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NIFS Healthy Living Blog

Try Cluster Set Training to Get Stronger Faster

GettyImages-524703038If you are an athlete, powerlifter, or just a person who loves to see progress, you might want to try out cluster set training. This is an advanced type of training designed to get you stronger faster than traditional set training.

Traditional Set Training and Cluster Set Training Defined

Traditional set training is typically what everyone at the gym does when lifting weights: you perform a set of continuous repetitions and then rest. An example of this would be Barbell Back Squatting 3 sets for 8 reps.

Cluster set training is performing the same amount of sets and reps, but instead of continuous repetitions, you perform 1 or 2 reps and then rest, then repeat the same reps until you get to your desired rep goal. An example of this would be Barbell Back Squatting 3 sets for 8 reps, but those 8 reps are divided into clusters of 1 or 2 reps followed by a short rest period. You also typically want to rest 15 to 30 seconds between each cluster to get the desired effect.

Why Cluster Set Training Works So Well for Strength and Power

The reason cluster set is so beneficial for strength and power gain is that it allows you to continue to train at close to max or max effort longer than traditional set training would. The reason is that you get short bouts of rest in between your set, which decreases repetition fatigue. Another reason it works is that you are increasing your motor unit synchronization and decreasing your reciprocal inhibition, which allows you to get stronger. Those last two are neural mechanisms that occur during training, especially max effort training.

How to Add Cluster Set Training to Your Workout

The best way to implement this in your training is to use cluster set training with your main lifts: Power Clean, BB Back Squat, Bench Press, and Deadlift. One thing to note is that this type of training is designed to improve strength and power gains and not necessarily hypertrophic gains (an increase in muscle mass). If your main goal is to increase muscle mass, I would recommend sticking to a traditional set training method because this has been proven to increase those effects more so than the cluster set training method.

Get Help from NIFS

Give this type of training a shot and see whether your numbers increase! If you have any questions about cluster set training, you can reach out to me at pmendez@nifs.org and I will gladly answer any questions or concerns. Last thing here is that this is an advanced type of training and should be done by advanced lifters. If you are a novice lifter, I would recommend sticking to traditional set training until you are ready for this.

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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: workouts weightlifting power strength training weight training cluster sets

Five Benefits to Olympic Weightlifting for the General Population

GettyImages-1281363470The first thought that comes into most people’s heads when they hear the word weightlifting is, more times than not, “bulky.” The perception is that heavy weightlifting will cause an undesired large gain of muscle mass. This is true; weightlifting will cause you to put on muscle mass, but it will take a lot more than just lifting weights to be “bulky.” Please do not let your goals steer you away from certain exercises.

What Is Olympic Weightlifting?

The sport of Olympic weightlifting is comprised of the snatch, and clean and jerk. The snatch is a lift in which you take the bar from the floor to overhead in one swift movement. The clean and jerk is a lift in which you take the bar from the bar to the shoulder in one swift movement, and then take it from the shoulder to overhead in a second movement. The Olympic lifts are full-body, explosive movements that require the use of every muscle group in the body.

Take a look at any high-level athlete who competes in events such as track or wrestling. They have to get as strong as they can without putting on extra weight. They achieve this by lifting heavy loads for lower rep schemes as fast as they can. This is one reason why you will see athletes in these sports utilizing the Olympic lifts in the weight room. In the off season if they need to put on size, they will move to the higher rep ranges.

Benefits of Olympic Weightlifting

There are many benefits to learning and performing the Olympic lifts within your exercise routine. The lifts can be programmed in many different ways depending on your specific goals. These are my top five benefits of learning the lifts from a certified coach:

