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
The brain can “feel” pain even after an arm and/or leg amputation, but a new treatment using mirrors can provide some relief. This common phenomenon, known as phantom limb pain (PLP), occurs in at least 75% of Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF)/Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) veteran amputees. Although its causes aren’t fully understood, one theory is that there’s a mismatch between what your brain sees and what it feels.
Mirror therapy offers a promising treatment for those suffering from PLP. A long mirror is placed between the patient’s legs and set to face the intact limb. As the patient moves and watches the intact limb in the mirror’s reflection, the brain is “tricked” into seeing the missing limb. The brain “sees” the phantom limb moving in the mirror and quiets busy activity or bad memories. The mirror positively stimulates the brain, causing reorganization or rewiring; this helps relieve PLP.
Healthcare providers have successfully used mirror therapy to help single-limb amputees. They’ve also adjusted the approach for double-limb amputees. Using an adapted method, a physical therapist (PT) acts as the mirror. The PT sits beside the patient and then mimics or “mirrors” the amputee’s phantom limbs with his/her intact limbs. For example, if a patient complains of calf cramps, the PT can stretch his/her own calves while the patient observes and feels relief in their phantom limbs. They’re currently working on using virtual reality to take the approach a step further.
This summer marks the 36th annual National Veterans Wheelchair Games (NVWG). The events, co-sponsored by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the Paralyzed Veterans of America, begin on June 27, 2016 in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Registration deadline is April 15, 2016. Register early as events fill up fast. Any veteran who uses a wheelchair for sport and is eligible for care in the VA system (due to spinal cord injury, Multiple Sclerosis, amputation, or neurological condition) can participate. Need some motivation? Check out this video from last year’s games.
We’re always looking for sponsors and volunteers to help with NVWG activities—come on out and support our vets!
Looking for some answers to basic fitness questions? You’re not alone. We’ve created a FAQ section on topics we hear a lot about. Whether you want to know about flexibility, cardiovascular fitness, injury prevention, or workout routines—we have the answers. Still can’t find what you’re looking for? Submit your question using our Ask the Expert feature. We’ll provide an evidence-based answer to keep you informed and in shape.
Check back often to learn the latest and greatest information on exercising, optimizing performance, and staying resilient.
There’s an unpleasant situation that runners sometimes experience called “runners’ trots” or diarrhea. While short lasting and generally harmless, they can be annoying and cost you time during training or a race.
Certain activities such as high-intensity or long-duration exercise and vertical-impact sports (e.g., running vs. biking) increase your risk of gastrointestinal (GI) discomfort. Dehydration, poor conditioning, medication, and eating habits can cause GI irritation too. Despite the lack of hard evidence as to what causes these GI issues, there are things you can do to help settle your stomach:
- Avoid trying new foods or sports drinks during a race.
- Increase the time between eating and activity. Wait at least 3 hours after eating a large meal, or eat a smaller meal or snack closer to training time.
- Plan out your meals, especially for endurance events.
- Pay attention to what you eat to help identify foods that increase your discomfort during running. It’s best to avoid these until after you finish your race.
- Limit your intake of gas-forming or fiber-rich foods (e.g., broccoli, onions, and beans).
- If you’re sensitive, avoid coffee and other forms of caffeine before a run.
- Hydrate before and during endurance activities; it will help blood flow to the GI area.
- If you use sports gels or chews for endurance events, drink enough water (three to eight ounces every 15–20 minutes) to stay hydrated.
- Give yourself time to use the bathroom before an endurance exercise.
- Increase distance and intensity gradually.
If symptoms persist for more than a few days, even at rest, seek medical attention. Enjoy your run!
Foam rolling can help increase your range of motion (that is, how much your muscles and joints can move) and reduce muscle soreness that results from working out too hard or too long. So how does it work? More research is needed to understand its full effects, but Golgi tendon organs—specialized muscle nerve endings—are sensitive to changes in muscle tension. When you roll over them, the muscles relax. Here are some tips for effective foam rolling:
- Don’t foam roll over newly injured areas.
- If you’re just starting out, you might want to choose a lower-density foam roller. Higher-density foam rollers will provide more pressure.
- Roll to find tight spots in your muscles and then hold your weight over those areas, or continuously roll over a muscle to loosen it.
- Gradually increase the amount of time you roll over each muscle. If you’re just starting, foam roll 1–2 minutes per muscle group.
- Focus on large muscle groups such as your quads and upper back.
Check out HPRC’s how-to videos on foam rolling calves, hamstrings, glutes, and more. Roll on!
