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NIFS Healthy Living Blog

Stiff Hips? Try Hurdle Stretches

GettyImages-1243955198I wish I had a dollar for every time a coach has said to me, “That athlete has stiff hips,” or “That athlete folds over at the waist,” etc. So how do I help an inefficient athlete with stiff hips? I use simple hurdle stretches that train my athletes to bend.

Many times it’s an athlete with long legs and a short torso. I wish I was more consistent in hurdle stretches with my athletes, but in the perfect coaching world, I would use them at every strength workout and have an extra set of hurdles near the practice fields/courts for use before practices.

Hurdle stretches are great because you can complete four to six stretches in less than five minutes. A hurdle stretch routine is helpful before and after activity. It’s also great for efficiently training a large group of athletes if you have 10–12 hurdles separated into two different lines of 5–6 hurdles.

Set-up some hurdles at NIFS and take yourself through these drills to loosen up those “stiff hips.”

Hurdle Stretches

 

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This blog was written by Michael Blume, MS, SCCC; Athletic Performance Coach. To learn more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: NIFS fitness center strength stretching exercises coaching athletes

Get the Perfect Deadlift Setup Every Time

GettyImages-579405946With the sport of powerlifting taking off in the last couple of years, more and more people are taking up the sport as a hobby and to improve their overall fitness levels. Training to improve strength in the squat, bench, and deadlift is a great way to improve total body strength and improve body composition.

Some may argue that lifting heavy is unsafe and should be saved for the athletes. The common myth is that lifting heavy may lead to injuries. The movement most argued against is the deadlift. When performed too heavy with poor form, this may be true. However, when performed with the proper progressions, and the proper technique, the deadlift is the best total-body movement to improve strength, power, and body composition.

Why the Deadlift?

There are three main benefits to performing the barbell deadlift:

  • First off, it is a whole-body movement. The deadlift works multiple muscle groups at the same time, offering more bang for your buck compared to isolation exercises.
  • Secondly, the deadlift improves strength and stability. Because it is a compound exercise, working more than one joint, this lift can be performed with heavier loads, leading to greater increases in strength.
  • Lastly, deadlifts can help improve posture. The muscles used while maintaining a flat back in the deadlift are the same muscles that help with sitting and standing up straight. The deadlift strengthens these muscles, leading to improved posture over time.

Now that we have gone over the benefits, let’s talk technique.

The Deadlift Setup

Follow these steps:

  1. Foot position: With your feet hip-width apart, the barbell should be placed over the center of your foot. An easy way to get the best foot placement is to look down, and move forward and backward until your shoelaces are directly under the bar.
  2. Grip: Without bending your knees or moving the barbell, bend over and grip the bar right outside of your legs. It is important that you do not move the barbell.
  3. Shins to the bar: Once you have your grip established, bend your knees and bring your shins to the bar. Do not over-bend them and push the bar away from you.
  4. Chest up and back flat: Without dropping your hips any further, puff up your chest and squeeze your shoulder blades together. By doing this, you will naturally flatten out your back.
  5. Drag: Take a big belly breath, hold it, and drag the bar up your shins. Keep your back muscles engaged and keep the bar close to your body the entire movement. When you let the bar get away from you, you have to compensate with your lower back, and this can lead to injury.

Keys to Success

Now that you have a safe setup, here are a couple of things to think about while performing the movement.

  1. On the last step of your setup, look out ahead of you. You do not want to overextend your neck, and you also do not want to be staring at the ground the entire time. Keeping your head in line with your spine will allow you to keep a neutral spine throughout the whole movement.
  2. When standing up with the barbell, your hips and shoulders should rise at the same time. If you allow your hips to come up first, the bar will get out in front of you, and like I mentioned earlier, you will have to compensate by pulling with your low back.
  3. Lastly, take a deep belly breath. A belly breath does not mean air all the way in your stomach, but what it does mean is filling your lungs all the way to the bottom to pressurize your core. A pressurized core equals engaged abdominals. When performing any lift, you want to create a solid core to help stay upright.
Watch the video below for the proper deadlift technique in action.

Screen Shot 2021-01-19 at 11.23.53 AMIf you are new to lifting and don’t know where to get started, come visit us at the Track Desk in the Fitness Center.

