Filed under: Exercise
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!
Little things you do during your workday can reduce the amount of time you sit, decreasing your chance of developing certain sicknesses. Many jobs involve hours of sitting. Commuting, sitting down for dinner and TV after work, and then sleeping only add to the time most people sit or lie down in their daily lives. The more time you spend sitting, the higher your risk of chronic illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes, and even some cancers. We offer some ways to move more throughout your workday. Read more here.
Daily exposure to cold weather increases your nutritional needs. But if you only PT outside for an hour or so a day, workout in a gym, and spend the rest of your time indoors, your daily food and fluid needs don’t change much—even when it’s cold outside. If you’re training in the cold for long periods of time, such as during field deployment or cold weather operations, here are a few ways to help maintain peak performance:
- Calories. Moving through snow and icy terrain while wearing heavy gear causes your body to use more energy. Consume three to four standard MREs or three MCW/LRP rations per day to meet your energy needs. (At times you may have to force yourself to eat.)
- Carbohydrates. Carbs are your body’s first choice for energy. When your caloric needs increase, you’ll need to eat more carbs. Be sure to eat high-carb foods such as rice, noodles, bread, First Strike Bar, fruit or sports bars, crackers, granola, pretzels, and carb-fortified drink mixes from your MRE or MCW/LRP rations. Store snacks in your pockets so you can fuel on the go, between meals, and before bed.
- Hydration. Yes, you can still get dehydrated in the cold. Cold temperatures increase your fluid loss through increased urine output, breathing, and sweating (due to insulated clothing and intensity and duration of exercise). Fuel with fluids (excluding alcohol) even when you’re not thirsty. Make sure to monitor your hydration status by checking your urine color.
Remember, this isn’t the time to start a new diet (such as a low-carb diet) or lose weight, so fuel up to perform well.
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.
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.
Listen up, ladies! Women are more likely to engage in physical activity if they do it as part of a group and if they have friends who are active. Whether you’re looking for a group exercise class, a spotter for strength training, or a partner to join you on your run, social support from friends or family increases your chances of sticking to an exercise plan.
Women also enjoy activities more when they’re done with others instead of alone. Feeling better about a workout leads to more minutes of exercise per week too. Surround yourself with others who want to stay fit and have similar goals. You can decide whether you want to join an organized exercise group or keep it small and informal by asking one of your friends to participate in an exercise routine. Either way, get motivated!
For more about Women’s Health Month, visit the Military Health System website during October.
Training on the treadmill and “overground” running are not the same. If you’ve experienced treadmill running and find yourself more tired afterwards than you would on an outdoor run, you’re not alone. It seems athletes actually run slower on a treadmill than their normal pace outside, yet they perceive treadmill running as being more exhausting. In other words, even though it feels more difficult, treadmill running is usually less intense and less physically challenging than running outdoors.
If you’re training for an outdoor race, ideally you should run most of your training miles outside. However, running indoors can be helpful if you’re recovering from an injury since running on a treadmill is easier on your joints than running outside on concrete or even grass. When you want or need to run indoors on a treadmill, set the incline at 1–2% to increase your exertion level to more closely replicate your outdoor runs.
If you decide to run outside during a cold spell, take a look at our article with tips for staying safe in cold weather and the many resources on cold environments where you can find more ways to keep warm and hydrated even in frigid weather. Remember: Whether you stay in or venture out, any exercise is better than none!
There’s no hard-and-fast rule when it comes to how to breathe when you’re running, but there are a couple points to consider. During light to moderate exercise, people tend to inhale through the nose and exhale through the mouth. Breathing through your nose helps minimize the number of allergens that get into your airway, warm the air before it gets to your lungs (which can be helpful in cold temperatures), and increase the concentration of oxygen in your blood. However, as exercise intensity increases, most people switch to breathing through the mouth because they can inhale more air per breath with less resistance.
Running experts suggest practicing diaphragmatic breathing (“belly breathing”) rather than shallower chest breathing (where you raise your chest and shoulders when you inhale). In the former, your diaphragm (an important muscle in the breathing process) is pushed downward when you inhale, creating space in your chest cavity. You should feel your belly expand as you inhale. It promotes greater expansion of your rib cage and lungs, giving you a fuller, deeper breath. It takes a little practice to learn how to breathe like this while you’re running, but if you lie on your back and breathe, practice yoga, or even play a wind instrument, you’ll know what it feels and looks like.
Finally, remember not to slouch when you run. Lift your torso and chest and lean forward slightly. Form also can affect how you breathe.
Music can have a huge effect on your performance and mood during exercise. Without realizing it, most people push themselves harder or move faster during exercise when listening to fast-tempo music, which increases heart rate as well as speed, endurance, and in some cases the rate of perceived exertion. Exercisers also feel an improved sense of well-being when working out to music.
So why is it you prefer certain songs when you’re exercising? One explanation suggests that a part of your brain tries to match the movement of your body to the beat of the music. In fact, scientists have found that when you listen to music with about 125–140 beats per minute, both your heartbeat and your movements synchronize to work at the most energy-efficient, optimal level for exercise. In essence, the music works with your brain to coordinate your bodily functions and optimize your workout.
The best workout songs seem to share certain characteristics:
- 125–140 beats per minute during exercise, but slower for warm-ups, cool-downs, and some endurance-type exercises
- A motivational or upbeat message
- Familiar tunes or a preferred style of music
- A tempo that matches the rhythm of your exercise
Ask your buddies about their workout playlists too. They might have something totally different to offer—a new beat to stay fit with. So turn on, tune in, and train!
For more tips on how to optimize your workout, explore HPRC’s Physical Fitness domain.