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NIFS Healthy Living Blog

Optimal Movement Patterns for Building Muscle

Screen Shot 2021-01-14 at 1.10.19 PMThe traditional bodybuilding split of working one muscle group per day might work for the dedicated, high-level competitive bodybuilder who makes their living in the gym. But for the general population only looking to shed some unwanted pounds and improve their overall health, the traditional bodybuilding split is not ideal. Working multiple muscle groups in the same session is much more ideal because it ramps up the body’s metabolism more than working a single muscle group each day. To achieve this, we train the movement, not the muscles.

The Four Movement Patterns

There are four main categories in which we categorize the movement patterns: push, pull, squat, and hinge. Each category works a movement while working multiple muscle groups.

Push

This upper-body movement pattern uses all of your “pushing” muscles. The pushing muscles of the upper body include the chest, shoulders, and triceps. Common movements within this category include the following:

Pull

This upper-body movement pattern uses the “pulling” muscles. The pulling muscles of the upper body include the lats and the biceps. There are two different pulling variations, the horizontal pull and the vertical pull. The horizontal pull targets the lower lats and the vertical pull targets the upper portion of the lats. It is important to include both variations in your program. Common movements within this category include the following:

Squat

The squat movement pattern is the pushing movements pattern for the lower body. The squat pattern mainly works the quadriceps and the glutes. This category also includes all single-leg movements. The squat pattern is a large compound movement that should be progressed properly. Common movements in this category include the following:

Hinge

The hinge movement pattern is the pulling movement pattern for the lower body. The hinge pattern is better known as the deadlift. The primary muscles worked during the hinge movement are the hips, hamstrings, and lower back. The deadlift is another exercise that should be progressed properly for safe lifting. On days that you work the hinge pattern, you should do some additional hamstring isolation movements. Common movements for the hinge pattern include the following:

Using the Movement Patterns

Knowing that there are four movement patterns, and which movement pattern works which muscle group, you can build your exercise routines. In a future blog, I will discuss why the full-body program is superior, and how to schedule your week using the movement patterns. In short, you can build your exercise routine by putting together two or more of the movement patterns in one day. After working a muscle group, you don’t want to work that same muscle group for at least 48 hours.

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If you need any help building an exercise program, or want a health professional or personal trainer to put one together for you, come visit us at the Track Desk at any time.

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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: weight loss muscles weight lifting weightlifting exercises building muscle movement squat leg day movement patterns pull hinge push

My 4 Takeaways from the Squatober Weightlifting Challenge

GettyImages-1148247238Fall is hands-down one of my favorite times of the year. There’s a crispness in the air, the leaves begin to change, there’s pumpkin-flavored everything, football season is in full swing, and there’s the return of a little phenomenon known as Squatober!

Yes, you read that correctly: SQUATober. Squatober is known as “the world’s largest knee-bending party,” and consists of squatting 5–6 times per week for the entirety of the month of October. Crazy, right? Crazy awesome! The program is written and was originally created by Aaron Ausmus, NCAA D1 shot put champion and strength and conditioning coach. It culminates in a PR party sometime around Halloween (“personal record” for those of you playing at home), and all proceeds from shirts and merchandise are ultimately donated to outfitting a high school weight room in need of some upgrades.

I can almost hear the confusion, apprehension, or flat-out scoffs through the screen. Squatting, and squatting heavy no less, five days a week, every week for a month—why would anyone want to embark on something so outlandish? Well, a lot of strength coaches, fitness professionals, and gym junkies have taken the plunge into Squatober since its inception.

And while I understand that it’s not for everyone, there’s something about stepping up to the plate (or under the bar, I should say) that really appealed to me. It was a "challenge accepted” moment that took me back to the days of being a competitive athlete. Plus, I wanted to be a part of a larger, worldwide phenomenon that ultimately ended in giving back to communities and those in need. There have also been numerous stories of other coaches citing Squatober as the reason they overcame personal struggles such as addiction, mental health struggles, and much more.

After completing the sometimes grueling squat party for the first time last year, I came away with a little more than soreness. Here are my four biggest takeaways after completing Squatober.   

Our bodies are capable of some incredible feats.

