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HPRC Fitness Arena: Physical Fitness
The future of Warfighter technology may someday include a high-tech “performance underwear” bodysuit that will protect soldiers from injuries, monitor vitals, and help soldiers maintain body energy while on the battlefield. This, according to an article in Wired.com, is what DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) hopes to one day accomplish. DARPA describes this so-called performance underwear concept as being an “adaptive, compliant, nearly transparent, quasi-active joint support suit,” which can “mitigate musculoskeletal injury caused by discrete dynamic events while maintaining soldier performance.” According to the official solicitation notice, the “DARPA Warrior Web program…will develop the technologies required to prevent and reduce musculoskeletal injuries caused by dynamic events typically found in the Warfighter's environment. This will be accomplished by a system (or web) of structures, in the form of a skin-suit, that are compliant and transparent until injury-causing conditions activate appropriate changes in the web structure.”
Sounds good…except there is one catch: Right now, military technology of this caliber doesn’t exist. The Wired article indicates that DARPA plans to introduce its future performance tool this month to a meeting of potential researchers. Their goal? To find a company that might be able to create a compliant, Warfighter-wearable, quasi-passive, adaptive suit system that can reduce injuries and retain optimal warrior performance.
Many who suffer from a lot of stress also have high blood pressure and do not exercise. People who practice some form of activity or exercise benefit from less stress associated with personal, family, and work situations. Reducing stress will improve your health. Exercise helps improve your stress tolerance and also can strengthen your cardiovascular system, increase endorphin levels, and keep you mentally focused. Bike rides, power walking, and yoga are some of the many inexpensive, time-efficient ways to improve your general fitness and reduce stress. The Mayo Clinic has more good advice on how and why to reduce stress.
If you exercise in the cold, consider these tips from the American Council of Exercise (ACE; Exercising in the Cold) to stay safe. Check how cold it is before you go out, and do not exercise if the conditions are too extreme. Be sure to dress warmly (keep your head, hands, and feet warm) and dress in layers that can trap insulating dry air near your skin. In addition, avoid blowing air into your gloves and mittens because it will add moisture, which will cause your hands to be colder. For more detailed information, you can read the original American College of Sports Medicine position stand: prevention of cold injuries during exercise.
In order to optimize your health and physical fitness, you should consume a balanced diet as recommended by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. According to the USDA, you should limit consumption of sodas and trans-fat foods; replace solid fats with oils such as olive, canola, and safflower oils; reduce intake of added sugars and sodium; replace refined grains with whole grains; limit your alcohol intake; increase your intake of vegetables, fruits, and fat-free or low-fat milk; and replace some of the meat or poultry in your diet with seafood. More details and guidelines can be found on HPRC’s Nutrition domain, especially the recent articles on the new USDA MyPlate program and online availability of the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
Continuing to work out is important because you do not want to lose the strength and endurance you have built up. Reversibility occurs when training stops or decreases. To ensure that you don’t lose your progress, you must “use it,” or else you will “lose it."
In any training program, you should follow a day of hard, intense exercise with one or even two days of “easy” training. This gives the body and mind time to recover before the next “hard” day. In addition, this helps prevent overtraining and encourages variation in your workouts.
There’s probably no other body region people work on so hard to get results than the abs. The common goal of sporting a “six-pack” is why abdominal equipment machines make up the largest part of the commercial fitness industry. People are constantly searching for the key to the washboard stomach they desire, whether it’s the newest fad piece of equipment or traditional bodyweight-driven exercises.
Unfortunately, many of these abdominal exercises provide little improvement to the target musculature and inadvertently place the lumbar spine in a position that could lead to lower back pain and injury. Just a few examples of hip-flexor-dominant exercises that can place the exerciser at risk are supine leg lifts, supine leg lifts with partner-assisted push down (a partner pushes down on the raised legs while the exerciser attempts to decelerate leg movement), hanging leg lifts, leg levers (lying supine while maintaining feet six inches off floor), and leg levers with unilateral or “scissor” kicks are.
To understand why these movements are both inefficient and contraindicated, it’s important to have a basic understanding of the abdominal anatomy. The rectus abdominis, the primary “six-pack” muscle responsible for the flexion that occurs during a curl-up, extends from the pelvis to the lower sternum. It is not involved in moving the legs. The hip flexors are responsible for the leg movements in the exercises mentioned above, while the rectus abdominis and associated muscles attempt to stabilize the spine Without adequate stabilization, the strong pull of the hip flexors leads to a marked anterior tilt of the pelvis. The abs are often unable to maintain stability, and the strong pull of the hip flexors causes the pelvis to tilt, creating an increased curvature in the lower back that compresses the lumbar area. Over time, this can lead to back pain and injury.
As a general rule of thumb, if you’re unable to maintain a stable spine position, or if you have a history of lower back pain or injury, these exercises should not be performed. There are other abdominal exercises that you can use to train more efficiently and more safely.
Even the most novice exerciser will be familiar with this common abdominal exercise: the bent-knee abdominal curl-up, or “crunch.” It has replaced the traditional sit-up as a staple in abdominal training due to its ability to recruit the abs without excessive hip-flexor activity. By varying hand placement—across the chest, behind the head, or extended overhead—the difficulty of the movement can be increased.
