Filed under: Performance
Preparation for the PFT/PRT takes time and discipline. Training for the test should not be something you start the week prior, and the habits you begin leading up to the test should be ones you continue after the test. Weekend warriors and procrastinators are at greater risk for injury, and it’s likely that performance will be less than optimal when it comes time for PFT/PRT. If you’re just getting back into shape, be sure to do it gradually. Once you’ve resumed a regular exercise routine you may notice aches and pains associated with getting back in shape. Listen to your body. Be vigilant for symptoms of overuse injuries and knee pain, which are common athletic injuries. It’s important to address these issues early to minimize any damage and get you back in action as soon as possible. Maintaining your exercise routine after the PFT/PRT and challenging yourself along the way will keep you in soldier-athlete shape year round, and prevent deconditioning. Check back to past articles on cardiovascular, muscular and mobility fitness for guidelines and tips.
Your body is a segmented, or jointed, system designed for potentially powerful and efficient movement. Coordinated and efficient movements require a give and take between mobility and stability of the involved joints, as well as the surrounding muscles, tendons, and ligaments. These components, together with muscular fitness, are necessary to achieve functional movement, which is integral in performance and sport related skills.
According to the American Council on Exercise (ACE), joint mobility—also known as range of motion (ROM)—is the degree to which a joint is able to move before it is restricted by surrounding ligaments, muscles, and tendons. Joint stability is the ability to control or restrict joint movement through the coupled actions of surrounding tissues. Preventing injuries requires, among other things, both mobility and stability of your musculoskeletal system. Deficiencies in one or the other, due to improper or imbalanced training, may lead to injuries during movement patterns, such as walking, running, and repetitive lifting.
One example of an elite training program is the Army Ranger RAW functional fitness program. It is unique in that it focuses on whole-body mobility and stability. Exercises are typically performed using your own body weight against fixed surfaces (i.e. the floor or wall), instead of using free weights or machine weights.
For joint stability and balance, the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) recommends performing one to three sets of 12-20 repetitions at a slow, controlled pace. According to American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), there is not enough research to make definitive recommendations on the frequency and duration for this type of training. However some research has shown improvements using training frequencies of 2-3 days per week, with sessions lasting ≥20-30 minutes, for a total of ≥60 minutes per week.
The amount of joint mobility is partially determined by the flexibility of the surrounding muscles, tendons, and ligaments. For example, decreased shoulder flexibility might impact your ability to complete a full pushup. Refer to these FITT guidelines for flexibility training.
Frequency: According to ACSM, short-term improvements in flexibility may be seen after each bout of stretching. More long-term changes, however, are seen after three to four weeks of regular stretching. Flexibility exercises should be performed at least two to three days per week, but daily exercise will improve range of motion.
Intensity: ACSM also recommends that flexibility exercises should involve major muscle groups (neck shoulders, upper and lower body), stretching to the point of slight discomfort within the range of motion, but no further. You should feel slight tension in the muscle, but it should not be painful.
Type: There are several different types of stretches:
• Static stretching slowly elongates a muscle by holding the position for a period of time.
• Dynamic stretching is usually sport specific. It requires a joint to be stretched through its full range of motion, to lengthen and increase the muscles temperature.
• Ballistic stretching is a type of dynamic stretch where the muscle is forcefully elongated through a bouncing motion. There’s no evidence that ballistic stretching results in injury, but there is still question and ongoing research as to whether this technique affects muscular performance.
• Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation or PNF stretching may produce greater gains in ROM, however, it may be less practical since an experienced partner is needed to perform this type of exercise.
Time: Your stretching routine should take about ten minutes or so to complete. Static stretches should be held for 15-20 seconds, while PNF stretches should involve a six-second contraction followed by a 10- to 30-second assisted stretch.
Use caution when working on mobility and stability exercises. Done properly, these exercises should not cause pain in the joint or muscle. Never push through your threshold, have patience, and treat your joints with care.
One thing all Warfighters need—and often don’t get enough of—is sleep. This essential restorative affects, and is affected by, virtually every aspect of total fitness. HPRC has already taken a look at the basics of sleep in “How Much Sleep Does a Warfighter Need?” Now we take a look at how it relates to mind tactics, stress management, relationships, exercise, nutrition, dietary supplements, and environment in a new review: “The impact of sleep on total fitness.” Insufficient sleep will make it difficult to concentrate, make decisions, solve problems, and cope with stress. It affects your relationships with others as well as your physical endurance. Exercise, nutrition, and environment—especially time zone changes—affect how well you sleep. Some dietary supplements may enable you to function with little sleep for a while, but in the long run they can’t substitute for a regular night’s sleep. Sleep significantly impacts ALL areas of Total Fitness and can greatly enhance or undermine your ability to be fit and resilient.