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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: NIFS injury prevention weight lifting strength powerlifting deadlift total-body workouts heavy lifting

Shouldering the Load: Safe Alternatives to the Overhead Press Pattern

_68R6419In my experience over the years working with folks from all walks of life to help improve their strength, mobility, performance, and overall fitness I have found that so many suffer from immobility in two major joints: the ankle and the shoulder, which is the focus of this piece. Lifestyle, occupation, inactivity, and overtraining are all culprits robbing so many of healthy range of motion in the shoulder and shoulder girdle.

Throughout the history of fitness and muscle, one of the sexiest exercises is the overhead press (OHP). The overhead press is used as an assessment of one’s strength, it’s involved in the popular Olympic lifts and many activities of daily living, and it feels pretty darn good to lift something heavy up over your head. With so many variations that can develop strength and stability in the upper body, the overhead press can be a phenomenal tool in a training toolbox.

Questions to Ask Yourself

There are many benefits to the overhead press exercise, but what if you suffer from immobility in the shoulder or have suffered an injury that has made the vertical press pattern difficult or painful? There are some options for you that can keep you safe while reaping the many benefits of the vertical press movement pattern. Before we get to those, however, I’ll ask a couple of questions.

What are your desired fitness outcomes and goals?

“If you think it, INK IT!” is a practice I learned long ago from a great coach, and for years I have been insisting clients write down what they hope to accomplish along their fitness journey. If you don’t know where you want to go, it will be difficult to formulate the map to get you there. Take the time to reflect, develop, and write your fitness goals before starting any fitness program.

How will the overhead press exercise help you get there?

Pretty straightforward question: how will the overhead press exercise help get you to where you want to go? Depending on your goals, the OHP may play a major role, or it might play a minor role in your success.

How do you know whether you should be including the overhead press in your training?

Once you have established your fitness outcomes and how the overhead press can assist in obtaining those outcomes, it is important to determine whether the overhead press is a safe exercise to include in your training. Your best first step is to complete a Functional Movement Screen (FMS) that will provide some crucial information to your fitness programming. First and foremost, the FMS, specifically the Shoulder Mobility Screen, will determine whether there is pain involved with the overhead position. If there is pain, you will need to see a medical professional to tackle that before anything else should happen.

A score of 1 on the Shoulder Mobility Screen signifies that, among other things, you should exclude overhead pressing from your training until the pattern is cleaned up and you are no longer scoring a 1 on the screen. A score of 2 or 3 means the vertical pressing motion can be included in your training safely. Schedule your FMS with one of NIFS instructors today to ensure you are able and safe to include the overhead press exercise in your programming.

Overhead/Vertical Press Options

Once you have your screen from your NIFS certified pro, you now know where you stand to shoulder the load. If you are cleared to press overhead, I say have at it and press on! But if you are directed to stay away from strict overhead pressing, here are a few options that can provide many of the same benefits from the overhead press while working in a safer shoulder space.

  • Landmine Press: 1/2K and Standing
  • Landmine Arc press: 1/2K and standing
  • Incline DB press: SA and double arm
  • Jammer Press

Screen Shot 2020-10-01 at 11.52.08 AM

Shoulder health, strength, and stability are so important in training and, more importantly, everyday living. The vertical press options here are great ways to continue to bulletproof your shoulders, and the best first step is to get screened and take care of your shoulders prior to heavy loading. One simple and highly effective way to tackle shoulder health is to add the “dead hang” into your training program. Learn more in Lauren’s recent post covering this effective drill. Stay shoulder safe!

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

Topics: shoulders injury prevention muscles weight lifting strength exercises videos mobility upper body stability overhead press shoulder mobility

Build a Bigger Engine with Aerobic Training (Part 1)

GettyImages-605772224For whatever reason, there seems to be this notion in the fitness industry that if the workout doesn’t leave you on the ground gasping for air, it really wasn’t a good one. Or maybe that you didn’t work hard enough because you didn’t go running to the nearest trash can by the end. This could not be further from the truth; but unfortunately this way of thinking still seems to run rampant.

