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Training Warfighters for optimal mental performance

Stress as part of combat preparation—can you take the heat?

Understanding how stress affects you both mentally and physically in high-stress situations is important for optimal performance—which is why training under stress is a central part of combat preparation. Knowing what your reactions are, when to pause and take a deep breath, how to use positive self-talk, when to recalibrate one’s physical responses, and how to recharge (sleep and proper nutrition) after a stressful event are key for being at your peak mental performance. Getting support from comrades and using appropriate humor also can help relieve stress.

Suspension training: Put some suspense in your workout

Suspension training is a popular way to get a good workout wherever you are with very little equipment, using just your body weight for resistance.

Lugging around heavy weights and other exercise equipment while traveling or on deployment isn’t the most practical idea. Pack a couple of suspension-training straps, however, and you’ve got part of a well-rounded training routine covered. Suspension training has gained a lot of popularity among both civilians and service members alike, and more and more gyms are now offering suspension-training classes. Once the straps are securely anchored to something that won’t move and is sturdy enough to hold your weight, place your hands or feet into the loops, and your body weight enhances the effectiveness of exercises such as 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 requires some initial joint and core stability. There is 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.

The One-Rep-Max: Assessing your maximum strength

Muscular fitness is an essential component of your overall fitness. But how do you know how much weight to lift when you’re training for muscular strength or muscular endurance?

When you begin a resistance training program, how do you know how much weight you should be lifting? Most muscular fitness programs are designed around lifting a percentage of your maximum strength.

The first step in this process is to determine what your maximum strength is. A popular technique for assessing muscular strength is the one-repetition maximum test (1RM), or the maximum amount of weight you can press once but not twice. Alternatively, multiple repetition tests can be performed as a reliable estimate of maximum strength. One study found that a five- repetition test was the most accurate, but no more than 10 reps should be used to estimate strength. This instructional video will demonstrate the ACSM protocol for a 1RM test. This protocol can also be applied to a multiple-repetition test. For example, determine the maximum amount of weight you are able to lift five times, but not six times, for a five-rep max test. If you have doubts about whether this is the right test for you, be sure to consult your doctor.

The second step is to determine what percentage of your 1RM, in weight, you should use to improve your muscular strength and endurance. Typically, improvements in muscular strength are seen when using 60-80% of your 1RM. Increased muscular endurance is achieved using about 50% of your 1RM. Read more on muscular fitness and more details on how to train for each here. Once you have assessed your maximum strength, use this conversion chart from the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) to determine percentages of your 1RM.

Happy lifting!

Food for thought: What does your brain tell you about eating after exercise?

Your brain might be the driving force behind what you eat (or don’t) after a workout.

A recent article in the New York Times looks at the combination of neuroscience and exercise. A new theory suggests that your brain, not your hormones, increases or decreases your appetite after a workout. Researchers at California Polytechnic State University studied different areas of the brain that control whether we want and like food and how these areas are affected by exercise or sitting still.

Scientists found that “responsiveness to food cues was significantly reduced after exercise.” Compared to sitting for an hour, exercisers were much less interested in food, even ice cream sundaes. The subjects in the study were in their 20s and fit enough to sustain strenuous exercise for an hour. This is in contrast to a study that found the same areas in the brain were excited in an overweight and sedentary population after exercise, causing them to want and eat more food.

While the effect is still unclear and more variables need to be tested, researchers conclude that exercise has a definite impact on how your brain responds to food.

Preparation for the PFT/PRT part 1: aerobic conditioning

The PFT/PRT is designed to test your cardiovascular endurance and muscular strength. In this three-part series, we’ll take a closer look at each component, offer tips on optimizing your training, and show you how to prevent common injuries associated with different types of training.


In a recent study investigating risk factors for discharge from Army Basic Combat Training (BCT), researchers concluded that increased risk for both men and women was associated with failure on the initial two-mile run test. The current Physical Fitness Tests (PFT) or Physical Readiness Test (PRT) use a one and a half to two-mile run test to assess cardiovascular, or aerobic, fitness.

When mapping out a fitness program, learn the components of the FITT principle and apply them for each type of training. FITT stands for “frequency,” or how often; “intensity,” or how hard; “type,” or the kind of activity; and “time,” or how long. Progression (see below) is also an important part of an exercise plan. Using the FITT Principle, here are some guidelines to help optimize your cardiovascular fitness.

Frequency. The U.S. Surgeon General and other U.S. government agencies recommend physical activity on three or more days a week.

Intensity. According to updated guidelines The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends adults engage in moderate-intensity exercise (i.e., at 40-60% Heart Rate Reserve (HRR)) five days a week or vigorous-intensity exercise training (i.e., at ≥ 60% HRR) three or more days a week. They also recommend a combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity exercise. You can use this calculator from Kirtland AFB to determine your HRR.

Type. ACSM defines aerobic activities as being continuous, rhythmic, and using large muscle groups, such as your lower and upper body muscles. Examples of these kinds of activities are running, biking, swimming, rowing, and jump roping.

Time. The Surgeon General, ACSM, and American Heart Association recommend expending at least 1,000 calories per week through exercise (i.e., in addition to calories burned through normal everyday activities). This can be achieved through moderate-intensity exercise, as described above, and should last about ≥ 30 minutes per day for a total of  ≥ 150 minutes per week; or with vigorous-intensity exercise for ≥20 minutes per day for a total of ≥75 minutes per week. The maximum safe duration is unknown, but exercise lasting more than an hour and a half increases risk of overtraining and/or overuse injuries such as stress fractures.

