Greetings NIFS friends! Hopefully your New Year’s resolutions are keeping you more active at the gym and less active at the buffet line. All joking aside, getting back to the gym can be challenging, especially if you are not sure what to do when you get there or if you are burnt out on cookie-cutter workouts that are barely working anymore. With that being said, introducing new equipment, ideas, and strategies can be a daunting task. Don’t let that get you down, though, because we are here to rescue your workout!
Breathing life into your workout can have numerous benefits. Sometimes the benefits allow us to break through plateaus, keep us interested in what we are doing (refocusing our goals), and give us variety (aka “the spice”). Highlighted in this blog are three pieces of equipment that may be overlooked by the simple reason that we just don’t know what it is or what it can do for our body. Without a doubt, just trying these exercises will not only be challenging, but also effective as you strive to reach your fitness goals.
Tire and Sledgehammer Workouts
The tire and sledgehammer workout was derived out of simplicity, necessity, and function. There are two main exercises to consider here, tire flips and sledgehammer strikes. With an optional smaller tire, one does not have to possess the strength of Paul Bunyan to complete this task (but there are bonus points if you do). To flip the tire, first squat low and get your fingers under the edge of the tire. As you stand up, use your legs and drive your body into the tire, leveraging it up on its end. The tire should tip over easily and come to rest square on the ground.
The other exercise is called sledgehammer strikes. This is not much different than chopping wood or driving a railroad spike. Because your goals may not include having the strength of a lumberjack, there are several sledgehammer weight options to choose from, ranging from 8lb to 16lb. Strike directly in the middle of the tire to avoid a glancing strike. Try this in your next workout:
5 tire flips, 20 strikes (10 each side) for 4 sets
The slideboard was designed as a means of training lateral movements as well as developing balance and stability in the lower body and core. If done properly, this exercise can also produce a high-intensity workout all while gliding side to side. As an application, the strength and power developed from this lateral movement translates well to the world of speed skating, where athletes are known for incredible leg strength.
Because the gliding might not feel as natural to everyone, there are other exercises to consider, including Slideboard Hamstring Curls and Slideboard Mountain Climbers. For both exercises, you will need to use the booties to decrease friction (otherwise, the exercises won’t work). For Hamstring Curls, position your body toward the end of the board, with your knees bent and heels on the slick part of the board. Keeping your back flat and head down, raise your hips fully. Finally, extend your legs and return to the starting position. For beginners, this can be done with one leg at a time.
The other exercise, Mountain Climbers, is done by positioning the body at the end of the slide board in an “all-fours” position. With your toes on the slick part of the board, rise up so that your knees are off the ground. At a quick tempo, slide your legs inward, being sure to alternate legs. Additional pushups can add some variety to this movement. Try this in your next workout:
12 Hamstring Curls, 30 seconds of Mountain Climbers x 4 sets
One thing to consider when making workouts: most of the good equipment and exercises have already been invented. The slosh pipe, a unique, homemade piece of equipment, is both odd and beautiful at the same time. It allows us to think and work so far out of the box that everyone can benefit in some way from using it. Basically, a slosh pipe is a PVC tube (3 or 4 inches in diameter and anywhere from 40 to 96 inches long) filled halfway with water and sealed on both ends. The water is meant to slosh around inside the pipe, hence the name Slosh Pipe.
Thinking outside the box, the pipes can be used to develop strength as well as core, balance, and stability. Two exercises to try here include the half-kneeling overhead hold and the walking lunges. The first exercise, the overhead hold, is pretty self-explanatory: find a slosh pipe and hold it over your head for time. The pipe needs to be moderately heavy, but if there is a question about safety, always have a spotter on overhead lifts such as this one. As you hold that weight overhead from a half-kneeling position (one knee up, one knee down), seconds turn into minutes. There is a constant rebalance happening with your core, as water tips one way or the other. Grip strength and overall upper-body strength are challenged as fatigue sets in. Lower the weight back to the floor with the help of a partner.
