Welcome to the HPRC Blog. We've got lots of information here, from quick tips to in-depth posts about detailed human performance optimization topics.
You probably don’t put a lot of thought in your breathing during exercise, except maybe during extra-hard workouts when you’re breathing hard. There isn’t necessarily a right or wrong way to do it, but some methods are more efficient and can give you an extra boost in performance. During light-to-moderate exercise, people tend to inhale through their noses and exhale through their mouths. Breathing through your nose helps minimize the number of allergens that get into your airway, warm the air before it gets to your lungs (which can be helpful in cold temperatures), and increase the concentration of oxygen in your blood. However, as exercise intensity increases, most people switch to breathing through their mouths because they can inhale more air per breath with less resistance.
Running experts suggest practicing diaphragmatic breathing (“belly breathing”) rather than shallower chest breathing (where you raise your chest and shoulders when you inhale). With diaphragmatic breathing, your diaphragm (an important muscle in the breathing process) is pushed downward when you inhale, creating space in your chest cavity. You should feel your belly expand as you inhale. It promotes greater expansion of your rib cage and lungs, giving you a fuller, deeper breath. It takes a little practice to learn how to breathe like this while you’re running, but if you lie on your back and breathe, practice yoga, or even play a wind instrument, you’ll know what it feels and looks like.
Finally, remember not to slouch when you run. Lift your torso and chest and lean forward slightly. Your running form also can affect how you breathe. Focusing on your breath can help you be mindful and aware of the activity or workout you’re doing as well.
Mental toughness is often described as a psychological edge that helps people endure challenges, overcome adversity, and achieve more success. There are many common myths about mental toughness that can influence your beliefs about where it comes from and your willingness to work at getting more of it. Big businesses, elite athletes, and now military leaders are interested in mental toughness because it helps you overcome challenges, achieve optimal performance, and maintain readiness. Check out these 7 common myths and facts about mental toughness. Read more...
Many people only think about performance nutrition in terms of what to eat just before or after a competition. However, the effect of nutrition on your training and performance starts long before. Performance nutrition really begins during training, when you consistently fuel your body with the proper amounts and kinds of calories and nutrients. The nutrition information in this article is meant to provide a solid foundation to help you train for sporting events, military operations, training events, or rucks lasting longer than 60 minutes. Read more...
Children benefit from summer camp experiences that enable them to gain skills, build confidence, and learn responsibility. Summer is typically a time for kids to unwind from the rigid schedule the school year can bring. While parents often want their children’s summer to be relaxing, they want it to be educational as well. Summer camp offers both experiences.
At camp, your children can meet new kids and form friendships. This can build their competence in social situations, as they gain experience getting to know new people, asking questions, and sharing their own thoughts and ideas.
Camps can expose children to situations where they can practice leadership, teamwork, and problem-solving skills too. Whether it’s working together to build a fire or establishing camaraderie on a sports team, children can spend the bulk of their days interacting with peers and exercising decision-making skills. Camps also can help your kids explore what it feels like to take on leadership roles in a group.
The learning component of camps can lead to skill attainment. When they face new adventures and implement newly learned skills, kids’ self-esteem grows. Their confidence blooms when they work through the successes and failures of new experiences as well.
Your children’s time at summer camp also can help them learn responsibility and independence, especially if it’s a sleep-away camp. When kids have to take care of their own belongings and share team responsibilities, they grow as individuals. They also learn about cooperation and how to be self-sufficient.
Kids can learn to appreciate nature through their experiences in summer camp too. Children who spend time in nature develop a deeper sense of gratitude for the outdoors.
With summer around the corner, plan your kids’ summer camp experiences now. The 4-H Military Partnership offers clubs and summer camps for military kids. And check out your local military installation's programs and activities: Make sure to select Youth Program/Centers from the drop-down menu.