Crunches with a stability ball
A popular method to increase the difficulty of crunches is to perform them with a stability ball. Therapists have used stability ball training for years, and they are now becoming a common sight in gyms, as well. By reducing stability, the ball forces the exerciser to use his or her core-stabilizing muscles to maintain position, increasing the challenge to the abs. The result is a significantly greater amount of abdominal activity when compared with regular crunches.
A method of ab training not used often is the standing crunch, in which you flex and rotate your torso in various ways from a standing position. During the high to low “wood-chop,” for example, the rectus abdominis and oblique muscles are active during both the downward and upward phases. With rotation, emphasis is concentrated on the obliques. These exercises also have more “real-world” functional relevance, as they mimic everyday movements. In addition, various types of resistance—such as medicine balls, cables, resistance bands, and cords—can be used to make these exercises more difficult.
It’s important to be aware that many common abdominal exercises are not only ineffective but, more important, can place stress on the lower back. Try one of the safer alternatives above, focusing on correct form. The right abdominal training can benefit your trunk muscle strength and endurance, increase core stability, and improve functional movement—and can also start you on your way towards developing your “six-pack” abs.
Carrying extra weight in the form of fat has many downsides: It not only impairs your self-image, but it also hinders your athletic performance, leads to disease, and contributes to the aging process. What’s the best way to lose that extra flab? While intense resistance and endurance training—such as lifting weights and running—will achieve great results, experts say that the best form of fat loss is fat prevention. Here are a few tips to help you maintain a healthy lifestyle and avoid fat accumulations:
- Find activities you enjoy, like swimming or running with a friend.
- Participate in community events that encourage exercise.
- Get outdoors with your children and pets.
Remember that it’s important to begin slowly and increase exercise gradually so that physical activity is an enjoyable experience. You can get more tips from this news release by the American College of Sports Medicine.
With the schedules of most Americans more hectic than ever, many individuals find it difficult to fit in a long run outside or make the trip to a gym. Here are some simple ways to change your lifestyle and get some exercise: If you live near a place you go to regularly, such as the grocery store or a friend’s home, try walking instead of driving. According to the American Hearth Association, for every hour you walk, you could add up to two hours to your life! If you have children who like to play, whether at the park or at home, play with them. It will keep your children healthy, too. Instead of sitting down to watch your favorite TV show, invest in a few pairs of dumbbells or resistance bands and work out while watching that show. If your house has stairs, there are all kinds of exercises you can do on them.
Every small thing you do adds up, so whether you try bicep curls with groceries or climbing on the monkey bars with your kids, you’re doing something to help keep your body healthy. For lots more about how to fit fitness into your life, check out Get Moving! from the American Heart Association.
In order to reach your optimal performance level and minimize injury, you should incorporate aerobic, anaerobic, and strength training into your training program, and also give your body time to adapt as you work towards your fitness goals. Just last month, the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) published its new guidelines for exercise professionals, the first update since 1998. (Warning: ACSM publications tend to be a bit technical, but they have great information for the motivated reader.) Among other things, it emphasizes the need for diversity.
Aerobic exercise strengthens your heart muscles and improves your heart’s ability to pump blood as needed when you are active. Some examples of aerobic exercise are walking, running, cycling, fitness classes, and any other type of activity that requires movement of your large, lower body muscles. This type of exercise can help reduce your risk of cardiovascular diseases, lower your resting heart rate, and improve your breathing, and your tolerance to more vigorous exercise.
With anaerobic training, you will see significant increases in your muscular strength and speed. Basically, anaerobic exercise involves exercising at such a rate that your bloodstream can’t get enough oxygen to your muscles to meet the demands. It can be achieved with any activity that produces brief spurts of high-intensity activity, including sprinting and sports such as football, basketball, and soccer. Weight lifting and interval training can also provide anaerobic exercise. This type of exercise helps your body become better at higher levels of exercise with less fatigue.
The third key component to a complete exercise program is strength training, such as using weights or resistance equipment. Not only can it enable you to increase your strength and muscle size, it can help you build stronger muscles that will enable you to lift heavier loads. However, you need to plan your strength exercises so that they maintain the mobility and stability of your muscles as well as build size and strength. Your muscles need to maintain or increase their range of motion to help prevent injury. The ACSM also has recommendations on how to ramp up your strength training.
The final link in the fitness chain is flexibility. Long debated by the exercise community, flexibility exercises have earned new respect by way of a “Position Stand” just released this year by the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM). It summarizes the value of flexibility exercises as improving range of motion and stable posture (the ability to keep your body in a stable, balanced position). The report covers the various methods of stretching that can be incorporated into a complete training program. The ACSM’s June 2011 press release includes an excellent summary of these new guidelines—which cover all aspects of exercise—as well as a link to the complete document.
If you incorporate all four of these types of exercise into your training program, you will have a healthy heart and lungs and more endurance (aerobic exercise), speed and power (anaerobic), and range of motion (flexibility training). And by diversifying your exercise regimen, you will feel fresher and be less likely to become bored. Best of all, you will be on your way to Human Performance Optimization!