The other exercise is a walking lunge. This is accomplished by holding the slosh pipe in the crooks of your elbows and performing a walking lunge. The same effects as the overhead hold are prevalent. Try this in your next workout:
45–60-second half-kneeling Overhead Hold, 20 walking lunges x 4 sets
As you can see, there are several pieces of equipment at the gym that you may have overlooked. Keep looking; there are more than you think. The NIFS staff of Certified Fitness Professionals strives to give you not only a good workout, but also to introduce you to new exercises and cutting-edge equipment. If you want a new routine to save your resolution from disaster, contact NIFS’ Fitness Rescue to set up a strategy session, testing, and workout.
This blog was written by Thomas Livengood, Health Fitness Instructor and Personal Trainer. To read more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.
8 Reasons to Try Indoor Rowing
As outdoor workouts become relegated to the weekend and your body requires a reprieve from repeated long rides or runs, a fresh training method could become a welcome change to your training schedule. Enter: indoor rowing.
As the heir apparent to the reigning king of group fitness classes, indoor cycling, indoor rowing is poised to become the country’s newest workout obsession, as rowing studios continue to pop up throughout the country.
If you’re looking to supplement your training regime, consider this full-body workout. Here are eight reasons you should try indoor rowing:
1. It Burns a High Amount of Calories
Harvard Medical School states that a 155-pound person rowing at a vigorous pace can burn more than 600 calories per hour. This is on par with mountain and BMX biking.
2. Rowing Removes Muscular Failings
“Endurance runners and cyclists tend to have many muscular deficiencies that lead to repetitive stress injuries,” says Richard Butler, a UCanRow2 Concept2 indoor rowing coach at Mecka Fitness in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He believes rowing can offset this propensity. “When we row, we use more than 86% of our muscles. [It’s] tough to have deficient muscles using that many muscles.”
3. Rowing Circumvents Compensation
“While running and cycling, it is also very easy to become quad-dominant (overusing your anterior muscles),” says Dustin Hogue, interval studio director of Studio Three in Chicago. “Rowing counteracts this by engaging the posterior muscles of your body: the hamstrings, glutes and back. This helps avoid compensations.”
4. It Burns Fat
In a study published in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports, which compared fat oxidation in rowing to cycling across a range of variables — including exercise intensity, mode and recruited muscle mass — rowing beat out cycling. This was specifically due to the greater recruitment of larger muscle mass on the ergometer.
5. It’s a Two-For-One Workout
Rowing works both the upper and lower extremities in synchronicity. “It’s one of the true full-body workouts,” says Butler. He says when done properly, in one continuous movement, athletes use their back, arms, legs and core.
6. There’s a Meditative Component
According to UCanRow2, an organization with a mission to bring rowing to people across the U.S., rowing indoors keeps the mind centered and helps relieve stress as you get into a rhythm with each stroke.
7. Classes Teach You Proper Technique
Most people have either never rowed or row with incorrect, gawky posture — curtailing rowing’s proper returns. But participating in indoor rowing classes diminishes the inelegance and instructors help you perfect your position. “That awkward feeling of not knowing how to do a move is minimized,” says Butler.
8. It Decreases the Risk of Injuries
For those who recently suffered an injury and feel a little apprehensive getting back into high-impact sports (like running), but feel ready to get back into cardiovascular shape, rowing is a favorable alternative. “Running causes a great deal of stress on the leg joints, so rowing is perfect for avoiding injury while endurance training,” says Butler.
As with any group fitness class, rowing classes vary by studio and instructor. “A typical rowing class at Studio Three pairs bursts of short, anaerobic exercises, with active recovery periods and weighted resistance training,” says Hogue. “Athletes perform a series, or distance or timed pushes on the rower along with multi-joint strength movements off of the rower.” At ROWFit by Mecka Fitness, Butler teaches authentic, crew rowing techniques to increase endurance and train all major muscles. At the popular Row House NYC in New York City instructors encourage participants to row in sync with each other, simulating a real crew team.
Whatever class you choose, all indoor rowing classes focus on providing low-impact, high-energy workouts, helping you elevate your heart rate and building strength as a complement to any endurance training regime.
If you’re interested in indoor rowing, you can find a certified instructor at UCanRow2 and even become certified yourself.
In Training, Consistency Is the Key to Your Fitness Goals
Consistency is arguably the most important component when working to accomplish goals, in or out of the gym. Without consistency, programs are unorganized, the body has a harder time adapting, and forming habits may be more challenging.