  1. Body composition: The snatch and clean and jerk are full-body lifts that use the legs, glutes, back, abs, shoulders, and arms. Performing the lifts burns more calories in a shorter period of time compared to performing isolation/single-joint movements. The lifts and accessory lifts can be used to put on lean tissue, increase strength, and ultimately decrease body fat.
  2. Muscular power and strength: Muscular power is how fast you can move a load. Decrease in muscular power over time is the main cause of falls in older adults. In Olympic weightlifting, nothing is done slowly. All loads are moved at max velocity, therefore increasing power. If your goal is to run faster and jump higher, power is the key ingredient.
  3. Coordination: The Olympic lifts require precise coordination, rhythm, and timing. Improving body awareness and coordination is great for the activities of daily living. Learning new things also increases cognitive abilities in old age.
  4. Range of motion: Most people associate heavy lifting with being stiff and bulky. The Olympic lifts, however, require the lifter to control a load through a full range of motion in the knees, ankles, hips, and shoulders. If the range of motion is not there now, or at the start of your lifting journey, over time training through a full range of motion will increase flexibility more effectively than static stretching one time per week.
  5. Work capacity: Depending on how the lifts are programmed, they can be used to cause a range of positive changes to your body. One way to increase work capacity is by limiting the amount of rest time in between sets. Over time you will be able to recover faster from higher-intensity training.

The Olympic lifts should be performed under the eyes of a certified, experienced coach. Learning the lifts on your own can be done, but will take much longer and will not produce the results you are seeking. If you are interested in learning the Olympic lifts, visit our Master Class here at NIFS, which is free to members. If you are looking for one-on-one or more personal coaching, you can visit us at the track desk and one of our staff will get you going in the right direction.

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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: muscles range of motion weight lifting weightlifting strength muscle building body composition building muscle strength and conditioning coordination work capacity

Exploring the Versatile Landmine Attachment for Powerlifting

“How can I better utilize the landmine attachment?” This is a question we hear regularly, but are sometimes limited by our own fitness exercise library. The landmine is actually quite versatile and functional in nature. Here I explore the Landmine and some of the many exercises that link several facets of fitness into one unique experience. From functional movements to powerlifting accompaniment, the Landmine is sure to boost your workout with new approaches to old exercises.

What Is a Landmine Attachment? 

According to opexfit.com, “The landmine attachment is a piece of gym equipment invented by Bert Sorin of Sorinex. It’s an adapter that attaches to a weightlifting rack that holds a barbell in one end, leaving the other end free for loading and moving.”

Upper-body Exercises with the Landmine Attachment

For these exercises, you will need a 45lb Olympic bar, a Landmine attachment, and any additional weights to add (for increased difficulty). I suggest beginning with just a bar (remember, it does weigh 45lb!).

  1. Two-handed Shoulder Press: With two hands, press the bar overhead.
  2. One handed Bent-Over Row: With one hand, hinging at the waist, grab the bar and row upward.

Lower-body Exercises with the Landmine Attachment

  1. Sumo Squat: With a wider than normal foot placement, hold the bar in two hands with arms extended. Do a squat pattern.
  2. Single-leg RDL: While standing on one foot, bar in one hand, hinge at the waist, and then return to standing

Core Exercises with the Landmine Attachment

  1. Trunk Twist: Standing in athletic position, make a “windshield wiper” while holding the bar overhead.
  2. Half-kneeling Trunk Twist: This is the same as the trunk twist, except now you are in a half-kneeling position.
  3. Half-kneeling Press: From the half-kneeling position, press upward (not unlike a shoulder press), press the weight up and slightly past the top position, achieving anti-rotational stability.
Landmine Exercises

As you can see, the Landmine is a great, multifaceted tool for us to enjoy not only functional fitness, but also massive muscle “gainz”. All kidding aside, please explore the Landmine and its numerous features. Be creative and try new exercises. If you are getting stumped and need a fresh routine, look no further than a NIFS Health Fitness Instructor. We can help with all of your fitness needs including setting goals, benchmark fitness testing, exercise programming, and more! See you at NIFS!

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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 equipment weightlifting exercises powerlifting fitness equipment

Is Your Weight Belt Really Helping You?

GettyImages-993462726If you are like most people who enjoy lifting weights, you probably have worn a weight belt or own a cool one that helped you get that new squat max deadlift PR, But did you really NEED it? Most of the time we follow what we see others do, which is fine, but remember: everyone is different, and you could be slowing down your own progress by cinching that belt on extra tight every time you feel the need to go heavy.

What Exactly Is That Weight Belt for, Anyway?

