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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

New Army camouflage: the end of the digital age?

HPRC Fitness Arena: Environment, Total Force Fitness
Since 2004, Army personnel have donned the Universal Camouflage Pattern on standard uniforms; but new research and field reports have found this pattern to be ineffective in combat.

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.

TBI Pocket Guide from DCoE

HPRC Fitness Arena: Mind Tactics, Total Force Fitness
Traumatic brain injury can be a serious invisible injury. The DCoE provides helpful information about symptoms and treatment.

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.

It’s never too late to quit

Are you a smoker, but you’re trying to quit? Have you smoked for so long that you don’t see the point in quitting? Well new research has found that it’s never too late to kick an old habit.

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!

Getting fit? There’s an app for that.

With more than 91.4 million smartphones in the U.S., applications might be the answer to get people off the couch and moving. Finding the right one, however, can be a challenge.

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!

Times and rhythms of sleep

HPRC Fitness Arena: Environment, Total Force Fitness
Your environment affects your sleep pattern—when you change time zones, make sure you adjust to get your best sleep at key times.

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.

The Army’s Strong Bonds program

The Army’s STRONG BONDS program can help build relationship resiliency. Learn more about it here.

 

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.

The best of the best

The “Drill Sergeant of the Year” competition is one of the most physically and mentally demanding challenges faced by any soldier in a U.S. Army. To win, soldiers have to rise above the competition.


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 program for military families

Learn about the FOCUS program for building family resilience.

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.

Sleep loss can affect how you manage stress

HPRC Fitness Arena: Mind Tactics, Total Force Fitness
Not getting enough sleep impacts key factors in your ability to manage stress.

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 run-down on the cool-down

The post-exercise cool-down—is it really necessary? Does it prevent muscle soreness? Is it good for you?

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.

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