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NIFS Healthy Living Blog

Increasing Grip Strength Can Lead to Big Gains

Have you ever heard the saying, "You are only as strong as your weakest link?" This can apply to many facets of your fitness and wellness, but today we are going to look at Grip Strength as it pertains to overall upper-body strength and beyond.

Is Weak Grip Strength Holding You Back?

Thinking about some of the all-time classic upper-body exercises, such as bench press, pull-ups, and even bicep curls, we do not always associate grip strength as a reason we may have limitations or are unable to see quicker progress. Think about this: If your chest is strong enough to bench press 100lb dumbbells, but your grip strength is only strong enough to hold 50lb dumbbells, you probably are not going to be able to challenge your chest appropriately. You are only as strong as your weakest link.

How can you overcome this deficiency? One way is to start implementing grip strength training into your routine. Whether your goal is to open a jar of pickles or to tear a phonebook in half, improved grip strength has its benefits for nearly everyone.

Grip Strength Series

Grip Strength Exercises

Try these creative exercises to spice up your routine and get the most out of your workout.

Exercise 1: Barbell Open/Close Hand

Holding a barbell (size can vary depending on your experience level), stand with good posture. Slowly open your hand, allowing the bar to roll toward your fingertips. As soon as the bar is at its farthest point, slowly close your hand, returning the bar to the starting position.

Exercise 2: Machine Wrist Rolls

Using a cable machine, first attach a straight bar attachment. Stand with knees bent and body in an athletic position, keeping the back flat. Using lighter weight, allow the attachment to spin in your hands while under control. Make sure you go both directions!

Exercise 3: Towel Kettlebell Farmer’s Carry

Using two Kettlebells (one if you are doing a Suitcase carry) and two towels, begin by wrapping the towel through the handle of the kettlebell, creating a "handle" with the remaining towel. Grip the towel and carry the kettlebell with the towel. Maintain good posture, chest up and eyes straight ahead. Walk forward, turn, and walk back to the starting point.

Exercise 4: Bosu and Bodybar Wrist Roll

Begin by standing on a Bosu ball (or any unstable surface). Hold a bodybar at shoulder height and as far from your body as possible. Turn the bar in your hands; it should spin (not unlike accelerating a motorcycle). Make sure you do both directions.

See a NIFS Fitness Specialist to discuss how to improve your grip strength today! Enjoy.

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

Topics: Thomas' Corner videos grip strength upper body BOSU

Push and Pull: The Ideal Workout Program for Restarting Training

GettyImages-1267535453Let’s face it: building your own workouts isn’t always the easiest thing to do. Sure, you probably strike gold a few times a year and the exercises you choose seem to be flawless, from the balance of muscle groups worked to the flow of the routine that you get into. There is nothing better than having that program that just seems to get the job done.


What Workout Program Should You Use When You’ve Taken Time Off from Training?

But let’s say that life happens and you took an extended time off from training due to school, work, or some other important reason (pandemic maybe?). So what now? Where do you go from here? The go-to for many individuals would be to jump right back into the same program they were doing before their long layoff. It worked great for them before their break, so it must be the best way to resume activity, right? More than likely, this might not be the most ideal situation to set yourself up for future success. When your body has become detrained from a long layoff, you run the risk of overtraining—which could possibly lead to those nagging injuries that linger throughout your rebuild process.

Find a Program That Balances Pushing and Pulling

To me, a GREAT training program is a delicate balance of “pushing” and “pulling” exercises. The general consensus of the “push-pull” method is that you alternate (or superset) upper-body push movements (for example, bench press, shoulder press) with upper-body pull movements (for example, bent-over rows, pull-ups). Even the great Arnold Schwarzenegger used this method to pack on loads of muscle when he was at the apex of bodybuilding. Now, are you Arnold? No. Are you trying to look like Arnold? Also no (more than likely). Below you will find another interpretation of the “Push-Pull” method that may better fit those who are restarting their exercise routine, or those who are looking to switch up their programming.

Benefits of Full-Body Workouts

As I mentioned before, the push-pull method often refers to two upper-body exercises from opposite muscle groups (for example, chest and back). The superior version (in my opinion) of this would be to couple either an upper-body push exercise with a lower-body pull exercise, or an upper-body pull exercise with a lower-body push exercise (see table below). This type of full-body workout allows for two main benefits:

  1. Ample rest time is allowed: While the upper body works, the lower body rests (and vice versa).
  2. There is potential for reduced soreness: Instead of hammering one muscle group for a ton of exercises, a more gradual stress is applied to the muscles over multiple workouts. It could also be a great option for returning to exercise or resistance training.

