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How to avoid stress fractures

Painful stress fractures can hurt your workout routine too. Learn more about training safely.

An important thing to know about stress fractures is how to avoid them. A stress fracture is a tiny crack in a bone that happens when your muscles can’t absorb shock and transfer stresses to the bone. Most occur in the lower extremities, especially the lower leg and foot.

A stress fracture is usually an overuse injury that develops over a long period of time—from weeks to months. They’re especially common among military recruits, in about 3% of men and 9% of women. And since it can take several weeks to months for a stress fracture to heal, the best approach is to avoid getting one. Here are some tips for prevention:

  • Use the progression principle of training: Gradually increase your training intensity, usually by no more than 10% weekly if you exercise 3 or more days a week. Slowly incorporate higher-stress activities such as jumping and interval training into your workout. Set incremental goals to help you develop your training routine step-by-step.
  • Check your footwear and make sure it matches your training routine. Replace old or worn footwear.
  • Check your form. Are you moving properly when you exercise or does your form put you at risk of injury?
  • Pay attention to early signs of injury. Unusual muscle soreness and other aches and pains can be a sign of injury and/or imbalances that could worsen if they aren’t addressed early.
  • Monitor your diet, specifically calcium and vitamin D intake. To learn more, read the National Institute of Health’s Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet on calcium and HPRC’s article on vitamin D.

It’s important to recognize a stress fracture and get medical help early, as described by the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. The Mayo Clinic provides more information on symptoms. And check out HPRC’s Injury Prevention section for more on how to avoid injury.

Pull-up: Train above the bar

HPRC recently designed a training program to help you achieve your first pull-up. Check it out!

Since pull-ups are tough and require a lot of strength, HPRC just created a training program to help you meet the challenge. Achieving a pull-up might be easier for some, but more difficult for others, especially women. Other factors such as body fat, arm length, and height can affect your ability to achieve a pull-up too.

But what that means is—with the right training—you can do it! Check out HPRC’s Pull-up Progression Program for exercises aimed at increasing your strength and helping you achieve your first pull-up.

The need for speed workouts

Looking to improve your 2-mile time or set a new 5K personal record (PR)? Learn how to train smarter and faster.

“Long slow-distance runs,” the coaching phrase goes, “make long slow-distance runners.” A leisurely long run isn’t bad for you—it just means that if you want to run faster, you have to train faster. Mix it up instead and incorporate speed workouts into your runs: interval, tempo, and fartlek.

Always include a warm-up and cooldown with your workout. Limit speed workouts to twice a week and get enough rest and recovery in between. Actively rest by going on a lighter run or bike ride, or even doing some yoga. Learn more about how speed workouts can ramp up your performance. Read more...

Choosing the right personal trainer

It’s important to know what to look for when you’re considering hiring a personal trainer.

Personal trainers can help you safely start and maintain an exercise routine. They can keep you motivated and accountable when it comes to reaching your fitness goals. Finding the right trainer can be challenging but important. Think of it like a date: get to know your potential trainer to find out if you’re compatible. Here are a few things to look for:

  • Education/Certifications. These days, anyone can become a personal trainer with a few mouse clicks. Is this person certified through one of the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA) such as National Federation of Personal Trainers (NFPT), American Council on Exercise (ACE), American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), or National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM)? These are widely accepted certifications. Better yet, does the trainer have a 4-year degree in kinesiology or exercise science? Is he/she certified in CPR and first aid?
  • Experience. We all have to start somewhere, but experience is helpful. How long has this person been a certified personal trainer? What types of clients does the trainer usually work with? Does he/she have expertise in sports conditioning, pre-natal fitness, or post-rehabilitation? If possible, ask clients (past and/or present) about their personal experiences.
  • Personality. You have to enjoy spending time with your trainer so that you’re fully committed to your training routine. Do you prefer a female or a male trainer? Someone close to your age? Choose somebody you like—someone who can motivate you.
  • Business practices/Liability. Before you begin, make sure you understand all payment policies and procedures. Are your schedules compatible? What’s the cancellation policy? Does the trainer carry professional liability insurance?
  • Fees. Personal trainers can be worth the money, but make sure you understand what you’re paying for. What are the costs? How long is each session? How often will you meet? Is it cheaper if you buy more sessions up front? Will you need to purchase a gym membership? 

Running: indoors or outdoors?

Learn about the pros and cons of running indoors versus running outdoors, especially now that colder weather is coming on.

Training on the treadmill and “overground” running are not the same. If you’ve experienced treadmill running and find yourself more tired afterwards than you would on an outdoor run, you’re not alone. It seems athletes actually run slower on a treadmill than their normal pace outside, yet they perceive treadmill running as being more exhausting. In other words, even though it feels more difficult, treadmill running is usually less intense and less physically challenging than running outdoors.

If you’re training for an outdoor race, ideally you should run most of your training miles outside. However, running indoors can be helpful if you’re recovering from an injury since running on a treadmill is easier on your joints than running outside on concrete or even grass. When you want or need to run indoors on a treadmill, set the incline at 1–2% to increase your exertion level to more closely replicate your outdoor runs.

