muscular growth, strength, and power. They are

  • Concentric
  • Isometric
  • Eccentric

Concentric

Concentric muscular contractions are generally the most common type that individuals focus on during their training sessions. Concentric contractions involve the shortening of the muscle during an exercise. If you imagine a lift, say the bench press, the act of pushing the weight up from your chest actively shortens the muscle. The pulling of a bent-over row or the ascent of the barbell back squat all utilize this contraction. An uncommon variation would be to slow down the movement, for example slowing the pulling movement of the bar during a Lat Pulldown. If it normally takes you 1–2 seconds to pull down the bar, try a 5-count with the same weight. The intensity will greatly increase.

Isometric

Isometric contractions are an underrated variation that people most often forget about during workout planning. Instead of a shortening movement like the concentric contraction, the isometric contraction actually involves the muscle staying at the same length during the work period. A simple variation of this contraction is a wall sit. The muscle never changes length, but the tension and effort build over time.

But the quality of this contraction is found in much more than just wall sits. Almost any exercise can utilize this method. Here are a few of my favorite variations using isometric contractions. The intensity of the holds in these lifts can be dictated by either the amount of weight or the time you hold it for.

  • Split Squat Holds (hold split squat in down position with knee off the ground)
  • Push-Up Holds (hold push-up in the “down” position; try at different heights!)
  • Pull-Up Holds (either chin over bar or with arms hanging straight)

Eccentric

The last contraction variation in this trio is the eccentric contraction. This is commonly thought of as the lowering or lengthening of the muscle during an exercise. Going back to the bench press example earlier, the bar lowering to the chest would be the eccentric contraction. Where this method is most useful is during time-under-tension exercises where you increase the amount of time that you lengthen the muscle during the lift. These are all about control and can get quite intense.

Similar to the isometric contractions, time is everything. For example, when you do a step-up and are coming down off of the box, try to control for 3–5 seconds before your foot hits the ground instead of coming down right away. Here are a few of my favorite variations on eccentric contraction exercises:

  • Incline Dumbbell Press (lowering the weight slowly and raising it at a normal pace)
  • Slider Leg Curls (pushing feet out in a slow and controlled motion)
  • Glute Ham Raises (slow on the way down)

***

The variations are not limited to this list. Feel free to get creative with any of your favorite exercises when trying out the different muscular contractions. Remember, time is your friend with any method you choose and can match any intensity you are trying to achieve.

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

Topics: workouts muscles weight lifting weightlifting exercises power muscle building strength training variety workout programs

Boot Camp: The Workout for All Your Fitness Goals

BootcampI want powerful legs! I want to increase my endurance! I want stronger and well-toned abs! I want toned arms! I don’t want to spend endless hours in the gym! Sound familiar? Chances are you have wanted these things at some point in your fitness journey. The great news is that all these are very possible to achieve, and you get them all in one stop.

You need Boot Camp!

What Is Boot Camp?

Boot camp is an amazing style of training that has proven to help people achieve

Bootcamp Poster

their strength and endurance goals all during one session. Based on the training that our brave men and women of the military complete before defending our country, this style of training is meant to push you toward your physical limits. The beauty of boot camp is that it is an hour-long session filled with challenging workout moves to increase heart rate, which improves cardiovascular health while also strengthening and toning multiple muscle groups at once to create maximum fitness results.

This format of working out is constantly varied, so you never get used to a certain physical stimulus, making this type of training session even more beneficial for constant growth and improvement. Often, when we stick to the same workout routine for an extended period of time, our bodies adapt to that form of exercise and will stay in a constant state with no change. To avoid plateaus and boredom, all fitness pros believe that changing the modes and methods of exercise is a must. Bootcamp drills are also a lot of fun, using a wide variety of equipment, including part

ner work drills, and mixing up the setting of where the training takes place. All these aspects allow for a fun and challenging workout that will lead to great results.

