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
You may not think about your feet much, but you should. The condition of your feet can make or break a ruck march, hike, or any other physical activity, especially ones that involve wearing boots. There are easy steps you can take to keep your feet blister-free, fungus-free, and in optimal shape for the many demands you put on them. Take a few minutes to self-examine your feet for any obvious problems. Military OneSource offers great advice on foot hygiene and the correct use of socks and boots. Something as simple as tying your boots correctly can prevent foot problems down the road!
You’ve heard of “Army Strong?” As part of the Ready and Resilient campaign, the Army is rolling out its new Performance Triad as a “pathway to a fit and healthy force.” The triad consists of sleep, physical activity, and nutrition and provides online tools and information such as the Performance Triad Training Sessions (videos and websites packed with details to help you do everything from preventing injuries to choosing dietary supplements), cards with practical tips to become healthier and stronger, and a whole lot more. The Soldier's Guide is a good place to start; it includes numerous links to HPRC and other sources of information. Go ahead and start optimizing your health and performance today!
For more information on integrative practices and programs, check out HPRC’s Total Force Fitness domain.
Injury prevention is critical in maintaining optimal performance and operational readiness. Ankle sprains, knee pain, and back pain are very common injuries in the military. Take the time now to protect yourself from injury, and you’ll be glad you did later. Read our , compiled from our recent injury prevention series of posts.
Chondromalacia is a knee problem that can have a number of different symptoms, including pain. It can your ability to exercise, but even more problematic is that it can interfere with your ability to meet the demands of your military duties.
Here’s the basic rundown on chondromalacia: In a healthy state, the kneecap has soft cartilage beneath that allows the bone to glide smoothly against the other bones of your knee joint. When the smooth surface wears away, the back of the kneecap becomes rough and rubs the other bone surfaces, causing pain. The key to avoiding this condition is maintaining that smooth surface.
According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, muscle weakness, imbalance, or tightness in the thigh muscles can contribute to chondromalacia. It’s important to maintain strength in your quadriceps and hamstring muscles; follow a strength-training program to develop and maintain strong muscles. Also, make sure that you have enough flexibility in your quads; if the muscles and tendons are too tight, they can force the kneecap to move or “track” incorrectly in the natural groove of your knee joint. If you do a lot of running, make sure your footwear isn’t old and worn, because the shock-absorption of shoes decreases as they age. When it comes to knee pain, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Strengthen and stretch your muscles, and you’ll be on your way to keeping your knees ready for action.
Anything can disrupt your usual workout routine—summer travels, PCS, deployments, or injuries. If you need a way to stay in shape whatever the snafu, give resistance bands a try. Resistance band training involves targeting particular muscles by pulling and stretching elastic bands. Resistance bands come in different shapes, sizes, and even colors. Some look like oversized rubber bands; others look like cables or tubes. Depending on the length and type, these bands provide progressive resistance throughout various exercises. Unlike free weights, resistance bands also can be used to target key movements, such as a golf swing or a tennis serve. This focuses the exercise on targeted areas and can lead to stronger, more powerful muscles.
Resistance-band training has been studied for all types of people and for different types of activity levels, from NCAA Division I athletes to nursing-home patients. A study with people who were out of shape found that resistance exercises led to the same kinds of improvements in weight loss and strength as weight machines. In another study, athletes who trained with resistance bands were stronger and more powerful than those who used free weights alone. Resistance bands also can help improve muscle strength and range of movement after injury.
What’s more, resistance bands are relatively cheap, lightweight, and easily portable, so you can continue training even when you’re far from a gym. However, if you’re new to resistance bands, you need to learn to use them correctly to prevent injury and maximize your workout. If you’re interested in learning more about training with resistance bands, check out this pamphlet from the American College of Sports Medicine.
You’ve heard it all before: You need to get at least 30 minutes of moderate to intense exercise each day to help prevent chronic disease and improve your health. But what do you do for the other 23½ hours? If the answer is sitting (or sleeping), then you might have what is known as “sitting disease.”
It sounds like a joke. Unfortunately, it’s not. If your typical day is spent sitting at a desk, sitting while commuting, sitting down for dinner and TV afterwards, and then going to bed, you’re putting yourself at a greater risk for chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and even cancer. Studies consistently show that the more time you spend sitting or lying down, the greater your risk for chronic disease and early death. The simple act of standing up has even more physiological benefits when compared to sitting. The “active couch potato” phenomenon shows that even people who are relatively fit and meet the minimum requirements for daily exercise still exhibit risk factors for metabolic syndrome and other chronic diseases as sitting time increases. Sure, you might take the dog out for his morning walk, or maybe you even did PT before work; but the truth is that the more time you spend sitting the rest of the day, the greater the risk for disease.
You can see from the infographic below (from the American Institute for Cancer Research) that even those who engage in moderate amounts of exercise and physical activity are still at risk for cancer if 12 or more hours in the rest of their day is spent seated or lying down. The risk gets lower as people move more and sit less during the day.
Time is often a major reason that people say they don’t get enough exercise or physical activity during their day. It’s true that work can get busy, but it might just take a little creativity to turn it into a productive work AND physically active day. Here are some tips to help get you up and out of your fancy ergonomic chair.
- Bike or walk to work if possible.
- Take the stairs instead of the elevator (or at least partway if you work on a high-up floor).
- Turn your meeting into a walking meeting.
