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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

One small step for man, one giant leap for lower-limb amputees

Thought-controlled bionic technology previously only available for arms now exists for legs. The once-farfetched idea of a bionic man is becoming a reality.

In 2013, the Research Institute of Chicago (RIC) presented the first mind-controlled bionic leg, thanks to support from the U.S. Army Medical Research and Material Command's (USAMRMC) Telemedicine and Advanced Technology Research Center (TATRC). Until now, this technology was only available for prosthetic arms. These brainy bionic legs are still being studied and perfected, but it’s hoped that they will be available in the next few years. This life-changing technology will be able to help the more than 1,600 service members who have returned from Iraq and Afghanistan with amputations. Bionic limbs will make the transition to active duty or civilian life smoother for wounded warriors.

In one case study, a civilian who lost his lower leg in a motorcycle accident underwent a procedure called “Targeted Muscle Re-innervation”. This procedure redirects nerves that originally went to muscles in the amputated limb to still-healthy muscles in the limb above the amputation. As these healthy muscles contract, they generate signals that are detected by sensors within the prosthetic and analyzed by a specially-designed computer chip and program The program rapidly decodes the type of movement the individual is preparing to do, such as bending the knee, and then sends those commands to the leg. This allows the person to walk up and down ramps and stairs and transition between activities without stopping. The user also can move (reposition) the bionic leg just by thinking about it, which is not possible with current motorized prosthetics.

The bionic leg is also showing a decreased rate of falling and quicker response time. Stay tuned for availability of this groundbreaking technology.

[Image Source: RIC/NWU]

Keep your exercise resolutions with the help from an activity tracker

There are lots of different activity trackers out there. Compare some of the most popular ones on the market to find the right one for your needs.

Activity monitors, also known as “activity trackers” or “accelerometers,” provide an easy way to track how much exercise and sleep you get each day, and some even track your diet. Most are small enough to be a convenient, easy way to keep you accountable and on track for getting the recommended amount of exercise each day. They also offer computer and/or smartphone apps for on-the-go tracking. Check out our comparison chart of some of the more popular trackers to find the right one for you and your budget.

HPRC’s Vertical Core Series

Vertical core training is a great way to change up your workout routine and improve your performance.

It’s time to get up off the floor and add something new your core-workout routine. Crunches aren’t the only way to strengthen your core. The Human Performance Resource Center now offers a six-video YouTube series on Vertical Core Training. Your core is more than just your abs; it includes other muscles that stabilize your shoulders, hips, and pelvis. Whether it’s lifting ammo cans or loading a truck, a strong core will help you move safely and efficiently. Use these videos to guide you through various exercises that will help improve total core strength and stability for everyday activities and optimal performance. You can also find these videos and other training resources online in HPRC’s Physical Fitness domain.

Tips on tendonitis

Tendonitis results from damage to connective structures in your body. Learn more about it and get your body back in action.

You’ve been training, and now you’re in pain. It could be you’re having a painful introduction to one of your tendons. Strong tendons connect your muscles to the bones in your body and help you move by pulling on the bones when your muscles contract. Damage to tendons can occur from repetitive activities (including running and firing your weapon repeatedly over an extended period of time) or from sudden movements that put too much stress on a tendon. If you can’t avoid these activities, then pay attention to the warning signs that a tendon could be reaching its breaking point: pain, especially when moving the affected area; swelling over the area of pain; and, possibly, loss of motion in the joint.

The best way to avoid having to get treatment for tendonitis is to prevent it from happening in the first place! Follow these tips:

  1. Overall health: Maintain a healthy diet and weight, and check out HPRC’s Nutrition domain.
  2. Posture and body mechanics: Pay attention to your posture and make sure that you use correct body mechanics, especially when lifting and moving heavy objects.
  3. Maintain adequate muscle strength so your body can react to stresses you place on it.
  4. Maintain adequate flexibility.
  5. Consider proper workout gear, especially footwear.

How do get yourself back into your training program if you are suffering from tendonitis? The American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine and the Cleveland Clinic recommend the following:

  1. Activity modification: Rest the affected area. This could mean taking some time off from activities that cause pain and further damage. For example, if you’re a runner with Achilles tendonitis, try biking instead until the tendon has healed enough.
  2. Ice: Cold can help to decrease pain and swelling.
  3. Physical therapy: Gentle stretching and strengthening exercises, as well as massage, might help but should be done under the supervision of a healthcare provider.
  4. Anti-inflammatory medications: Ask your physician about medications that can help your condition.
  5. Bracing or casting might be needed in severe cases.

You should see your doctor right away if you experience fever, redness, and warmth in the affected area, or multiple sites of pain. For more information on injury prevention, check out HPRC’s “Preventing common injuries,” which covers six specific areas of injury: wrist and hand, knee, ankle, rotator cuff, back, and IT band.

An app for U.S. Marines to HITT hard

Filed under: Apps, HITT, Marines
You can now access the Marine Corps’ HITT program on your smartphone.

