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NIFS Healthy Living Blog

Plyometric Building Blocks: Creative Movements and Injury Prevention

GettyImages-601905120As an athlete there is no substitute for the ability to produce power and be explosive during your sport. From competitive weightlifters and NFL-caliber football players to distance runners, producing (and absorbing) high impacts is crucial for succeeding in your sport as well as staying healthy throughout your competition season. Are you incorporating any of these exercises into your current program?

Creative Movements

Finding plyometric, or more simply “plyo” exercises, has become relatively easy. They have become one of the staples of social media and other internet posts because of their ability to morph into unique movements that will get many likes and retweets. Many performance coaches are looking to become the first person to introduce a movement or show a variation that no one has seen, and plyo exercises allow for a lot of creativity to fit a certain sport or activity.

But should you choose a movement you have never seen and implement it into your program? My answer? It depends. The movement may benefit you in some way, but you must also ask yourself whether it is training a specific area that you are targeting and whether the movement itself is safe. Plyo exercises are meant to be very explosive. They are designed to tap into the high potential of the motor units of the muscle fiber, which are essentially the driving forces from the brain to the muscle. The goal is to reach these high levels of effort (85–100%) during repeated bouts, with the goal of the body adapting to those high levels with an increased recruitment of those high-level motor units. The more we express their abilities, the easier it becomes for us to do, leading to more power.

Injury Prevention in Plyometrics

Now you have to ask yourself a question: Can you perform a movement at full effort while being safe? If you are unsure, here are a few building blocks to consider when choosing a movement.

The Landing

Whenever I teach lower-body plyo movements, the first thing we learn is the landing. Regardless of the sport, landing on the ground always presents a potential risk due to the heavy forces that are coming down. Always be aware of your knees and make sure they are always stable when your feet hit the ground. Avoiding an inward collapse of the knees is a great place to start by making sure your hips are engaged, which will increase the stabilization of the knees.

A good place to start is a simple Box Drop drill. Step up onto a box that is about 12–18 inches high. Step off and land on the ground with flat feet, knees outward with a slight forward lean of the chest. This will start the healthy promotion of safe and soft landings.

Effort

I touched on this above, but effort is a nonnegotiable variable during plyometric movements. Your body and muscles have to have a reason to increase their power-producing capabilities. If you approach a plyo exercise with low effort or the “going through the motions” mindset, it will be a waste of time. For example, say you have a maximal broad jump of 10 feet. During training, the ideal distance you would jump might be around 8+ feet depending on the number of repetitions you are going for. Do you think that jumping to 5 feet during your training sets would tax your body to make improvements on that maximal 10-foot jump? Unlikely. Train with high effort and energy and you will be rewarded.

Simplicity

My final building block is to not overcomplicate things. It is so easy to get caught up in doing an exercise because it looks similar to movements you might perform on the field or court, but my advice is to step back and ask yourself whether there is more thinking involved during the movement, or are you allowed to focus on one aspect and give all you have for the sets and reps you are going for. If a plyo exercise you find has 3, 4, 5, or more aspects, “paralysis by analysis” will definitely kick in. Choose movements that do not require a lot of thinking and allow you to attack every rep.

BE POWERFUL!

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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: injury prevention plyometric sports student athletes athletic performance team sports

Early Sport Specialization Is Detrimental to Kids’ Health

GettyImages-155601842Recently I heard someone say something along the lines of, “That sixth-grade basketball player is ranked #1 in the country.” That got me thinking: How in the world are we ranking sixth-graders? They haven’t even gone through puberty yet!

Early sport specialization basically refers to putting a child into one sport before puberty and keeping them in that one specific sport their whole childhood and adolescent life. Parents think that if their child is focused on one sport, they have a higher chance of getting an athletic collegiate scholarship and possibly going pro at their respective sport. This is the furthest thing from the truth. Early sport specialization is actually detrimental to young children physiologically, psychologically, and fundamentally.