Build and Follow Workout Programming
Whatever your goals may be, they require a consistent level of training for you to reach them. One way to ensure consistency within the scope of your goals is to build a program. Programs make it much easier to stay on track because you won’t have to think about what you’re going to do at the gym today—it’s already written out. Most programs are designed to be followed for a set amount of time, typically about 4 weeks. Depending on the desired goal, the program will have a different focus—hypertrophy, endurance, strength, and so on. Each day is designed with the goal in mind, while ensuring that you are training in a way that minimizes imbalances within the body. If you aren’t following the program consistently, the chance of it working is reduced.
Theoretically, if you have a program and you don’t follow it, the body is not going to be able to adapt to the program because there isn’t an opportunity for progressive overload, which is when the amount of stress on the body is gradually increased over time, leading to increased strength and performance.
Work Toward Adaptations
Biologically, a lot of things happen in the body during exercise. Over time these reactions change the body to become stronger, grow, or run more efficiently. Different factors affect adaptations in everyone, so it’s impossible to predict when these changes will occur. But being consistent with training will increase the likelihood of seeing adaptations sooner.
Different modes of exercise elicit different adaptations. Endurance training will produce different changes than resistance training. While there are far too many adaptations to discuss in this blog, a few examples reported by the CDC include the following:
Improved ability of muscles to use fat as energy Stronger ligaments and tendons Increased VO2 max and lactate threshold Increased number of capillaries in muscles Cardiac muscle hypertrophy Increased force production
Each of these changes is beneficial for different scenarios. The body is either becoming more efficient or stronger, or performance is enhanced. However, these long-term benefits are seen only after consistent training over a period of time.
We are creatures of habit. The more we practice something, the more natural it becomes. We experience this when we learn to walk as babies, when we learn to drive, and when we exercise. It’s normal to feel out of your element when you try something new, but the more you do it, the more comfortable you feel.
Current research suggests that to make a habit stick it must be performed for 68 consecutive days. The idea of sticking with something brand new for 68 days may feel overwhelming for some people. When taking on a new challenge, focusing on taking it day by day might be a helpful mindset. Yes, we might be aiming to create a lifelong habit; however, thinking about just starting a habit to last for years could seem daunting. Start by doing it for one day, and then two, and then three, and so on.
Once you feel comfortable with one small change, add another small change, and so on. Small changes are more sustainable over the long term and add up to form new habits. There will likely be days that your plan doesn’t work out how it was supposed to, but that doesn’t mean all progress is lost.
Our bodies adapt gradually to exercise. In the end, consistency will help you reach your goals. Without it, you might not have enough structure to allow for growth. Work first on figuring out your goals, determine the best route to achieve them, and get started with one step. If you’re not sure how to get started, the trainers at NIFS can help you set goals and develop programs tailored to those goals.
This blog was written by Hannah Peters, BS, CPT, Health Fitness Instructor. To learn more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.
13 Things You Need to Know Before Starting a Weightlifting Program
Weightlifting is straightforward in theory (you just, erm…lift weights, right?). But it’s a bit more complicated in practice. As a beginner to weightlifting, it’s confusing (not to mention intimidating) to figure out which muscles to target, how much to lift, and how often to work out. How are you supposed to know where to even begin with finding a good weightlifting program?
Although it might seem daunting at first, the benefits of lifting weights far outweigh any hurdles you might have to getting started. William P. Kelley, C.S.C.S, ATC, says some major benefits of weightlifting include improved strength, bone density, and heart health. Studies even suggest that it can help keep your brain sharp, as well as increase energy levels and decrease stress.
Trevor Thieme, C.S.C.S., Beachbody’s senior manager of fitness and nutrition content, notes that lifting weights is also an effective way to lose weight: “Weightlifting can help you lose fat faster than steady state cardio because it keeps your metabolism elevated for longer post workout,” he explains. “The result is that it helps you burn more total calories.”
But before you get to enjoy all the benefits of lifting weights, you first have to get started. The first step? Creating smart goals.
What Are Your Weightlifting Goals?
“Goal-setting is critical to guiding your weightlifting path,” Kelley says. Before you even choose a weightlifting program, consider what you want to get out of it. Are you training for a specific event, for general health, or with aesthetics in mind? Do you want to lose weight, build strength, pack on muscle, or achieve a combination of any or all three of those goals?