Now, I’m not saying I broke the female world record for the back squat. But after squatting for 27 days, my estimated 1-rep max increased by over 10 percent! This definitely exceeded my expectations (seeing as all I wanted to do was make it to the end). And I understand that picking up things and putting them down might not be everyone’s favorite pastime. But if you’ve been debating signing up for that triathlon, or that Spartan race, or picking up trail running, or training to hike to the top of Pike’s Peak, my advice? Just start! It’s never too late, and our bodies are able to do some pretty cool stuff; you may surprise yourself with what you’re able to handle.

Coaches need coaches, too.

I’ve always been more of a nerd when it comes to training. I want to know the ins and outs when it comes to physiology, how certain periodization schemes affect the body’s ability to adapt. I view programming as a puzzle: trying to piece together the optimal exercises, at the correct dose, in the right order, in order to achieve the desired result. But when you do that for numerous clients, athletes, and friends, for hours at a time, week after week, I’ll be honest: I feel a little brain-dead when it comes to my own programming. Having another coach be in charge of the plan, so all I had to do was open my phone, see the workout, and get down to business? That was a huge weight lifted (pun intended). Since completing Squatober, I’ve reached out to colleagues multiple times to get not only their advice but also their take on my programming. I’ve found that this leaves me fresh, more motivated, and honestly more accountable.

If you want to improve a skill, do it every day (or close to it).

I’ll be honest, the first 6–7 days were a little rough. I was waddling around like I was learning to walk for the first time (hello soreness!). But once I progressed into week two and beyond, I noticed a few things. My depth was consistently better. I wasn’t compensating as much (toes turning out, trunk lean). And my bar path remained more constant (not moving forward or back). By addressing my ankle mobility each day, and my hip stability before each lift, the pieces started to come together. This premise holds true for any habit you want to start or any skill you want to learn. Even if you address it for only a minute a day, making your mission constant improvement, even if it’s only 1 percent each session, it can lead to profound results over time.

Get comfortable with being uncomfortable.

This message was echoed from many of my coaches growing up. Similar sentiments float around the fitness industry fairly regularly. “Comfort is the enemy of achievement,” for example. And Squatober was a nice reminder of that. Again, going into week two, knowing that I had another heavy load that would literally be placed on my back, I started to shift my mentality. I began to look forward to the challenge. I wasn’t worried about any soreness that might ensue. I had begun to become comfortable with being uncomfortable. Now, I’m not saying we have to be uncomfortable 24/7, 365 in order to achieve results. But rather, what was once uncomfortable became the new normal. We adapt, we overcome. And we ultimately change for the better!

I admittedly was only able to complete some of the workouts this year due to scheduling. And I do want to reiterate that I understand this is not for everyone. Would I program this way for athletes? No. Is this the end-all be-all in terms of workout plans? No. Was it fun? For me it absolutely was. I loved the camaraderie it offered. I loved checking in with former colleagues and coaches as we all progressed from week to week. I loved that I could look back and say, “Yeah, I did that. I made it.”

So, if you are interested in hopping into Squatober next year, you can check out @sorinex or @penandpaperstrengthapp on Instagram for workouts. Don’t be afraid to modify when you need to, either. And at the end of the day? Just have some fun with it while accepting the challenge! Happy lifting!

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

Topics: workouts challenge weightlifting coaching squat

Hip Thruster vs. Squat: Which Is Best for Glute Hypertrophy?

GettyImages-1147025300Squatting has always been the go-to exercise for those who want to make glute gains. You have probably heard someone say, “If you want to get better glutes, squatting is the way to go.” Recently, though, hip thrusters have gained momentum as the best exercise for glute development. Although, there is no concrete evidence that one is better than the other, some studies have been done (also here). Hopefully by the end of this blog, you will have a better understanding of the similarities and differences between these two exercises.

Glute Activation During Squats

During squats, the upper gluteal muscles help stabilize the pelvis as you walk out from the rack position. During the eccentric(downward) portion of the squat, only 20 to 30 percent of maximum voluntary contraction (MVC) was shown. At the bottom part of the squat, only 10 to 20 percent of MVC for glute activation was shown through EMG activity. The interesting part is that the bottom part of the squat is where everyone assumed you get the most glute activation, when in reality it is the lowest activation part. The concentric (pushing up) portion of the squat is where glute activation was seen to be the highest, at 80 to 120 percent. This makes sense because the main role of the glutes is to extend the hips.

Glute Activation During Hip Thrusters

During the hip thrust exercise, at the beginning phase, the glutes are relatively off because there is no external force placed on them. Because the first motion of the hip thrust is a concentric action (hip extension), the glutes begin to activate right away. It was measured to be at a range of 120 to 200 percent of glute activation during the concentric phase of the exercise. Another reason why MVC was higher is that the repetitions fairly quickly maintain a constant tension on the glutes.

