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NIFS Healthy Living Blog

Marching Orders: Creating Stability Using Marching Exercises

Screen Shot 2019-03-19 at 11.38.50 AMHumans have the ability to become and remain stable throughout any movement, from walking, to lunges, to power cleans. Increased stability typically correlates with increased performance.

There are countless methods, tools, and tricks of the trade to find and keep stability, and one that I think provides so many benefits at any level of fitness is the marching pattern. No, that is not a typo; marching is exactly what I mean. You know, that movement you see members of the band doing at halftime. Marching, at its core (I meant to do that), creates stability just when you get into the marching position. Then you can increase the results by changing your body position and adding load to make it a hugely effective exercise for increasing stability.

Why March?

There are many reasons why you should try marching:

  • It’s a fundamental movement that can be done at any age.
  • Marching can serve as a lead-up to so many more advanced movements.
  • It creates stability on both sides of the body (hip flexors and glutes).
  • Marching develops balance while increasing core stability.
  • The exercise helps the aging athlete avoid shuffling when walking, which can lead to falls.
  • It helps increase performance in single-leg movements.

Videos of Exercises

Here are videos of some marching-based exercises you can do:

  • Bridge marching
  • Resisted bridge marching
  • Sandbag bridge marching
  • Airex pad marching
  • KB Standing marching suitcase, racked, overhead
  • Miniband resisted marching
  • Sandbag rotation marching

Stability equals strength, and we can all stand to be stronger in the movement patterns that are huge parts of our lives outside of the gym. Add marching to your program to be "life strong,” and enjoy moving for a lifetime.

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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 core exercises videos stability hips marching

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

BOSU Returns: 4 Reasons to Come to a Class at NIFS

COM_BOSUWhen I first came to NIFS more than a decade ago (I know, right?), I brought BOSU Conditioning with me, and the NIFS community welcomed it with open arms (and legs, and core…you get the idea). I was fresh out of a training opportunity with the inventor of the BOSU, David Weck, while working at another gym. I took to the BOSU very quickly and loved the many training dimensions it provided and wanted to share it with as many folks as I could.

In its debut here at NIFS, BOSU was a hit and saw eight great years on the class schedule with many great instructors and class designs. But it needed a break. Finally that break is over, and BOSU has returned to the class schedule and is getting a lot of hype again!

What Makes BOSU So Awesome?

Here are few things you need to know about this powerful, multi-use fitness tool:

  • BOSU stands for BOth Sides Utilized. This refers to the ball itself. You can use the dome side as well as the platform (flat side) for so many different movements. Both sides utilized also pertains to using both sides of the body in harmony.
  • You can train all aspects of fitness utilizing the BOSU, including mobility, stability, core strength, power, strength, and cardio.
  • Movement options are endless and can be adapted to the fitness level of the user.
  • Movements can become three-dimensional, which is how we move in the real world.
  • Provides an unstable surface, forcing the user to use important stabilizer muscles of the entire body.

Here are some videos that show some of those movements:

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Five Reasons to Try BOSU

Now that we all agree that the BOSU is pretty awesome, here are some reasons to stop waiting and just take a class already. You won’t regret it!

  • Be different: There is no other tool like the BOSU, so a class session designed around this one-of-a-kind piece of equipment will be very different from any class you might have experienced. We use different body positions and equipment differently than most training disciplines, making each class different than the last.
  • Options for movement: There are countless options for different movement patterns that can be adjusted to suit any fitness level. No matter whether it is your first time on the ball or your 50th, the BOSU finds a way to challenge you.
  • Specific adaptations: As mentioned before, the BOSU is an unstable surface that will increase the usage of small stabilizing muscles that are found all over the body globally, and locally to the area directly in contact with the BOSU. An unstable surface elicits a specific adaption of stability. “Use more, burn more" is a direct effect from a class; the more muscle you have to use, the more energy you will burn. If the goal is to increase your stability, balance, and core strength, the BOSU will provide that specific adaptation.
  • Unique experience: There are exercises that are done on the BOSU ball, and then there are BOSU movements, both providing a unique exercise experience. There are also unique training effects that can only come from working with the BOSU. Effects such as the increased usage of the foot for grip and stability, which aids in all movement on a stable or unstable surface.

