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HPRC Fitness Arena: Physical Fitness

PFT/PRT prep—Part 2: Muscular strength

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

Another basic component of Physical Fitness (PFT) and Physical Readiness Tests (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, and even when you’re not thinking about it—such as moving ammunition boxes into a transport—your muscular strength and endurance are essential components of your overall fitness.

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.

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

PFT/PRT prep—Part 1: Aerobic conditioning

The PFT/PRT is designed to test your cardiovascular endurance 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 habits you develop leading up to the test should be ones you continue even after the test. Weekend warriors and procrastinators are at greater risk for injury, and it’s likely that your performance will be less than optimal when it comes time for the test.

If you’re just getting back into shape, be sure to do it gradually. Once you’ve resumed a regular exercise routine, you might notice some aches and pains. Listen to your body. Watch out for symptoms of common athletic injuries such as overuse injuries and knee pain. It’s important to address these issues early to minimize any damage and get you back in action as soon as possible. Maintaining your exercise routine after the PFT/PRT and challenging yourself along the way will keep you in warrior-athlete shape year round and prevent deconditioning.

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

Get your daughters moving!

Filed under: Families, Girls, Sports
Girls are less physically active then boys. With encouragement from parents and opportunities to get moving, girls can get the exercise they need.

On a daily basis, girls’ physical activity levels are lower than boys’ of the same age. They need extra support from their parents to get moving and find opportunities for physical fitness. A lack of physical activity can have negative consequences in the long term, such as poorer hand-eye coordination and worse overall health. But exercise isn’t just good for your child’s body; it’s also linked to better academic achievement.

One reason girls get less exercise is because they may not be offered opportunities to engage in physical fitness. Parents might assume their daughters don’t like sports and then don’t suggest they participate. Encouragement from parents matters. Don’t assume your daughter isn’t interested in physical fitness, even if she sometimes says she isn’t! Break up the times your daughter is just sitting around by getting her to go for a walk or move around the house. Ask her to help with tasks at home that require some physical activity. Encourage your daughter to enroll and stay involved in organized sports from a young age. Brainstorm physical activities she might enjoy. There’s trampoline, fencing, hip-hop dance, lacrosse, martial arts, soccer, ice hockey, skateboarding, rowing, swimming, yoga, or tennis, to name a few.

Remember that kids take their cues from their parents. Set an example by being physically active yourself, and your children will likely follow suit. All kids—boys and girls—need at least 60 minutes if physical activity a day. Not sure what type of exercises your children should be doing? Check out HPRC’s “Put some fun in your children’s fitness” for some great ideas.

One-Rep-Max for strength

Lifting weights helps you stay strong and perform well. Learn how to boost your muscular strength and endurance.

How do you know how much weight to lift when you start a resistance-training program? Most programs are designed around lifting a percentage of your maximum strength.

First, you need to find out what your maximum strength is. A popular method is the one-repetition maximum test (1RM): the most weight you can press once but not twice. You can also do multiple-repetition tests for a reliable estimate of maximum strength. A 5-repetition test seems to be accurate, but more than 10 reps is unreliable.

This instructional video demonstrates the American College of Sports Medicine’s (ACSM) protocol for a 1RM test. ACSM’s protocol can also be applied to a multiple-repetition test. For example, determine the most weight you can lift 5 times, but not 6 times, for a 5-rep max test. If you have doubts about whether this is the right test for you, be sure to consult a healthcare professional.

The second step is to determine what amount of weight—as a percentage of your 1RM—you should use to improve your muscular strength and endurance. Typically, your muscular strength should improve if you use 60–80% of your 1RM. You should be able to improve your muscular endurance using about 50% of your 1RM. Once you’ve assessed your maximum strength, use this conversion chart from the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) to determine your 1RM percentages.

Happy lifting!

How to avoid stress fractures

Painful stress fractures can hurt your workout routine too. Learn more about training safely.

An important thing to know about stress fractures is how to avoid them. A stress fracture is a tiny crack in a bone that happens when your muscles can’t absorb shock and transfer stresses to the bone. Most occur in the lower extremities, especially the lower leg and foot.

A stress fracture is usually an overuse injury that develops over a long period of time—from weeks to months. They’re especially common among military recruits, in about 3% of men and 9% of women. And since it can take several weeks to months for a stress fracture to heal, the best approach is to avoid getting one. Here are some tips for prevention:

  • Use the progression principle of training: Gradually increase your training intensity, usually by no more than 10% weekly if you exercise 3 or more days a week. Slowly incorporate higher-stress activities such as jumping and interval training into your workout. Set incremental goals to help you develop your training routine step-by-step.
  • Check your footwear and make sure it matches your training routine. Replace old or worn footwear.
  • Check your form. Are you moving properly when you exercise or does your form put you at risk of injury?
  • Pay attention to early signs of injury. Unusual muscle soreness and other aches and pains can be a sign of injury and/or imbalances that could worsen if they aren’t addressed early.
  • Monitor your diet, specifically calcium and vitamin D intake. To learn more, read the National Institute of Health’s Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet on calcium and HPRC’s article on vitamin D.

It’s important to recognize a stress fracture and get medical help early, as described by the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. The Mayo Clinic provides more information on symptoms. And check out HPRC’s Injury Prevention section for more on how to avoid injury.

Pull-up: Train above the bar

HPRC recently designed a training program to help you achieve your first pull-up. Check it out!