Hills: They can cause your heart to race, lungs to hurt, muscles to burn, and brain to ask, “Why am I doing this?” But running hills is one of the best ways to get in shape, as long as you run them correctly. Your form is important for running uphill, just like it is for running on flat ground. Running uphill with bad form can cause unnecessary fatigue and perhaps injury over time. But there are a few things you can do to maintain proper form and boost your performance:
- Lean in from your ankles. That is, resist the urge to bend over or lean in at your waist, which puts all of the stress on your quadriceps (rather than getting help from your glutes, hamstrings, and lower leg muscles). It will cause you to fatigue sooner too.
- Swing your arms. Use the forward motion of your arms to help propel you up the hill. Exaggerating your normal arm swing a bit can help, but just make sure your arms are swinging front to back and not coming across your body.
- Drive your knees. Think about lifting your knees just a little bit more as you’re running uphill. This also will help propel you upwards.
- Shorten your steps. Your form might naturally change from midfoot strike to more of a forefoot strike when you’re running up hills, especially the steep ones. Shortening your stride will help keep you more upright and efficient when pushing yourself up the hill.
Strengthening your core and lower body can be particularly helpful for hill running. Planks, pushups, and vertical core exercises will help you maintain an upright posture. Lunges, reverse lunges, squats, and box jumps strengthen your quads, glutes, and hamstrings while also improving power. Calf raises and foot slaps will improve your lower leg strength and stability too.
Whether you’re on a treadmill or Heartbreak Hill, practice good form for optimal performance.
Posted 19 April 2017
Sodium—found in table salt, kosher salt, and most sea salts—is an essential mineral your body uses to control blood pressure, help your muscles and nerves work properly, and balance fluids. However, it’s important to watch your sodium intake because it can increase your risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, and some cancers.
On average, Americans (ages 1 and older) consume more than 3,400 mg of sodium every day, mostly in the form of salt. But the 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that adults limit their sodium intake to less than 2,300 mg per day—roughly the amount in one teaspoon of table salt. The Guidelines also recommend that those who are “salt-sensitive”—older adults, African Americans, and people with obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, or kidney disease—limit their sodium intake to about 1,500 mg per day.
Most Americans get more than 75% of their sodium from prepared and processed foods, including tomato sauce, soups, gravies, canned foods, bread, frozen pizzas, snack foods, and salad dressings. Sodium adds flavor and helps preserve prepared foods. It enhances food color and gives it a firmer texture too. Many restaurant foods also are high in sodium, but you can choose low-sodium items when they’re available.
What’s the best way to reduce your sodium intake?
- Eat whole foods such as fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables, lean meats, poultry, fish, unsalted nuts and seeds, whole grains, and low-fat dairy products.
- Check the Nutrition Facts panel on all packaged-food labels to compare sodium amounts in foods and drinks.
- Choose low-sodium, reduced-sodium, or no-salt-added products whenever possible.
Check with your healthcare provider or registered dietitian about whether you need to reduce your salt intake. To learn more about how to reduce sodium in your diet, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention web page.
Posted 17 April 2017
As a military spouse, it can be challenging to sustain your career along with your PCS moves. The good news is there are ways to help manage the stress of job searching and cope with setbacks along the way. These tips also can encourage a positive mind-set and help you feel more prepared to meet with potential employers. Consider these strategies to help stay resilient during your job search. Read more...
Knowing your strengths is as important as knowing your weaknesses when it comes to optimizing performance. Strengths aren’t just those skills that make you perform well. They also make up the best of who you are. Most people are comfortable talking about their own flaws, but might not be as willing to explore their strengths and who they are at their best. Your strengths often reflect your values and how they show up in your daily behavior and attitude. You know you’re operating from strengths when they feel personally authentic, energize rather than exhaust you, and fuel your motivation from within.
If you want to discover your strengths, take the Character Strengths Test on the Values in Action (VIA) Institute on Character’s webpage. But discovering your strengths is just half the battle. The other half is learning how to bring them more fully to your role as a leader, parent, or friend. Here are a few ways to get started:
- Figure out how to creatively use your strengths every day. Doing so can make humdrum things more exciting, or it can help transform tasks that you might not enjoy doing. For example, maybe you really dislike morning PT. If you have the signature strength of “social intelligence,” perhaps you can shift your lens to view your morning workout as a time to connect with others and build friendships.