Come check it out on the NIFS Group Fitness Schedule: Mondays and Wednesdays at 6pm with Steven! If you need a quick fix while at home, try his mini bootcamp workout below.

At-Home Mini Boot Camp by Steven Kass

  • 25 Deep Squats
  • 25 Push-ups
  • 25 Mountain Climbers
  • 25 Bicycles
  • 100 Jump Ropes

“Start with 1 set and work your way up to 4” says Kass. “That’s all you need for a good whole-body workout.

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This blog was written by Brittany Ignas, BS in Kinesiology, 200 Hour Yoga Alliance Certified, Stott Pilates Certified, and Fitness Coordinator. To find out more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: NIFS group fitness boot camp endurance muscle building toning fitness goals

7 Reasons to Track Your Fitness Progress

We are all on a fitness journey in one way or another. With life’s hectic schedule, it’s easy to lose track of where you are and where you want to be regarding your fitness. No matter whether you are trying to lose weight, put on mass, or maintain where you are, tracking fitness progress is an essential piece of your ongoing success.

While some people track every single workout, all gains, and all food consumed in their fitness journal, others just want to get it done and go by how they feel. But with the constant change in technology, specifically in the fitness industry, tracking progress becomes easier and easier; and in fact, it can add some benefits to your training.

ThinkstockPhotos-518956980.jpgThe Benefits of Logging and Tracking

For those who regularly log and track their progress, you may not need to be convinced why you should be tracking it. But keep reading—this is still for you! And for those who don’t normally track progress, take a quick look at why it might be important to start.

  • Makes it more likely to reach and surpass your goal.
  • Allows you to be more efficient in your time and workouts.
  • Lends accountability to yourself and your goals.
  • Allows for easier modifications and shows when and where changes need to be made.
  • It can be motivating and reinforcing to remind you why you are doing what you are.
  • Helps to drive the focus and direction of your programming.
  • Keeps you committed to your plan.

How to Track Your Progress

So how do you track your progress? There are so many different ways these days that you can do this. Apps, old-school fitness journals, online fitness challenges, in-house competitions in a gym, measurements, BOD PODs, photos, assessments, and the list goes on. One of the newest innovative ways to track progress is with a Fit3D scan. This assessment can provide over 200 measurements so that over time you can track your progress, whether you’re working on weight loss or muscle building.

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

Topics: weight loss NIFS programs muscle building apps assessments tracking fitness progress

Time Under Tension: Slowing Down Movement to Speed Up Fitness Results

ThinkstockPhotos-177455750.jpgOne of the major misconceptions I am happy to battle as a fitness professional is the wildly popular idea that if a little is good, more must be better. One of my favorite quotes from movement guru Grey Cook is, “More is not better; better is better.” It is a motto I strive to live by in my fitness world as well as my personal life.

So if more is not always better, why do so many continue to focus on how many reps, and usually how quickly they can complete them, with the hope of getting stronger and prepping the physique for the upcoming spring break? I guess I can’t blame them; when it comes to getting those physical results, volume does play a role; however, there are more ways to create the volume stimuli than simply 100 reps of everything as fast as you can.

So what are we talking about here, slowing down? Exactly! I know that can be a hard concept to grasp for many, but creating time under tension (TUT) or slowing things down can actually do more than twice the volume in a “reppy” workout. TUT simply refers to the time that a muscle is under load or under strain during a set of a particular exercise. Brad Schoenfeld, PhD, suggests you can achieve this with a heavy load for several seconds or lighter loads for a minute. This is definitely not a new concept, but it seems to have come and gone like a lot of fitness concepts due to something else becoming the next big thing in fitness, like the 6-minute abs. But TUT is worth keeping in the programming conversation because of the multitude of benefits that result from the concept of creating tension to build strength and muscle size.

Four Reasons to Slow It Down

We will discuss some examples of how to get some more TUT into your workout later, but here are four reasons you should keep tension in mind when you train.

