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: Total Force Fitness
In 2004, the U.S. Army digitized its former camouflage pattern on standard issue uniforms. It was termed “Universal Camouflage Pattern,” or UCP, with the hope that it would serve as a one-print-fits-all for any environment. The theory behind the digital print was not the result of a fashion craze; it started in the late 1970s with two psychology professors at West Point. Neuroscientists divided the human visual system into two parallel circuits. One circuit told us where objects were located, the other what objects were. Officially called the “Dual Texture Gradient,” the idea was that the pixelated pattern would interfere with those circuits and make it difficult to identify objects. More research, based on how our brains processed MRI scans as boxes and rectangles, led camouflage experts to similar conclusions, that this pattern was smart camo. Initially, the Marines adopted the pattern from the Canadians. However, the pattern failed early trials in the U.S. Army, and troops reported that it performed poorly in combat.
In 2009, after a camo detection study, the Army revised the design for ground troops in Afghanistan to the current “MultiCam” pattern as a temporary solution. Currently, four designs from non-government vendors are in a bid to become the next camo pattern. Submissions required that designs include a woodland variant, a desert variant, and a transitional variant for every environment in between. The goal of extensive field tests will be to optimize performance range from 35-400 meters in a woodland environment and 35-500 meters in a transitional and desert environment. Testing of the first pattern, which resembles reptile skin, began in June. Testing of the other patterns could last up to nine months, and production of the new uniforms could begin as early as 2013.
You’ve probably heard of TBI—the acronym for traumatic brain injury. The Defense Centers of Excellence defines a traumatic brain injury as “a blow or jolt to the head that disrupts the normal function of the brain.” TBI can be mild, moderate, or severe, with 80-90% being mild. The symptoms, treatments, and recovery time are different for mild versus moderate-to-severe TBIs.
Common symptoms associated with TBI are:
Physical: headache, sleep disturbances, dizziness, balance problems, nausea/vomiting, fatigue, visual disturbances, sensitivity to light, ringing in the ears
Cognitive: slowed thinking, poor concentration, memory problems, difficulty finding words
Emotional: anxiety, depression, irritability, mood swings
For more information, including strategies and suggestions for rehabilitation, check out DCoE’s Mild Traumatic Brain Injury Pocket Guide for Warfighters. TBI is a serious physical as well as mental injury, so it is important to consult a health professional before attempting any kind of treatment.
Tobacco use, especially in the military, is still an important health issue in this country. While the negative effects of tobacco use have been well documented, what you may not know is that there’s also a lot research about what happens when you quit smoking—and the news is good, especially if living longer is something you care about. Scientists have compiled information from these studies and have found that it’s never too late to quit, even if you have been a lifetime smoker. The military is committed to keeping its past and present service members ready and resilient. Check out HPRC’s article “Tobacco in the military: Be a quitter!” Live longer and better. Consider quitting, starting today!
There are any number of excuses for not exercising or counting calories, but not having the ability to track your progress and have it with you at all times is a dwindling one. Smartphone physical activity applications (SPAA) are growing in popularity and making it easy for users to receive information regarding their fitness and nutrition. Finding the right one for you—among thousands—may take some legwork, but the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) review of the different types of fitness apps can help you choose.
A recent study identified features that consumers find most valuable— apps that include goal setting and problem solving (for example, alternative exercises for when it’s raining) seem to be the most successful. Two other features that users ranked high were automatic tracking of physical activities and receiving feedback on fitness accomplishments.
A helpful application created by the Navy Operational Fitness and Fueling Series (NOFFS) is available here. Also check out HPRC’s tip on a good nutrition tracking application. Find an application that meets your needs and bring fitness with you everywhere!
Our bodies know when to sleep thanks to “circadian rhythms,” which are regulated by our brains on a 24-hour cycle. Circadian rhythms are linked to core body temperature, so ideally you should always sleep between 0300 and 0500, when your core body temperature is lowest and your performance abilities are at their lowest. Keep in mind that your individual circadian schedule is based on where you are and takes cue from environmental factors such as the sun and from social patterns. When crossing time zones, your internal clock needs time to adjust, which can take several days. Factors that influence this adaptation are:
- how many time zones are crossed, and
- whether you fly eastward or westward—the former takes longer to adjust.
Keep in mind that, in order to make up sleep or to adjust to a new zone, the best times to sleep are between 0300-0500 or 1300-1500.
For tips on how to improve your quality or length of sleep check out HPRC’s Sleep Optimization section, and for information on how sleep loss impacts all of the areas of Total Fitness check out HPRC’s Overview on sleep loss.