- Are your strengths getting in your way? The best of who you are can get you into trouble too. Part of using your strengths more effectively comes with thinking about the ways in which they aren’t working. For example, if you have the strength of “humor,” you might have noticed what happens when you crack a joke that’s inappropriate or ill-timed. Try to raise your awareness about how your strengths show up in those situations.
- Examine beliefs that might get in your way. People have beliefs about what they should or need to be in order to fulfill different roles in their lives. For example, you might believe that you can’t bring your character strength of “kindness” while in uniform because others might take advantage of you. You might want to think about whether those beliefs are indeed accurate, and ask yourself what benefits you might see if you try to be more of who you really are.
You probably spend a lot of time thinking about all the ways you need to improve yourself. That’s partly due to negativity bias, and because it’s healthy, functional, and contributes to your growth. To fully optimize your performance, don’t just focus on how to fix your weaknesses: Try to use your strengths to help cope with transitions, recover from illness, and handle other things too. Doing so enables you to be your best version of yourself—no matter where you go.
Military families play an important role in supporting Warfighters. Partners, children, and extended family members can strengthen their service member’s performance optimization by supporting total force fitness. Try these tips to help encourage your Warfighter’s health, well-being, and performance.
- Keep open lines of communication, despite the distance. Contact with family members during deployments helps service members feel supported and less lonely, so they can focus on the mission at hand.
- Be a team. Your family is stronger when you face life’s stresses together. A Warfighter benefits from knowing his or her family is a safe and consistent haven to return to, where—as a team—you’ll make it through tough experiences together.
- Offer helpful feedback. Spouses, significant others, and family members can provide vital feedback that enables thoughtful reflection on their Warfighter’s performance in uniform and at home. Colleagues and acquaintances might notice things that are going well and praise your Warfighter’s performance. Yet Warfighters are likely to depend on their families to help point out struggles or where there’s room for improvement.
- Move more. Physical fitness is critical for your Warfighter’s performance and readiness, and exercise often is a required part of daily activities. Plan time in your family schedule for your Warfighter to get his or her regular exercise. Working out on a regular basis is likely a high priority for Warfighters, and it’s a duty that shouldn’t be overlooked. Exercising as a family can help create an appreciation for the kind of physical fitness your Warfighter’s job requires.
- Fuel up for peak performance. Proper nutrition is vital to your Warfighter and other family members. Weekly meal planning can help ensure that your loved ones are properly fueled every day. Cooking together can bring your family closer and help relieve stress too. If your Warfighter is deployed, consider sending a care package with gum, spices, or favorite healthy snacks. And tell your loved one about favorite meals you’ll prepare upon her or his return!
Push-ups are a simple, but telling, exercise. They measure your upper-body strength and endurance, but they’re often a sticking point for service members during their fitness tests. So, how can you improve your push-up performance? The short answer is: Do more push-ups. Just like you have to train faster to run faster, “practicing” your push-ups is the best way to increase your strength and endurance. That said, there still are other components to a push-up that you might consider when trying to improve your overall performance.
Core strength is critical to a good push-up and injury prevention. Improving your core strength with balance and vertical core exercises and planks will help improve your performance and push-up form. No sagging!
Push-ups require a lot of shoulder, chest, and arm strength too. Building up those muscle groups also will help improve your endurance and power. If you can’t do a full push-up, start with incline push-ups (against a bench or box) or bent-knee ones to build your strength.
You also might notice that your legs get tired during your push-ups; that’s because they’re working to support your body as well. Increasing leg strength, particularly your quads, also will help reduce overall fatigue.
If you’re looking for a more detailed plan, try West Point’s Cadet Candidate Fitness Improvement Program. You can use their spreadsheet to map out a fitness program based on your current abilities. Remember to properly warm up before you push up too!
Posted 12 April 2017