Not Every Workout Has to Be a Gut-Buster

One of my favorite quotes when it comes to strength and conditioning comes from Yuri Verkhoshansky, Russian professor, coach, and author who is credited as being the father of plyometrics. He suggests that “any idiot can make another idiot tired.” Now, I’m not calling anyone out. But this brings up a fantastic and often forgotten premise: that we should not judge the quality of a training session simply by how exhausted we feel.

Yes, we should challenge ourselves. Yes, there should be times when a workout feels more difficult. But here’s the key: not every workout should feel like a gut-busting knock-down, drag-out fight to the finish. If it does, it might be time to reevaluate.

A Quick Exercise Physiology Lesson: The Aerobic System

Our bodies rely on three energy systems to get us through everything from a tough workout session to washing the dishes, as well as basic organ function around the clock. They are all operating in some capacity all of the time, just in varying degrees based on the activity we’re doing. It’s not like a light switch, just on/off. Here are our players:

  • The ATP-PCr or phosphagen system (immediate)
  • The anaerobic or lactic system (short term; remember glycolysis?)
  • The aerobic system (long term)

Now, this isn’t intended to be a full-blown Bill Nye-esque science lesson. But I do want to focus on one of those energy systems for just a moment because it plays a massive role in how we are able to recover from task to task. And that is the aerobic system. It has the capacity to produce a great deal of energy, ATP—our body’s form of energy currency. The only problem is that is takes a little while longer to do compared to the other two. As a result, the aerobic system is responsible for replenishing and producing energy during rest periods or downtime between bouts of high-intensity exercise.

Much like any facet of fitness, this system can be trained directly. It typically comes in the form of slightly lower-intensity exercise (examples to come in a future post). So, while the exercise session might not feel like a back-breaker, the benefits that arise from it can come back twofold when looking at future training sessions. Essentially, what you’re doing when you are working on bolstering your aerobic system is building a bigger, more efficient engine.

Reap the Benefits of Faster Recovery

So, those high-intensity classes you take a couple times per week? Think about being able to sustain the same power and strength from round to round because you can recover more effectively during your rest periods. Or maybe you like to hop under the bar for some strength training in the form of squat or bench press. Well imagine being able to hit more of those heavy singles because you recover more proficiently between sets. That’s when the aerobic system really kicks into high gear: during rest. Yes, it is always contributing to some degree when it comes to ATP production (remember energy currency?). But its benefits really come to light during the downtime.

Building your fitness profile really requires a 360-degree approach. Some sessions may focus on strength. Some sessions may focus on high-intensity training. And some should take the time to address the aerobic system. Not only do they provide the body some much-needed recovery time; these sessions can also allow you to get more out of those strength and high-intensity workouts as well.

Next time, I’ll cover specific examples of how you can train your aerobic system. Until then, stay strong, my friends!

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

Topics: strength recovery high intensity energy aerobic

Work Capacity Training with Kettlebells

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

The Swing

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

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

Weight Exercises

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

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

Work Capacity Kettlebell Workout

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

Maxwell Circuit

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

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

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

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

Kettlebell Training

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

Enjoy the pain!

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

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

The Stay-at-Home Athlete: Build Your Home-Based Athletic Performance Program

GettyImages-868064764nIn a world where situations are ever-changing and a new “normal” is developing, athletes around the world are scrambling to adapt to their new training environments. For most, this new environment is where you are probably reading this now, your home. For the time being and for many people, traditional training methods of using barbells, dumbbells, kettlebells, etc. have morphed into substitutions of paint cans, backpacks, gallon jugs, or just about anything that can act as the “resistance” that your body has become accustomed to using.

Am I Going to Lose Everything I Gained in the Gym?

The first thought you probably had when this situation came about was, “I’m going to lose everything I’ve worked so hard to gain in the gym.” I guess that because it was one of the first things that passed through my mind, and now I believe that a well-equipped gym is one of the most taken-for-granted things I had in my life. It was always there. I could do just about anything I wanted or needed to do there. If the work I needed to do didn’t get done, it wasn’t the gym’s fault; it was my own.

If the work I needed to do didn’t get done, it wasn’t the gym’s fault; it was my own.

