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HPRC Fitness Arena: Physical Fitness
Swimming is an excellent way to reduce the risk of disease. It works your entire body and activates all the major muscle groups; contributes to muscle strength, flexibility, posture, and endurance; promotes weight loss and stress reduction; and improves cardiovascular conditioning by lowering your resting heart and respiratory rates and making blood flow to the heart and lungs more efficient. Swimming is also very low risk for injury because it places stress on your bones, joints, and connective tissues, thanks to the buoyancy of the water. Swimming 15 to 30 minutes each day can have a very positive effect on your overall health.
When training, an athlete should be specific about methods of training that meet the needs of the activity he or she is training for. To achieve an optimal performance level, a sprinter will train in a different way than, for example, an endurance athlete such as a marathon runner. Make sure that you “stress the physiological systems” right for your type of activity. In other words, if you are going to compete in a race, you need to run to become a better runner. Likewise, if you are going to compete in a cycling or swimming event, you must perform those exercises to become better. Wanna be a better tennis player? Play tennis! Although a well rounded program that includes strength training, aerobic conditioning, and flexibility exercises will improve your general fitness, to improve at a specific activity or sport you must perform that particular exercise.
Overuse injuries are a common risk associated with the rigors of physical training. A healthy tip to implement into your training program is to gradually increase your training workload by just 10% each week. This will help—but not guarantee—to reduce the risk of muscle or joint injury such as tendonitis or stress fractures caused by repetitive trauma. In essence, keep the progressive changes in your activity levels gradual, listen to your body, and make incremental adjustments in time and intensity until you reach your new fitness goals.
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.