Progression. During the initial phase of an exercise program, ACSM recommends increasing duration (minutes per session) gradually. Increasing 5-10 minutes every one or two weeks over the first four to six weeks of an exercise program is reasonable for healthy adults. After an exercise routine has been maintained for one month or longer, it is reasonable to gradually increase frequency, intensity, and/or time over the next four to eight months. As a general rule of thumb, though not scientifically backed, increasing your workloads or volume by 10% will also help you gradually progress your exercise program.

Due to the repetitive and rhythmic nature of aerobic exercise, overuse injuries can occur as a result of your training. Cross training—training with a variety of aerobic exercises—is recommended. Examples of this would be alternating running, swimming, and rowing exercise sessions.

Part two of this series (upcoming) will address the muscular strength component of PFT/PRT.

Back in action: Regaining peak fitness

Getting back into shape takes dedication and persistence, and doing so safely and correctly may help prevent injuries.

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.

The lowdown on stress fractures—and how to prevent them

Stress fractures are chronic injuries that occur most often in the lower extremities. Prevention is key and can be helped through adequate attention to nutrition, training surfaces, and footwear, as well as gradual progression in training.

The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons defines a stress fracture as a tiny crack in a bone that occurs when fatigued muscles lose their ability to absorb shock and then transfer stresses to the bone. Most stress fractures occur in the lower extremities, and more than half occur in the lower leg and foot.

A stress fracture is an overuse—sometimes referred to as chronic—injury, which means that it develops over a long period of time—from weeks to months. According to a 2011 systematic review published in Military Medicine, stress fracture incidence is high among U.S. military recruits, ranging anywhere from 3% for men to 9.2% for women.

Since it can take several weeks or months for a stress fracture to heal, the best approach is to avoid getting one. Here are some tips for prevention:

  1. Apply the progression principle of training—gradually increase your training intensity. Slowly incorporate higher-stress activities such as jumping and interval training into your workout. Setting incremental goals can be helpful in carrying out your training routine in a gradual way. And check out HPRC’s Physical Fitness Resources for more information on training and ways to avoid injury.
  2. Check your footwear and make sure it matches your training. Replace footwear that is old or worn.
  3. Pay attention to the surface where you train, since some are easier on the bones and joints of the lower extremities. For example, it is better to jog on softer surfaces such as rubber track or grass rather than on concrete. Also, it’s better to begin training on a flat surface and then progress to hills.
  4. Monitor your diet, specifically calcium and vitamin D intake, and read the National Institute of Health’s Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet on calcium. To learn more about nutrition take a look at HPRC’s Nutrition Resources.

It is important to recognize a stress fracture and seek medical advice early, as discussed in Clinics in Sports Medicine. The Mayo Clinic provides information on the symptoms of a stress fracture.

New One Shot One Kill materials now available online

New program materials for the One Shot One Kill (OSOK) performance enhancement program are now available on HPRC’s website!

One Shot One Kill: Want to learn how the elite warrior accomplishes optimal performance time after time, under the most challenging conditions? The HPRC now has new program materials for the One Shot One Kill (OSOK) performance enhancement program online for you to use and download—by yourself or with your unit! One Shot One Kill (Integrative Platform version) is a “warrior-centric” performance enhancement program that warriors can set up and manage on their own. OSOK-IP is designed to enhance performance, hardiness, and resilience. By building on the skills that Warfighters already possess, OSOK aims to translate good Warfighter qualities to outstanding ones. OSOK-IP comes in two versions:

OSOK-IP Solo is a step-by-step integrative training plan, with supplemental materials, that enables the individual Warfighter to pursue this method of Total Fitness on his or her own and reach the optimal level of performance in almost all areas of life.

OSOK-IP Train the Trainer enables your unit to train as a group by selecting one member to learn and present OSOK-IP to the rest of the unit. This section of the website has the full curriculum available to download and even customize OSOK-IP content for your own military culture and unit.

We look forward to your feedback, too. Check out OSOK and let us know what you think!

How dangerous is too much training?

Too much training with not enough down time and less-than-optimum nutrition can lead to “overtraining” needing weeks or even months of recuperation.

Getting in the best shape of your life requires you to push your training regime to the limit. However, without appropriate rest periods and diet, this can lead to serious conditions known as “non-functional overreaching” (NFO) and “overtraining syndrome” (OTS). What occurs is that your performance begins to decline, even though you are training as hard as ever, and you start to feel tired and “stale.” Read HPRC’s Overview “Overtraining—what happens when you do too much” to learn about the serious implications of these conditions for Warfighters.

Be specific about your training

You will get the best results from your training program if you tailor it to fit your personal goals and activities.

When training, an athlete should be specific about methods of training that meet the needs of the activity he or she is training for. To achieve an optimal performance level, a sprinter will train in a different way than, for example, an endurance athlete such as a marathon runner. Make sure that you “stress the physiological systems” right for your type of activity. In other words, if you are going to compete in a race, you need to run to become a better runner. Likewise, if you are going to compete in a cycling or swimming event, you must perform those exercises to become better. Wanna be a better tennis player?  Play tennis! Although a well rounded program that includes strength training, aerobic conditioning, and flexibility exercises will improve your general fitness, to improve at a specific activity or sport you must perform that particular exercise.

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