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NIFS Healthy Living Blog

Testing Progress Toward Your Athletic Performance Goals

GettyImages-1067160268In a world where people want results in an instant and take drastic measures to achieve those results as fast as possible, developing strength, power and athleticism in a long-term aspect is often overlooked. For any fitness-related result or outcome, improvements take time. Fat loss, overall strength and/or power in any particular lift, speed, and agility are all seeds that needed to be watered for a while before noticeable and permanent changes are evident.

In an athletic realm, this leads to the importance of the “testing” process and the use of that process over the course of months, semesters, and years. As a young athlete or athlete fresh out of high school entering the college world of sports and strength and conditioning, this is how you monitor your success and validate that the training and improvements you are making are the things that are actually working. Numbers do not lie. If your times in specific agility drills or weights have increased in certain lifts, obviously you have made improvements. If those numbers have not changed or have decreased, you need to address methods of training or overall compliance/intensity with the program.

Below are five performance tests that measure multiple aspects of your overall athletic profile.

40-Yard Dash

The 40-yard dash, or “40,” is one of the most common drills we use to measure straight-line speed. Sure, many sports are played in a multidirectional way, but overall top speed is an important puzzle piece. Setting up and performing this drill is relatively simple; however, you may need two people to help with the timing.

First, set up two cones exactly 40 yards apart. From here, go to the starting line and sprint from start to finish. The clock or stopwatch should start on your very first movement from the starting line and stop when your body crosses the finish line.

5-10-5 Shuttle

The shuttle run is one of my personal favorites. It allows you to see an athlete’s explosiveness and change-of-direction skills. With lateral movements being so important in many sports, this gives you a good idea of where an athlete stands. To set up the 5-10-5 Shuttle, you need three cones spaced out evenly at 5 yards apart. The athlete starts at the middle cone with their hand on the ground. They run to the right or left cone and touch the ground (5 yards), across the whole setup and touch the ground (10 yards), and sprint through the middle cone (5 yards). Timing of this test starts when the athlete’s hand raises up from the ground and finishes when they cross the middle cone.

Vertical/Broad Jump

Jumping ability is another “power” aspect that translates very well into success on the field or court. The vertical jump test is generally performed with a Vertec, or a piece of equipment where you stand underneath and jump to touch as many of the rings overhead as you can. Other than obtaining the Vertec, the test is fairly simple. First, you want to measure your standing reach, or simply the height that you can reach with your arm outstretched overhead. As I mentioned before, you jump and hit as many of the rings on the Vertec as you can. When the maximal height has been reached, you subtract the standing reach number to get the vertical jump height.

Another great way to measure power would be with the standing broad jump. For this, all you need is a tape measure that is on the floor with a starting line for the athlete. To perform, the athlete starts behind the starting line and jumps out as far as possible and lands under control. The length of the broad jump is measured wherever the back of the athlete’s shoe lands.

Bench/Squat/Trap Bar Deadlift

In the preceding sections we looked at sprint and jump measurements, but we can’t leave out our strength numbers. Like the great Louie Simmons of Westside Barbell said, “Weak things break.” Truer words have never been spoken. Because of this, we want to measure those strength gains with every opportunity that we have. For me, my main three strength lifts that I measure are the bench press, the squat (front squat or back squat, depending on the athlete), and trap bar deadlift. These are three main staples in my programming and I always want to see if the way that I’m implementing them in workouts is yielding the best results.

These may look a little different for you. You may choose DB Bench Press, Pull-Ups, Farmer’s Carries, or something similar. My recommendation is to be sure that whatever you are testing are things that you are continually working on. It’s tough to test a back squat if you haven’t back squatted in 8–10 weeks.

Overall, the moral of the story is testing to see whether what you are doing is helping you achieve your goals is vital. Without testing you are just guessing. Remember, numbers do not lie!