If you decide to run outside during a cold spell, take a look at our article with tips for staying safe in cold weather and the many resources on cold environments where you can find more ways to keep warm and hydrated even in frigid weather. Remember: Whether you stay in or venture out, any exercise is better than none!

No pain, no gain?

Higher-intensity exercise—does it do a body good?

The saying goes that “less is more,” but when it comes to exercise intensity, that might not be the case. We know that some exercise is better than no exercise, but is more-intense exercise better than moderate exercise? How hard should you push? And what are the benefits? With the growing popularity of high-intensity workouts, it’s important to consider both the risks and the benefits.

The role of intensity during exercise has been studied before. For example, the risk of death in older adults is lower for those who walk at a faster pace than for those who walk at a more leisurely pace. However, new research demonstrates that pushing yourself during a workout not only helps make you mentally tough but may also release chemicals into your body that help you develop bigger, stronger muscles.

During “stressful” or high-intensity exercise, your body kicks into “fight or flight” mode and releases hormones such as adrenaline and dopamine to push your system into high gear: increased heart rate, increased breathing rate, and increased oxygen to muscles. A recent study found that these hormones, when released during stressful exercise, sent messages to muscle cells to develop larger and more efficient muscles—at least in mice. The body only releases these chemicals when it feels stressed (for example, during intense exercise). If the body doesn’t feel stressed (as during light exercise), it doesn’t release these chemicals, so it can’t send signals to the muscles.

The good news is that exercise intensity is relative, so anyone should be able to exercise at a level that releases these hormones. Whether you’re just starting out or you’re a seasoned athlete, you can exercise to a level that is intense for you. Shooting for your target heart rate is a good start to gauging intensity. Not every workout needs to top out the intensity scale. In fact, doing too much too often can lead to overtraining and potential injury. Remember to listen to your body and incorporate rest or light days into your workout regimen. 

A holistic approach to performance

Check out the customizable “One Shot One Kill” (OSOK) performance enhancement program to jumpstart your performance.

Wanting some holistic strategies to enhance your performance? Check out the “One Shot One Kill (OSOK) Performance Enhancement Program” that shows Warfighters how to set up and manage their own performance-enhancement system. OSOK is designed not only to enhance performance but also to jumpstart Warfighter resilience. It builds on the skills that Warfighters already possess and then teaches new ones as needed.

There are two ways you can use OSOK: as an individual through “OSOK Solo” and as a unit/group through “OSOK-IP Unit.” Both highlight “10 Rules of Engagement” and provide seven core modules: Controlled Response, Mind Tactics, Performance-Based Nutrition, Primal Fitness, Purpose, Code, and Recharge. OSOK also provides self-assessment forms so you can track your progress over time.

For other performance-enhancement programs and information about holistic (total) fitness, check out HPRC’s Total Force Fitness domain.

Marine Corps Embassy Security: New year, new requirements

If your goal is to serve in the Marine Corps Embassy Security Group, then you should know about the new requirements and fitness standards.

On January 14, 2014 the Marine Corps released MARADMIN 010/14, which details the new requirements for the Marine Corps Embassy Security Group. Marines who want to travel the globe and provide security services for U.S. embassies and consulates now have to meet new, revised standards. Among other things, Marines must be at least 64 inches tall so they can adequately view all areas from Post One (point of entry control at diplomatic posts). In addition, physical fitness standards have changed: Marines will have to achieve 1st Class PFT scores. If you haven’t yet achieved this level of fitness, we have some tips. First and foremost, for optimal fitness, be sure to train smarter, not harder.

Armed Forces Sports: Are you game?

Have you considered playing an organized sport for one of the military branches? DoD’s Armed Forces Sports offers opportunities in 25 team and individual sports for men and women. Check it out and see if you can take your game to the next level.

Are you tired of the usual morning jog or bike ride? Maybe you have a talent in a particular sport and want to take it up a notch to earn a spot on one of the Armed Forces Sports teams. You’ll find sports such as basketball and soccer, as well as sports at the more extreme end of the spectrum such as parachuting and Tae Kwon Do. One objective of the AFS program is to encourage physical fitness through sports competitions. Another is to provide means for military athletes to participate nationally and internationally. AFS holds U.S. and world championships, and in 2012 some athletes even took part in the London Olympics! If you are considering training for one of these teams, check out the Training & Exercise section of HPRC’s website.

Sub terra firma

Combat training is moving underground. New tactics—and, potentially, new doctrine—are being developed to help troops perform in underground environments where enemies could hide.

The U.S. Army’s Asymmetric Warfare Group has been training joint forces in some unusual places—underground venues such as tunnels, caves, and sewers. As battlefields become more urban and enemies move underground, subterranean environments pose unique operational challenges. Although the Army does not currently have an official field manual for underground combat, this new tactical training has developed units’ ability to perform in these environments. Combat training centers are starting to integrate these kinds of complex environments into their facilities, and the Army is urging home-station training to “get creative” and use simple techniques to simulate their own underground environments. Something as simple as training in a dark room with obstacles can simulate underground areas. Israeli Defense Forces have also had success with this type of training. Being able to adapt and perform in challenging environments is a vital part of warrior resilience.

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