  • Mindful movement: Although we use fitness and exercise for health, wellness, physique, and other reasons, exercise can and should be used for creating a mind at peace. I know that I use exercise to reconnect with both my body and the environment; exercise and movement can be spiritual. But being in the moment, or in this sense, the rep, is important. I think we get too caught up in getting things done so quickly that we miss most of the enjoyment of why we move in the first place. This is also a great time to practice proper breathing techniques throughout your movement and training session. Proper breathing throughout a movement will help in alignment, neuromuscular control, and overall enjoyment of the exercise. Concentrate on what you are doing and be in that moment; you will feel the difference.
  • Motor control/Movement enhancement: Enhancing specific movement patterns should be atop your “to-do” list when you head to the gym. If you don’t know how you are doing with movement patterns, I suggest scheduling a Functional Movement Screen with a NIFS instructor. This will provide you with the necessary information about how you are moving. We use TUT in this sense to aid in developing and maintaining motor control of a particular pattern. Holding a certain position for a period of time, slowly moving through a pattern, and pausing to complete deep breaths are ways your brain can make the connection of what a pattern should feel like. This will also allow you to “press save” on the pattern you are working on. So next time you are doing some goblet squats, pause at the bottom and take a deep breath (5 seconds in through your nose and 8 seconds out through your mouth), and then stand to complete the rep and help upgrade your movement software.
  • Muscle hypertrophy: Muscle tension created through resistance training stimulates the growth of new muscle proteins, making your muscles bigger, a process called hypertrophy. Simply put, lifting weights at a certain rate of time under tension will elicit different rates of hypertrophy. Generally speaking, when you are looking at rep counts per set, 3–6 reps = strength and power, 8–12 reps = hypertrophy, and 15+ reps = endurance. For hypertrophy (and there are different schools of thought on this point), 60–90 seconds a set will provide an optimal stimulus to promote muscle synthesis. What do you need to know? Volume and time under load is what will get those muscles bigger, given that the load you choose allows for greater volume. So if getting bigger muscles is your goal, slow it down and make each rep count.
  • Adding a new challenge: If you have ever tried to either hold a position for a period of time or complete a bodyweight exercise as slowly as you can, you know how much more challenging that exercise becomes. Not only will TUT provide the above benefits, but it will add a huge challenge to the movements and exercises in your training sessions. If you are looking for something new, don’t look too far; just slow down a bench press or a bodyweight squat, or anything you are currently doing. It will change everything, and the challenge will go through the roof. And that soreness that you feel the next day and probably the day after is your body telling you that you created enough stimuli to promote growth! Ultimately, that’s what we want, right?

How to Add TUT into Your Workouts

Here are some movements that will add more time under tension when you exercise.

  • Isometric holds: To increase TUT, add movements that rely on creating more tension. Isometric holds are a great place to start. Examples of these movements are planks, static squats and split squats, and static TRX rows. As I mentioned above, pick a movement and hold the position at the most difficult portion of the movement. These exercises are usually timed and start with a short amount of time and progressively build up.
  • Tempo reps: With this method, you slow down both the eccentric (lengthening) and concentric (shortening) phases of the movement. Typically 3–6 seconds per phase will increase the load on the muscle group being worked. Take the TRX row, for example; here Thomas would lower his body for 3 seconds and pull his body back up for 3 seconds for 8–12 reps, increasing his time under tension. You could go even more slowly for a super-slow set to muscular failure as another option of tempo reps.
  • Hypertrophy sets and reps: As stated above, to promote hypertrophy in a particular muscle group, a solid set and rep range is 3 x 8–10 with a tempo of 3:3 (total rep time of :6) for each movement. This is not fancy, but it will get the job done if you are hoping to increase size. So keep it simple and slow it down a little bit.

No matter whether you are looking to enhance your movement, muscle building to get those biceps ready for the beach, or find more joy and fulfillment in your exercise, slowing down can help get you there. If you need some assistance on how to implement TUT into your workout routine, schedule your free personal training session with a NIFS instructor today.

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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 fitness center workouts muscles muscle building functional movement