Filed under: Performance
Whether you’re falling asleep or too “amped up,” you probably aren’t performing your best. Depending on who you are and what the task is, some middle ground is generally going to be best.
With simple tasks that require little conscious thinking, your reaction time is probably at its best around 60-70% of maximum heart rate (see HPRC’s article on aerobic conditioning), but response times for bigger bursts of movement improve if you’re more amped up. For example, you may be able to pull the trigger of your weapon fastest when you’re at 60-70%, but reaching for your weapon in the first place may be quickest if you’re at 90%. Keep in mind that this may not apply to more complicated tasks that involve rapid thinking, such as distinguishing a “friendly” from a “non-friendly” when someone is disguised.
There are two basic ways to get yourself amped up: physical activity and anxiety. Physical activity can happen through an intentional warm-up or even on its own because of the demands you are facing. If anything, you might find yourself needing to calm your body down. The same goes for anxiety. There’s the “butterflies-in-your-stomach” kind of anxiety and the more panicky “Darn! What do I do now?” kind. A little bit of the butterflies kind can be helpful, but again, it’s good to learn how to calm down and find middle ground!
To learn more about being in the right “zone” for what you are doing, check out HPRC’s “Performance Strategies: Optimize Your Body’s Response.”
Injury prevention is critical in maintaining optimal performance and operational readiness. Ankle sprains, knee pain, and back pain are very common injuries in the military. Take the time now to protect yourself from injury, and you’ll be glad you did later. Read our , compiled from our recent injury prevention series of posts.
Chondromalacia is a knee problem that can have a number of different symptoms, including pain. It can your ability to exercise, but even more problematic is that it can interfere with your ability to meet the demands of your military duties.
Here’s the basic rundown on chondromalacia: In a healthy state, the kneecap has soft cartilage beneath that allows the bone to glide smoothly against the other bones of your knee joint. When the smooth surface wears away, the back of the kneecap becomes rough and rubs the other bone surfaces, causing pain. The key to avoiding this condition is maintaining that smooth surface.
According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, muscle weakness, imbalance, or tightness in the thigh muscles can contribute to chondromalacia. It’s important to maintain strength in your quadriceps and hamstring muscles; follow a strength-training program to develop and maintain strong muscles. Also, make sure that you have enough flexibility in your quads; if the muscles and tendons are too tight, they can force the kneecap to move or “track” incorrectly in the natural groove of your knee joint. If you do a lot of running, make sure your footwear isn’t old and worn, because the shock-absorption of shoes decreases as they age. When it comes to knee pain, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Strengthen and stretch your muscles, and you’ll be on your way to keeping your knees ready for action.
The state in which athletes perform at their best is often referred to as “the zone,” but researchers refer to it as “flow.” This experience of being completely immersed in an activity involves:
- Clear goals and immediate understanding of whether actions are helping or hurting progress towards goals.
- Intense and focused concentration on the present moment.
- Merging of action and awareness.
- Absence of self-consciousness and anxiety.
- Time seems distorted (slow in the moment and fast retrospectively).
- Targeting of your attention where it is most needed.
- Challenges or opportunities feel like a stretch but still match your skill level.
- Feeling in control and prepared to face whatever happens next.
You can experience flow in myriad ways, whether you’re engaged in combat, playing competitive sports, or raising children. Flow can’t be forced, but you can set the stage for it by learning good stress management and practicing key skills through repetition.
That “slow to wake up” feeling of grogginess in the morning has a name: sleep inertia. HPRC asked a sleep expert whether sleep inertia is a real threat to performance, and the answer may surprise you: While sleep inertia is a real phenomenon, the threat it poses to performance has never been seriously studied but probably isn’t as bad as you might think.
However, sleep inertia can be a serious issue when cognitive performance—such as problem solving and decision making—is called for immediately on waking. For example, physicians who are awakened by calls from nursing staff have been known to make serious errors. For most situations, though, it’s better to sleep (and pay down any “sleep debt”) rather than stay awake with the intent of being alert just in case you’ll be called on, our expert concluded.
If your head does need to be in the game quickly after awakening, call on some caffeine to help; it can give you the boost you need to get out of your sleep inertia. Popping in some caffeine gum when you wake up (but only when essential) can produce near-normal cognitive performance within about five minutes.
The recently released report from the Department of Defense, “Supporting Military Families In Crisis,” offers information for families about what to do in a crisis as well as how to prevent crises. The guide focuses on suicide prevention, following the Total Force Fitness perspective, but the information applies to many other areas of military family life, especially the section titled “Building a Resilient Family.” HPRC can help your family with many of their suggestions:
- Keep your mind fit: Check out HPRC’s Mind Tactics domain for how to go about it.