There are plenty more reasons why should try a BOSU class right away, but there are only four letters in the word. So what are you waiting for? Come see me on Sundays at 10am and realize what the BOSU can do for you!

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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 cardio group fitness balance strength core strength mobility stability core exercises BOSU

CXWORX: A Group Fitness Class for Core Strength

www.nifs.orghubfsScreen Shot 2019-08-20 at 10.59.55 AM-1CXWORX is all about building core strength, which is important for living a more functional life. CXWORX targets the trunk, which is the area from the mid-thigh to the shoulders, and includes both the front and back sides of the body.

CXWORX is a 30-minute choreographed group fitness class created by Les Mills. It begins with a warmup and breaks off into working different sections of the core with movements both on the mat and standing. Participants use a resistance tube to add load to the muscles to increase muscle strength.

The Importance of a Strong Core

Most people think about a strong core as six-pack abs and doing sit-ups. The core is made up of more than just abs, but exactly as it sounds, it’s the core of your body. Building strength in those muscles will benefit you for the rest of your life. All movements stem from your core and provide support for everyday tasks you perform.

Having a strong core is of huge importance when it comes to balance and stability. Strong core muscles will also help improve your posture. Having good posture is better for your spine, prevents lower back pain or injuries, and allows you to breathe easier. Having a strong core helps you stand taller and straighter.

Working the Core

Working the core is more than just doing sit-ups. CXWORX is beneficial because it incorporates many movement patterns and exercises to strengthen and tone all muscle groups associated with the core. Trunk flexion and extension, trunk rotation, lateral trunk flexion, abdominal compression, and spinal stability are all movement patterns that you will perform in a CXWORX class to help build a balanced, strong core.

Check NIFS’s Group Fitness Schedule to find a class time that’s convenient for you!

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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: group fitness muscles balance Les Mills core strength posture CXWORX stability core stability

Stability and Mobility in Fitness: The Dynamic Duo of Movement

GettyImages-961867136Think about the most recognized duos of all time: Batman and Robin. Mario and Luigi. Buzz and Woody. Stability and Mobility. Wait, what? Yes, like superhero teams, stability and mobility work together to achieve a balanced, harmonious environment for functional movement.

It’s All Connected

First, I want to bring to your attention a concept that has been around for some time; however, we often forget the important role it plays in day-to-day performance. Let’s reflect on anatomy and the structure of the human body. I challenge you to think of it in terms of one continuous structure in which each joint affects the joints above or below it. This concept is commonly referred to as the kinetic chain. It boils down to stable joints being stable when they should be and mobile joints being mobile when they’re meant to be. In terms of starting or stopping movement, stability and mobility are quite often complementary in nature.

Being Flexible and Mobile

In case you missed it, let’s review the details from my preceding blog. Flexibility is primarily genetic, but can be improved slowly over time. It refers to the greatest length a muscle can achieve. This is often known as a joint’s range of motion (ROM).

Mobility is the ability to synchronize one’s coordination and overall strength to move around a joint under load—as, for example, when doing the front squat.

Now that we are adding stability to the equation, it enhances movement and helps it make sense. Stability is the ability to provide firmness and strength to certain joints, often with help from the surrounding connective tissue.

The Kinetic Chain in Action

The following illustration at www.acefitness.org depicts the six common links involved in the kinetic chain, along with their assigned level of stability. Each link or joint plays an important role in human movement and overall function.

Therefore, a joint’s health and function are ultimately determined by its structure and the continuous tradeoff between being stable or mobile. When there is more of one, there is always less of the other.

Why This Relationship Is Important: Injury Prevention

Why should you care? Well, when a joint is less stable, that means it is more mobile. More mobility means more motion at that joint; it can also mean more wear and tear, which can lead to more injury at that joint, including arthritis. Also, a less stable joint has to rely on surrounding muscle and tissue to provide the required stability, which can lead to injury in certain joints that are already highly susceptible.

So the next logical question is, how do I train to improve stability? We’ll explore that question in my next blog.

