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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.

How to run hills

Running hills can be hell, but proper form can help reduce fatigue and your risk of injury.

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

To salt or not to salt?

HPRC Fitness Arena: Nutrition, Total Force Fitness
Filed under: Diet, Nutrition, Sodium
Learn how to reduce your sodium intake for better health and wellness.

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

Resilience tips for job-seeking military spouses

If you’re a military spouse, looking for a job sometimes can feel overwhelming. Find out how to feel confident during your job search.

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...

Who are you at your best?

HPRC Fitness Arena: Mind Body, Total Force Fitness
Learn how knowing your strengths and finding ways to use them every day can enable you to be your best version of yourself.

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.

Debrief/Bottom line

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.

How military families support Warfighter performance

HPRC Fitness Arena: Total Force Fitness
Military families serve too. They regularly enrich Warfighter performance by providing interpersonal, emotional, physical, and nutritional support.

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!

Boost your push-up performance

Learn some tips on how to improve your push-up performance.

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

Should I trust the person I’m dating?

It’s risky to trust a new boyfriend or girlfriend. Ask yourself these questions to gain clarity about your partner’s trustworthiness.

Dating is a time to “experiment” with trust and evaluate if your relationship will last, so it’s normal to wonder if the person you’re dating is trustworthy. The decision to trust your new partner should depend on your own assessment of his or her commitment to you and your relationship. Mutual trust is a central component of your relationship and essential to helping it thrive.

Feeling confident that the one you’re dating will keep what you share private and have your best interests in mind helps build connection and intimacy in your relationship. Disclosing personal information—such as details from your past, your feelings on challenging topics, or intimate pictures of yourself—and knowing your partner respects your wishes not to circulate things is one way to tell if you share mutual values.

It’s risky to trust your new partner, and there’s no clear-cut way to tell if she or he is worthy of your confidence. Still, asking yourself these questions might help you gain some clarity.

  • Does your partner call as promised?
  • Can you count on him or her to show up as expected at your mutually agreed upon time and place?
  • Do others who know your boyfriend or girlfriend report that he or she is loyal and trustworthy?
  • Does he or she share information and show a willingness to trust you?
  • Is your girlfriend or boyfriend respectful of your personal wishes?
  • Do you feel pressured to share private information because she or he is insisting upon it?
  • Have you discussed and agreed to what’s okay to share with others?

Trustworthy people have integrity and care about others. If the person you’re dating pressures you to share intimate details that you’re uncomfortable revealing, listen to your instincts. If you have doubts, it’s okay to say, “No,” now and take more time to evaluate your comfort level. A trustworthy partner will respect your wishes. To learn more about building closeness and improving your relationship, visit HPRC’s Relationship Enhancement section.

Posted 10 April 2017

Why grit matters

HPRC Fitness Arena: Mind Body, Total Force Fitness
Learn what grit is, how it contributes to success, and how to grow more of it.

Most people believe that talent and ability primarily enable peak performance and achievement. Emerging research shows that “grit”—a combination of effort and interest—also can predict success across a variety of domains, above and beyond your talents and skills. But what is grit? And is it possible to get more of it? Read more...

Understanding nutrition’s “alphabet soup”

HPRC Fitness Arena: Nutrition, Total Force Fitness
Getting good nutrition is complicated enough without all the abbreviations you see on labels and in articles. Learn about a few key nutrition-related acronyms and their meanings.

If you’re trying to understand the labels on food packaging or articles about nutrition, you might wonder about some of the terms and abbreviations you come across. The “alphabet soup” of acronyms can be confusing, but this article might help.

Nutrition experts at the Institute of Medicine—or IOM—of the National Academies of Sciences developed the Dietary Reference Intakes, or DRI, based on extensive statistics. The following terms and acronyms are from these guidelines.

The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) of a nutrient is the daily amount that essentially all healthy people need, depending on life stage and gender. For example, the RDAs of some nutrients (such as vitamin C) for a 13-year-old boy are very different from those for a 25-year-old pregnant woman. It isn’t always the same as the Daily Value (DV) you see on food labels, but it’s usually close.

The Adequate Intake (AI) is the adequate daily amounts of a nutrient that healthy people of a particular life stage or gender need. AIs are given when there isn’t enough scientific evidence for a stronger recommendation, that is, an RDA. For example, IOM suggests an AI for one type of omega-3 fatty acids—alpha linoleic acid—of 1.6 grams per day for men and 1.1 grams per day for women because scientists don’t know yet how much is optimal.

Tolerable Upper Intake Levels (UL) are the highest daily amounts of nutrients that you can consume without risk of toxicity. Many vitamins and minerals—even essential ones—can be toxic when consumed in excess. For example, because too much vitamin A can cause liver damage, a UL has been established for this essential nutrient.

You generally can meet all your daily nutrient intake goals (RDAs and AIs) by following a healthy diet that includes lean proteins, whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy products. So try to remember to get your RDAs and AIs every day, but don’t exceed the ULs!

Updated 10 April 2017

Methods for suppressing your menstrual cycle

Women can safely and effectively suppress their periods, which can be useful when they’re deployed in austere environments. Learn more.

Women can successfully and safely suppress menstruation over a period of time by using certain oral or injectable contraceptives continuously or with some intrauterine devices (IUD) or implants. They now have more menstrual cycles (over a longer span of years) than in previous times due to changes in nutrition, physical activity, childbearing, and breastfeeding patterns. Now many women, particularly those who are deployed, want to suppress menstruation because it can be inconvenient, burdensome, and even unhygienic in austere environments. As more women are deployed to combat zones, it’s important to be aware of all available options when it comes to reproductive health, especially menstruation suppression. Read more...

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