Biomechanics of Squat and Hip Thruster

Screen Shot 2019-10-24 at 12.08.28 PMBiomechanically these two exercises are different because the squat is performed in the vertical plane whereras the hip thruster is performed in the horizontal plane. This difference allows for different forces on the body. In a squat, the glutes must fire to create hip extension torque, but they must also fire in order to create hip external rotation torque to prevent knee valgus (knee buckle). In a hip thrust, the glutes fire to create hip extension torque, but they must also fire in order to create posterior pelvic tilt torque to prevent anterior tilting of the pelvis and lumbar hyperextension.

With the squat, the limitation can be due to back strength, which you do not have with the hip thruster. On the other hand, glute strength is the limiting factor during the hip thruster. During a squat, you are typically able to get more hip flexion to avoid this issue.

The Verdict

For full range gluteal strength, a more complete neurological stimulus, and full development of the upper and lower gluteal fibers, you’ll want to perform both the squat and the hip thrust. Either exercise alone won’t suffice. The good news is that you don’t have to choose between squats or hip thrusts for maximal glute development; you should perform both movements.

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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 exercises muscle mass glutes hypertrophy building muscle squat hips

Back to Exercise Basics: The Split Squat

As we continue down the road of improving our basic movement patterns (which is always under construction, by the way), we take a look at the squat pattern and its variations a bit further. Many fitness pros, including myself, argue that we spend more time on one leg than we do on two. Think about it: walking, running, traveling up stairs—for varying amounts of time, you can find yourself on one leg a lot.

What Makes a Split Squat a Split Squat?

So if you are on one leg a bunch, it only makes sense that you build that position to be strong and stable, and in many different planes of motion. Let’s take a look at what makes a split squat a split squat, which is very different from the lunge but often is called by the same name (kind of a pet peeve of mine).

Tony_split-squat

  1. Base of support—Forward Foot – Weight on heel
  2. Base of support—Rear Foot – Weight on toes, heel up
  3. Base of support—Split distance is 3-4’ 
  4. Shin angle—moving forward
  5. Front Knee – Tracking over but not beyond toes
  6. Trail knee – path towards ground, suspended
  7. Glute “stacked” above knee
  8. Neutral Spine
  9. Shoulders back and down
  10. Eyes up

Many of the aspects of the regular squat are found in the split. You are simply in a single-leg-supported position.

Options to Get More Out of the Split Squat

Now that you have the foundation, here are a few options you can use to get more out of this movement pattern.

  1. TRX Split Squat
  2. 2KB Split Squat—Farmer position
  3. 1KB RFEE Split Squat—Down position
  4. 2KB Split Squat-Racked position

 

Exercise Variations in the Frontal and Transverse Planes

Human beings need to travel in 3D. It’s important to all of us, from the athlete to the accountant. Often we train in one plane of motion, typically the sagittal plane (in the regular squat, for example, or the overhead press). But in the real world we move in more ways than straight ahead. Here are some variations that will get you in the frontal (side-to-side) and the transverse (rotational) planes.

  1. 3D Body Weight
  2. Offset KB Spit Squat
  3. SaB Lateral Split Squat
  4. SaB + KB Rot. Split Squat

 

The split squat is a super-important movement pattern that I feel we need to train more. As single-leg beings, mastering this pattern in multiple planes will transfer big time to the real world and allow us to move better, more often, with fewer injuries.

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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 injury prevention functional movement movement squat stability leg day exercise basics

Leg Day Workouts for Non-Squat Enthusiasts

GettyImages-622809280For some people, leg day at the gym is the greatest single day of the week. For others, however, there couldn’t be a more grueling and loathsome experience. We all know that leg workouts are essential to our total-body fitness plans and that there are consequences to not doing leg day, like becoming internet memes.

Reasons People Skip Their Leg Workouts

Some of the reasons people do not do leg day include knee pain, hip pain, after-workout soreness, poor technique, and sometimes mechanical reasons (your body just can’t do squats due to anatomy). Whatever the reason may be, you still need to address your lower body and quit skipping leg day.

I, for one, have been guilty of skipping leg day from time to time, but I know that there are important benefits to doing the workouts. The main reasons I do not like doing the exercises began with just being tired of standing at work all day after a great leg day. It made the rest of my day brutal. You might feel the same way, but it’s just part of the process that your body needs to go through to get stronger and better.

