You are here: Home / HPRC Blog
RSS Feed for Physical Fitness

HPRC Blog

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.

HPRC Fitness Arena: Physical Fitness

PFT/PRT training series—Part 3: Flexibility and mobility

The third and final article in HPRC’s series about PFT/PRT training focuses on the importance of flexibility and mobility.

Flexibility and mobility are important because they affect your joints and the surrounding muscles, tendons, and ligaments—and the way you move. You need give-and-take between joint flexibility, mobility, and stability for coordinated and efficient movements as well as injury prevention. It’s important to keep your body fit for movement, especially as you train for your Physical Fitness (PFT) and Physical Readiness Tests (PRT).

You can perform stretching and mobility exercises to promote long-term changes and improvements too. To boost and maintain your flexibility and mobility, you need to incorporate dynamic warm-ups, as well as a stretching or mobility cool-down into your regular training regimen. Read more...

PFT/PRT training series—Part 2: Muscular strength and endurance

Part 2 of HPRC’s PFT/PRT training series focuses on muscular strength and endurance—critical components to performing your best on your fitness test.

Another basic component of PFT/PRT training involves muscular strength and endurance, but as with aerobic conditioning, you need to develop it over time, not just before your fitness tests. Whether you’re training or in the field, your muscular strength and endurance are essential components of your overall fitness and injury prevention.

But training to improve muscular strength is not the same as training for muscular endurance. Muscular strength is the amount of force that a muscle can produce with a single maximum effort. Muscular endurance is the ability to sustain a muscle contraction over a period of time, or to repeatedly contract a muscle over a period of time (for example, push-ups and sit-ups).

Learn how to use the FITT principle to develop a muscular fitness routine that will build both strength and endurance to prepare for the PFT/PRT and beyond. Read more...

PFT/PRT training series—Part 1: Cardiovascular fitness

Learn how to boost your cardiovascular fitness before your next PFT/PRT.

The PFT/PRT is designed to test your cardiovascular fitness and muscular strength. In this three-part series, HPRC takes a closer look at each component, offers tips on training optimization, and suggests how to prevent common training-related injuries.

Preparation for your Physical Fitness (PFT) and Physical Readiness Tests (PRT) takes time and discipline. Training for the test isn’t something you should start the month before the test, and the fitness habits you develop leading up to the test should continue year-round. Weekend warriors and procrastinators are at greater risk of injury, and it’s likely that your performance will be less than optimal when it comes time for your test.

HPRC provides a series of articles with guidelines to help you prepare for the PFT/PRT, beginning with this one on cardiovascular fitness. Read more...

Protect your back during your PCS

Don’t let PCS put you on profile. Make sure you’re moving properly to prevent injury during your move.

Service members and their families relocate a lot, and moving to a new home is hard enough without adding a back injury to the mix. So be mindful of how you’re lifting and moving while you’re packing up and loading up. Try these tips to help reduce your risk of injury and properly move heavier things such as boxes and furniture.

  • Warm up, just like you would before any workout.
  • Remember to keep your core tight, and use your leg muscles (rather than your back) to lift heavy objects.
  • Keep objects as close to your body as possible.
  • Wear closed-toe shoes to protect your feet from falling items.
  • Take breaks when necessary. Stretching and reassessing your mechanics can help you maintain proper posture when lifting.

The best way to prevent back injury is to strengthen your back and core muscles. You can prep for your PCS by doing exercises—such as planks, lunges, and vertical core training—that focus on these areas.

If you’re sore from all the lifting or think you might have pulled something, you can treat the pain with ice and rest—and perhaps an over-the-counter pain reliever—for the first 48 hours. Follow the MedlinePlus guidelines on how to further treat your back pain if it’s acute. However, if the pain persists, consult your doctor to rule out a more serious back problem or injury before you do any more heavy lifting. Certain yoga stretches also might relieve your pain, build your muscles, and return your back to normal function.

Read the U.S. Army Public Health Command’s “How to Safely Perform Pushing and Pulling Tasks” for more tips. And visit HPRC’s Injury Prevention section to learn more about how to protect your back. Good luck with your PCS!

Posted 11 May 2017

How to breathe during exercise

Paying attention to how you breathe during exercise might boost your performance.

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.

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

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

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...

Exercise intensity: Less isn’t always more

How important are high-intensity workouts?

The saying goes that “less is more,” but when it comes to exercise intensity, that might not be the case. We know that some exercise is better than no exercise, but is more-intense exercise better than moderate-intensity exercise? How hard should you push? And what are the benefits? What are the risks? With the growing popularity of high-intensity workouts, it’s important to consider both the risks and the benefits.

The role of intensity during exercise has been demonstrated. For example, the risk of death in older adults is lower for those who walk at a faster pace than for those who walk at a more leisurely pace. Short-duration high-intensity interval exercise has similar, if not better, benefits compared to long-duration low-intensity exercise. These benefits include reduced risk for chronic disease, increased oxygen uptake, and overall improved exercise performance. Since the number one barrier to exercise individuals report is not having enough time to exercise, this is important: With increased intensity, workouts can be shorter in duration, and you can still reap the benefits. You also can feel “afterburn” following high-intensity exercise, which means your body is burning calories even after you’ve completed your workout.

The good news is that exercise intensity is relative, so you can benefit from exercise at a level that is you consider high intensity, whether you’re just starting out or you’re a seasoned athlete. Shoot for your target heart rate as a good start to gauge intensity. Not every workout needs to top out the intensity scale. In fact, doing too much too often can lead to overtraining and injury. Remember to listen to your body and incorporate rest or light days into your workout regimen.

Are girls at higher risk of concussion?

March is Brain Injury Awareness Month, and this year’s theme is “Think Ahead.” If you have a daughter, learn how to reduce her risk of concussion.

Girls might be at greater risk of concussion—also known as mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI)—than boys, so it’s important to recognize their symptoms and seek medical help. Female high school and college athletes report more concussion symptoms than their male counterparts. In addition, their reported symptoms are more severe and last longer than what boys experience.

In sports, a concussion can happen from hitting another player, ball, or surface with your head. It causes a disturbance in brain functioning and can lead to a number of symptoms, including headache, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, fatigue, and sensitivity to light or noise. In addition, you might feel foggy, have difficulty concentrating or remembering things, or feel confused about recent events. You also might feel irritable, sad, or nervous. While concussions can happen in any sport, they’re most likely to occur in football, soccer, rugby, basketball, and hockey.

It’s not clear why girls experience more concussions than boys. Girls are more likely to report symptoms, whereas boys tend to keep their concerns to themselves. So it might be the case that boys and girls are concussed at the same rates, but girls report their injuries more often. Hormone levels and blood flow differences in the sexes also might contribute to the rates of concussion among girls. For girls who have entered puberty, hormonal changes experienced along with their menstrual cycles might impact the severity of concussion symptoms. It takes longer for a girl to be symptom free after her concussion, and that might be due in part to where she is in her menstrual cycle.

If you have a daughter, take steps to prevent her from experiencing a concussion. If she is diagnosed with an mTBI, she’ll need “brain rest” to recover. She also should limit reading, homework, and screen time. And consult with her doctor to make sure that concussion symptoms resolve and she’s medically cleared before she returns to play her sport.

RSS Feed for Physical Fitness