Running is one of the simplest forms of exercise—just throw on your shoes and head out the door. But there are a few simple things you can do to ensure your run is safe too:
- Carry identification. Bring some form of identification with you. There are various types of wristbands and shoe tags to provide emergency contact and medical information too.
- Stay visible. Wear a headlamp and/or reflective gear so drivers can see you when it’s dark out—even at dusk and dawn. Make yourself visible to oncoming traffic.
- Turn the music down. Music can be a great way to help you keep pace. But if your tunes are too loud, you may not be able to hear cars or people coming up behind you. Keep music at a volume low enough that you can hear what’s going on around you, or try wearing just one earpiece when you run.
- Grab a buddy. Running with a friend is a great way to keep both of you motivated and accountable. But when you do run alone, let someone know and share your planned route.
- Use the crosswalk and follow crossing signs. Drivers tend to be more aware of pedestrians near crosswalks because in many areas pedestrians (runners included) have the right-of-way there. If you’re running where there is a crosswalk, use it.
- Don’t assume a car will stop just because you’re in a crosswalk. Make sure the driver sees you, slows down, and allows you to safely cross the street.
- Run against street traffic. Sometimes it’s easier to run on the shoulder or in a bike lane. Remember to run against traffic (normally the left side of the road) so you can see the cars and the drivers can see you.
Stay safe and happy running!
Whatever your goals are, keep in mind that they’re easier to accomplish when they’re SMART goals:
It’s a well-established method for fitness-oriented goals—to lift a certain weight, cycle a century, or run a marathon in a certain amount of time—and it works equally well in other areas of life. Maybe you want to reach a specific rank at your job or finish college by a certain date. Goals aren’t just for dreaming big; they’re for achieving.
- think through exactly what you’re aiming for;
- determine if this goal is a good fit for you;
- measure and track your progress;
- use success-oriented language to think and talk about your goal; and
- break down the end goal into manageable steps.
Feeling stuck in your workout routine? Periodization is a training method that can help you overcome the plateau and boredom from doing the same workout repeatedly. For example, if you follow the same lifting routine for too long, your body will eventually adapt to the stresses of training, and you’ll see little or no improvement in performance. Following a workout routine for “too long” depends on factors such as your age, training program, duration, intensity, and recovery. In order to see improvement, researchers suggest adding a periodization plan to your workout. Periodization works by changing different variables of a fitness routine (such as the amount of weight, number of repetitions or sets, or intensity) every 1–6 weeks. Changing components of your workout forces your body to constantly try to overcome the new stresses and encourages continual growth and increased performance.
Creating a periodization plan also reduces your risk of overtraining. Consult a certified trainer to design a program that can help you overcome any workout plateaus, or check out the Navy Operational Fitness and Fueling System (NOFFS) strength and endurance training series.
If you’re trying to increase your muscle mass, whether you’re just starting a program or recovering from an injury, lifting lighter weights (with more repetitions) can be a useful way to minimize the risks associated with heavy weightlifting while still building muscle.
Lifting heavy weights can be risky, especially if you’re using improper form, don’t have a spotter, or try to lift weights during recovery from an injury. However, research suggests that lifting about 30% of your 1RM (one-rep-max) to fatigue has effects on muscle growth similar to lifting 70–80% of your 1RM. When your muscles are tired, they still use the same amount of energy, despite the weight, causing them to replenish protein loss in similar ways, resulting in muscle growth. It isn’t that lifting heavy weights is necessarily bad, but lifting lighter weights may be good for maintaining muscle mass and growth in certain cases, such as when your risk of injury may be greater than usual.
Children and teens face a lot of challenges these days, but exercise can help, even in such seemingly unrelated situations as bullying, a form of peer aggression. Bullying recently has come to the forefront as a public health concern. While the best solution is to prevent it, there are ways to cope and manage the effects of being bullied (such as depression, sadness, and decreased self-worth). Exercise can serve as a buffer against effects of being bullied. Bullied teens who regularly exercise at least 60 minutes a day, 4 days a week, are less likely to experience sadness or hopelessness. That’s important when you also consider that these feelings sometimes lead to suicidal thoughts or attempts among teens. Encouraging your child to participate in some kind of physical activity can help him or her conquer social obstacles while building good habits for a healthy adulthood. By also making physical activity a family matter, you can lead by example. Learn more about how to prevent bullying and consult a healthcare professional and a school counselor if you’re concerned that your child might be a victim of bullying.