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

Topics: fitness injury prevention flexibility mobility joints movement stability

Five Reasons to Try the Turkish Get-up Movement

You might have seen people in the gym lying on the ground and standing up with a weight. Don’t let them fool you; this is not as easy as it looks. This is a movement that has been around since the strongman days, and there is a reason it hasn’t left. The Turkish get-up (TGU) is a total-body workout that everyone should try. Here are five reasons I think you should try it.

 

  • Stability. The TGU promotes shoulder stability along with core stability. If you cannot maintain either, you will not be successful when increasing weight. Before you even add weight to the TGU, you should be able to do the exercise while balancing your shoe (or something similar) on your fist when completing the get-up without it falling off. Once you can be stable enough to balance the shoe throughout, keeping your arm straight, you are stable enough to add weight.
  • Hits every movement plane. During your workouts, your goal should always be to train in every plane. When doing the TGU, you can hit every plane. You are in frontal, sagittal, and transverse—there aren’t many moves that enable you to hit all three at once.
  • Works your core. The TGU effectively trains the core in more than one area. Your entire trunk has to fire in order to maintain stability throughout the movement.
  • Cardio. Once you start to lift a heavier kettlebell, the TGU can become taxing on your cardiovascular system. Even though you are making small, controlled movements, your heart rate increases.
  • Everything is working! The TGU is a total-body movement. You work your shoulders, legs, and core—strength and mobility/flexibility. If you are short on time and can get in only a few strength exercises, this is one you should do.

Don’t knock the TGU until you try it. This is a challenging and effective exercise that everyone should add to their routines. If you need any help on form, stop by the track desk and have a NIFS HFS help you out!

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This blog was written by Kaci Lierman, NSCA-CPT, CFSC, NASM-CES,CAFS, personal trainer. To learn more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: cardio core exercises total-body workouts movement stability

Core Exercises to Take You from Snore to ROAR!

GettyImages-514734718.jpgSome of the number-one fitness goals are to strengthen the core, lose belly fat, and get six-pack abs. These are all pretty good goals that can be addressed by a fitness professional and a dietitian, but everyone might not have that luxury. From a traditional perspective, we have mainly used a few ab exercises such as crunches, sit-ups, and variations of them. For the most part, these are better than the alternative—nothing at all.

But what if there is a way to get more out of your workouts that allows you to get core exercise without doing sit-ups and crunches? If you are tired of the same old ab routine, or if you are finding it hard to get to the floor to do exercise, this may be exactly what you need to know to break plateaus and possibly change your life.

How You Use Your Core

Out of the many instances in which you use your core (basically your torso, minus your arms and legs), you could find occasions where you use sit-up movements, but not to the extent that we train them (hello 300 sit-ups, yes we are looking at you!). Overall, normal functions include standing; walking (sometimes up and down stairs); sitting at a desk, in the car, or in a recliner; and standing some more. The core really doesn’t move that much; however, it does stabilize all the time. Therefore, it would make sense to train for stability rather than movement, at least some of the time. This is true for everyone from beginners to seasoned athletes, and from young to elderly. Core stability is a part of your life and you use it all the time.

Before I talk about these exercises, know that good form and good posture is the backbone that makes this all work. This goes for every exercise, but also includes standing, walking, and sitting. People tend to slouch, mainly because it’s easier to do than sitting up or standing tall with good posture. Unfortunately, slouching does not activate the core at all. Good posture, however, allows the core to engage (which also helps in the calorie-burning process throughout the day). Focusing on this daily will help strengthen the core, even when you are not at the gym.

Core Exercises and Techniques

In addition to focusing on posture, you can easily add several other exercises and techniques to any routine.