Children Should Learn a Variety of Sports

Children should be exposed to as many sports as possible as they grow up because this allows them to learn different skills that they might not learn if they are focused on only one sport. If a child focuses on the skills required to play baseball or tennis, that child will not master the physical literacy that every athlete should have. Physical literacy is the basic sport and movement skills required for sports that include agility, balance, coordination, and speed (Brenner, 2016).

Variety Will Help with Injury Prevention and Avoiding Burnout

Being a strength coach and personal trainer, a lot of parents ask me to train their child from as early as 10 years old because they think their child is the next LeBron James or Usain Bolt. What I have found out is that those kids typically can’t perform a simple movement like a skip or jumping jack. It actually is sad to see kids struggle with basic movements like this. Allowing kids to play sports for fun is the best way to keep them from burning out or getting seriously hurt before they reach puberty.

Let Kids Play to Have Fun

At the end of the day, we need to allow kids to be kids and play to have fun. Putting too much pressure on kids takes away from their experience and they begin to get scared of failing or not being good enough. They need to learn to fail in certain situations when it comes to athletics or they will not know how to deal with it on their own. Parents and coaches need to work together to eliminate the concept of trying to get their kid to be a professional athlete because chances are it won’t happen. Allow them to enjoy their young years without the pressure.

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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: injury prevention kids sports professional athlete football student athletes basketball early sport specialization team sports baseball parent

Powerful Student Athlete Summer Strength and Conditioning Alternatives

Student athletes are home for their summer vacations. Some may spend a few weeks there and head right back to campus, while others might not return until the beginning of the school year in August. With them, they bring all of their necessities (furniture, clothes, etc.) from their dorms or apartments back to their homes, with the most important necessity to these athletes being their summer workout manual. This will be their strength training and conditioning guide for potentially the next 3–4 months. Simply put, these documents are critical for preparing their bodies for the upcoming season.

For me, getting the strength and conditioning manual from our coaches for the summer was always pretty exciting. Training was always something that I looked forward to doing (minus the 110-yard sprints for our conditioning test). I knew that as soon as we got back to campus, football season was only a few weeks away, so this was going to be really important.

What Happens if You Don’t Have the Right Equipment Back Home?

The biggest challenge that I faced during the summer months wasn’t necessarily due to the workouts themselves, but finding alternatives to exercises that were in our packets that fit with the type of equipment that I had access to. There were not a ton of training facilities in my hometown, and none of them had areas to do any type of Olympic lifting. They were more of the commercial-style gyms which would have only the basics (dumbbells, fixed bench-press racks, Smith machine, etc.). So training for any type of power or speed-strength with resistance was going to be a challenge. Luckily, I was a young Exercise Science major who saw this as a challenge and a way to learn and adapt to a less-than-ideal training environment.

A similar situation came about a few weeks back when I distributed the summer workout packets to all of my teams. One of my athletes contacted me and explained to me essentially the same situation that I was in from 2007 to 2011. She has access to a gym, but the facility does not have an area to do Olympic lifts, which are a staple in her team’s programming. Luckily, I understand much more now than I did back in my undergraduate years, which makes developing these alternatives easier.

Four Lifts and Their Alternative Exercises

Below you will find four common explosive lifts followed by an alternative weight-lifting exercise and a few tips on how to do them.

Snatch: Single-Arm Dumbbell Snatch

  • Dumbbell starts in front of your body with wrist facing outward.
  • Hinge forward at the hips to lower the dumbbell toward the floor.
  • Drive through the floor with your feet and jump straight up while simultaneously pulling the weight upward with a high elbow then punching it toward the ceiling.
  • Sink underneath the weight and control the catch.
MVI_8960

 

Clean: Dumbbell Clean

    • Start with two dumbbells outside hip-width with wrists facing outward.
    • Hinge forward at the hips to lower the dumbbells toward the floor.
    • Drive through the floor with your feet and jump while pulling the weight upward.
    • Snap the elbows underneath the weight.
    • The dumbbells should rest on your shoulders with elbows high upon completion.
MVI_8964

 