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

Topics: strength goals speed athletic performance fitness goals fitness assessment agility testing fat loss

Three Drills to Develop Athletic Agility

GettyImages-871413050Agility drills basically represent an obstacle. Athletes who can respond faster to starts, stops, and change of direction earlier than the obstacle will have a practical advantage on the playing field. This blog highlights three of my favorite agility drills that can be built into your team’s conditioning routines. The benefits of these runs, jumps, and cuts include increases in reactionary speed, coordination, footwork, and body awareness. Athletes need to be able to change direction rapidly under control without decreases in speed.

You will need a good strength base before doing any high-intensity agility drills. These three drills are great for giving athletes the ability to keep their eyes on the play while knowing what is around them. Adding teammates to the mix always makes it fun and competitive.

Enjoy the drills!

Screen Shot 2020-03-03 at 2.54.12 PMDrill 1: Offense/Defense—Partner Reaction Acceleration Tag

Setup: Cones are spaced 10 yards apart with a middle cone at the halfway point.

Number of Athletes: 2
Athlete 1: Offense (starts the drill); Athlete 2: Defense (reacts and chases)

Execution: Both athletes start on the ground head to head on the baseline. Athlete 1 starts the drill and is allowed two fakes before they must stand, turn, and sprint 10 yards. Athlete 2 reacts and chases Athlete 1 once they stand and turn and has 10 yards to catch and tag Athlete 1 in a sprint fashion.

Screen Shot 2020-03-03 at 2.54.22 PMDrill 2: Cat & Mouse—5-5 Shuttle Reaction Tag

Setup: Cones are spaced 10 yards apart with a middle cone at the halfway point.

Number of Athletes: 2
Athlete 1: Offense; Athlete 2: Defense
Athletes will face each on opposite sides 10 yards apart.

Execution: At the start of a whistle or cue, both athletes sprint a 5-yard shuttle 5–5.

Athlete 1 then tries to sprint past the midline as fast as possible before Athlete 2 tags him before passing the midline after they both do a 5-yard shuttle.

After the 5-yard shuttle, Athlete 1 can juke/cut, etc. to get to the midline to fake out Athlete 2 before being tagged. Athletes switch between offense and defense.

Screen Shot 2020-03-03 at 2.54.44 PMDrill 3: Shuttle Runs—Reaction 5-5-10 Shuttle

Setup: Cones are spaced 0, 5, and 10 yards apart.
Another set of cones is 5 yards apart on the baseline.

Number of Athletes: 3–4
Athlete 1: Shuttles (drill start); Athletes 2–4: Reactionary

Execution: At start of a whistle or cue, Athlete 1, facing the baseline, begins shuffling between the 5-yard cones. Athletes 2–4 stand facing the other way on the baseline waiting to react to Athlete 1. Athlete 1 can shuffle back and forth for a total of two times. However, within the two shuffle attempts, Athlete 1 can turn and sprint whenever. Athletes 2–4 must respond to Athlete 1 and turn and sprint. After Athlete 1 initiates the sprint shuttle, all athletes are now in a race to sprint a 5–5–10-yard shuttle.

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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: team training sports speed athletic performance drills agility coordination proprioception footwork

How to Superset Like a Boss: Speedy Workouts with Big Results

GettyImages-878254216Have you ever tried working out in a time crunch or just wanted to get more exercise in a shorter period of time? Maybe you would like to speed through, but would rather have a plan of action to make your path a little easier. You are in luck because there is a fitness concept that does all of this while making sure you get a great workout. The idea is called supersetting, but it’s not as simple as you might think. To develop a great superset workout, you need to understand how a few concepts really work.

What Is a Superset?

A superset is more than just a two-exercise “mini circuit.” First of all, for these to work the way they are intended, you will have to reconstruct your fitness plan to allow for two exercises, back to back, that complement each other. Basically, the superset exercises need to work different muscle groups all together. For example, I could do a set of pushups (which primarily work the chest and secondarily the shoulders and triceps) and then follow that with a set of pull-ups (which primarily work the Latissimus Dorsi and secondarily the biceps and other back muscles). Another example would be bicep curls and triceps extensions. These are usually a great superset, especially for a time crunch.