So now what? You are at home, you have a minuscule amount of equipment compared to what you had before (here’s another blog with some basics to consider), and your motivation may be low. The easiest thing to do would be the bare minimum and hope for the best when you can get back to the gym. The right thing would be to figure out a way to adapt your program to your environment and change the “maintain” mindset to the “gain” mindset. And I’m here to help you do that. The following are the essentials I believe can help you construct your home-based workout and continue to build on the progress you have made in the gym.

The Four Home-Training Building Blocks

As a coach, there are four main training blocks that can be completed at a very high level from home: mobility, power, strength, and conditioning. Follow along as I break them down!

Mobility

For many athletes (yes, me included), mobility is an area where we can always improve. This part of training is often overlooked or not taken as seriously as it should be. I’m here to tell you, being at home gives you the perfect reason to make this a focal point of your training. I say this because for many mobility exercises (shoulder/t-spine, hip, and ankle exercises), a big array of equipment is not needed. A couch or chair can serve as a perfect platform for you to improve mobility with very little time or effort setting up.

Power

No matter what sport you participate in, power development surely plays an integral part in your performance. In the gym we use medballs, boxes, and barbells to help foster this development. But at home, you can simply use an open space in your home/garage/outside to do this as well. Many “ground-based” plyometrics can be performed with minimal, if any, equipment. You can use vertical and broad jumps (both one- and two-legged) and various plyometric push-up variations, which should provide your body that same “explosive” feeling you have learned to produce. For the jumping exercises, this is a great time to work on the most important part of the movement, the landing.

Strength

This section might pose the biggest challenge to you simply because the heavy weights you are used to using are no longer accessible. I’m here to tell you that with a little creativity, you can still make improvements. One of the easiest ways to make simple bodyweight exercises more challenging is to elevate one of your points of contact, i.e. elevating your feet for push-ups or putting your back leg up on a couch or chair during split squats. Using a backpack full of books can serve as the extra resistance during these exercises, so dust off your old heavy college books and repurpose them.

Remember this as well: it’s not always about using heavy weight with low reps. If you are used to training in this fashion, doing more repetitions will help with your strength-endurance.

Conditioning

I believe that cardiovascular or conditioning work should be the easiest for you to adapt to while at home. With the exception of some of the specialized equipment you use in the gym (sleds, bikes, etc.), a lot of the training you do during this block requires only bodyweight resistance. Circuits (wall sits, mountain climbers, burpees), running (long-slow distance, interval training), and core work (plank and side plank variations, glute bridge variations) can all be performed with minimal equipment.

Take into account your “work-to-rest” ratio, which is how long you work versus how long you rest. Depending on what intensity you are working at, how long you are working for, or what activity you are doing, these numbers can be adjusted to fit your current fitness level. Generally, the longer your rest periods are compared to your work periods, the easier it will be. If you are unsure, start with 1-minute work to 1-minute rest and adjust for each subsequent workout as the days pass.

Which Will You Choose: Continued Progress or a Downhill Slide?

I leave you with this: the duration of the new normal can go one of two ways, the continuation of progress and improvements of athletic areas you need to work on OR a downhill slide of progress that leaves you fighting to get back to your current athletic state for the following months or years. Which one will you choose? If the work you need to do doesn’t get done, it wasn’t the home gym’s fault.

If the work you need to do doesn’t get done, it wasn’t the home gym’s fault.

This is a new challenge that you should accept and meet head-on with the attitude that nothing can derail your progress and a drive to continue to improve. In a few months, let’s look back on these days with pride knowing that you did everything in your power to get better.

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

Topics: exercise at home equipment endurance strength quarantine

Why I Do BODYPUMP™

Tasha BodypumpLes Mills® BODYPUMP™ has changed my life. There are hundreds of workouts to choose from, but this one…it’s all mine. It’s my workout rock, the base of my week, and the base of my training. Why do I do it? Keep reading.

How I Got Started with BODYPUMP™ and Why I Stay With It

I have to give credit to my sister for starting what some would call an obsession. She discovered BODYPUMP™ and became an instructor. She knew I wanted to be a group fitness instructor and she showed me how to do it through Les Mills. She invited me to take her BODYPUMP™ class and I fell in love with it after the first class. I very clearly remember her telling me that I burned 400 to 500 calories and I thought, “That’s like an extra meal!” I was hooked. The music, the repetitions, the strength behind it; it’s not traditional weightlifting—it’s better!