Jerk: Landmine Jerk

    • Start with a bar placed in a landmine attachment or supported by a corner wall with weight plates.
    • Start with feet parallel and bar close to the shoulder that you are pressing with.
    • Dip your hips slightly and jump up.
    • Split your feet so that the front foot is opposite the arm that you are pressing with and punch the weight upward.
    • Stick the landing.
landmine jerk

 

Box Jump: Landmine Squat Jump

  • Start with the bar placed in a landmine attachment or supported by a corner wall with weight plates.
  • Start with feet at hip width with the end of the bar slightly out in front of your body.
  • Squat and drive through the floor.
  • Jump as high as possible.
Landmine Squat Jump

 

These four variations on four common power exercises will give you some flexibility if the space you have to train in is tight or if equipment is limited. They could also serve as an alternative for some of you who are looking to switch up your program for a few weeks without completely straying from these exercises. As with many of the Olympic lifts, repetitions should be kept relatively low so that you can focus on being as explosive as possible. Have fun and get after it!

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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: NIFS fitness center equipment summer weight lifting student athletes strength and conditioning

Crucial Conversations: I Have 99 Problems, But My (NIFS) Gym Isn’t One

karen8.29.16.jpgFor the next installment of Crucial Conversations, a series where I have a chat with some very inspirational individuals and share it with all of you, I speak with a woman who needs no elaborate introduction. That’s because not only is she pretty well known around these parts, but also because she wouldn’t have it.

She is about the business of being fit and staying fit, no frills or fancy Instagram posts, just the business, and business is good. I am referring to longtime NIFS member Karen. I had the opportunity to ask Karen a few questions about being an “ageless warrior,” what keeps her motivated, and why she continues to make NIFS her fitness home. Join me as we uncover some of the things that make this amazing individual tick!

Tony: Tell me a little about yourself.

Karen: I was born in Indianapolis in 1958 and attended Arlington High School. During my time at Arlington I ran track and field and played volleyball. I got married in 1983, and my son was born in 1984.

Tony: Besides being a high school athlete, have you always been generally healthy, fit, and active?

Karen: I used to do workout videos, when they were popular, with my young son. At the young age of 25 I was diagnosed with high blood pressure [hypertension] after the birth of my son. This was hard for me to process due to my healthy lifestyle and healthy nature. It was something that I would have to deal with for the rest of my life. I began to feel restless and my life was becoming too mundane. I hated only being able to go to work and go home every day. At this point in my life I began to become depressed. I felt that I was not accomplishing anything in my life.

Tony: How did you make the change to pull yourself out of the rut you were in?

Karen: My son was in school and doing after-school activities, and my husband was heavily involved in church, and as a firefighter he was gone from home at least two days a week. I wanted to have something of my own; I wanted a place to go to meet and talk to people, a place where I could better myself every time I was there. I felt that the only place it could be was the gym. During this time I had fallen even deeper into depression, but by April of 1994 that would all change. My husband began working out at NIFS, and I would ask him where he was going to work out and he stated NIFS. He eventually purchased a membership for me, and it was the greatest gift he ever gave me. I joined NIFS and I have been a member for 22 years.

Tony: So how did you get started?

Karen: I began to look into going to group fitness classes. Every time I became stronger and the classes became easier for me, so I would begin going to more advanced classes. I started with step, spinning, and boxing, but my true transformation began when I began taking HIT class and group training. I was in the first Slim It to Win It competition, and to compete with other members was very exciting. Each time I would look for the next challenge to accomplish. I felt my body getting stronger and my endurance was increasing; I was feeling better about myself and my life, and I was looking forward to each limit I could cross.

Tony: What has created the most change for you?

Karen: I would have to say that my change came with the challenges I faced to make myself better in the gym. I began noticing these changes when I was able to go farther and longer than I could before. I felt this process could never end; if I worked at it, I would be able to surpass all of my limits, and with each and every class I knew there would be a new challenge for me to defeat. I’ve been able to make new friends, and for me exercising is a way of life. I am the result of hard work, I am in great shape for someone who is 57 years old, and I feel that my medical issues are very minor due to the effort and time that I have put in at NIFS. It has also allowed me to deal with stress, and it gives me a generally positive outlook on life. I would like to thank all of the trainers who have helped me along the way with my transformation, especially Tony Maloney.

