Filed under: Performance
A recent American Psychological Association press release focused on the overall effectiveness of brain training programs as explored in a review of research that appeared in the Journal of Developmental Psychology. It turns out that not only are these exercises ineffective for treating cognitive disorders such as ADHD, but their effectiveness on improving brain function and intelligence in healthy adults and children is minimal. In fact, the effects weren’t comprehensive and didn’t last long.
If you’re looking to increase cognitive performance, mindfulness training such as meditation may be a good bet. Although mindfulness meditation is a relatively young field of study, so far studies indicate that regular practice has a positive effect on memory, attention, and mood regulation.
A new dietary supplement ingredient, dendrobium, is appearing rapidly in dietary supplement products promoted to boost athletic performance. According to the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database, manufacturers claim that dendrobium is a natural source of the stimulant phenylethylamine, but some researchers say that phenylethylamine doesn’t occur naturally in dendrobium. Phenylethylamine is a stimulant, with effects similar to those of amphetamines. At this time, the safety of dendrobium is unknown, so users should be aware that products containing this ingredient might be unsafe, particularly when used in combination with exercise.
Operation Supplement Safety (OPSS) is about to launch this summer and will answer many of your questions about Dietary Supplements. Watch for HPRC’s announcement coming soon.
Although there are individual differences in sleep needs, most people need seven to eight hours of sleep at night to function optimally, and anyone who sleeps only four to five hours each night will experience some loss of performance. Sleep loss hinders your ability to accurately interpret the emotions of others and identify what they’re feeling. Specifically, sleep loss impacts your ability to interpret the emotions anger and happiness expressed in the faces of others, making it difficult to interact effectively and communicate clearly with the people around you, reducing one’s ability to maintain good relationships.
It’s been commonly thought that exercise can ward off the effects of sleep loss, but it turns out that exercise only mitigates sleepiness and fatigue for an hour and doesn’t seem to have any effect on boosting performance throughout the day. Although regular exercise—both strength training and high-intensity endurance—does help you sleep better, it can’t replace lack of sleep—only actual sleep will do that. The loss of sleep affects physical performance primarily by reducing your motivation to exercise—so, when thinking about your workout plan for the week, include a plan to get enough sleep.
For information on how to improve the quality and length of your sleep, check out HPRC’s Mind Tactics Sleep Optimization section. For information on how sleep loss impacts other areas of fitness, check out the HPRC’s Total Force Fitness article The impact of sleep loss on total fitness, and for information on physical fitness check out HPRC’s Physical Fitness domain.
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.