After the initial love bubble, the true test of a program comes: will you keep coming back? What kept me coming and still does to this day is the effectiveness of the workout. Before starting BODYPUMP™ I was unable to do a single pull-up on my own. After about 6 months, I was able to do one. Then two… then three…without actually practicing pull-ups. It doesn’t matter how many different workouts I try, I always own them and continue to impress others with my strength. I may be small, but I’m mighty and I wouldn’t have gotten there without BODYPUMP™.

The Dynamic BODYPUMP™ WorkoutTasha Bodypump 2

Les Mills BODYPUMP™ is a very dynamic program. It’s always changing and evolving. It’s stable enough that I know I will always get a good workout, but it’s never stagnant. It continues to push me and my fitness level with every release. I am now a National Trainer, Presenter and Assessor for Les Mills BODYPUMP™ and I see every day how both new participants and experienced weightlifters can be both welcomed and challenged by this program. When I look out in class and see 20+ people waking up at 6am to work out with me and do BODYPUMP™, I know we have something special. I can speak from experience that we get stronger with every class. We are more than just a group of people who work out. We are a team of friends working toward a common goal of increasing our fitness and enjoying the feeling of success that only BODYPUMPers know when they finish a set with 8 bottom halves.

BODYPUMP™ has made me strong and keeps me strong. And that is why I do what I do. BODYPUMP™ is offered every day of the week, so check out the Group Fitness Schedule to find a class that works with your schedule. Aim for 2 to 3x per week for the best results. Request a class for free and enjoy!

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This blog was written by Tasha Nichols, Group Fitness Manager and Program Coordinator at NIFS and a Les Mills US National Trainer, Presenter, and Assessor. Meet our NIFS bloggers.

Topics: NIFS group fitness workouts group training muscles strength Les Mills BODYPUMP

Weight-Loss Goal Setting: Focus on What Your Body Can Do

GettyImages-1131330779It’s time to get serious about goal setting. Setting goals can help you dig more deeply into fitness and think about what you truly want to accomplish. Goals can range from wanting to walk 1 mile to squatting 2 times your body weight, and absolutely everything in between and beyond. Everyone is on a different path to fitness, so whatever your goals may be is completely up to you.

The current trend in the fitness industry is to lose weight, gain muscle, and look like this girl or that guy that you see on social media. While there’s nothing wrong with setting a weight-based goal, we’re completely missing one major key of what working out can do for you: unlock your potential.

The Pitfalls of Rapid Weight Loss

When we set a goal of losing weight, we often lose sight of the importance of being strong and healthy, and this may lead to behaviors such as disordered eating or excessive exercise. All too often, people just want to get rid of the extra weight quickly. This mindset may encourage rapid weight loss that is not sustainable over the long term. Rapid weight loss can also lead to the loss of muscle mass, instead of fat loss, which is not desirable because muscle plays so many important roles in the body. It drives metabolism (having muscle increases Resting Metabolic Rate), keeps people strong as they age so that they can maintain their independence for as long as possible, and more.

Focus on Performance

The human body is capable of so much more than how much weight it can gain or lose—it has the power to perform. If you want to run a half marathon, you can train to run a half marathon. If you want to deadlift 300 pounds, you can train to do that. You can push the boundaries of your strength and endurance to do the things that may seem impossible right now. By going beyond what you think your limits are, you will adapt to the stress and become stronger. If you limit your goals to how much you would like to weigh, your focus is on what your body is, not what it can do.

It’s perfectly reasonable to have a weight-loss goal. There’s plenty of research describing how losing weight is beneficial for long-term health if one is overweight. However, it is rarely a linear process, and you must be prepared to face ups, downs, and plateaus. Having a goal that revolves around some type of strength or endurance feat will give you something to work toward even during the hurdles of a weight loss journey. You’ll be too distracted trying to do three pull ups or running five miles to notice those tiny, yet frustrating weight fluctuations that are a natural part of weight loss (and in general).

