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Compression garments: Do they work?

Compression socks, sleeves, and other garments are popular among athletes, but do they actually increase performance and decrease recovery times?

Compression garments come in a variety of sleeves, socks, shorts, and full-body suits. The amount of pressure, or compression, they provide depends on the type and size of the garment. Compression garments help push blood toward your heart and prevent it from “pooling” or collecting in the compressed areas. Compression sleeves also are used in clinical settings for those with lymphedema, where blood circulation is poor, or to prevent blood clots.

But can they increase your performance and decrease your recovery times? Compression garments have been shown to help blood flow to working muscles during exercise, but that necessarily doesn’t translate to better performance. Most studies look at compression socks during running, and most evidence suggests no difference in athletes’ performance levels during runs when compared to those not wearing compression socks. In addition, there’s no decrease in recovery time or blood-lactate levels.

Still, those wearing compression socks report “feeling better” and “less tiredness” in their legs during their runs. They also feel less sore following the exercise bout. And while there might not be an actual benefit of wearing compression gear, if you feel better wearing it—either during or after exercise—then keep doing what works!

Swimmers: Don’t hold your breath

HPRC Fitness Arena: Environment, Total Force Fitness
What is hypoxic blackout and how can you prevent it?

Swimmers and free divers who hyperventilate before holding their breath for long periods underwater are at risk of hypoxic blackout—loss of consciousness—that can result in brain damage and death. (It sometimes is known as “shallow water blackout,” but this can be confusing because there are other causes of “shallow water blackout.”)

Hypoxic blackout often affects skilled, fit, and competitive swimmers and free divers. They practice breath holding or hypoxic training in water to increase their ability to hold their breath for longer periods of time. But depending on the technique, this can be a dangerous practice.

Breathing is a process of exhaling carbon dioxide (CO2) and inhaling oxygen. The actual urge to breathe is caused by a buildup of CO2 within your lungs. If you simply try to hold your breath underwater, the physiological urge to breathe will eventually take over so there isn’t a significant risk of “passing out.” However, some swimmers and free divers have found that if they hyperventilate before diving into the water —either by rapid breathing or taking deeper breaths—they can hold their breath for longer periods of time. It’s the act of hyperventilating that can be deadly.

When you hyperventilate before underwater swimming, the amount of CO2 is reduced in your lungs and the urge to breathe is diminished. Without warning, you can lose consciousness—at which point a breath is forced and water fills your lungs. Unless rescue is immediate, brain damage and death are likely outcomes.

Training with instructors and a skilled free-dive or swimming community will help reduce your risk of tragic accidents. In addition, there are other things you can do to avoid hypoxic blackouts.

  • Don’t hyperventilate before underwater swimming.
  • Never swim alone.
  • Don’t ignore the urge to breathe underwater. 

Training by suspense

Learn how to get a total-body workout with suspension training, using just your body weight as the resistance to perform exercises that build strength, flexibility, and balance.

Suspension training is popular among both civilians and service members, for good reason. If you’re on deployment or otherwise traveling, it isn’t practical to lug around heavy exercise equipment. But pack a couple of suspension-training straps, and you’ve got part of a well-rounded training routine covered. Once the straps are securely anchored to something sturdy enough to hold your weight, just place your hands or feet into the loops, and your body weight enhances the effectiveness of exercises such as pull-ups, push-ups, lunges, core strengthening, and more.

While there are various ways to adjust and adapt the exercises for less experienced exercisers, this type of workout does call for some initial joint and core stability. There’s also potential risk of injury, especially for beginners. Before you try this for the first time, it’s a good idea to get some advice and guidance from a suspension-training professional. More gyms are now offering suspension-training classes, so you also can use one of these to get started. In the meantime, visit the National Strength and Conditioning Association’s page about suspension training for an idea of what to expect.

EPOC-alypse, now!

Some exercise programs claim their workouts give you “afterburn.” But does your body continue to burn calories after exercise?

Have you ever raced to the top of a long flight of stairs and found yourself gasping for breath just minutes later? Excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC), also known as “afterburn,” occurs after strenuous exercise as a way to bring your body back to its normal metabolic rate. It takes time for your body to replenish the oxygen used up during exercise, and during this time you continue to burn calories as a result of your elevated metabolism.