  1. Plank: Create a plank with your body. Your back must be flat; if not, you can go to your knees or introduce an incline. Proper form is imperative. To increase the difficulty, I suggest adding a leg-lift motion, alternating legs.
  2. IMG_2617.jpgAnti-rotational holds: Using either a cable machine or bands, stand perpendicular to the anchor point while holding your handle directly in front of your midpoint. To increase the intensity, I suggest introducing a kneeling or half-kneeling position, making the core work even harder.
  3. Suitcase carry: This is an adaptation to the farmer’s carry. Instead of using two balanced weights, I suggest using only one weight on one side (think about carrying a heavy suitcase through the airport). Try to keep the top of your shoulders parallel to the ground. To increase the intensity, I suggest trying the same walking pattern, but on a narrow line. This will enhance the balance difficulty. You can also go in reverse!
  4. Single-arm dumbbell press: This is a spin on a traditional exercise, the chest press. Using a flat bench and only a single dumbbell, proceed to doing a normal press pattern. If you place your other hand on your stomach, you should feel muscles in there working to keep you from rolling off the bench. You will have to engage your core to maintain posture, though. Be sure to keep your head, back, and feet in contact with the bench and floor respectively.
  5. Overhead sit and stand: What is more functional than sitting and standing? In order for you to sit and stand, your core is engaging constantly. To increase the intensity, begin by sitting and standing without using your hands. Once that is easy, try holding a weight plate or medicine ball overhead while you sit to the box and stand. Notice how much more your core is working?

As you can see, several exercises and techniques are available to assist your core training regimen. Adding one or more of these will add some much-needed diversity that will not only keep you interested in exercise but also able to break through plateaus that may have been giving you trouble for years.

If you want more information, contact a fitness professional or personal trainer at NIFS to develop a strategy to build your own core exercise knowledge library.

Knowledge is power.

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

Topics: muscles core strength functional movement posture personal trainer stability core exercises core exercise core stability plank plateaus

Readiness and Durability: Better Movement Warmups for Fitness Training

I used to work at a golf course during my time as a teacher. It was a great way to spend my summers and be close to a game I truly enjoy playing. I mainly mowed greens and tees and dug a bunch of holes. I really enjoyed that time of my life very much. On all of the mowers there was a sign that read, “If this equipment can’t work, nor can you.” I think the message is self-explanatory: if the equipment is not properly cared for, it is a very good possibility it will stop working, leading to loss of productivity and failure to complete the job.

I believe the same can be said for our approach to preparing the body for training so that the body (equipment) can work when you need it to accomplish the job at hand. The most critical step in this process is changing the perception of the “warmup” as a secondary or unnecessary part of a training program—something you can skip if you are short on time. In actuality, warmups should be a major part of your training program (if you are truly looking for results, that is).

Long ago I adopted, both for the people I work with and for my personal workouts, a process from a great coach on preparing the body for work. It involves four exercises in four major categories of movement preparation: mobility, stability, core engagement, and loco-motor (dynamic stretches and small plyometrics). For obvious reasons, this is referred to as a 4x4 approach to physical readiness and preparation.

Mobility Drills

Mobility drills refers to the exercises aimed at gaining and enhancing the range of motion in a particular joint. With a joint-by-joint, ground-up approach, these drills typically work to tackle mobility of the ankle, hip, thoracic and cervical spine, and shoulder. Here at NIFS, we work to mobilize movement patterns that involve these joints, and others, which we evaluate in a Functional Movement Screen.

Here are just two of my favorite mobility drills:

i. 1/2K—Abducted T-Spine Rotation
ii. Dynamic Pigeon—Knee & Foot

 
 
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Stability Drills

These drills work to help stabilize the mobility you just gained with the preceding drills. A mobile joint is a great start, but then you must stabilize it with exercises that will aid in alignment and strength of the joint. These exercises are generally used immediately after the mobility work to help in the retention of the alignment and position we are hoping to obtain. Check out a couple of these drills that you can add to your 4x4 warmup.

i. Band Lat. Walks
ii. Split Squat w/ Band Pull-apart

 
 
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Core Drills

Exercises in this phase of our preparation are to “fire up” the core to stabilize the trunk before loading the body with all the great tools we use in strength training and conditioning. A common practice is to save the “ab work” for last during your training session, which is all fine and good, but adding these to your 4x4 work before a weight is lifted can help your performance. A strong, “awake” center will keep you safe during your exercises and allow you to get the most out of them at the same time.

i. Foam Roller Dead Bug with Ext.
ii. Side plank and row

 
 
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Loco-motor Drills

After mobilizing and stabilizing the system, now it’s time to energize it! These drills are used to increase the body and tissue temperature that will prepare your body for the strength and conditioning work that lies ahead. These drills are typically fast and fun, and can combine some dynamic stretching with basic calisthenics. These can be as simple as a jumping jack or lateral lunges, or these two gems:

i. Snowboarders
ii. Sprinter Lunge

 
 
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***

To prepare your body for work and to limit the chances of injury, you must perform a proper warmup. No more skipping a major part of your training session! As soon as you begin to look at the 4x4 warmup as a must-do, the harder it will be to work without it.