Beyond Your Weight-Loss Goal

Besides, the work doesn’t stop once you have reached your weight goal. The last thing you want to do is gain back what you spent months or years working toward. So if you haven’t yet set a goal beyond weight loss, now would be a great time to do so. The moral of this blog is to remind you that it’s okay to want to weigh “X” amount of pounds, but it’s not in your best interest to limit your body to a goal revolving around a number. You are capable of much more than just weighing a certain amount. Unlock your true potential by knocking down barriers and pushing the limits in and out of the gym.

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This blog was written by Hannah Peters, BS, CPT, Health Fitness Instructor. To learn more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: goal setting weight loss challenge endurance strength performance

STRENGTH: 6 Expert Weightlifting Tips to Be Stronger Than Ever

Strength. We all want it, and many of us will go to great lengths to obtain it. Strength and the ability to be strong will find its way into all of our lives, from weightlifting in the gym to all the activities of daily living (ADLs). It was once explained to me that you should picture your absolute strength as a bucket; the bigger the bucket (the stronger you are), the more things you can put into the bucket. Aspects of health and fitness such as mobility, endurance, agility, and power can all be better developed and improved with the presence of strength. To put it simply: be strong—be better.

Of course you can google “how to get strong,” and you will find no shortage of philosophies and program theories to wade through to answer that question. Some may actually be safe and useful, but who can you trust these days? I tend to learn from those who have “been there and done that” and continue to do it because of a high success rate of most-wanted outcomes.

Get Strong Tips from Dan John

Dan John is one of the top fitness coaches, and I never miss a chance to hear him speak or read his weekly newsletters. I have learned so much from reading his materials and implementing his principles into my training and the training of others. Dan will be the first to tell you that he continues to learn from people like Pavel Tsatsouline and many others. Dan believes his tips are an “easy” way to get strong.

Following are six of his expert tips that I have integrated into my training (and the training of those I work with).

  • Lift heavy. This seems obvious, but it really is where it all begins. If you lift heavy weights to get strong, you have to challenge the system and force it to adapt. Without adaption, there will be no gain.
  • Perform the fundamental human movements. There are some variances in what is believed to be fundamental, depending on who you talk to. But I believe those movements are Squat, Hinge, Push, Pull, and Carry.
  • Keep sets and reps low. I love Dan’s “Power of 10” rule: never go over 10 total reps for any exercise. For example, 2x5, 5x2, 3x3, 6 singles, 5, 3 and 2.
  • Stop your set and workout before fatigue. Stay fresh and leave some energy for the next training session.
  • Don’t even struggle. Choose the proper load so that you can finish each rep with integrity, not sideways and crooked.
  • Never miss a rep. Choosing a load that you are 100% confident you can make can be hard for some. Most of us want to challenge the limits with every rep and set. Refrain from that for true gains.

A Challenge to Prepare for Powerlifting Competitions

Following these tips, from time to time I will cycle in my training what Dan refers to as the 40-Workout Strength Challenge. I wanted to share a program that I learned from Dan that added 10 pounds to my bench, 30 pounds to my squat, and 50 to my deadlift. Dan also has seen a few PRs fall in both throwing and weightlifting competitions. I am a big believer in the program’s concepts and simplicity. We are very good at overcomplicating things when it is not necessary. Here you work on fundamental movements all the time, and you make sure you hit every rep. This could be a great challenge for you leading into the competition; however, just like anything else, it might not work for everyone. Here’s the setup:

  1. Pick one exercise from the fundamental human movements described above. If competing in November is your goal, I would suggest a back squat, bench press, and deadlift. Add in a chinup and a farmer’s carry and you are good to go.
  2. Perform these exercises for the first 10 workouts every training session with varying sets and reps.
  3. Never miss a rep, and if the weight feels light, add more weight.
  4. After the first 10 workouts you can repeat them 3 additional times or make small changes to the movements every two weeks (for example, change to an incline bench, front squat, rack pulls, barbell bent-over rows, and racked carry). There are far too many examples of exercises and combinations to list here; I would suggest scheduling a personal program session with a NIFS instructor to help you out.