“Each objective requires a different strategy, and by identifying your goal or goals, you can identify the most effective training program to achieve it,” Thieme says. The tips below will help you do that.
If you need some extra guidance to help you get started, check out Beachbody On Demand’s weightlifting programs, like Body Beast (which focuses on muscle building) and A Week of Hard Labor (an intense, five-day weightlifting routine). Both programs can help you achieve the lean, muscular physique you’ve always dreamed of building. (See the results for yourself!)
13 Common Questions About Starting a Weightlifting Program
These 13 questions and answers will give you the information you need to start lifting weights, including basic training tips and mistakes to avoid.
1. What equipment do I need for a weightlifting program?
If you’re starting an at-home weightlifting program, dumbbells are a necessity — but having just a single pair may not cut it.
Thieme says you need different weights to effectively challenge different muscle groups. Your legs should be able to handle heavier weights than your triceps, for example. That’s why he recommends investing in a pair of selectorized (AKA adjustable) dumbbells (like this set of Bowflex dumbbells). “A single pair of dumbbells can replace an entire dumbbell rack, saving you hundreds of dollars—not to mention lots of floor space,” he says.
A bench is another useful piece of equipment for developing overall strength and power, Kelly says, although you could get by without one if you’re short on space.
2. How much weight should I lift?
“You should always lift the heaviest amount of weight that allows you to complete all of your reps and sets for all of the exercises in your workout,” Thieme says.
If you can’t maintain proper form for the last several reps of an exercise, go lighter. If you can breeze through your reps with the last few feeling as comfortable as the first few, go heavier. The key to achieving muscle growth is to find your sweet spot, which in this case means a weight that challenges you without forcing you to sacrifice good form.
3. How many reps and sets should I do for each weightlifting exercise?
First, consider your weightlifting goals. “If you want increased strength, you should do from two to six reps per set. For hypertrophy [muscle growth] do eight to 12 reps. And for endurance, do 15 to 20 reps,” Kelley says.
As for sets, Thieme says it’s important to do multiple sets of each exercise, no matter your goal. Three sets per exercise is generally a good number, but don’t lock yourself into that. As long as you’re doing at least two and not more than five or six, you’re good. And if you want to increase your strength, build bigger muscles, and improve your muscular endurance, regularly vary the number of reps and sets you do.
“Optimal muscle growth occurs when you target both of the major muscle fiber types—I and II—and the best way achieve that is by lifting across the entire rep spectrum,” says Thieme. “Incorporate both heavy weight/low rep sets and light weight/high rep sets in your training program.”
4. Should I focus on one or two body parts a day, or do full-body workouts every time?
Both are effective strategies for packing on muscle. “The key is to work each body part or muscle group at least twice a week,” says Thieme, who suggests alternating between the two training strategies. “Do split training for two or three months, and then do total body training for two or three months.”
Your schedule is also a determining factor, Kelley notes. “If you can only work out two to three times per week, then a total body lifting program may be more efficient,” he says.
5. How many days per week should I lift weights?
How often you lift weights comes down to your goals and schedule as well, Kelley says. (Doe we sound like a broken record yet?)
“The ratio of exercise to recovery days that maximizes results and minimizes injury and overtraining risks depends largely on your current fitness level and the type, intensity, and duration of your workouts,” Thieme says. He recommends lifting a minimum of two days a week a maximum of six days.
6. Do I need to take rest days during a weightlifting program?
Yes! Giving yourself a day off from training is crucial to your weightlifting success. “Lifting days are where you [purposefully] damage muscle tissue,” Kelley says, while “rest/recovery days are when muscles repair and rebuild.” Both days are needed to become stronger.
If you don’t give yourself sufficient recovery time, you’ll sabotage your workout performance and hinder your results. “Training adaptations don’t happen during workouts, they happen between them, making recovery days just as important as training days,” says Thieme. “What people often forget is that, when it comes to exercise, more isn’t always better. You have to give your body the time it needs to respond to the training stimulus that each workout provides.”
How often you should take a recovery day depends on your fitness level, primary exercise type and intensity, age, and sleep habits, but a good rule of thumb is to take one or two rest/recovery days a week.
