Filed under: Military performance
Understanding how stress affects you both mentally and physically in high-stress situations is important for optimal performance—which is why training under stress is a central part of combat preparation. Knowing what your reactions are, when to pause and take a deep breath, how to use positive self-talk, when to recalibrate one’s physical responses, and how to recharge (sleep and proper nutrition) after a stressful event are key for being at your peak mental performance. Getting support from comrades and using appropriate humor also can help relieve stress.
Beginning on November 1st the U.S. Army will bring back the requirement to pass the Army Physical Fitness Test, including weight standards, in order to enroll in professional military education courses. Initially this requirement was waived due to the great demand for soldiers during OIF and OEF. Sgt. Todd McCaffrey states, "Reestablishing the Army physical fitness test and height/weight standards into our professional military education programs reinforces the efforts the Army's senior leaders have been emphasizing on standards based training and education." For information on how to meet these requirements, visit HPRC’s Fighting Weight Strategies, service-specific Physical Fitness Guides, and Policies, Standards, Reports, and Guidelines.
In the war against childhood obesity, senior military leaders are taking a stand in the name of national security. The retired generals and admirals of “Mission: Readiness” are doing their part to combat childhood obesity by calling on Congress to remove junk food and high-calorie drinks from schools by adopting the Institute of Medicine standards for what can be served in schools, increasing funding for more nutritious meals, and supporting the development of public health interventions. The group is concerned that current school policies and lack of high nutritional standards are leading to unhealthy food choices in the form of vending machine snacks and sugary drinks. As much as 40% of children’s caloric intake occurs at school, so clearly schools have an important role to play. Retired U.S. Army General Johnnie E. Wilson points out that “We need America’s service members to be in excellent physical condition because they have such an important job to do.” The most recent report by the Mission: Readiness organization estimates that 27% of young Americans are still too fat to fight and not healthy enough to serve their country. In an analysis of military standards, being overweight was the leading medical reason for being rejected from the military between 1995 and 2008. While these military leaders may be fighting for your kids, the real battle begins at home. Encourage healthy eating and lifestyle behaviors by staying fit as a family.
Although the military does not allow women to take part in direct combat, they routinely face the dangers of war. The Pentagon was recently pressed to develop better-fitting body armor for female soldiers, recognizing that men and women have different body shapes. Women have more curves, shorter torsos, and narrower shoulders than most of their male counterparts. The current male-based body armor creates gaps and additional pressure points that leaves service women vulnerable and reduces their performance (aiming a weapon, entering and exiting vehicles, etc).
Engineers are looking to create plates that conform to the female body, similar to the armor worn by TV’s popular Xena: Warrior Princess. There are some concerns regarding weight and protection, but so far the Army has tested eight sizes, with positive feedback from women Warfighters.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) has been one of the military’s top priorities in the past few years, especially after reports of projected rates as high as 30% in veterans. However, a May 2012 Science article points to new findings that might indicate lower PTSD rates currently across all services—between 2.1 and 13.8%. Taking into consideration under-reporting due to stigma, the authors suggest these low rates might be due to the targeted attention that PTSD has received, along with interest in bolstering Warfighter resilience. The article cites the military’s adoption of resilience programs such as “Battlemind” as possible contributors to these low rates. The authors recommend more in-depth research to determine the effectiveness of such programs.
In a recent study investigating risk factors for discharge from Army Basic Combat Training (BCT), researchers concluded that increased risk for both men and women was associated with failure on the initial two-mile run test. The current Physical Fitness Tests (PFT) or Physical Readiness Test (PRT) use a one and a half to two-mile run test to assess cardiovascular, or aerobic, fitness.
When mapping out a fitness program, learn the components of the FITT principle and apply them for each type of training. FITT stands for “frequency,” or how often; “intensity,” or how hard; “type,” or the kind of activity; and “time,” or how long. Progression (see below) is also an important part of an exercise plan. Using the FITT Principle, here are some guidelines to help optimize your cardiovascular fitness.
Frequency. The U.S. Surgeon General and other U.S. government agencies recommend physical activity on three or more days a week.
Intensity. According to updated guidelines The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends adults engage in moderate-intensity exercise (i.e., at 40-60% Heart Rate Reserve (HRR)) five days a week or vigorous-intensity exercise training (i.e., at ≥ 60% HRR) three or more days a week. They also recommend a combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity exercise. You can use this calculator from Kirtland AFB to determine your HRR.
Type. ACSM defines aerobic activities as being continuous, rhythmic, and using large muscle groups, such as your lower and upper body muscles. Examples of these kinds of activities are running, biking, swimming, rowing, and jump roping.