Here is how I set up my challenge that may help you develop yours. I can’t stress enough that this is what worked for me. It may not work for you, but it could be well worth the try.
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I found that after completing this 40-workout challenge, not only did I add pounds to my big lifts, but many of the other tasks in my life became easier. The other aspect of this challenge I really, really liked was that due to its simplicity, I can turn my brain down a bit and just lift. It provided that escape from our day-to-day tasks that I think we all need from time to time.

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 strength powerlifting

Using Battling Ropes for Training

_68R5895When you begin your fitness quest and are getting started on a new program, finding exercises that are appropriate for you is key to your success. Your fitness staff at NIFS has your back! Training methods and training tools developed from years of research and practice have shown that sometimes a simple exercise done well can be quite effective.

In this case, we will be looking at training with battling ropes (also known as battle ropes). I was lucky to have been in attendance at one of the top fitness summits recently and was humbled by the overall amount of work that can be accomplished with the ropes. (Taking some learning cues from renowned fitness professionals has given me the opportunity to deliver some great, purposeful workouts to NIFS members and clients.)

You may have seen the battle ropes in your gym, but did not know exactly what exercises could be done with them. For the most part, the movement patterns are simple, yet effective. Slamming the ropes utilizes multiple muscle groups and also gets your heart rate to rise. Taking the training one step further, your rope slams can be broken down into many movement patterns including small movement patterns, large movement patterns, and several other fun, specialized movement patterns (which we will look at in this blog).

What Are Battle Ropes?

Before we get started on the exercises, it would be helpful to have a better anatomical understanding of these ropes. For starters, ropes come in many lengths and thicknesses. The longer the rope or the thicker the rope, the more challenging the exercises become. Also, using a poly rope with shrinkwrapped endcaps has advantages over the less-expensive manila gym ropes traditionally used for climbing. The poly rope material tends to be softer on the hands and more durable than the manila rope. The manila rope, however, can work fine and be more cost-effective.

Small-Movement Pattern

The first movement pattern we will discuss is called the small-movement pattern. This pattern is the easiest to learn and progress from. Once you have selected your rope and have attached it to its anchor point, simply get your body into an athletic position (not unlike getting ready to hit a volleyball or pick up a groundball in softball). You will slam the rope quickly, yet rhythmically in cadence so that the small slams create a ripple that flows all the way down to the anchor point. This pattern can also have several small variations including single-arm slams. Typically, this exercise can be done for time (i.e., 20 seconds per set) or with your interval training (i.e., :20 on, :20 off for 3 minutes).

Large-Movement Pattern

The second movement pattern is the large-movement pattern. With this movement pattern, the goal is to create big slams with the rope. This movement is similar to the one seen with medicine ball slams, where you take your body from a small movement position to a fully extended position with the ropes overhead and on your toes, and then end by slamming the rope with maximum force into the ground. This movement can be rhythmic, but sometimes seems a little more aggressive in nature than the small-movement pattern. The benefits here, though, are definitely more athletic in nature, as many sports require movement patterning based on this exact exercise. Because this exercise makes it easier to count reps, being able to do sets such as 4 x 10–12 reps, makes sense (but do not limit yourself; intervals here are also appropriate).

Other Ways to Use Rope Training

Outside of these two movements, you can explore rope training in many ways. Thinking back to grade-school times, we used the rope often during physical education class as the true tests of strength with tug-of-war and the rope climb, but we can make ropes fun and challenging when we put them back into our workout plans and add a little competition. With tug-of-war, you need several people to compete, but other exercises can replicate this movement solo. The Marpo Rope Trainer machine can convert to a standing tug-of-war rope pull, just you versus the machine! The rope climb, which is a daunting challenge for most, can be replicated on the rope machine as well. But if you don’t have the rope machine, starting with rope descends is an excellent way to get more comfortable and definitely stronger.

BONUS: Here is a great Friday Finisher series using the Ropes!

 

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These rope challenges are great additions to most workouts because they are simple and they can be done with individual maximum efforts or in groups where a cardiovascular challenge is needed. If you are interested in adding ropes to your workouts and want more information, NIFS staffers are more than happy to help you begin your new rope training workout. As always, 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: NIFS exercise fitness center Thomas' Corner equipment workouts strength sports movement