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Filed under: Training

Alternate hard and easy

Alternate days of more and less intense training for best results.

In any training program, you should follow a day of hard, intense exercise with one or even two days of “easy” training. This gives the body and mind time to recover before the next “hard” day. In addition, this helps prevent overtraining and encourages variation in your workouts.

Optimizing Performance: Common errors in abdominal training

Training your abdominal muscles helps strengthen your core and develop that “six-pack,” but only if you do it correctly. Here are some tips to help.

There’s probably no other body region people work on so hard to get results than the abs. The common goal of sporting a “six-pack” is why abdominal equipment machines make up the largest part of the commercial fitness industry. People are constantly searching for the key to the washboard stomach they desire, whether it’s the newest fad piece of equipment or traditional bodyweight-driven exercises.

Unfortunately, many of these abdominal exercises provide little improvement to the target musculature and inadvertently place the lumbar spine in a position that could lead to lower back pain and injury. Just a few examples of hip-flexor-dominant exercises that can place the exerciser at risk are supine leg lifts, supine leg lifts with partner-assisted push down (a partner pushes down on the raised legs while the exerciser attempts to decelerate leg movement), hanging leg lifts, leg levers (lying supine while maintaining feet six inches off floor), and leg levers with unilateral or “scissor” kicks are.

To understand why these movements are both inefficient and contraindicated, it’s important to have a basic understanding of the abdominal anatomy. The rectus abdominis, the primary “six-pack” muscle responsible for the flexion that occurs during a curl-up, extends from the pelvis to the lower sternum. It is not involved in moving the legs. The hip flexors are responsible for the leg movements in the exercises mentioned above, while the rectus abdominis and associated muscles attempt to stabilize the spine Without adequate stabilization, the strong pull of the hip flexors leads to a marked anterior tilt of the pelvis. The abs are often unable to maintain stability, and the strong pull of the hip flexors causes the pelvis to tilt, creating an increased curvature in the lower back that compresses the lumbar area. Over time, this can lead to back pain and injury.

As a general rule of thumb, if you’re unable to maintain a stable spine position, or if you have a history of lower back pain or injury, these exercises should not be performed. There are other abdominal exercises that you can use to train more efficiently and more safely.

Crunches

Even the most novice exerciser will be familiar with this common abdominal exercise: the bent-knee abdominal curl-up, or “crunch.” It has replaced the traditional sit-up as a staple in abdominal training due to its ability to recruit the abs without excessive hip-flexor activity. By varying hand placement—across the chest, behind the head, or extended overhead—the difficulty of the movement can be increased.

Crunches with a stability ball

A popular method to increase the difficulty of crunches is to perform them with a stability ball. Therapists have used stability ball training for years, and they are now becoming a common sight in gyms, as well. By reducing stability, the ball forces the exerciser to use his or her core-stabilizing muscles to maintain position, increasing the challenge to the abs. The result is a significantly greater amount of abdominal activity when compared with regular crunches.

Standing crunches

A method of ab training not used often is the standing crunch, in which you flex and rotate your torso in various ways from a standing position. During the high to low “wood-chop,” for example, the rectus abdominis and oblique muscles are active during both the downward and upward phases. With rotation, emphasis is concentrated on the obliques. These exercises also have more “real-world” functional relevance, as they mimic everyday movements. In addition, various types of resistance—such as medicine balls, cables, resistance bands, and cords—can be used to make these exercises more difficult.

It’s important to be aware that many common abdominal exercises are not only ineffective but, more important, can place stress on the lower back. Try one of the safer alternatives above, focusing on correct form. The right abdominal training can benefit your trunk muscle strength and endurance, increase core stability, and improve functional movement—and can also start you on your way towards developing your “six-pack” abs.

Plan a complete training program

If you want your training program to really optimize your performance and fitness, you need to incorporate four kinds of exercise: aerobic, anaerobic, strength, and flexibility.

In order to reach your optimal performance level and minimize injury, you should incorporate aerobic, anaerobic, and strength training into your training program, and also give your body time to adapt as you work towards your fitness goals. Just last month, the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) published its new guidelines for exercise professionals, the first update since 1998. (Warning: ACSM publications tend to be a bit technical, but they have great information for the motivated reader.) Among other things, it emphasizes the need for diversity.

