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Swimming for fitness

Try swimming to improve your overall fitness while minimizing your risk of injury.

Swimming is a wonderful way to improve overall fitness while minimizing your risk of injury. It’s easy on your joints and improves your cardiovascular fitness. Although training in a pool may not simulate your specific duties, cross-training reduces the risk of injury from other repetitive exercise such as running. Effective pool training sessions should vary in intensity and emphasis. To avoid shoulder joint and upper back issues, warm up by swimming for five to ten minutes at a pace slower than your usual training pace, and include kicking and pulling drills. To improve both strength and endurance in the water, try interval training. Shorter rest intervals will improve endurance, while longer ones will stress your anaerobic system and improve your strength and power. Alternating between aerobic (longer and slower) and anaerobic (shorter and more intense) workouts will optimize your overall performance for both combat swimming operations and cardiovascular fitness in general.

For more detailed information about pool interval training and examples of training regimens check out Chapter 4: Swimming for Fitness in The US Navy SEAL Guide to Fitness and Nutrition.

Injury treatment and recovery

Even minor injuries can derail performance. Follow these tips to manage the discomfort of minor injuries and prevent further damage.

A key concern for Warfighters and athletes alike is getting injured. Continuing to train through a minor injury can turn it into a major one. Even with minor injuries, it’s important to decrease inflammation and increase the range of motion at the affected joint. Two approaches to take are RICE and ISE. Start with RICE—rest, ice, compression, and elevation—to decrease inflammation. Once inflammation is minimized, ISE—ice, stretching, and exercise—helps to increase the range of motion. Using these techniques may reduce inflammation, stiffness, weakness, and/or loss of normal function. Once pain and swelling are reduced, the next step is reconditioning. Exercises that target the area of injury should promote flexibility, endurance, speed, strength, and power while progressing gradually. The main goal of reconditioning is to efficiently decrease pain and increase range of motion. Always check with your physician to rule out more serious injury before proceeding.

Chapter 12 of The US Navy Seal Guide to Fitness and Nutrition provides more detail.

Changes in diet and lifestyle can prevent long-term weight gain

Obesity has become a national crisis, and as developing countries adopt our western culture they too seem to face the growing problem of obesity. A recent article in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) looked at how changes in diet and lifestyle affect long-term weight gain in the U.S.

In a recent Healthy Tip, we briefly described a notable article in the June 2011 New England Journal of Medicine about long-term weight gain. The 20-year study involved more than 120,000 healthy men and woman of normal weight. All were examined at four-year intervals and were found to have gained an average of almost a pound a year. That doesn’t seem like much—unless you consider that if you’re a fit 160 pounds at age 30, you’ll have put on 20 pounds by age 50. At that point your extra weight may be compounded by diabetes, bad joints, heart disease, and perhaps even cancer—all of which are associated with obesity. So now you’re forced to find ways to lose weight.

Wouldn’t it have been better to maintain a healthy weight all along? Some of the study’s observations regarding food choices and exercise might prove helpful in maintaining your weight as you age.

The study found that some foods were significantly associated with weight gain: potato products such as potato chips and French fries, sugary beverages (sodas, for example), red meat, processed meat products, and refined grains. On the other hand, foods associated with no weight gain were vegetables, whole grains, fruits, nuts, and yogurt.

Other factors found to be associated with weight were physical activity (increase = no gain in weight); alcohol consumption (increase = weight gain); sleep habits (less than six or more than eight hours per night = weight gain); and TV habits (more TV = weight gain), a correlation that seemed partly due to more snacking (Superbowl, anyone?) and less activity.

A single change in diet or lifestyle had less effect than several together. It makes sense that if you exercise less and eat more foods associated with weight gain, you’ll gain weight more easily than if you exercise less but still eat well.

Why some foods seem to contribute to weight gain more than others is still not fully understood, but it probably has a lot to do with what makes us feel satisfied when we eat. High-calorie food and drink that go down fast and easy and quickly enter our bloodstream may not make us feel full when we consume them, so we tend to eat more of them. High-fiber foods like fruits and vegetables fill us up and are low in calories. Even high-fiber nuts, which tend to have a lot of calories, are associated with no weight gain, perhaps because they satisfy us and keep us from eating candy and cake that do cause weight gain. Yogurt is an interesting case, since there has been a lot of interest lately in probiotics (bacteria felt to contribute positively to our health). Perhaps yogurt changes the bacterial flora in a way that contributes to weight stability and loss.