***

I had the pleasure of meeting this amazing lady the first day I arrived here at NIFS eight years ago, and have had the continued honor to work with her in so many different capacities. From BOSU class, HIT, Slim It to Win It, and group training, Karen has seen and done it all, and has not just done it but done it well! She took on a nickname I gave her a few years back: “Grumpy”; but those who know her know that she is far from it. But she is focused, and when there is work to be done, she is all business.

Yes! I want to try a HIT class!

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 exercise depression fitness center motivation member group training HIT Slim It to Win It Crucial Conversations student athletes hypertension making changes

Three Summer Training Lessons for Athletes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. Get creative.

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

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

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

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

3. Don’t forget what summer is for!

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

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

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

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

The Importance of Post-Season Active Rest

ThinkstockPhotos-78322425.jpgOver the past six to eights weeks, I have been creating summer workout manuals for the teams that I work with during the school year. These manuals are meant to bridge the strength and conditioning gap between the time they leave for summer break and when they return for the fall semester. There is much to be gained, or lost, through a summer of hard work (or lack thereof). Although summer break is a true “break” for most athletes academically, there never really is a true break for training.

Many of the teams I work with are spring sports. Their seasons begin a couple months after the turn of the year and may not finish until after school is out. They go from the playing field, track, course, or court, back home where family, friends, and summer jobs await. Being spring sports, their summer usually begins with a recovery period that occurs when their competitive season comes to a close. The components of this recovery process include mental, emotional, and physical aspects that need to be met in order to fully prepare for the next bout of training and the following season.

For the sports that I work with, the first portion of the training calendar for the post-season is called active rest. Active rest is an approximately two-week period where the athlete performs light physical activity at least two to three days per week. These physical activities should have nothing to do with the sport that they participate in. Think about it: after spending six to seven days per week over the past four months participating or thinking about their specific sport, the last thing many individuals want to do is continue to do just that. Although this is the sport that you may love, getting away from it for a short period of time can do wonders.

Taking a Break from Training

Active rest can mean a lot of things, and the best part is the fact that you basically have free reign over what you choose to do, as long as you are staying active. This gives you the opportunity to choose something totally unrelated to your sport and do it for the next few weeks.

I would recommend that the intensity of the activity you choose not climb above “moderate.” The low to moderate style will allow adequate blood flow to working muscles, which will help promote physical recovery of the muscles that were taxed so much during your competitive season. Another recommendation I would make would be to limit the amount of impact (foot strikes) you have during this period, especially if your sport requires a large amount of impact. This will allow your body to recover from the constant “ground and pound” that you might have during track, tennis, or softball season.

Active rest is also a good time to incorporate corrective exercises from the Functional Movement Screen (FMS) that your coach or trainer gave you. These exercises focus mainly on mobility and require very few pieces of equipment for the most part. Spending two to three weeks working on any muscular imbalances that may have developed during the season will give you a leg up when you begin your intense off-season training program in a month or so.

Active Rest Recommendations

Following are my top 5 recommendations for the rest period of your training:

  • FMS corrective exercises
  • Swimming
  • Hiking
  • Bike/elliptical/arc trainer/rower
  • DO SOMETHING FUN!

Physical recovery is definitely important during this time, but recovery of your mental and emotional well-being may be just as or possibly more important. Let’s face it—any competitive season has a multitude of ups and downs, which creates an emotional rollercoaster that could send anyone through a loop. You have spent 48 out of the past 52 weeks preparing or playing your sport. You owe it to yourself to do something a little different and come back refreshed for the preparation for the next season.

If you have any questions about how to set up active rest for your post-season training, or need help constructing an off-season training program for your sport, contact me at asoller@nifs.org. To read more about setting up training programs for athletes, see my blog series that begins here.

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

Topics: training sports recovery functional movement post-season rest student athletes