A weightlifting belt serves to assist in creating more intra-abdominal pressure. The belt provides the lifter reinforcement when they breathe-brace or create pressure in the torso by exhaling and contracting the abdominal wall before externally loading the spine (picking up the weight). However, if the lifter does not breathe-brace, and instead tries to create pressure by tightening the belt too much and or bulges the abdominal wall out to touch the inner ring of the belt to feel secure, the abdominal pressure is significantly less, stability of the truck and spine is decreased, and now that weight belt is more of corset (a fashion statement) than a lifting tool.

Am I Saying You Should Stop Using a Weight Belt?

No. If you do not have trouble bracing and lifting without a belt up to 80 percent of your 1-rep max, you can stop reading. However, try testing your ability to breathe-brace first, before you determine your need for a weight belt. You can even put this breathe-brace activity into your warm-up to make sure everything is good to go.

The Breathe-Brace Test

Supine

  1. Lay flat on your back with legs bent and feet flat on the floor. Place one hand on your belly, and the other on your chest. Take about four deep breaths. The air can be inhaled through the nose and exhaled through the nose, or in through the nose and out the mouth through pursed lips. On each inhale, use your belly to make the hand on it rise as high as you can (hopefully higher than the hand on your chest). When you exhale, blow out as much air as you can while pulling your belly in tight (the belly hand should sink toward the floor).
  2. Once you have done four deep breaths, take one more, and this time when you exhale, as you blow the air out and the belly hand sinks toward the floor, contract your abdominals (you may even notice a tilting of your rib cage down toward your belly button) as you use your belly to push the air out. If you can stiffen your abs without bulging your belly out, you’ve got it!

Prone

  1. Lay flat on your belly with legs straight. You will need something soft to place under your belly (an ABMAT or folded towel) because it will replace your hand in this method.
  2. You can place your hands down at your sides, long above your head, or use them as a rest for your forehead.
  3. Similar to the supine method, take about four deep breaths. While inhaling, push your belly out to feel the mat underneath you. When you exhale, blow as much air out as you can by pulling your belly in tight away from the floor.
  4. Finally, take one more breath in. This time, as you blow out and pull your belly away from the mat, contract your abs. You may again notice your rib cage tilting down slightly toward your belly button.

This breathing method is encouraged by yoga enthusiasts, but is very effective in the weightlifting realm as well.

Once you have mastered the method on the ground, try doing it while standing. Then take it to the lifting platform or rack. You will notice over time you have more stability, and less spinal flexion and extension throughout heavy lifting, and you are now strengthening the muscles you need to brace and stabilize your spine before using a weight belt. Mastering your breathing and core control will make it easier to find the correct tightness on your weight belt when the time comes.

Don’t Use a Belt to Work Around a Problem

Lastly, we all should have the goal to move without assistance from any sort of crutch or brace, and a weight belt should not be used to work around a problem simply to lift heavy. Work on your breathe-brace skill, and you may only need your weight belt for those big-time lifts, and of course to show off occasionally!

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This blog was written by Keith Hopkins, MS, MA, CSCS, USAW. To read more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: equipment weight lifting weightlifting breathing heavy lifting

Optimal Movement Patterns for Building Muscle

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

The Four Movement Patterns

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

Push

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

Pull

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

Squat

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

Hinge

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

Using the Movement Patterns

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

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

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This blog was written by Evan James, NIFS Exercise Physiologist EP-C, Health Fitness Instructor, and Personal Trainer. To learn more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

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

My 4 Takeaways from the Squatober Weightlifting Challenge

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

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

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

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

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

Our bodies are capable of some incredible feats.

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

Coaches need coaches, too.

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

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

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

Get comfortable with being uncomfortable.

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

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

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

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

Topics: workouts challenge weightlifting coaching squat

Stuck in a Rut? How to Avoid Plateauing in the Weight Room

GettyImages-679304968Let me ask you a question. Have you ever hit a plateau in the weight room when it comes to increasing strength? What about when it comes to increasing power output (vertical jump, short-distance sprint)? Well if you have, you are not alone. I know I have hit plateaus in the past and it can definitely be frustrating when you are not able to get past it.

The question I always asked myself was, “What am I doing wrong now?” Well it wasn’t necessarily that I was doing anything wrong. I followed the basic recommendations for strength gain (2–6 sets of 2–6 repetitions). I used to follow those parameters religiously because that’s what I learned early in my undergrad classes. What I didn’t know is that there are virtually endless ways to get past that plateau. I will share my favorite here.