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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: functional training core videos warmups mobility movement stability loco-motor drills

Powerlifting Prep Lesson #3: The Deadlift

IMG_4534.jpgIn my previous posts, Powerlifting Prep Lesson #1: The Squat and Powerlifting Prep Lesson #2: The Bench, we took a look at how managing the three key principles of mobility, stability, and tension can have a huge impact on your ability to perform those two lifts at a high level while decreasing the chance of injury. We turn now to the big daddy of them all, the deadlift!

This hinging/pulling lift is easily one of the most popular lifts on the planet, and everybody wants to pull a huge bar from the ground and slam it back down. There really is no feeling like it. And not only does it look pretty cool on Instagram, the deadlift is one of the most functional exercises you can do that transfers very nicely to the outside world. Since the dawn of time we have picked up heavy things and set them back down, essentially doing deadlifts day in and day out. In the powerlifting world, the deadlift is where champions can be forged, or injuries suffered.

So let’s break down this giant lift, focusing on the three key principles introduced earlier:

  • Mobility: The full range of motion of a particular joint(s).
  • Stability: Alignment, with integrity, under load.
  • Tension: Defined with terms such as stiffness and phrases like “bending the bar,” and “spread the floor.”

Mobility

You might think that mobility would not play a big role in this lift, but like most weightlifting movements, it’s imperative. I hope I have done a good job in this series of posts to stress that it all starts with mobility. Strength, power, endurance, and any physical attribute must start at mobility, if you want to be the best that there is. The deadlift is no exception; and if you can’t touch your toes, you probably need to take a few steps back before heavy loading the deadlift.

The deadlift is a hinge pattern, so we will start there by focusing on the active straight-leg raise to monitor and improve the mobility of that pattern. A great place to start is with a leg-lower exercise or a kettlebell butt touch exercise to help improve your mobility for the deadlift.

Stability

For stability, take one more look at the active straight-leg-raise pattern to ensure you capture the mobility you gained through the two movements described above. The lying leg raise with core activation looks a lot like the leg-lowering exercise from above, as it should, but here you are adding stability to the mobility you just gained. Trunk stability is key in the deadlift; without it, spines tend to hyper-flex and lead to injury. Planks and plank variations are always a great place to start, as well as loaded carries and dynamic-stability movements such as a sandbag plank drag to challenge and train the musculature of the trunk so you can pull more weight safely.

Next, and just as with the squat and the bench, intra-abdominal pressure will also be key in pulling the most weight possible. Remember to “fill the can” by inhaling fully and pressing the air against your belt during the set-up and first phase of the deadlift. This again will help fire all of the muscles of the trunk to provide maximum stability during the lift. If you want to learn more about breathing and stability in loaded movements, check out this article from Mike Reinold as he breaks down this concept even more.

Tension

Tension in the deadlift starts with grip! Many studies correlate grip strength to overall strength, so the stronger the grip the bigger the deadlift. Loaded carries and all the variations are my go-to to help train grip strength as well as any pulling motions such as chin-ups and inverted rows.

In the other two lifts I referred to “bending the bar” as a cue to create tension in the system (body) during the lift. In the deadlift, I want you to think about taking that tension out of the bar by preloading the system before pulling the bar from the ground. Pull the bar toward your body without it leaving the ground; you should hear the plates make a kind of clicking noise. This will fire the lats and other spinal musculature to brace before accepting the load of the bar. Ideally in doing so, your entire body will move as one system, like a crane lifting a two-ton I-beam. This will make you a stronger unit to pull the bar off the ground and help eliminate hyper-flexing in the spine that can lead to a bad injury.

