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HPRC Fitness Arena: Physical Fitness

Plan a complete training program

If you want your training program to really optimize your performance and fitness, you need to incorporate four kinds of exercise: aerobic, anaerobic, strength, and flexibility.

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

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.

Anaerobic 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.

Strength Training

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!

Jump for fitness

Plyometric training involves the kind of muscle contraction you experience in jumping. Using it as part of your exercise routine can improve your athletic performance.

One review of studies on the effects of plyometric (explosive jump) training, or PT, suggested that plyometric training can enhance vertical jump ability and leg power for healthy individuals. This training can be as simple as drop jumps, counter-movement jumps, alternate leg bounding, and hopping. And there are PT exercises for the upper body, too! The purpose of PT is to improve your athletic performance by increasing the speed or force of muscle contraction that enables you to jump higher, run faster, throw farther, or hit harder during a game. The full article is available online from the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

Strength training to optimize performance

No exercise program is complete without strength training. It contributes to your strength, speed, and size—and makes you look good, too.

In order to improve your athletic performance, you need to include strength training in your workout routine. Having a solid strength-training program can help you meet your sports and performance goals more easily by improving overall strength and delaying fatigue. Including this type of training will help you get bigger, faster, and stronger to stay a step ahead of your competitors. Your program should focus on the major muscle groups: chest, back, thighs, calves, biceps, triceps, and shoulders. Training these areas will help you become a better athlete while also improving your physique. For more about how to incorporate strength training into your routine, read the Strength Training Section of the Sports Fitness Advisor website.

No place to exercise?

Not having a place to exercise is no excuse. The whole world can be your gym if you just put a little thought into it.

The last excuse a trainer wants to hear from a client is that they don’t have enough space—or the right space—to exercise. The truth is that with a little effort and imagination, you can find a whole world of places and practices to improve your strength and endurance. Just think about all the free equipment outside at the park, on your way to work, or at your child’s school playground. You can make use of just about anything. Want to gain upper body strength? Start climbing the monkey bars and don’t stop ‘til you drop. Or try push-ups—a great way to get moving without standing in line at the gym. All you need for walking or running is a good pair of shoes and any path, road, or bike trail—the same places work for a bicycle, too, and they don’t cost a dime. By now you should be getting the picture. Just get rid of that mental block about needing a special place or equipment that is keeping you from getting a healthy, fit body. Just think of all the new forms of exercise waiting for you the minute you walk out the door! Here are five simple exercises to get you started.

Ditch the elevator

Bored with going nowhere on that stair climber at the gym? Try using real stairs, and get where you are going while exercising.

A good way to keep up with your daily workout goals is by giving up the elevator and making good use of the stairs. Stairs will not only get your legs and arms moving, but they will also raise your heart rate. What’s more, you need to take breaks from your daily tasks, and exercising during that break can help you think through what you’ve been working on. Working a little stair-climbing action into your day can be as convenient as—and healthier than—walking to the soda or snack machine. The first couple days will be the hardest as you focus on breaking the elevator habit and getting all your muscles reactivated. Stick to it, and you’ll soon find that the climb is easier and you feel better about yourself. It’s good for you and your heart, so why not start using the stairs more, wherever you are: at home, at work, or at the park? Even better, it’s free!

Stop and go: Benefits of interval training

Interval training is a time-efficient way to improve strength, speed, and endurance while improving your body composition and reducing cardiovascular risk.

Interval training alternates high-intensity movements such as running or cycling sprints with a recovery phase that consists of rest or low-intensity movement such as walking or slow cycling.   Interval training improves your cardiovascular fitness, ability to burn fat, and ability to tolerate lactic acid build-up while lowering your risk for cardiovascular disease. Overall, adaptations from interval training can lead to improvements in strength, speed, and endurance while improving your body composition. Interval training is a time-efficient way to improve your fitness.