Time. The Surgeon General, ACSM, and American Heart Association recommend expending at least 1,000 calories per week through exercise (i.e., in addition to calories burned through normal everyday activities). This can be achieved through moderate-intensity exercise, as described above, and should last about ≥ 30 minutes per day for a total of ≥ 150 minutes per week; or with vigorous-intensity exercise for ≥20 minutes per day for a total of ≥75 minutes per week. The maximum safe duration is unknown, but exercise lasting more than an hour and a half increases risk of overtraining and/or overuse injuries such as stress fractures.
Progression. During the initial phase of an exercise program, ACSM recommends increasing duration (minutes per session) gradually. Increasing 5-10 minutes every one or two weeks over the first four to six weeks of an exercise program is reasonable for healthy adults. After an exercise routine has been maintained for one month or longer, it is reasonable to gradually increase frequency, intensity, and/or time over the next four to eight months. As a general rule of thumb, though not scientifically backed, increasing your workloads or volume by 10% will also help you gradually progress your exercise program.
Due to the repetitive and rhythmic nature of aerobic exercise, overuse injuries can occur as a result of your training. Cross training—training with a variety of aerobic exercises—is recommended. Examples of this would be alternating running, swimming, and rowing exercise sessions.
Part two of this series (upcoming) will address the muscular strength component of PFT/PRT.
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.
What has the Human Performance Resource Center (HPRC) been doing this past year to make our Warfighters safer? A lot! HPRC has a number of missions, but the most important one—and the one that all of HPRC’s other tasks support—is to provide evidence-based information on Human Performance Optimization (HPO). HPO involves giving our Warfighters the training and information they need to effectively carry out their missions in any environment, with the resilience to avoid injury and illness and the ability to recover quickly if injured or ill. As it turns out, HPO embodies all the domains of Total Force Fitness (TFF)—physical fitness, nutrition, dietary supplements, extreme environments, family/social issues, and psychological fitness—that ADM Mullen is asking the services to embrace.
Some of the accomplishments of HPRC this year are:
- Responding to questions from the field (mostly from Warfighters and providers) at the average rate of one per day and growing. These questions cover topics such as proper hydration, dietary supplement use, sleep requirements, managing altitude sickness, how to beat heat illness, and fitness fueling. Every question answered has the potential of protecting our Warfighters from inaccurate commercial information and harmful practices and of increasing their resilience.
- Overseeing a workgroup of subject matter experts (SMEs) who developed a white paper on High-Intensity Training that helps put in perspective the information available on these popular training programs. A scientific paper will be published in the near future.
- Overseeing the workgroup of SMEs who are developing the concept of Total Force Fitness for ADM Mullen, Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff.
- Developing and expanding a website that is now servicing more than a thousand people a week by supplying needed information on HPO and TFF.
- Supplying “healthy tips” to entities such as the Uniformed Services publication The Pulse and the Military Times.
- Partnering with multiple organizations across the services and DoD to help collaborate and coordinate efforts in HPO/TFF.
These examples provide a good snapshot of the activity level at HPRC. The staff and volunteer SMEs are working hard to make our Warfighters safer and more resilient to both physical and mental trauma. Who could ask for a better mission?
Heat-related injuries are a threat to Warfighters, even those in top physical condition, deployed to extreme environments. Heat acclimatization is necessary to ensure that the health and performance of Warfighters is not compromised to a dangerous degree when exposed to heat stress.
Take it slow. For unacclimatized Warfighters, physical exertion should be limited in intensity and time. Allow 9-14 days of progressive heat exposure and exertion—more for less-fit Warfighters, less for more-fit Warfighters.
Don’t overdo it; don’t underdo it! Heat acclimatization requires exposure at least two hours per day (can be two one-hour segments) while engaged in a cardiovascular exercise (which should increase in intensity each day of the acclimatization period).
It’s all relative. The level of heat acclimatization achieved is relative to the exertion normally expended by the Warfighter. If light exertion is the norm, the level of heat acclimatization after two weeks will match that. If more strenuous exertion is called for, additional acclimatization and possibly improved fitness is required.
Work smart. If Warfighters must perform physical work during the acclimatization period, take advantage of the cooler hours during the morning, evening, and night.
Stay hydrated. Adequate water is essential. Heat acclimatization increases sweating and, therefore, water requirements. Dehydration rapidly degrades safety and performance, even for those who are already heat acclimatized or in top physical condition.
For a more detailed look at heat stress and acclimatization, read HPRC’s reports on managing heat exposure.
Research at USARIEM (U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine) was featured in a article by writer Christopher Solomon titled "G.I. Joe and the House of Pain" in a special issue of Outside Magazine about human performance. The author spent time in the research lab's heat chamber, altitude chamber, and cold-water pool—conditions that simulate the extreme environmental conditions found in theater. He interviewed research physiologists there about USARIEM's work over the past 50 years as well as its current studies, all of which address the crucial issues of Warfighter health and performance in extreme environments.