Strong Bonds is a chaplain-led Army initiative that helps build relationship resilience. Through education and skills training, the Strong Bonds mission is to increase soldier and family readiness. Offsite retreat-style training addresses the effects of stress on military lifestyle, with programs tailored for single soldiers, couples, and families.
Visit HPRC's Military Family Skills for more information on military-specific strategies for building relationship resilience.
June 25-29 marked the 2012 Army Drill Sergeant of the Year (DSOY) competition at Fort Eustis, Virginia. Drill sergeants are known as the cornerstone of Army readiness because they set the tone for soldiers’ entire military career. Four active-duty and two U.S. Army Reserve drill sergeants endured physical and mental challenges during the five-day competition. They were tested on their knowledge of Warrior Tasks and Battle Drills and their ability to teach these skills to new soldiers. The competition concluded with questions from a board of senior command sergeants on leadership and training.
The winning active-duty drill sergeant, Staff Sgt. Jeffrey Heilman, received the Stephen Ailes Award (named for the 1964-65 Secretary of the Army who was instrumental in originating the first Drill Sergeant School at Fort Leonard Wood, MO). The Army Reserve winner, Staff Sgt. Jared Moss, received the Ralph Haines Jr. Award (named for the 1970-72 commander of the Continental Army Command).
Watch highlights of this year’s competition!
The FOCUS (Families OverComing Under Stress) Project provides online resilience training for military families affected by deployment. The project is designed to address parents’ and children’s concerns about military-combat stress injuries and combat-related physical injuries and provide helpful strategies to build family resilience.
Parents can watch videos, download handouts, and participate in private online chats with family members. FOCUS includes resources and tools for Warfighters, spouses, and professionals—and even activities children and teens can participate in. For more information, visit HPRC's section on Military Family Workshops/Programs.
Think about this: Not getting enough sleep has a serious impact on how and what you think—your memory and concentration suffer, as do your awareness of your surroundings and your reaction time. Sleep loss affects your ability to make good decisions and puts you on edge, making you susceptible to your emotions. There’s more: Sleep loss also affects your ability to think positively and solve problems effectively. All of these are key factors in managing stress. Making good decisions now reduces your stress over the long term, and this can be compromised when you’re not at your peak. Bottom line: Focus on getting enough sleep to help you manage your stress.
For more on how to get better sleep, check out HPRC’s Mind Tactics information on sleep management. For how sleep loss affects all the areas of fitness, check out the HPRC’s Total Force Fitness article on The impact of sleep loss on total fitness.
The cool-down—a practice so engrained in our exercise habits that we assume it’s important. But, the truth is, the topic is understudied, and evidence for or against cooling down is still up for debate. What is a cool-down and what is it supposed to do? The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends a period of low- to moderate-intensity aerobic or muscular endurance activities after exercise to gradually reduce heart rate and blood pressure and remove metabolic byproducts from the system. For some, this may be a slow jog down the street, or an easy ride around the block after a workout with the hope of also preventing delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). The long-standing theory behind cooling down was that it helped to remove lactic acid from the system, a substance that could later cause muscle aches and soreness. However, it is believed that DOMS is the result of minor muscle damage due to novel or intense exercise, but we do know that lactic acid is not the culprit. During cool-down—active recovery—more lactic acid is removed from the system than during passive recovery, i.e., no cool-down. But is this a good thing? In a study of cyclists, researchers found that when subjects stopped exercise abruptly, lactic acid turned into glycogen, a fuel for the muscles. But when the cyclists gradually tapered off activity, less glycogen was made, leaving less energy for the muscles. These results indicate that cooling down might not be beneficial and may waste useful energy for the muscles.
On the other hand, a cool-down lowers elevated heart rates faster than passive recovery does and may prevent post-exercise dizziness. Stopping abruptly after exercise can cause blood to pool in the dilated vessels of the legs and feet, which may lead to a feeling of light-headedness and/or dizziness. Keep in mind, however, that these symptoms can also be related to other post-exercise conditions such as low blood sugar, low blood pressure, dehydration, or even hyponatremia. If you experience these symptoms, check with your doctor to find out if there are other causes.
Scientists agree that cooling down is also beneficial for people with cardiovascular conditions and heart disease where the coronary vessels are narrowed due to atherosclerosis (fatty deposits), as blood return to the heart may be compromised without it.
ACSM currently recommends at least 5-10 minutes of cool-down, with at least 10 minutes of stretching after exercise. However, more research is needed to determine the value and ideal recommendations for cooling down. If stopping exercise abruptly causes symptoms of light-headedness and dizziness, then a cool-down is a good idea.