The 3rd annual Warrior Games took place at the beginning of May in Colorado Springs, Colorado. The United States Olympic Committee developed this “friendly” competition among the Navy, Air Force, Army, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, and Special Operations service men and women to promote sports programs for wounded, ill, and injured active and retired service members. If you think that these games are strictly to boost morale among wounded warriors, or to inspire the audience as they witness the amazing spirit among these military men and women, the highlights from this year’s event may change your opinion. These athletes train for months just to qualify for the Warrior Games, and many aspire to compete in the Paralympics. They devote hours every day to training for the games. Many of the competitors train together at Warrior Transition Units or other military facilities, and U.S. Olympic trainers and coaches are often on hand. You think you have what it takes to compete with the big dogs and win gold? Watch this video and decide!
Working out by yourself is fine if you’re self-motivated, but getting a buddy to tag along can provide the motivation needed to really ramp up your workout. Let’s face it—a bit of friendly competition can help you push harder than if you were alone. In fact, research has consistently shown that performance is substantially improved when you exercise with someone (even a virtual partner)—unless the workout is complex or involves tasks that require coordination, when the performance can degrade (i.e., "choking under pressure"). So, for best results, practice your difficult routines with a trainer, and then engage in healthy competition to optimize your performance. Keep in mind that not just any friend will do. It’s best to get a buddy whose skill level is similar to your own.
If you are eating good-quality foods in a well-balanced diet, then supplements aren’t necessary to achieve optimal performance. However, if you think you need to take supplements, make sure that you are well informed about the effectiveness and safety of the supplements you are taking or considering adding to your diet. Visit HPRC’s Dietary Supplements Classification System and the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database to learn more about performance supplements. In addition, check out our introduction to Operation Supplement Safety (OPSS), the new Department of Defense educational campaign about to be launched to help determine the relative safety of a dietary supplement product.
For whatever reason, sometimes we get off track with our fitness regimens—maybe it was an injury, a move, or just life that intervened. Getting back to a peak level of fitness after time away should be done gradually. Injuries such as tendonitis—which could become a long term issue—can occur as a result of doing too much, too fast. The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends increasing duration (minutes of exercise) 5-10 minutes every one or two weeks over the first four to six weeks of an exercise program.
Not only is alcohol abuse harmful to your social life and relationships, but it also takes a toll on your physical and mental performance. Alcohol abuse is a serious performance degrader that results in irritability, difficulty communicating with friends and family, delayed reaction timing, reduced metabolic rate, and decline in cognitive processing.
If you’re not sure if your drinking levels constitutes abuse or not, check out Military Pathways’ free and anonymous Drinking IQ screening. This online self-assessment can help you determine the seriousness of your drinking habits and how it can impact your total performance. A few tips from the National Institute for Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism will also show you how to cut back on your alcohol consumption.
Optimized performance and mission readiness are compromised by smoking. The list of adverse effects includes increased fatigue, diminished respiratory capacity, poorer night vision, slower wound healing, and even slower reaction times. It’s hard enough trying to optimize performance without adding the other health issues that smoking brings. Try using the resources offered by Quit Tobacco—Make Everyone Proud to get you on a smoke-free path to optimum performance—or to help someone else. Remember, if you can’t do it for yourself, do it for the others who are counting on you to perform at your best.
Kettlebells have been used in Europe for years in strength training, and now they’ve become a popular workout tool here in the United States too. The benefit of kettlebells is that they provide the user a wider range of motion than dumbbells do. Kettlebell workouts engage multiple muscle groups at once, making them a great option for getting a whole-body workout in a short time.
Interestingly, the January 26 edition of the New York Times Health Section reported on a Danish study that suggests kettlebell exercises are a promising musculoskeletal therapy for low-grade back and neck pain.
The study involved middle-aged women with low-grade back, shoulder, and neck pain who were randomly assigned to either a regular kettlebell workout or a general-exercise control group. The study did not include those with chronic pain.
According to the Times article, at the end of the study, the group that did the kettlebell exercises reported less pain, as well as improved strength in the trunk and core muscles, compared with the control group. Overall, the study showed exercising with kettlebells reduced lower-back pain by 57% and neck and shoulder pain by 46%.
For those with core-muscle instability or weak core muscles, kettlebells can be a great way to strengthen those muscles (back, abdominal, glutes, quads, hamstrings) and improve posture. However, along with exercise it is imperative to stretch the hamstrings, since this tends to be a major contributor to lower back pain or discomfort.
It’s important to start slow when using kettlebells and seek professional guidance. Like any other exercise equipment, if used improperly, kettlebells can cause serious injury, and their swinging motion can be difficult to control.