***

Executed correctly, the deadlift is a super-functional and super strength-building exercise. It is also one of the more exciting lifts in any powerlifting competition, and it’s sure to make some noise once again at the NIFS 5th Annual Powerlifting Competition coming up on November 10. Registration is full, but you should still come out and support all the athletes competing. It is a great show of strength, competition, and sportsmanship and great way to spend a Saturday morning in November!

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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 mobility deadlift stability tension

Powerlifting Prep Lesson #2: The Bench Press

attachment.jpgIn my previous post, NIFS Powerlifting Competition Prep Lesson #1: The Squat, I showed you how managing three key principles can have a huge impact on your ability to squat low and heavy as well as minimize the risk for injury. As a reminder, here are those three key principles:

  • Mobility: The full range of motion of a particular joint(s)
  • Stability: Alignment, with integrity, under load.
  • Tension: Defined with terms such as stiffness and phrases like “bending the bar” and “spread the floor.”

Once again I will break down each of these principles and apply them to the next big lift, the bench press. First, be sure to check off your list a few of the basics of the bench press when you are setting up for your next set. As soon as you are up to speed on those weightlifting basics, take a look at how these three principles can impact your bench and how to work to improve your performance.

Mobility

In the bench press, this principle is generally focused around the mobility of the shoulder complex and thoracic spine. I could argue the effects of immobile hips, but we will save that for another time. The ability of the shoulder to pass through the full range of a pressing motion will play one of the biggest roles in determining your success. Just as with the squat, I would strongly recommend starting with soft tissue work of the lats, pecs, and upper back. Utilize different tools like a foam roller, or a tennis or lacrosse ball depending on your level of tightness.

After mashing the tissue surrounding the shoulder complex, the next step is to perform some active stretching of the shoulder area. This can be as simple as basic arm circles and a door stretch or a quadruped t-spine rotation exercise. One of my favorites for shoulder mobility is the hang. Get to a pull-up bar, grasp it with an overhand grip, and hang from it. Take long, controlled breaths while you hang with longer, more forced exhalation. Start with these or any other drills for the shoulder and upper body and you will increase your rate of success in the bench.

Stability

Trunk stability and core strength play a major role in this lift. To help strengthen the muscles of the trunk, I like to keep things simple by performing planks and plank progressions like the RKC plank. Secondly, and just as with the squat, intra-abdominal pressure is also key in the bench press. “Filling the can” with air is the best way to set this principle in motion. Before lowering the bar to the chest, inhale fully, attempting to fill your entire trunk with air (wearing a belt here helps). Hold that breath and lower the bar with the “can full” and explode from the chest.

Placing your feet flat on the ground will also add stability to the system. Even if you need to have some risers like me, get your feet flat on the ground. This helps with keeping your back flat on the bench, allowing you to utilize the trunk to do its job: to stabilize you.

One more thing: stabilize the shoulders with external rotating of the shoulder by “dialing” your hands outwardly like you were turning two large radio knobs (those still exist, right?). Stabilize the mobility you gained from the previous drills and really pack a punch in your bench press.

Tension

“Bending the bar” is a phrase introduced in the preceding post about the squat, and it holds just as much weight in the bench as well. During your setup, you want to act as if you are actively bending the bar before lowering it to your chest. This will create tension in the lats, shoulder complex, and upper back. This tension, as you will see more with the deadlift in the next post, allows the body to move as a “stiff” unit, expressing the greatest amount of strength during this phase. You can also increase tension by pushing your heels through the ground, another reason to have your feet flat on the ground during the pressing motion. Creating tension from the onset of the lift is what will separate a good lift from a failed lift.

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The only secrets to a bigger bench are the principles I have listed above. These are standards to performing at a higher level and will allow your body to respond to heavier and heavier weights. Implement even a few of the suggestions from above and feel the difference.

The NIFS 6th Annual Powerlifting Competition is coming up on November 9. Don’t miss out on this exciting celebration of strength designed for all experience and fitness levels.

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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 mobility stability tension bench press