The reason we discuss this study in more depth is twofold. First, it highlights the fact that Americans have a tendency to gain weight as they get older. Knowing that, we can be vigilant of what we eat and how active we are in order to help prevent this weight gain. Second, it warns us of the most common food offenders to avoid—and those to embrace—and underscores the concept that weight is a balance between the calories we consume (foods and beverages we eat) and the calories we expend (physical activity). Make sure you find the proper balance when you’re young, so you won’t be overweight—and perhaps sick—when you’re older.

Try calisthenics to improve strength

Calisthenics may help improve your strength.

Calisthenics have long been a basic component of Warfighter training to increase strength. They require minimal equipment and space and can be done virtually anywhere. Common calisthenic exercises include push-ups, pull-ups, sit-ups, dips, and squats. They help develop and maintain muscle strength, endurance, and power as well as flexibility. There are many ways to customize a calisthenic routine to achieve a specific fitness goal. For example, performing a low number of repetitions with added resistance will effectively increase muscle strength. Training with a buddy is a great way to provide resistance. Muscle endurance, on the other hand, requires a routine with a lot of repetitions. It’s recommended to include two calisthenic sessions each week on nonconsecutive days, along with other forms of physical training (e.g., plyometrics, strength training, or aerobic training). A 30-minute calisthenic session should consist of one to three exercises that involve multiple muscle groups.

For more detailed information on calisthenics, go to Chapter 8 of The Navy SEAL Physical Fitness Guide.

Get FITT to optimize muscle strength

Optimize your muscle strength and endurance by following the FITT principle.

Muscle strength is an essential component for successful Warfighter performance. Developing optimal muscle strength and endurance maximizes job performance and reduces risk of injury. The FITT principle can help you achieve this goal. FITT refers to “frequency, intensity, time (or duration), and type” of activity.

  • Frequency is the number of sessions in a week that an individual trains. At least two days per week of strength training is recommended.
  • Intensity, considered the most important aspect of strength and endurance conditioning, is defined by the amount of weight used per repetition. For muscle endurance, training should involve 20-60 repetitions of 30% to 50% of one repetition max (1RM; the maximum amount of weight one can lift for one repetition) per set. For muscle strength, training should involve 1-12 repetitions of 65% to 90% of 1RM per set.
  • Time of sessions should range from 30 to 60 minutes.
  • Type of exercise should vary in strength and conditioning routines to prevent boredom and improve gains. A combination of free weights and machines is recommended.

For more detailed information on strength training, read Chapter 6, Strength Training, of The Navy SEAL Physical Fitness Guide.

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Exercise 101

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Don’t forget to exercise your heart. As with all other fitness requirements, Warfighters need extra cardio fitness for optimal performance.

The American College of Sports Medicine and the American Heart Association recommend doing moderate-intensity cardiovascular exercise for 30 minutes a day, five days a week (for details of these guidelines, click here). However, elite athletes and tactical Warfighters need to train more to achieve higher levels of fitness—see the Navy Seal Fitness Guide and the Building the Soldier Athlete Manual for more information.

Monitor your physical performance using your heart rate

HPRC Fitness Arena:
Your heart is the key to effective training. Learn how to monitor it during exercise to achieve the optimum results from your training program.

Monitor your heart rate to ensure that you are training in the appropriate range for your performance needs. This simple practice will help you track the way your body responds to training to effectively optimize your physical performance. The American Council on Exercise (ACE) has information on how to monitor your exercise intensity using your heart rate, as well as an online tool for calculating your target heart rate. A similar online calculator is available from the Army’s Hooah 4 Health website.

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Get fit on the job: Part II

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More tips for working out at work.

Fitness is so important to your mental and physical health. Consider scheduling exercise into your work day; put it on your calendar! Keep packable tools like elastic tubing and bands at your desk. You can easily strengthen your chest, upper back, shoulders, arms, and legs in just a few minutes, two or three times a week. All without leaving your office! For ideas, click here: ACE GETFIT: Time saving tips for on-the-job fitness

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Get fit on the job: Part I

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If you can't find time to exercise, try getting fit at work.

Can’t find time to fit exercise in during your day? Then get fit at work! Consider biking or walking to work, if practical. If not, walk around your workplace before or after work, or during work breaks, for 20-30 minutes. Lunchtime walks with a friend are fun and a stress reliever. Use the stairs rather than elevator. Check out this link for more terrific ideas: ACE GETFIT: Time saving tips for on-the-job fitness

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Save your knees with a few simple tips

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Prevent knee injury with these tips.

Try these tips from the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Disease to prevent knee injury while you exercise:

  • Avoid bending your knees past 90 degree when doing half knee bends or squats.
  • Avoid twisting your knees by keeping your feet as flat as possible during stretching.
  • When jumping, land with your knees bent.

Source: Handout on Health. Sports Injuries. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Disease.

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