Aerobic exercise

Aerobic exercise strengthens your heart muscles and improves your heart’s ability to pump blood as needed when you are active. Some examples of aerobic exercise are walking, running, cycling, fitness classes, and any other type of activity that requires movement of your large, lower body muscles. This type of exercise can help reduce your risk of cardiovascular diseases, lower your resting heart rate, and improve your breathing, and your tolerance to more vigorous exercise.

Anaerobic exercise

With anaerobic training, you will see significant increases in your muscular strength and speed. Basically, anaerobic exercise involves exercising at such a rate that your bloodstream can’t get enough oxygen to your muscles to meet the demands. It can be achieved with any activity that produces brief spurts of high-intensity activity, including sprinting and sports such as football, basketball, and soccer. Weight lifting and interval training can also provide anaerobic exercise. This type of exercise helps your body become better at higher levels of exercise with less fatigue.

Strength Training

The third key component to a complete exercise program is strength training, such as using weights or resistance equipment. Not only can it enable you to increase your strength and muscle size, it can help you build stronger muscles that will enable you to lift heavier loads. However, you need to plan your strength exercises so that they maintain the mobility and stability of your muscles as well as build size and strength. Your muscles need to maintain or increase their range of motion to help prevent injury. The ACSM also has recommendations on how to ramp up your strength training.

Flexibility

The final link in the fitness chain is flexibility. Long debated by the exercise community, flexibility exercises have earned new respect by way of a “Position Stand” just released this year by the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM). It summarizes the value of flexibility exercises as improving range of motion and stable posture (the ability to keep your body in a stable, balanced position). The report covers the various methods of stretching that can be incorporated into a complete training program. The ACSM’s June 2011 press release includes an excellent summary of these new guidelines—which cover all aspects of exercise—as well as a link to the complete document.

If you incorporate all four of these types of exercise into your training program, you will have a healthy heart and lungs and more endurance (aerobic exercise), speed and power (anaerobic), and range of motion (flexibility training). And by diversifying your exercise regimen, you will feel fresher and be less likely to become bored. Best of all, you will be on your way to Human Performance Optimization!

Jump for fitness

Plyometric training involves the kind of muscle contraction you experience in jumping. Using it as part of your exercise routine can improve your athletic performance.

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.

Strength training to optimize performance

No exercise program is complete without strength training. It contributes to your strength, speed, and size—and makes you look good, too.

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.

Summertime heat poses risk for soldiers' PT

HPRC Fitness Arena: Environment, Total Force Fitness
This summer has produced an exceptional amount of record heat across the U.S. This has impacted the Army’s PT with two incidences of soldier death and several cases of heat-related illness.

The ArmyTimes reported that due to this summer’s excessive heat wave, which affected most of the United States, the Army’s physical training has been impacted by two heat-related deaths and several cases of soldiers who became ill in the heat and sought medical treatment for heat injuries. According to the article, Army officials are looking for better ways to handle the heat and keep soldiers from succumbing to it.

Heat injuries can be a cause of both illness and fatalities. The Environment: Heat section of HPRC’s website provides valuable information on policies, reports, and guidelines for surviving and performing in hot environments.

Stop and go: Benefits of interval training

Interval training is a time-efficient way to improve strength, speed, and endurance while improving your body composition and reducing cardiovascular risk.

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 time-efficient way to improve your fitness.

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.

Get FITT to optimize muscle strength

Optimize your muscle strength and endurance by following the FITT principle.

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.

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Mix up your training routine

HPRC Fitness Arena:
If you are bored with your training or find yourself stuck in a rut, consider adding some variety to your program.

Maintaining a physically fit body requires consistent training and motivation. It’s common for individuals to get stale or fall into a training rut. Consider cross-training, adding new activities and exercises, or just doing something physical for fun!

Monitor your physical performance using your heart rate

HPRC Fitness Arena:
Your heart is the key to effective training. Learn how to monitor it during exercise to achieve the optimum results from your training program.

Monitor your heart rate to ensure that you are training in the appropriate range for your performance needs. This simple practice will help you track the way your body responds to training to effectively optimize your physical performance. The American Council on Exercise (ACE) has information on how to monitor your exercise intensity using your heart rate, as well as an online tool for calculating your target heart rate. A similar online calculator is available from the Army’s Hooah 4 Health website.

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