Movement Examples

If you think this type of workout might be what you are looking for, give it a shot. Choose one exercise from column 1 and one exercise from column 2. Alternate those two exercises for the desired number of reps and sets. When finished, either choose one exercise from the same two columns OR switch it up and choose one exercise from column 3 and one exercise from column 4. Remember, the ultimate goal is to match each push movement you perform with an opposite pulling motion.

Column 1 Column 2 Column 3 Column 4

Upper-body Push (chest/
shoulders)

Lower-body Pull (hips/
hamstrings)

Upper-body Pull (back)

Lower-body Push (quads)

Bench Press

Trap Bar Deadlift

Pull-Ups

Front Squat

Strict Shoulder Press

Slider Hamstring Curl

TRX Inverted Row

Step-ups

Half-kneeling Shoulder Press

Single-leg RDL

Band Face Pull

Lunges

Push-up Variations

Lateral Lunge

Seated Row

Split Squat

“Jammer” Press

Reverse Hyper

Dumbbell Reverse Fly

Wall Sit

 

Adjust Your Program Periodically

As with most workout structures, adding wrinkles into the program every so often will allow you to continue the muscular adaptations that are occurring and keep you engaged. That could mean an adjustment to the number of reps, sets, or rest periods you are currently using, or simply choosing different exercises. The ways that you can tweak this kind of program are endless, and I believe that with great effort, you will see positive changes in whatever physical adaptation or change you are after.

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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 muscles training lower body upper body workout programs adaptations pandemic full-body pull push restarting workouts

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

Summer Sledding: Using Sleds for Fitness

Training with a drive sled, or what we lovingly refer to as the “Prowler,” is probably one of the most popular modes of training with the coolest toy. I can remember my first experience with a sled a long time ago during football practice. There was nothing that made me want to see my last meal more than pushing a heavy sled as fast and hard as I could.

What the Sled Can Do for You

That feeling hasn’t changed much for me after a hard sled session, and I think it remains the draw for many who love the feeling of being “maxed out.” But the sled has so many more uses than “push till you puke,” such as:

  • Power development
  • Upper-body strength development
  • Trunk stability work

Exercises You Can Do with the Sled

Screen Shot 2019-08-27 at 11.31.01 AM

Here are some of my favorite ways to train with the sled that are not just pushing it fast down a straight line. This piece of equipment can challenge the body in so many different and fun ways:

  • Double-arm rows
  • Single-arm rows
  • Rips
  • Press
  • Walking dead
  • Walking AR press
  • Lateral cross-steps
  • Power push
  • OH walk
  • Lunges

The sled is easily one of the most versatile fitness tools out there, and can be such a fun and exciting way to train so many aspects of fitness. This is just a short list of the possible movements you can complete with a sled. Add a few different movements using the sled during your next training session and reap the benefits! Remember to practice proper REST protocols and make it a part of your training schedule.

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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 equipment core exercises power strength training upper body fitness equipment sled

Upper-body Workouts: Try the UBE Equipment in the Fitness Center

IMG_4820Ergometers have been a mainstay in the fitness world for a long time. You might not realize it, but many of the cardio pieces in your fitness center that you use regularly are ergometers. The arm ergometer comes from two Greek words: ergo, which means work, and metro or meter, which means measurement. In essence, any cardio equipment you have been using that has the capability to measure your workload can be considered an ergometer.

Because this is a wide spectrum of possibilities, we will focus on some pieces of equipment that fall into a subcategory, Upper-body Arm Ergometers (or UBE for short). I will give some professional tips and workout ideas to incorporate some great exercise into your program well into the new year.

NIFS has several options for UBE-minded people. For starters, the Marpo Rope Climb Machine, the Concept II SkiErg, and the Schwinn Air Bikes can each provide a nice, challenging upper-body cardio exercise. Because each machine specializes in its own fitness discipline (climbing, skiing, and biking), exercisers have an opportunity to not only do the exercises they love to do, but also try new pieces of equipment.

Rope Climbing Machine

Rope climbing is hard work, but quite beneficial. The main movers here are the Latissimus Dorsi, also known as the Lats; however, you can easily notice other muscles that work to support the movement, such as core and grip strength. Sometimes, though, this exercise is a little aggressive and you might not be ready to attempt a rope ascent. In this case, we can introduce you to the Marpo Rope Climbing Machine. This device can simulate various rope activities ranging from climbing the rope to a tug-of-war. Further, accessibility and versatility are both pluses. I like to use the rope machine for cardio on days that my legs are too sore to go, or if I am recovering from a lower-body injury.