A very plausible reason some people skip leg day could be that they decided to start a workout “split” (each day of the week dedicated to a body part—Monday is chest day, Tuesday is bicep day, etc.). With the split, you would have to spend a lot of time at the gym to ensure each body part is worked each week—a minimum of 5-6 days per week to do the job. If you have a life event come up, such as a work meeting, a kid’s birthday party, or an illness, you will need to skip a day this week to deal with that situation. What happens is that people will skip the day they like the least, leg day. When next week rolls around, it will have been two weeks since your last leg day. That’s not good.

Leg Workout Ideas

Here are some ideas for leg workouts that are set up for beginners and people who are not fans of squats. You will see a lot of familiar exercises that will give you benefits. Hopefully, with the right motivation, you will become better at leg day.

  1. Deadlift: This can be done with a barbell, dumbbells, or even kettlebells. This link shows a variation of a deadlift called a trap bar deadlift. As you can see, the legs are definitely getting a lot of attention, while good form can be easily distinguished.
  2. Lunge: Although this exercise is about as popular as squats, the benefits are equally impressive. Not all lunges are the same. Check out this example of a lunge variation that you can easily add to your workout.
  3. Hip press machine: We don’t always want to use machines, but in this case, the hip press machine is a great way to get your legs and hips stronger and more ready for squats. Check out this video that highlights a hip press machine.

Leg day doesn’t have to be the most dreaded day of the week. You do not have to hide from your leg workouts any longer. Start off small and smart. Talk to a Health Fitness Specialist at NIFS. They will not only help you set up a workout tailored to your needs, but also monitor your progress through benchmarks you can set at your free strategy session. Words of wisdom: Do not become an internet meme because you skipped leg day!

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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: Thomas' Corner workouts videos squat leg day

Back to Exercise Basics: The Strong Squat

We here at NIFS are what you can call “pattern people”; meaning our team of instructors focuses on fundamental movement patterns and how we can enhance them to allow for better function and goal achievement. Of course we start this process by having our members complete a Functional Movement Screen (FMS). The first assessment takes a look at the Squat pattern. Second in our series focusing on exercise basics, the squat will be the topic here, including how you can build a better one.

The Keys to a Great Squat

As we continue our focus on movement competency prior to attempting the most challenging exercise known to man (I still see this happening every day, in the gym and all over Facebook), we begin by taking a look at the major keys to a great squat. Much like the push-up described in a previous post, the squat is a super-versatile movement with so many real-life and performance applications in which it plays a role. From sitting into a chair (and standing up from that chair) to setting a PR in the back squat in your next powerlifting competition, the squat is a very powerful and functional movement we should all be training. Quite a few things are going on in a great squat; it employs core joint mobility in the ankles and hips, core stability, and motor control. These far-reaching aspects of movement are challenged and improved when incorporating a properly performed squat into your routine.

Cara_squat

Squat Pattern Checklist

Refer to the following checklist to ensure that you get the most out of your squat pattern by performing it correctly. Just as you learned to squat, check it off from the ground up:

  1. Feet 1: Just beyond shoulder-width apart
  2. Feet 2: Slightly angle outward
  3. Feet 3: Weight over the heels and spread the floor
  4. Knees: Tracking over toes
  5. Hips 1: Hips push back to begin movement
  6. Hips 2: At or below parallel
  7. Hips 3: Hips and knees flexing at same time
  8. Spine 1: Angle of spine and tibia are the same
  9. Chest: Keep up, proud chest
  10. Arms: (top of press) Push-up to straight-arm position
  11. Head: Keep gaze straight ahead

Squat Variations

Here are just a few variations you can try after mastering the pattern. Remember, do the basic stuff really well before moving on to the really hard stuff.

Overhead w. Dowel IMG_1201

2KB Front Squat

IMG_1211

BB Back Squat

IMG_1217

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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: exercises powerlifting squat pattern functional movement joints assessment squat functional movement screen

NIFS Powerlifting Prep Lesson #1: The Squat

The 6th Annual Powerlifting Competition is slated for November 9, 2019, and we are pumped (pardon the pun) to host another high-energy and exciting celebration of strength on the floor of the NIFS fitness center. Many will enter with the goal of dominating their weight class as well as grabbing that coveted top male or female trophy and being the 2019 NIFS Champion.