Traditional Strength Training

Let me first describe what strength really means. Strength is essentially how much force a person can exert, or to simplify that, how much weight a person can lift. What traditional strength training is, is lifting a certain amount of weight—typically about 8095% of your 1 rep max by sets of 2–6 of 2–6 repetitions (NSCA, 2016).

Tempo Training

Tempo training is essentially lifting a certain amount of weight for a certain amount of time. What I mean by this is that I can manipulate the amount of tension I want during each rep by varying how long I have my athletes either lower the weight or bring the weight back up. This type of training has been found to elicit more strength and power output gains than traditional strength training (Dolezal, 2016).

I can have my athletes train at two different types of tempos that will essentially give me the outcome that I desire, whether that be more strength gains or power gains. The first tempo would be more eccentric based (lowering the bar during a squat, lowering the bar during a bench press, etc.). I typically have my athletes lower the bar for about 3–5 seconds and then explode up. The parameters I use and that have been found to have the rest result are about 65–85% of their 1 rep max for about 3–4 sets of 3–6 reps (Dolezal, 2016).

The second method of tempo training I use is velocity-based training. This essentially means I have my athletes perform a certain amount of reps as fast as possible. This type of training has been proven to increase both strength and power output in both athletes and the general population (Banyard, 2019). Performing 3–5 sets of 3–5 reps at about 50–70% is enough to elicit these changes.

The Verdict

In my opinion, tempo training is a much better tool to use versus traditional strength training. The reasons are that with traditional strength training, you really have to make certain you stay within the parameters. With tempo, there is more freedom in how you want to train as well as the additional benefit of improving power output as well as strength, where traditional training does not really increase power output (Banyard, 2019).

I realize that I have oversimplified this topic, but the actual mechanisms of why tempo training is more beneficial than traditional training are out of the scope of this blog. If you would like more information, I would be happy to explain in more detail in another blog or in person.

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This blog was written by Pedro Mendez, CSCS, FMS, Health/Fitness Instructor and Strength Coach at NIFS. To learn more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: fitness center weightlifting strength training plateaus tempo training

CON-ISO-ECC: Muscle Contractions for Weightlifting Variations

GettyImages-1219375851Your return to the gym will likely mean a return to the program that you were originally doing before your extended break. Exercise selection, reps, and rest periods may be altered slightly after time off; however, eventually you will be back to your pre-quarantine strength and power, among other athletic traits. When you think about that program and how it got you to the point you are at or will be in the near future, do you also think about the steps you will take to further advance your abilities? I’m here to break down a few ways specifically within the muscle that may help give you the variety to your program you are looking for.

There are three main types of muscular contractions that can happen, each of which serves a specific purpose for muscular growth, strength, and power. They are

  • Concentric
  • Isometric
  • Eccentric

Concentric

Concentric muscular contractions are generally the most common type that individuals focus on during their training sessions. Concentric contractions involve the shortening of the muscle during an exercise. If you imagine a lift, say the bench press, the act of pushing the weight up from your chest actively shortens the muscle. The pulling of a bent-over row or the ascent of the barbell back squat all utilize this contraction. An uncommon variation would be to slow down the movement, for example slowing the pulling movement of the bar during a Lat Pulldown. If it normally takes you 1–2 seconds to pull down the bar, try a 5-count with the same weight. The intensity will greatly increase.

Isometric

Isometric contractions are an underrated variation that people most often forget about during workout planning. Instead of a shortening movement like the concentric contraction, the isometric contraction actually involves the muscle staying at the same length during the work period. A simple variation of this contraction is a wall sit. The muscle never changes length, but the tension and effort build over time.

But the quality of this contraction is found in much more than just wall sits. Almost any exercise can utilize this method. Here are a few of my favorite variations using isometric contractions. The intensity of the holds in these lifts can be dictated by either the amount of weight or the time you hold it for.