- Walk down the hall to give someone a message rather than email or call them.
- Stand up while talking on the phone.
- Don’t eat lunch at your desk; walk to the cafeteria or a nearby park, even if you packed your lunch.
- Find out if you can get a standing or walking desk at work.
- Buy a pedometer to track how many steps you take per day.
Doing what you can to increase the amount of time you spend standing, exercising and being physically active will improve your chances of a longer and healthier life,
Compression garments are becoming more and more popular in the sports world. Back in 2001, NBA All-Star Allen Iverson began wearing a sleeve on his arm to help with bursitis in his elbow, helping to increase blood circulation and reduce swelling in his arm. Similar sleeves are used for clinical conditions such as lymphedema, where blood circulation is poor, or to prevent blood clots.
You can find compression garments as sleeves, socks, shorts, or even full-body suits. There are various levels of compression for garments, but they all have gradient pressure, which means they’re a little tighter at the bottom of the garment and a little looser at the top to help push blood toward your heart and prevent blood from ‘pooling’ or remaining in the compressed areas. Most garments need simple measurements around your arms or legs to make sure you have the correct size.
But can these garments also impact your performance and recovery? It’s been found that compression garments do actually help with blood flow and increase oxygen to working muscles. But whether that translates into improved performance is another question altogether.
Most performance-related studies have looked at the effects of compression sleeves or socks on running. Some participants said they didn’t feel they were working as hard when wearing compression garments on their legs. While the relationship between compression garments and performance is still not clear, some researchers have suggested that this psychological benefit of lower perceived exertion might help athletes train at higher intensity. However, more research is needed to show if this ultimately leads to actual performance improvements.
In terms of recovery, more research is needed too. The effects of compression garments on muscle soreness after exercise have been mixed, but there have been no studies on the use of compression socks or sleeves for shin splints and other leg pain. They are sometimes effective at reducing the muscle soreness that occurs 24-48 hours after exercise. Relief of symptoms from wearing these garments varies from person to person, sometimes with no benefit. And it isn’t clear whether wearing these garments during recovery will improve your performance next time.
Physical fitness is important at any age, and it’s especially important that children begin leading healthy, active lifestyles early on. Regular exercise for kids can build strong muscles and bones and promote overall health. Exercise can also boost kids’ self-esteem, improve sleep, and stimulate learning in school. But do you know what kinds of exercise your children or teens should be doing? Check out HPRC’s Answer, “Put some fun in your children’s fitness,” to find out.
If you’ve been experiencing pain, burning, numbness, or tingling in one or both of your hands, you might be experiencing symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome. This “tunnel” in the wrist carries the important tendons and nerves that supply your hands with motor and sensory functions, allowing your hands to move and feel. Swelling inside the carpal tunnel can squeeze the median nerve that passes through it, causing discomfort. According to the Defense Medical Epidemiology Database, in the military, women are more likely than men to develop this condition. It’s also more likely to develop with age and rank. There are surgical and non-surgical treatments for carpal tunnel syndrome, but as the saying goes, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” The University of Maryland Medical Center has advice, which includes:
- Do exercises to keep your muscles and tendon flexible. (See the UMMC link above for detailed instructions.)
- When performing repetitive activities your the wrists and hands, take frequent breaks, even if it’s just for a minute or two at a time—called “microbreaks.”
- Use correct posture and technique, especially wrist position when using a keyboard or hand tools.
- Make sure that your work area is ergonomically sound. Military-specific information is available from both the Army Public Health Command and the Naval Safety Center.
HPRC’s Physical Fitness domain also has a section on Injury Prevention.
If you start to notice hip or knee pain during your PT runs, you might be experiencing iliotibial band friction syndrome—ITBFS for short—a common overuse injury. The iliotibial band, or IT band, is a thick band of fibrous tissue that extends down the outside of your thigh to where it attaches to your tibia (your larger lower-leg bone). As with all injuries to muscles and tendons, prevention is key. In most cases, ITBFS is brought on by combinations of factors—such as increasing your training mileage too fast, running on banked surfaces or downhill, pre-existing IT band tightness, and weakness of the lateral hip muscles—so paying attention to all of these is important for prevention. Incorporate some of these methods into your daily routine to help prevent ITBFS:
- A hip-conditioning program, as recommended by the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, can help you prevent ITBFS.
- Self-myofascial release methods such as foam rolling can be helpful with this hard-to-stretch area of your leg.
- Don’t do too much too soon. Gradually increase your running mileage or workout intensity. Guidelines for healthy adults include: (1) Increase the duration of your exercise program 5-10 minutes every one or two weeks over the first four to six weeks; or (2) increase your weekly training volume by no more than 10% per week.
- Stretches for the IT band and other muscles of the thigh and lower leg should be held for 30 seconds and repeated three to five times daily.
If you already have ITBFS, you probably notice more pain in the lateral (outside) hip or knee when you run downhill or when lengthen your stride. If left untreated, it also can lead to pain when you walk up and down stairs or sit for long periods of time with your knees flexed. Of course, you should consult with your physician for proper diagnosis and treatment. On your own, however, care usually includes the RICE and ISE methods.
Allowing time for the iliotibial band to heal is important for full recovery, so consider an alternative training routine (take a break from running and cycling) or take time off altogether. As the inflammation subsides, it may help to add stretching and strengthening exercises.