Filed under: Performance
In order to optimize your health and physical fitness, you should consume a balanced diet as recommended by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. According to the USDA, you should limit consumption of sodas and trans-fat foods; replace solid fats with oils such as olive, canola, and safflower oils; reduce intake of added sugars and sodium; replace refined grains with whole grains; limit your alcohol intake; increase your intake of vegetables, fruits, and fat-free or low-fat milk; and replace some of the meat or poultry in your diet with seafood. More details and guidelines can be found on HPRC’s Nutrition domain, especially the recent articles on the new USDA MyPlate program and online availability of the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
Have you ever had one of those days that never seemed to go well, from the minute you heard the alarm clock go off? Maybe you didn’t have time for breakfast, forgot your laptop at home, lost your temper when someone cut you off on your way to work, replied to an e-mail in a way you really wished you hadn’t, ate poorly all day, couldn't concentrate at work, and then couldn't find the energy to go the gym?
Ask yourself how you slept the night before. One factor that can contribute to bad days is lack of sleep. Not getting enough sleep is all too common in the military and across the country—it’s often looked at as the price you pay to get ahead. Some sacrifice sleep for social activities at night—web surfing, e-mailing, watching TV, playing video games, or one more drink out with buddies—which further worsens the issue.
Bottom line: Not getting enough sleep is pervasive throughout all ranks and has major negative impact on your health, relationships, and career. The effects of sleep loss affect performance in much the same way that alcohol intoxication does. So coming to work deprived of sleep is rather like coming to work drunk. Your interactions with others and your job performance suffer—which has a huge impact on safety. Losing sleep isn’t sustainable for the long run.
But the damage doesn’t stop there. In fact, sleep loss has a ripple effect throughout virtually every aspect of health and wellness, including your physical, emotional, social, family, and spiritual well-being (see the five program components of Comprehensive Soldier Fitness here). It increases your risk of disease and harms your social relationships and possibly your professional reputation.
Sleep deprivation can be a byproduct of mission demands, of course. In the military, sleep loss is sometimes used on the battlefield as a weapon, wearing the enemy down through non-stop engagement. The problem is that this strategy affects our own Warfighters, too. Senior leaders are cautious in employing this tactic, and it’s used only for specific, organized, orchestrated periods of time, allowing for a full rest and recovery before massive errors occur that can cost lives.
Where many of us go wrong is thinking this type of sleep schedule is normal and maintaining it post-deployment. Most people aren’t able to tell when their state of mind—alertness, mood, concentration—has been compromised by lack of sleep until gross errors are made.
I believe sleep is the single most vital wellness function we do every single 24-hour period, and yet it requires no treadmills, no weights to be lifted, no personal trainers, and not even special clothes. It has dramatic implications for your entire body and sets you up for optimization everywhere else. Sleep is commonly overlooked at the doctor's office because physicians (including myself) don't understand exactly how it works, and in fact, there is no standardized medical test to see if you are getting enough sleep. But that’s no reason to ignore the health treasures afforded to those who get a great night's sleep on a regular basis.
On average, we spend 20-25 years of our lives sleeping, and five to seven of those are spent the critical dream periods known as "Rapid Eye Movement." REM periods occur at regular intervals throughout a night of good rest (when not impaired by alcohol, caffeine, or other drugs). Unfortunately, many of us look at this time as wasted, yet it can be some of the most glorious "unconscious" time to improve our health!
During REM periods, your brainwave patterns register signals much like those produced when you are awake and concentrating. During sleep you also secrete hormones that repair tissue and renew microscopic damages to cells and organs before they develop into bigger problems. In fact, you actually concentrate and focus for several hours throughout a good night's rest as you repair your body! Your brain, the center of all health, is exercising while you lie quietly in dreamland! When you destroy the quality of your REM sleep, the result is poor performance, inattention, obesity, hormonal imbalances, poor appetite, lack of normal growth, high blood pressure, poor interpersonal skills, no energy for the gym, possibly diabetes, and more.
Getting enough sleep means you are more likely to live longer, experience less disease, retain information better, perform better, and get more out of your workouts. You will be more patient with others, less demanding and prone to anger, and able to optimize all aspects of human performance, including your family relationships. For more about getting enough sleep, visit the HPRC’s Sleep Optimization page. Don't overlook the simplicity of a good night's rest.
One review of studies on the effects of plyometric (explosive jump) training, or PT, suggested that plyometric training can enhance vertical jump ability and leg power for healthy individuals. This training can be as simple as drop jumps, counter-movement jumps, alternate leg bounding, and hopping. And there are PT exercises for the upper body, too! The purpose of PT is to improve your athletic performance by increasing the speed or force of muscle contraction that enables you to jump higher, run faster, throw farther, or hit harder during a game. The full article is available online from the British Journal of Sports Medicine.
In order to improve your athletic performance, you need to include strength training in your workout routine. Having a solid strength-training program can help you meet your sports and performance goals more easily by improving overall strength and delaying fatigue. Including this type of training will help you get bigger, faster, and stronger to stay a step ahead of your competitors. Your program should focus on the major muscle groups: chest, back, thighs, calves, biceps, triceps, and shoulders. Training these areas will help you become a better athlete while also improving your physique. For more about how to incorporate strength training into your routine, read the Strength Training Section of the Sports Fitness Advisor website.
A good way to keep up with your daily workout goals is by giving up the elevator and making good use of the stairs. Stairs will not only get your legs and arms moving, but they will also raise your heart rate. What’s more, you need to take breaks from your daily tasks, and exercising during that break can help you think through what you’ve been working on. Working a little stair-climbing action into your day can be as convenient as—and healthier than—walking to the soda or snack machine. The first couple days will be the hardest as you focus on breaking the elevator habit and getting all your muscles reactivated. Stick to it, and you’ll soon find that the climb is easier and you feel better about yourself. It’s good for you and your heart, so why not start using the stairs more, wherever you are: at home, at work, or at the park? Even better, it’s free!
Interval training alternates high-intensity movements such as running or cycling sprints with a recovery phase that consists of rest or low-intensity movement such as walking or slow cycling. Interval training improves your cardiovascular fitness, ability to burn fat, and ability to tolerate lactic acid build-up while lowering your risk for cardiovascular disease. Overall, adaptations from interval training can lead to improvements in strength, speed, and endurance while improving your body composition. Interval training is a .
A basic interval training session could include sprinting on the straightaways (100m) of a standard track and walking the curved portion (100m). Or alternate 30-second bouts of high-intensity exercise with recovery bouts. Initially, start with rest periods longer than the work periods, and work up to equal time periods as your fitness improves. If you are out of shape, have health problems, high blood pressure, or joint problems, check with your physician before starting a high-intensity training program. Read this article on the Mayo Clinic website if you would like to know more.
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.
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.
Misinformation abounds regarding ideal nap lengths for optimal cognitive performance. You need sleep to function at your best. If you do not get the recommended seven to eight hours of sleep a night, then napping can help. Learn more in
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.