Where many people get into a snag is when they try to superset two exercises where both movements incorporate the same muscle and movement pattern. Although it might be a great workout, a traditional superset wouldn’t ask you to do a lat pull-down followed by a pull-up (this would be a basic “burnout” style of exercise that works, but for other reasons).

How to Have a Successful Workout

Now that we have defined the superset, here are a few tips to help make sure your workout is successful.

  • Keep it simple. First, try to keep the movement patterns simple and basic. I wouldn’t superset a complex exercise, such as a clean and jerk or a Turkish get-up. These exercises have many elements, which makes them unique and requires more attention to details.
  • Choose proximal exercises. Second, I suggest picking exercises in your fitness center that are relatively near to each other, so you don’t have to track all over the gym and waste time. This is why a bicep curl and triceps extension work well together. You can use the dumbbell area in your gym and have the weights right there ready to go.
  • Pick exercises that require less recovery time. Finally, bigger lifts usually take longer time periods to recover from. I suggest that if you are taking several minutes to recover from your first superset exercise before you do the next, you might need to consider a different exercise. I suggest that your rest be between 30 seconds to a minute maximum.

Developing workout plans that are appropriate and goal-oriented has always been the hallmark of the NIFS health fitness specialists. Being able to superset properly might not come as easy as you may think, but a staff member can help you make wise choices. You can set up a time to meet and evaluate your goals, do one of our numerous fitness-related tests and screens, or talk about workouts that you are doing. We are more than happy to assist with your programming. Followups are also important, so if you haven’t met with a trainer in a while, please stop by and set up an appointment and keep moving forward.

Until next time, muscleheads evolve and rejoice!

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

Topics: fitness center Thomas' Corner workouts speed superset

Three Summer Training Lessons for Athletes

ThinkstockPhotos-491816300.jpgSummertime is in full swing, and whether you are a competitive or recreational athlete, changes are definitely happening to your normal schedule. For high school and collegiate athletes, more time is spent at home and for general fitness enthusiasts, more options are available to you to fulfill your exercise quota (in other words, doing more things outside). These are both extremely important changes that can be used to alter a routine that has lasted for the past 8 or 9 months of your life.

Student-athletes have been juggling class, competition, and training. Amateur athletes have been working (real jobs), training, and competing as well. When early spring hits, most individuals are sick of that stagnant routine and are looking to switch it up, which is why summer is welcomed by most with open arms.

Summer can also be a time when many physical aspects (such as power, strength, and speed) can decline if adequate “maintenance” of those aspects is not applied. The increase in other opportunities during summer can sometimes lead to a leniency of training that might do more harm than good.

Here are 3 things that I have learned over recent years as a strength coach, trainer, and collegiate athlete to hopefully help minimize this detraining effect.

1. Don’t focus on too much at one time.

Every summer when I would go home from school, I had a list of 5 or 6 things that I felt like I had to get better at. Each training session, I would have a ton of thoughts about how I could make those things better. Of course, I had a training packet from the football team, but felt like I had to do even more. I had to get faster, more agile, stronger, more flexible, and in better shape. At some point, I was doing more thinking about what I had to do to get better than just working hard with what I had.

Even today, I send workout packets home with each of my athletic teams. The goal, obviously, is to continue to improve their physical and mental toughness. But for some, I just want to make sure that they don’t totally fall off of the bus with all of their training. I aim to keep workouts short, sweet, but challenging. They usually focus on sport-specific training aspects for each individual team (for example, single-leg strength for runners, and rotational power for softball players). I want to make sure that the “bread and butter” of the sport remains at the forefront.

2. Get creative.

Being creative in the gym during the summer months may be due to two things:

  1. Your gym doesn’t have the equipment you want (or need) to do specific exercises, or
  2. You are looking for alternatives to exercises you already do.

If your gym doesn’t have specific pieces of equipment for exercises that you are looking to do, think about what that exercise is trying to accomplish. For instance, your workout program might call for a kettlebell swing, but your gym has no kettlebells. Think about what the target muscle is for that exercise and plan an alternative. The main muscles in the KB swing are the glutes, so doing a weighted hip bridge or a Romanian Deadlift might suffice as an alternative. Sure, it’s not a perfect match, but it’s better than not doing it at all!