Since pull-ups are tough and require a lot of strength, HPRC just created a training program to help you meet the challenge. Achieving a pull-up might be easier for some, but more difficult for others, especially women. Other factors such as body fat, arm length, and height can affect your ability to achieve a pull-up too.

But what that means is—with the right training—you can do it! Check out HPRC’s Pull-up Progression Program for exercises aimed at increasing your strength and helping you achieve your first pull-up.

The need for speed workouts

Looking to improve your 2-mile time or set a new 5K personal record (PR)? Learn how to train smarter and faster.

“Long slow-distance runs,” the coaching phrase goes, “make long slow-distance runners.” A leisurely long run isn’t bad for you—it just means that if you want to run faster, you have to train faster. Mix it up instead and incorporate speed workouts into your runs: interval, tempo, and fartlek.

Always include a warm-up and cooldown with your workout. Limit speed workouts to twice a week and get enough rest and recovery in between. Actively rest by going on a lighter run or bike ride, or even doing some yoga. Learn more about how speed workouts can ramp up your performance. Read more...

Exergaming: Is it really exercise?

There are lots of exercise video games on the market, but should they really be considered exercise?

Between the growing epidemic of childhood obesity and the continuing popularity of video games among children, does exergaming actually count as physical activity? Exergaming, or exercise video gaming, is popular among children and adults because it offers entertainment and physical activity. Exergames include:

  • Virtual cycling
  • Interactive climbing machines
  • Aerobics, dancing, and floor games for multiple video game platforms
  • Mobile exercise games for smartphones and tablets

While it’s certainly fun, studies suggest that exergaming is not the best form of exercise for kids. It does increase energy expenditure (compared to rest), but it’s not necessarily enough to meet your children’s exercise needs. For example, when compared to a phys ed class, exergaming fell short. For the most part, kids who play exergames don’t burn enough calories or increase their heart rates enough to make up for exercising.

The good news about exergaming is that it can increase motivation and keep children engaged. It could be a great starting point for inactive children needing to begin a physical activity routine. It can be part of the daily-recommended doses of exercise and physical activity for kids and teens too. Families could find it as a fun alternative to sitting on the couch and watching a movie or TV show. Exergaming might be better than sitting and playing video games, but it shouldn’t replace more vigorous activities such as outside play. Save the exergaming for the next rainy or snowy day!

Winter dehydration

Heading out into the cold? Remember to stay hydrated!

Winter isn’t over yet, so here’s a reminder: You can get dehydrated in cold weather. And it isn’t always easy to hydrate, especially when you’re on a mission. If you’re active outside for less than 2 hours, it isn’t likely to be a problem. But if you’re out in the cold for hours or even days for a field deployment, the combination of heavy clothing and high-intensity exercise can lead to sweating, which contributes to dehydration.

You might not even feel as thirsty in cold weather as in the heat, because your cold-weather body chemistry could affect your brain’s ability to tell you when you need liquid. Cold weather also tends to move body fluids from your extremities to your core, increasing your urine output and adding to dehydration.

So when you’re in a cold climate, don’t rely on thirst to tell you when you need to drink. Drink often and before you’re thirsty. One way to determine your hydration status is to check the color and volume of your urine. (Snow makes a good test spot.) Dark, scanty urine indicates dehydration. Ideally, urine should be light yellow.

Water and sports drinks are the best fluids to maintain hydration, even in cold weather conditions. Carbonated and caffeinated beverages (including energy drinks) have a dehydrating effect because they increase urine flow. Also avoid consuming alcohol in cold weather. It might make you feel warm initially, but it can reduce your body’s ability to retain heat.

Enjoy exercising in the cold weather, but be sure to keep your water bottle in tow.

Choosing the right personal trainer

It’s important to know what to look for when you’re considering hiring a personal trainer.

Personal trainers can help you safely start and maintain an exercise routine. They can keep you motivated and accountable when it comes to reaching your fitness goals. Finding the right trainer can be challenging but important. Think of it like a date: get to know your potential trainer to find out if you’re compatible. Here are a few things to look for:

  • Education/Certifications. These days, anyone can become a personal trainer with a few mouse clicks. Is this person certified through one of the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA) such as National Federation of Personal Trainers (NFPT), American Council on Exercise (ACE), American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), or National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM)? These are widely accepted certifications. Better yet, does the trainer have a 4-year degree in kinesiology or exercise science? Is he/she certified in CPR and first aid?
  • Experience. We all have to start somewhere, but experience is helpful. How long has this person been a certified personal trainer? What types of clients does the trainer usually work with? Does he/she have expertise in sports conditioning, pre-natal fitness, or post-rehabilitation? If possible, ask clients (past and/or present) about their personal experiences.
  • Personality. You have to enjoy spending time with your trainer so that you’re fully committed to your training routine. Do you prefer a female or a male trainer? Someone close to your age? Choose somebody you like—someone who can motivate you.
  • Business practices/Liability. Before you begin, make sure you understand all payment policies and procedures. Are your schedules compatible? What’s the cancellation policy? Does the trainer carry professional liability insurance?
  • Fees. Personal trainers can be worth the money, but make sure you understand what you’re paying for. What are the costs? How long is each session? How often will you meet? Is it cheaper if you buy more sessions up front? Will you need to purchase a gym membership? 
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