Workout: I would suggest doing an interval of 30 seconds on, 30 seconds off for 4 to 5 rounds at the end of your workout. During the “go” time, be ready to work!

Concept II Ski Erg

skiAnother piece of UBE equipment you can find is the Concept II Ski Erg. The machine is designed to replicate cross-country skiing, but can also be used for upper-body only. For years, cross-country skiing has been associated with some of the most beneficial exercises in our industry. When snow is not in the forecast or if we lived far away from winter weather, it might be hard to come by a set of skis. The Ski Erg takes up a relatively small space and still gives a great workout. The Concept II machines are designed to take a lot of intensity while providing a good, safe workout.

Workout: A quick workout could be as easy as measuring your quickest 1,000 meters and then trying to beat that time the next time you are at NIFS.

Air Bike

Screen Shot 2019-05-30 at 11.35.49 AMThe final piece of equipment is the air bike. Bikes have been around for quite a while, but not all bikes are created equal. The air bike is fan driven, which means that the intensity you feel is based on your exercise output. Because it uses both your arms and legs, you get a full-body effect from the exercise. When muscles contract, not only are calories being burnt, but blood has to pump out to all those muscles, hence your heart rate increases. Ask anyone who has used the air bike and they will tell you that it could be one of the best challengers in the gym.

Workout: Use the bike as a warmup or a final finisher. I like to use the bike as a cool-down to keep the blood flowing and ease out of a hard workout. Try an 8–10-minute ride at moderate intensity at the end of your session.

***

For people who are injured or just want a great workout, the UBE equipment has something for everyone. NIFS provides support and will help you find the equipment and workouts that are appropriate for your goals and level of training. Train hard with equipment designed to push you to the limits.

If you are unsure about the UBE equipment, please stop and see a NIFS staff member to assist you with your needs. As always, keep working hard to achieve your goals, and don’t be afraid to try something a little different at the gym—you might end up loving it!

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

Topics: fitness center equipment workouts skiing biking upper body climbing ergonomic

More Workout in Less Time: Incorporating the Squat and Press

Screen Shot 2017-05-25 at 11.26.57 AM.pngBurning more calories, developing more strength, and building the ultimate body in less time is an equation I think we can all get behind. In our world of “on-the-go” fitness—and, well, pretty much everything—finding ways to get more done in less time is a priority in many of our lives. But being effective and getting things done are two different things, in my opinion, and movement does not always result in progress. Being efficient and getting results at the same time in your fitness programming takes planning and choosing the best exercises for your desired outcomes.

Two Steps to More Efficient Workouts

Scheduling your weekly workouts and determining the amount of time you can dedicate to each session is an important first step. Writing those workout sessions in your scheduler, as opposed to simply telling yourself when you will train, will make those sessions a priority and aid in accountability. So write it down!

What you are doing during those sessions to get the most out of the time you’ve allotted to yourself is the next step. If you are just getting started in this new year, I highly suggest you schedule some time with one of our fitness professionals to help you develop that efficient and effective program.

The Squat and Press

One of my favorite Big Bang exercises I highlighted in a previous post is the squat and press. Combining both upper body and lower body, squat and pressing patterns, and loading the anterior core, the squat and press exercise provides a whole lot of BANG! This exercise can develop power and strength in multiple movement patterns such as the front squat, overhead press, and trunk stability. By combining these patterns, the squat and press also has a rather high metabolic cost on the body. In layman’s terms, this exercise will get you breathing hard fast! That equates to multiple fitness aspects being challenged in a single movement. Now that is efficiency!

Variations on the Exercise

Here are a few variations on the squat and press you can implement in your program. Remember, you cannot put on a tie before the shirt, so choose the progression that makes the most sense to you and your fitness level.

SQUAT PRESS TONY

 

BONUS Workout: Metabolic Burn

  • 1A sandbag squat & press (sub any variation) 3 x 10
  • 1B TRX rows 3 x 10
  • 1C mountain climber 3 x 10/leg
  • Rest 3 minutes
  • 2A kettlebell swings 3 x 15
  • 2B pushups 3 x 10–12
  • 2C side plank 3 x :30/side

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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: exercise workouts strength power video lower body scheduling metabolic cost squat and press upper body