  • Split Squat Holds (hold split squat in down position with knee off the ground)
  • Push-Up Holds (hold push-up in the “down” position; try at different heights!)
  • Pull-Up Holds (either chin over bar or with arms hanging straight)

Eccentric

The last contraction variation in this trio is the eccentric contraction. This is commonly thought of as the lowering or lengthening of the muscle during an exercise. Going back to the bench press example earlier, the bar lowering to the chest would be the eccentric contraction. Where this method is most useful is during time-under-tension exercises where you increase the amount of time that you lengthen the muscle during the lift. These are all about control and can get quite intense.

Similar to the isometric contractions, time is everything. For example, when you do a step-up and are coming down off of the box, try to control for 3–5 seconds before your foot hits the ground instead of coming down right away. Here are a few of my favorite variations on eccentric contraction exercises:

  • Incline Dumbbell Press (lowering the weight slowly and raising it at a normal pace)
  • Slider Leg Curls (pushing feet out in a slow and controlled motion)
  • Glute Ham Raises (slow on the way down)

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The variations are not limited to this list. Feel free to get creative with any of your favorite exercises when trying out the different muscular contractions. Remember, time is your friend with any method you choose and can match any intensity you are trying to achieve.

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

Topics: workouts muscles weight lifting weightlifting exercises power muscle building strength training variety workout programs

Make Training Less Complex with More Complexes

Screen Shot 2020-10-13 at 12.56.26 PMAs 2020 rolls on, a good majority of us are back to work and back inside the gym. If you are like me, with a busy, on-the-go lifestyle, you probably don't have more than an hour to get inside the gym and train. Lucky for you, that’s okay!

By training with a full-body routine utilizing complexes, you can spend less time in the gym and still see the results. This not only saves you time in the gym, but it also allows for more time with family and friends, all while seeing the results you want. One way to accomplish this is through a barbell or kettlebell complex.

What Is a Complex?

A complex is a series of movements that are performed back to back in which the set number of reps is done for a movement before moving to the next. A complex can be performed with a barbell or one or two kettlebells/dumbbells. Each movement within the complex should flow into the next one. A good way to achieve this is to start from the ground and work your way up.

How to Build a Complex

Any number of reps can be done for each movement. The more movements within the complex, the fewer reps you will want to complete for each one. A complex consisting of four to six movements should be kept at one to five reps per movement. If your complex is only two to three movements, you can use higher reps. Some examples of complexes include the following:

Barbell 1

  • Row x 1–5 reps
  • Deadlift x 1–5 reps
  • Hang Power Clean x 1–5 reps
  • Front Squat x 1–5 reps
  • Push Press 1–5 reps

Barbell 2

  • Deadlift x 3–6 reps
  • Clean x 3–6 reps
  • Press x 3–6 reps

Kettlebell or Dumbbell 1

  • Pushup x 1–5 reps
  • Row x 1–5 reps
  • DL x 1–5 reps
  • Clean or Snatch x 1–5 reps
  • Squat x 1–5 reps
  • Press x 1–5 reps

Kettlebell or Dumbbell 2

  • Pushup x 3–10 reps
  • Row x 3–10 reps
  • Swing x 3–10 reps
  • Squat x 3–10 reps

I recommend completing two to three rounds, but you can also work up to as many rounds as possible with good technique. Within each complex there will be a movement that limits the weight for the entire complex, and it is better to start the first round with a weight you think will be too light.

For example, the movement that will decide your weight in Barbell 1 above is the push press. The deadlift might feel easy, but that is okay. By the end of the complex you will be happy you did not go as heavy as possible. Try to do the entire complex without setting down the weight to rest, and remember to complete all of the reps for one movement before moving on to the next movement.

 

Why Should I Implement Complexes?

These complexes are an amazing full-body tool that you can use if you are running low on time for your session, or if you have limited days per week you can come in and train. They are also a great way to add additional volume to your workouts, or can even be used as a finisher at the end to build resilience and touch up your conditioning. If your goal is to be better conditioned, adding a sprint or jog component at the end using pieces such as the echo bike, rower, ski-erg, or SPARC trainer can provide a nice cherry on top of an already stellar total-body workout.

Give these complexes a try to get your blood pumping, and let us know how they go! If you need any technique tips or complete workout programs, come visit us at the track desk for more information on what we offer and how to get that set up!

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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: workouts weight lifting weightlifting kettlebell weights strength and conditioning workout programs full-body complexes efficiency

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