Powerlifting 2018 DeadliftIf you are one of the athletes who have thrown their hats into the ring, I want to give you three key principles that will help you be the best you can be on event day for each of the three lifts. Those lifts, of course, are the squat, bench, and deadlift. Today we will focus on the squat. We will get to the other two soon, so keep an eye on the NIFS blog. You can improve by using these three key principles, whether you are a competitor or a spectator.

We will look at the same three weightlifting principles for each of the lifts, but each concept will be aimed specifically for each of the three different movement patterns. I learned long ago that principles should guide not only your training, but also your life. And as it relates to movement, variations of movement patterns may change, but the principles to train it will not.

The three key principles we will focus on for each of the lifts are

  • Mobility: The full range of motion of a particular joint(s).
  • Stability: Alignment, with integrity, under load. (A great lesson from Gray Cook that I learned in a workshop once.)
  • Tension: For our context in this and the two following posts, we will define tension as the word stiffness and explain phrases like “bending the bar” and “spread the floor.”

All three of these principles will directly impact how well you perform in each of the three lifts in specific ways. Let’s see how these can impact your squat and how to work to make things better.

Mobility

In the squat, and the back squat specifically, we continue to find the lack of ankle mobility to be a huge factor in how deep you can go and how much weight you can throw on your back. In a July article by Gray Cook (if you can’t tell, I learn a lot from him), Gray explains the importance of knowing your ability to flex your ankle and how it can disrupt the chain. Come see us and we can provide that screen for you. Improving your ankle mobility is a sure-fire way to improve your squat. The first step would be to do some soft-tissue work on the calf and surrounding areas using a foam roller, roller stick, or tennis/lacrosse ball. A simple drill that I would recommend is a wall ankle flexion drill, which you will perform in a few different directions.

Place your hands on a wall with one foot approximately 2–3 inches away from the wall and stagger the other foot behind you. While keeping the heel of the front foot “glued” to the ground, attempt to touch the wall with that same-side knee. Hold the position for a 2 count, return to the start position, and repeat for 4–5 more reps. Then aim that same side knee over your big toe and repeat for 5–6 reps, and then again but with your knee aimed out over your pinky toe. Switch legs and repeat the series. If you can touch the wall with your knee and your heel stays on the ground, move back one inch. The goal is to increase the degree of flexion in your ankle. You can measure your progress by how far from the wall your foot is.

Stability

Considering that powerlifters place huge amounts of weight on their shoulders and pretty much sit down and stand up, spinal stability is so important in performing technically sound and safe squats. Of course, planks and carries are great exercises to strengthen your trunk muscles, which will help prepare you for squatting, but what about during an actual mid-weight squat? Increase your intra-abdominal pressure by bracing your abdominal and low-back muscles. A great way to accomplish this is by wearing a belt. Tighten the belt and push your entire midsection against it, then squat. The belt also provides its own stability by reducing spinal flexion, or bending over. Lastly, wearing a belt is a requirement during competition, so if you are not training with one, you’d better get on it.

Tension

Tension, or stiffness in a lifter, is key when loading up the body with a challenging load. Without it, safety is at risk as well as success in completing the lift. “Bending the bar” is a phrase we use where a lifter will attempt to bend the bar on their shoulders by pulling the bar down with their hands. This, as they say, will take tension out of the bar and stiffen the lifter to move as one complete unit. Another major benefit of this cue is engaging the lats of the back by pulling the bar around your shoulders to help engage the glutes, which are key muscles in a strong squat. The lats connect to the glutes, the only muscle that connects the upper and lower body. Simply put, by creating tension in the lats, you increase the effectiveness of your butt.

The other cue that will increase tension in a lifter, specifically in the glutes, will be to “spread the floor” with your feet. Once in position and before you squat, feel as if you are trying to create space between your feet by pushing the floor away. Your position should not change, but your tension surely will. Maintain spreading the floor throughout the squat to reap the full benefits of this strategy.

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So squat on, athletes, using mobility, stability, and tension to improve your positioning, which will ultimately lead to bigger lifts. Stay tuned as we break down the bench and the deadlift, focusing again on these key aspects.

Come watch our 6th Annual Powerlifting Competition here at NIFS, Saturday, November 9th at 9am.

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This blog was written by Tony Maloney, ACSM Certified Exercise Physiologist and Fitness Center Manager. To find out more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

 

 

Topics: NIFS weightlifting powerlifting competition glutes mobility movement squat stability tension