A basic interval training session could include sprinting on the straightaways (100m) of a standard track and walking the curved portion (100m). Or alternate 30-second bouts of high-intensity exercise with recovery bouts. Initially, start with rest periods longer than the work periods, and work up to equal time periods as your fitness improves. If you are out of shape, have health problems, high blood pressure, or joint problems, check with your physician before starting a high-intensity training program. Read this article on the Mayo Clinic website if you would like to know more.

Swimming for fitness

Try swimming to improve your overall fitness while minimizing your risk of injury.

Swimming is a wonderful way to improve overall fitness while minimizing your risk of injury. It’s easy on your joints and improves your cardiovascular fitness. Although training in a pool may not simulate your specific duties, cross-training reduces the risk of injury from other repetitive exercise such as running. Effective pool training sessions should vary in intensity and emphasis. To avoid shoulder joint and upper back issues, warm up by swimming for five to ten minutes at a pace slower than your usual training pace, and include kicking and pulling drills. To improve both strength and endurance in the water, try interval training. Shorter rest intervals will improve endurance, while longer ones will stress your anaerobic system and improve your strength and power. Alternating between aerobic (longer and slower) and anaerobic (shorter and more intense) workouts will optimize your overall performance for both combat swimming operations and cardiovascular fitness in general.

For more detailed information about pool interval training and examples of training regimens check out Chapter 4: Swimming for Fitness in The US Navy SEAL Guide to Fitness and Nutrition.

Injury treatment and recovery

Even minor injuries can derail performance. Follow these tips to manage the discomfort of minor injuries and prevent further damage.

A key concern for Warfighters and athletes alike is getting injured. Continuing to train through a minor injury can turn it into a major one. Even with minor injuries, it’s important to decrease inflammation and increase the range of motion at the affected joint. Two approaches to take are RICE and ISE. Start with RICE—rest, ice, compression, and elevation—to decrease inflammation. Once inflammation is minimized, ISE—ice, stretching, and exercise—helps to increase the range of motion. Using these techniques may reduce inflammation, stiffness, weakness, and/or loss of normal function. Once pain and swelling are reduced, the next step is reconditioning. Exercises that target the area of injury should promote flexibility, endurance, speed, strength, and power while progressing gradually. The main goal of reconditioning is to efficiently decrease pain and increase range of motion. Always check with your physician to rule out more serious injury before proceeding.

Chapter 12 of The US Navy Seal Guide to Fitness and Nutrition provides more detail.

Pounding the pavement or soft trails—which running surface is better?

HPRC Fitness Arena: Physical Fitness
Some experts think that soft-surface running is harder on the body than running on pavement.

Conventional wisdom suggests that running on softer surfaces is better for the body than harder surfaces. However, in a recent New York Times article, the subject of running injuries on hard versus soft surfaces was examined. Exercise physiologist Hirofumi Tanaka of the University of Texas at Austin took a deeper look at soft-surface running and said he could not find any scientific evidence that a softer surface benefits runners. Tanaka developed an interest in the topic after experiencing a running injury. When he was recovering from a knee injury, an orthopedist told him to get off the roads and hit the trails. He took that advice and twisted his ankle and aggravated the injury while running on the softer, irregular surface.

In the aftermath of his accident, Dr. Tanaka said he could not find scientific evidence supporting that a softer surface is better for runners than a hard one, nor could other experts he queried. In fact, he suggested that it makes just as much sense to reason that runners are more likely to get injured on soft surfaces, which often are irregular, than on smooth, hard ones.


Navy revamps Physical Readiness Program

HPRC Fitness Arena: Physical Fitness
The Navy has issued new guidelines on meeting body fat standards for its Physical Readiness Program.

Stars and Stripes reported that the Navy has made changes to its Physical Readiness Program. According to the article, if sailors are unable to meet body fat standards, it will result in an overall failure of the physical fitness assessment, and they will not be allowed to take the rest of the physical fitness test.

The Navy’s move is similar to the Army’s revision of its own training program to deal with overweight and unfit recruits. Navy sailors will be required to meet the body composition guidelines and will be rated on a new five-tier scale of outstanding, excellent, good, satisfactory, or failure.

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