If you are simply looking to get out of the monotony of your 4-day split routine, you have a ton of options. Say Tuesday is considered your “squat” day, but you want to take a break from the barbell work you have been doing. Good news: You can squat with just about anything in the gym. Kettlebells, sandbags, slosh pipes, medballs, and weighted vests are just a few options that can give you that much-needed break from your regular program. Also, try switching up the reps. If you are used to doing 5 sets of 5 reps, try a workout where you do 5 sets of 20 or 3 sets of 50. It will definitely give a little shock to your system.

3. Don’t forget what summer is for!

Every competitive athlete, young or old, constantly thinks about their sport and how they can improve their performance. For most, there is no such thing as an off season anymore. There is never a chance to truly take their mind off of what they compete in, which can lead to burnout after a couple of seasons. Summer is meant for unwinding from heavy workloads, in class or with jobs. Mental and emotional recovery are just as important as physical recovery. If your mind has not recovered from the past year of training and competing, it will be very hard to devote the same amount of time and effort to the next season.

You still need to train for your sport, but post-training activities are a good way to unwind after a hard workout. Go to the lake, go fishing, go golfing: do something that allows you to enjoy the summer. You will only have a few months of opportunities like this. Work hard, play hard!

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

Topics: summer training strength power speed off-season athletes student athletes

Endurance or Speed? Two Common Goals for Running

GettyImages-143920084_webFor years people have been running in marathons and half marathons, 10Ks and 5Ks. And most recently the wide world of racing has taken a turn for themed runs, which is quite exciting if you have ever been to one! But no matter how many years go by, two goals continue to come up: running farther, and running faster.

We often hear someone say, “I want to be able to run farther than I did before.” We see it all the time: “I am going from the couch to running a 5K,” or “Last year I completed the 10K, so this year I really want to try the half marathon!” The other thing we hear is, “I like the distance that I am running, but next time I want to cut off 10 minutes.” The goal is to keep going faster and breaking a personal record. But which one is better—which goal should we strive to accomplish?

There are hundreds of programs out there that help you with one of the two goals: programs that are designed to help you increase your distance over time, or programs that are designed to keep your distance but increase your pace. And the good news is that both types work for different people.

Kris Berg, an exercise physiologist and professor at the University of Nebraska Omaha, says that after several decades of studying how an athlete can increase their endurance, he continues to lean on the profound answer of “The person needs to do what feels right for them.” Every person is made up differently genetically, and every method works differently for each person. It’s important to listen to what your body says, and if you can’t go farther, work on going faster, and if you can’t go faster, work on going farther!

Let’s take a look at each of the two common goals more in depth. 

Common goal #1: Being able to build endurance and go farther over time. 

The first and most important thing to keep in mind with any sort of training (and not just endurance running) is that adaptation and change are gradual. You will not be able to run 3 miles today and 16 miles tomorrow. Building gradually is vital to grasp before you set an overall goal, which must be realistic. Gradual adaptation means gradual, patient, and consistent. 

Another trick to being able to run long distances is to not start off too fast. Many people don’t make the distance they want because they are running at a pace that they cannot sustain. Find a pace that works for you! 

One other vital point to make when working on building your endurance: don’t overtrain. In most marathon training programs and endurance building programs out there, you will not see more than three days worth of running per week. You need to allow your body time to rest between runs.

Common goal #2: Working on speed to shave off some time from your last race. 

Disclaimer: working on speed is hard; be prepared to be mentally tough and stick to the workouts. When working on speed you will want to focus on some interval workouts. These are workouts that you are pushing at a fast pace for a certain period of time, then slowing down to recover before the next interval starts. 

And a final tip: If you want to run faster, you need to make your legs stronger. By doing some strength training and building up muscle mass, your speed will increase.

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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 running marathon training mini marathon half marathon endurance overtraining goals speed