You might have experienced EPOC after completing a tough workout, remaining hot and sweaty even 20–30 minutes later. The good news is that it doesn’t take a long workout to achieve that afterburn. Still, it means your workouts need to be more intense. Rounds of short bursts of high-intensity exercise—such as cardio or resistance training—followed by a period of low-intensity exercise or rest is the best way to achieve afterburn. This style of intermittent high-intensity exercise can burn more fat, improve glucose tolerance, and even increase your aerobic fitness. Many commercial programs and gyms claim their workouts will increase EPOC, but this isn’t “new science.” And you don’t have to pay extra money to achieve the same results.

Split your cardio workout into two shorter sessions of higher intensity to accomplish a longer afterburn. For example, if you usually cycle for 50 minutes after work, do two 25-minute rides instead: one before work and one after work. Or replace your normal resistance training with supersets: Pair 2 exercises of opposing muscle groups and complete them back-to-back with minimal rest. For example, combine pull-ups with pushups into one superset, completing 8–12 repetitions of each exercise for 3–5 sets. You also can do a full-body workout by combining 3–4 different supersets. Remember to maintain proper form because it reduces your risk of injury too.

Best time to exercise

Is there an ideal time of day for exercise?

The best time of day to exercise is the time when you can maintain a consistent exercise routine—not necessarily the same time for everyone. You also might experience better training adaptations when you exercise consistently at a regular time. For example, if you work out at noon every day, your body will adapt to perform at its best at noon.

Above all, exercise should be enjoyable. After all, if you don’t enjoy it, you’re less likely to keep up with it. So here are a few things to keep in mind about making exercise fit into your schedule.

Morning. It might be easiest to maintain a consistent exercise regimen by starting your day with a workout. Other things that come up during the day can affect your plans to work out later in the day, and motivation often fades as the day progresses. However, since your body and muscle temperatures are lower in the morning, it’s especially important in the morning to warm up properly before exercise.

Afternoon. Optimal adaptations to weight training seem to occur in late afternoon. Levels of hormones such as testosterone (important for muscle growth in men and women) and cortisol (important for regulating metabolism and controlling blood pressure) seem to be at optimal ratio later in the day. For some people—because hormone levels vary from person to person—lifting later also might be more beneficial because their testosterone can respond better to resistance exercises. 

Evening. The biggest caveat about exercising in the evening is how it will affect your sleep. Everyone is a little different. Some people can exercise right before bed and have no trouble sleeping. For others, it can make it difficult to get a good night’s sleep. There are lots of factors that can affect your sleep. Experiment to see what works for you.

Remember that other factors such as your work schedule, fitness goals, current diet, and sleep habits also affect your workout routine and physical performance. But whether at the end of the day (or in the morning or afternoon), a consistent exercise routine is the best routine.

If the shoe fits—Part 3: Tying your shoelaces

Filed under: Gear, Running, Training
Find out how to lace your running shoes for a better fit.

This third and final article in HPRC’s series about running shoes “ties” everything together. Although there are lots of different ways to tie them, the traditional way sometimes doesn’t cut it. Is your heel slipping? There’s a lace-up for that. Do you have a hot spot? There’s a lace-up for that. Check out the videos below for shoelace-tying fixes to 3 common foot problems:

Heel lock. What are those extra eyelets at the top of your shoes? Use those eyelets and this heel-lock method to secure your foot, without having to tighten the rest of your shoelaces.

Black toenails. Are your toenails turning black and blue? Tie your shoelaces to help pull the shoe away from your toes, giving them more wiggle room. Remember: The lace ends don’t have to be even once you start lacing your shoes. The diagonal lace can be a little shorter to start with, but leave enough so you can finish tying your shoes.

Hot spot or high arches. Is there a sore spot on the top of your foot? Or do you have high arches? Lace around painful areas—not over them—by moving the laces up or down, depending on where the irritation is located.

If you haven’t seen them yet, be sure to read Part 1 and Part 2 of the running-shoe series.

Olympic lessons for career-defining moments

HPRC Fitness Arena: Mind Body, Total Force Fitness
It’s time for the Summer Olympics! What can you learn from Olympians about performing when facing a career-defining moment?

Olympians can teach the rest of us how to perform our best during career-defining moments. While we all can’t compete in the Olympic Games, we can relate to those instances when the pressure’s on and it’s time to perform.

What helps Olympic athletes meet or exceed expectations? Successful team members train together, receive helpful support from friends and family, develop sharp mental skills, stay focused, and honor their commitment to the task and each other. Teams that fail to meet expectations lack experience and have problems bonding. And they tend to face planning or travel issues, problems with coaching, distractions, and commitment issues. Often the best you can do is set routines that guide your attention to actions—within your control—whether you’re an Olympian or someone who values achievement.