- Build resilience through coping skills and other strategies: Find information on building resilience in the Mental Resilience section of Mind Tactics.
- Foster a sense of belonging: Try the resources in the Relationship Enhancement and Family Resilience sections of HPRC’s Family & Relationships domain.
- Train year-round: Find ideas for getting the most out of your workouts from the Performance Strategies in HPRC’s Physical Fitness domain.
- Be aware of your world: Learn specific strategies for coping with extreme environments—heat, cold, high altitude, and more—in HPRC’s Environment domain.
- Eat your way healthy: Learn how to fuel your body for optimal performance with HPRC’s Nutrition domain.
And to learn how to bring all these aspects together for individual and family resilience in the face of any crisis, spend some time cruising HPRC’s Total Force Fitness domain.
Sleep is essential for optimal performance! The recent Warrior Resilience Conference V hosted by the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury included a session called “Scheduling Sleep – A Clear Mind, A Combat Edge,” which highlighted how sleep is critically important to:
- Moral judgment
All of these have a serious impact on performance—not only for Warfighters, but for everyone. Lack of sleep is also linked to increased risk of motor vehicle accidents, depression, substance abuse, weight gain, heart and kidney disease, reduced immune response, and loss of focus. Make it a goal to get seven to eight hours of sleep a night, and reap the performance and health benefits.
A 2011 study of musculoskeletal injuries in an Infantry Brigade Combat Team deployed to Afghanistan found that low back pain due to stress and strain on the back (not actual spinal cord injuries) was the most common complaint. Common causes of back injury include overuse, poor physical conditioning, and incorrect body movements when lifting and moving objects. Fortunately you can decrease your chances of injuring the muscles and ligaments of your back. The key is prevention: Stretching is one way to help prevent lower back pain, but it’s essential to use correct posture and body mechanics when you pick up and move objects such as heavy ammo cans! Daily back exercises (from the Mayo Clinic) and stretches can help strengthen your core and improve your posture, and the University of Maryland offers more valuable tips for prevention. If you’re experiencing back pain, however, you need to see a qualified healthcare professional for an accurate diagnosis and exercise program.
The physical demands of military life are challenging, and if you’re not prepared, they can lead to injuries. The injury prevention series we’ll be running over the next several weeks will provide you with information and strategies for preventing some of the most common injuries: those to the knee, ankle, rotator cuff, back, iliotibial band and wrist/hand. Prevention is key: Taking time for the small stuff may have big payoff down the road. Much of what the exercises done for recovery after an injury can actually be done to prevent the injury in the first place. Stay injury-free for optimal performance! Check back soon for the first in this series.
The dietary supplement and fitness industries are filled with sport drinks, powders, bars, pills, gels, footwear, clothing, and an array of devices all claiming to provide you with a competitive advantage, whether it be improved performance or enhanced recovery. With the ever-growing popularity of team and individual sports, professional and recreational athletes of all ages are an easy target for these claims. But how many of these claims are backed by evidence-based research?
A recent report now reviews the quality of evidence behind the claims of improved sports performance made by advertisers for a wide range of sports-related products, including sport drinks, supplements, footwear, and clothing. The team identified 431 performance-enhancing claims for 104 products advertised in more than 100 general, sport, and fitness magazines in the UK and U.S. for a single month in 2012. They found that more than half of the advertisements and their associated websites provided no evidence to support the claims of enhanced sports performance. Only 146 references were found, and only 74 of these met basic criteria for research quality and almost all of the 74 were found likely to be biased or lacking scientific objectivity. Only three studies were rated as “high” quality and probably unbiased. Such lack of evidence makes it very difficult for consumers to make well-informed decisions about using performance-enhancing sports products.
This review makes it clear that many of the claims made for sports and fitness products lack reliable evidence to support them and that more and better studies are needed to help inform consumers. In the meantime, consumers should be cautious when reading claims of enhanced performance and recovery and always remember that “true” evidence-based results mean that a substantial number of independent research studies have been performed, with findings that clearly support the claims made by advertisers. Presently, there is still no substitute for sound physical conditioning and nutrition practices.
For more information on dietary supplements and how to choose supplements safely, please visit Operation Supplement Safety (OPSS). For information on physical fitness and conditioning, please explore HPRC’s Physical Fitness domain. The original British Medical Journal open-access article is available online.