If you feel energized on your designated rest days, Kelley recommends active recovery activities, which facilitate blood flow to your muscles without overloading them. Yoga and light cardio (e.g., an easy jog, leisurely bike ride, or short hike) are good options. Also, don’t limit warm-up and cool-down activities to warm-ups and cool-downs. Perform dynamic stretching and foam rolling every day, regardless of whether or not you’re working out.
7. How do I avoid a muscle-building plateau?
There are numerous factors that contribute to muscle growth, but the key to achieving consistent gains is to regularly increase the challenge to your muscles, Kelley says. “By increasing the stress on a muscle through a principle called ‘progressive overload,’ you illicit changes in that muscle, including greater size, greater contraction force, and improved motor recruitment,” he explains.
Lifting progressively heavier weights isn’t the only way to do that. “Other ways to achieve progressive overload include decreasing the rest periods between sets, performing more complex exercise variations, and switching up the exercises you do,” says Thieme. “Even changing up your grip (e.g., from underhand to neutral) can increase the challenge to your muscles and trigger fresh growth.”
8. Can I do my weightlifting program and still do cardio and other workouts?
The short answer: yes. But you need to be strategic about it. “If your focus is weightlifting, then you should use cardio as a form of ‘active recovery,'” says Thieme.
If you do a heavy weightlifting session one day, and then go for an easy run the next, you can actually enhance your recovery (and results) from the weightlifting session by boosting blood flow—and the vital nutrient delivery and waste removal services it provides. “But a heavy weightlifting workout followed by a long, hard run or HIIT session the next day can do more harm than good,” says Thieme.
If you don’t allow your body sufficient time to recover between intense workouts, the only thing you’ll achieve is an increased risk of burnout and injury.
9. Will weightlifting make me bulky?
Lifting weights can cause men to become bulky if they focus solely and intensely on bodybuilding or pure strength training, Thieme explains, but this is rarely the case for women. Why? Genetics.
Men typically have a higher percentage of type II muscle fibers, which are bigger and have a higher growth potential than type I fibers. Plus, men produce more testosterone, which is critical for muscle building. “Women do not produce testosterone at high enough levels naturally to get bulky,” Kelley says, even if they’re lifting heavy amounts of weight. That said, a woman can still increase her muscle size through weightlifting if that’s her goal. “Studies also show that while most women can’t build as much muscle as most men, they can achieve similar increases in strength,” says Thieme.
10. How do I make sure I’m lifting with proper form?
Practicing correct weightlifting form is key to preventing injury and getting the results you want. The best way to guarantee good form? “Utilize a fitness professional [like a trainer] until you feel safe and confident in the staple lifts of your program,” Kelley says.
If you’re working out on Beachbody On Demand, pay attention to the trainers as they explain the correct starting stance, movement pattern, and key form points for each exercise, as well as which muscles to engage during the moves. Having a friend observe you can also help you keep your form on point.
11. How long should I follow a weightlifting program?
In general, Kelley recommends maintaining a specific weightlifting program for three to five weeks before you mix it up. “This gives the muscles time to adapt and grow in the current program; then, just as they acclimate, you tweak the program slightly to keep progressing,” he explains.
Perhaps more important than the timeline, however, is paying attention to the way your routine makes you feel. “If you haven’t increased the weight you’re lifting after a few weeks, or if you’ve noticed a significant drop in your motivation, it’s time to switch things up,” Thieme says.
Of course, if you follow a professionally designed program, like you’ll find on Beachbody On Demand, knowing when to switch things up isn’t even a concern. “Such variation is built into the program, eliminating the stress and guesswork for you,” says Thieme.
12. What should I eat before and after a workout to maximize my performance?
Before a weightlifting workout, focus on carbs, which will help top off your energy stores. The key is to choose something that you can digest before you start exercising. A piece of fruit is a good choice if you have 30 minutes or less until you work out. If your workout is still an hour out, our go-to recommendation is a piece of whole grain toast with nut butter.
Post-workout, the most important factor is protein, which can help facilitate muscle growth and speed recovery, Thieme says. Aim for 20 grams of fast-absorbing protein (like whey) within 30 minutes of exercising. A protein supplement such as Beachbody Performance Recover makes that easy.
13. How do I know if my weightlifting program is working?
To get the most accurate and objective measure of progress, Kelley suggests recording your workouts and tracking the numbers. “If you can increase the weight you lift by
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