Welcome to the HPRC Blog. We've got lots of information here, from quick tips to in-depth posts about detailed human performance optimization topics.
HPRC Fitness Arena: Physical Fitness
If you exercise regularly—or plan to start an exercise program—chances are you’ll experience shin splits at least once. That sharp, achy, sore, and/or throbbing feeling that runs down the front of your shin, also known as “tibial stress syndrome,” is a common condition among athletes, especially runners. The pain of shin splits can come from any number of underlying causes, such as overuse injuries, “flat feet,” or a more serious injury—stress fractures—usually from excessive and/or repetitive force on your legs. Usually shin splits will heal on their own with rest and basic self-care treatments, but it’s important to recognize the symptoms early on and to give yourself time to fully heal before easing back into your usual workout. See a doctor if the pain does not seem to improve with rest, if your shin is hot and inflamed, or if the swelling gets worse. To prevent shin splits, make sure that you wear the appropriate shoes for your type of foot, warm up before working out, vary the types of surfaces you run on, and address symptoms of pain early.
Don’t belong to a gym? Don’t own exercise equipment? Deployed with no workout facility close? On TDY? Only have a few minutes during commercial breaks of your favorite TV show to work out? No problem! We have the solution, whatever your excuse. These 25 at-home-exercises from the American Council on Exercise can be done anytime, anywhere. There are step-by-step instructions for each exercise, and all can be performed in a hotel, at home, at work, or in the middle of the desert. The only equipment you need for these exercises is you—so get started today!
Many jobs involve duties that can cause minor musculoskeletal tension that builds over time until you find yourself experiencing pain. Sitting or standing for long periods of time, lifting or carrying heavy objects, and other common mission-related actions of active-duty personnel wear on the body, leading to increased risk for injury. Yoga can help to reduce this risk by improving posture, increasing energy, and stretching overused or tense muscles. If you don’t have time for yoga between work, your normal exercise routine, or family obligations, suggest sharing a quick yoga session with buddies in your unit during a break to reduce your risk for injury and help get through the afternoon. There are different styles of yoga for all skill levels.
Preventing obesity should begin at an early age, because children who are overweight often become obese as adults. And while many of us know that we need to eat right and exercise, there are also risk factors that we are born with that we can’t change. Now you can calculate your child’s risk of developing obesity with an online calculator.
The calculator was developed by a team of researchers who looked at a number of well-known biological and social risk factors for developing obesity. They were able to boil down their findings to six simple factors that provide a reasonably accurate probability of whether a child will develop obesity:
1) The body mass indexes (BMIs) of both parents. (HPRC has a link to a calculator you can use to calculate BMI.)
2) The number of people who live in the house.
3) What kind of work the child’s mother does.
4) Whether the mother smoked during her pregnancy.
5) The birth weight of the child (in kilograms). (To convert pounds [lb] to kilograms [kg], multiply pounds by 0.45359237.)
Living a healthy lifestyle is beneficial for everyone, but tools like this can help you determine whether your child is particularly at risk for becoming an obese adult, so that you can make important health changes early in life. For ideas to help your family be physically active and healthy, check out this HPRC Healthy Tip as well as the family physical fitness and family nutrition sections of HPRC’s website.
Most people associate dehydration with hot weather. Here’s news: You can experience dehydration in cold weather too. Being active outside in cold weather for less than two hours doesn’t usually present a problem. But for long-term exposure such as a field deployment, which can last anywhere from a few days to several weeks, the combination of heavy clothing and high-intensity exercise can lead to increased sweating and the possibility of dehydration. You may not feel as thirsty in cold weather as in other climates, because your body chemistry impairs your brain’s ability to tell you when to hydrate. Cold weather also has the effect of moving body fluids from your extremities to your core, causing increased urine output and adding to dehydration.
The bottom line: When in cold climates, don’t rely on thirst to be an indicator of hydration. Drink often, before you’re thirsty. Water and sports drinks are the best fluids to maintain hydration, even in cold weather conditions. When you’re in a situation where you need to monitor your hydration level keep in mind that carbonated and caffeinated beverages (including energy drinks) have a dehydrating effect since they increase urine flow. Also avoid alcohol consumption in cold weather. It gives a temporary feeling of warmth but interferes with the body’s ability to retain heat since shivering, the normal response to maintain body temperature, is delayed.
Sometimes it’s not easy to hydrate as much as you need, especially when on a mission. One way to measure your hydration status is to monitor the color and volume of your urine. (Snow makes a good test spot.) Dark, scanty urine is an indication of dehydration. Ideally, urine should be light yellow to clear. Enjoy getting some exercise in the cold weather, but be sure to keep your water bottle in tow.
Fort Drum recently opened a “Mountain Functional Fitness Facility.” In keeping with the goal of overall combat fitness, the facility’s purpose is to help soldiers become strong and agile for combat while deployed in both cold conditions and rough terrain such as rugged mountainous environments.
“Functional fitness” focuses on developing specific muscle movements and overall athleticism rather than building up specific muscles. This new center features state-of-the-art equipment and the mission of helping soldiers become conditioned to operate in realistic situations where both strength and agility training are mission critical. Check out this report in Business Insider for additional photos.
As winter approaches here in the northern hemisphere, staying active requires more planning to be safe and comfortable. Here are some tips for exercising in cold weather conditions:
- Since medical conditions such as Raynaud’s, cardiovascular disease, and asthma can be exacerbated by climate changes, be sure to check with your doctor before exercising in the cold.
- Check out these tips from the Mayo Clinic, which include dressing in layers that include a synthetic material such as polyester or polypropylene close to the skin (avoid cotton, since it soaks up the sweat!) and paying close attention to your extremities, especially your fingers and toes, since the circulation to these areas decreases in cold weather.
- The American College of Sports Medicine also has a Position Stand on preventing cold-weather injuries during exercise that emphasizes being able to recognize the signs and symptoms of hypothermia and frostbite, as well as monitoring wind-chill temperature. The signs and symptoms of hypothermia can vary, but in general watch for feeling cold, shivering, apathy, and social withdrawal. Also watch for the early stages of frostbite (which precede the deep frostbite that can cause major tissue damage) in which you’ll feel burning, numbness, tingling, itching, or cold sensations.
If you pay attention to these guidelines, you can continue to stay fit all winter long.
In October 2012, students at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences participated in Operation Bushmaster at Fort Indiantown Gap, PA. The exercise involved a simulated combat environment to test the limits of their physical fitness as well as mental resilience. Military medical students were tasked with managing patient flow in an operational environment, such as tactical relocation over uneven terrain and dealing with changes in environmental conditions.
From a human performance optimization (HPO) standpoint, take-home points for the practical exercise included the importance of being physically fit, especially following guidelines for the prevention of back injuries, and implementing mental strategies for coping in high stress situations.
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.
Part of a comprehensive fitness program involves improving your muscular strength and endurance. One way to figure out how much weight you should be lifting is to determine your one-repetition maximum (1RM). The American College of Sports Medicine recommends lifting 8–12 repetitions of 60-80% of a person’s 1RM to improve muscular strength and endurance. However, doing a 1RM test isn’t always feasible or safe if you don’t have someone to spot you. Instead, try using this this quick-and-easy calculator to estimate what your 1RM should be for a given exercise.