Just like your career-defining event only happens once or a few times during your career, athletes know the Olympic Games are unique, rare, and unlike other events. They understand what they’re doing is important. And they’re in the public eye, facing new distractions everywhere.

They’ve spent an extraordinary amount of time preparing and planning for these big events too. It’s natural for an athlete to think, “This is the first time I ever...” Being a “favorite” can come with even more pressure and thoughts such as, “Don’t screw up!”

Nearly all Olympic athletes experience nerves. However, they can experience “butterflies” as excitement to some degree, rather than nervousness. Facing nervousness can be more effective than fighting it or pretending it’s not there. When Olympians or you—during career-defining moments—shift focus to little action plans within your control, gold medals and big successes can be wonderful by-products.

DOMS: Post-workout delayed muscle soreness

A tough workout can leave you sore for days. Find out how to prevent and reduce delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS).

Muscle pain a day or so after exercise—known as delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS)—is common among athletes. Do you wonder why this happens—even when your workout went great—or what you can do about it?

DOMS results from damage to muscle fibers that occurred during exercise. You might experience DOMS after a hard workout, or even simple activities such as running and/or walking downhill or jumping. It also can occur when you’re starting a new workout routine or just getting back into shape after an illness or injury. The good news is DOMS can be treated at home—and sometimes prevented—with simple techniques, including stretching, protein/carbohydrate recovery drinks, and cold-water immersion. Sports massage and foam rolling can help reduce muscle soreness too.

Over-the-counter medications also can provide some relief. But use these at the lowest effective dose. Visit your doctor if the pain worsens or swelling occurs. In the meantime, read HPRC’s article, “Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness,” to learn about the difference between DOMS and other musculoskeletal pain.

Train in the heat, perform at altitude?

Learn how training in the heat might help you prepare for performance at altitude.

Can you train in the heat to improve your performance at altitude? The answer is “sort of.” “Cross acclimation” or “cross tolerance” is the idea that exposing yourself to one environmental condition can help you adapt to another one as long as they have certain things in common.

As it turns out, this is the case for heat and hypoxia (low oxygen). This is important because athletes and service members can be exposed to altitude without prior or sufficient acclimatization. Altitude sickness can cause several problems, especially decreased performance. But some evidence shows that this method of training in hot conditions to prepare for altitude can actually work.

If you climb to the top of a mountain, there’s less air and less pressure. And you’re getting less oxygen with each breath. This can be simulated at sea level (in special labs) where pressures are normal, but the amount of oxygen in the air is reduced (fake altitude).

However, there’s a bit of a catch. Training in the heat under artificial low-oxygen conditions—normobaric hypoxia or “fake altitude”—involves normal pressure, which is different from “real altitude” or hypobaric hypoxia, which involves reduced oxygen at low pressure. The difference is in the pressure.

So, do these two environments cause the same types of physiological changes? There are several other factors involved in real-altitude acclimatization that might not be accounted for at fake altitude, so the jury’s still out.  

Training in the heat might prepare you for performance at altitude—to a point. Ideally, if you’re going to be at altitude, try to acclimatize yourself as much as you can.

What surface is best for running?

Runners often hear the suggestion to “run on softer surfaces to save your knees.” When it comes to running and injury prevention, does surface matter?

The truth is that the jury’s still out on whether running on a softer surface has less impact on joints and muscles. Some research suggests it might not actually matter, and the forces that impact your lower body on various surfaces such as asphalt, concrete, and grass don’t increase knee pain or injury risk. One explanation is that your body automatically adapts to the surface you’re running on. That means you’ll instinctively strike harder on softer surfaces, and strike softer on harder surfaces. On the other hand, some evidence suggests that running on softer surfaces (such as grass) reduces stress on your muscles and joints.

“But it feels better when I run on soft surfaces,” you might say. That difference in feeling is likely due to the different kinds of muscles, or stabilizers, you use when running on softer surfaces, which creates a sensation of less impact, although the overall impact on your body is the same.

That’s not to say that you shouldn’t run on soft surfaces if it makes you feel better. Feeling better on a run goes a long way. However, softer surfaces such as trails, grass, or sand tend to be more uneven, which can pose a greater risk of strains and sprains.

When it comes to injury prevention and recovery, it’s also important to consider other factors such as wearing the right running shoes. And be sure to increase your running intensity and volume gradually to help avoid injury too. 

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