The Marine Corps’ High Intensity Tactical Training (HITT) program is becoming more and more popular on Marine bases across the country. HITT is designed to enhance the operational fitness and optimize the combat readiness and resilience of U.S. Marines. You can now access the HITT library of exercises on the go: Download the HITT app from iTunes and Google play today!

Listen up!

Filed under: Hearing, Hearing loss
Hearing loss is a silent epidemic in the military, but it isn’t inevitable. When not around firearm explosions or helicopter noise, follow safe listening practices to help prevent hearing loss.

Veterans who served in the U.S. and abroad between September 2001 and March 2010 were four times more likely than civilians to suffer from severe hearing loss. In fact, two of the most common disabilities affecting service members today are hearing loss and tinnitus, says the Hearing Center of Excellence (HCoE). Hearing loss and tinnitus seriously impact force readiness as well as the emotional and social well-being of those affected.

However, not all hearing loss results from the noise pollution Warfighters experience in the field. Many everyday exposures, such as your MP3 player or loud music in your car, can be just as damaging as firearms or helicopters. To maintain good hearing and operational readiness, Warfighters must use safe listening practices at all times. HCoE recommends these safe listening practices:

  • Never listen to your MP3 player at maximum volume.
  • Following the “60:60” rule: 60 percent maximum volume on your MP3 player for no more than 60 minutes a day.
  • Take periodic breaks of 15–20 minutes when listening to loud music to allow your ears to recover.
  • Select headphones or earbuds designed to remove background noise.
  • Exercise caution when listening to music in the car. Listening in a confined space increases the risk of hearing damage.
  • Wear hearing-protection devices such as earplugs at concerts, sporting events, parades, and other high-noise situations.

For more information on how to protect your hearing, as well as treatment and rehabilitation for hearing loss, please read this article from HPRC and visit HCoE.

Treat your feet right!

Filed under: Feet, Footwear
Hiking and marching and training in boots can be problematic if you don’t take care of your feet. It’s time to give some TLC to a neglected—but important—part of your body.

You may not think about your feet much, but you should. The condition of your feet can make or break a ruck march, hike, or any other physical activity, especially ones that involve wearing boots. There are easy steps you can take to keep your feet blister-free, fungus-free, and in optimal shape for the many demands you put on them. Take a few minutes to self-examine your feet for any obvious problems. Military OneSource offers great advice on foot hygiene and the correct use of socks and boots. Something as simple as tying your boots correctly can prevent foot problems down the road!

Performance Strategies for injury prevention

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Check out our performance strategies for preventing common military injuries.

Injury prevention is critical in maintaining optimal performance and operational readiness. Ankle sprains, knee pain, and back pain are very common injuries in the military. Take the time now to protect yourself from injury, and you’ll be glad you did later. Read our performance  strategies to help fend off common military and athletic injuries, compiled from our recent injury prevention series of posts.

A big name for a common knee problem

One very common cause of knee pain has a fancy name, but avoiding it can be quite simple if you follow some important advice.

Chondromalacia is a knee problem that can have a number of different symptoms, including pain. It can your ability to exercise, but even more problematic is that it can interfere with your ability to meet the demands of your military duties.

Here’s the basic rundown on chondromalacia: In a healthy state, the kneecap has soft cartilage beneath that allows the bone to glide smoothly against the other bones of your knee joint. When the smooth surface wears away, the back of the kneecap becomes rough and rubs the other bone surfaces, causing pain. The key to avoiding this condition is maintaining that smooth surface.

According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, muscle weakness, imbalance, or tightness in the thigh muscles can contribute to chondromalacia. It’s important to maintain strength in your quadriceps and hamstring muscles; follow a strength-training program to develop and maintain strong muscles. Also, make sure that you have enough flexibility in your quads; if the muscles and tendons are too tight, they can force the kneecap to move or “track” incorrectly in the natural groove of your knee joint. If you do a lot of running, make sure your footwear isn’t old and worn, because the shock-absorption of shoes decreases as they age. When it comes to knee pain, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Strengthen and stretch your muscles, and you’ll be on your way to keeping your knees ready for action.

A snappy way to get into shape

Snap into shape! Learn about the benefits of using elastic bands during resistance training rather than free weights or weight-machine exercises.

Anything can disrupt your usual workout routinesummer travels, PCS, deployments, or injuries. If you need a way to stay in shape whatever the snafu, give resistance bands a try. Resistance band training involves targeting particular muscles by pulling and stretching elastic bands. Resistance bands come in different shapes, sizes, and even colors. Some look like oversized rubber bands; others look like cables or tubes. Depending on the length and type, these bands provide progressive resistance throughout various exercises. Unlike free weights, resistance bands also can be used to target key movements, such as a golf swing or a tennis serve. This focuses the exercise on targeted areas and can lead to stronger, more powerful muscles.

Resistance-band training has been studied for all types of people and for different types of activity levels, from NCAA Division I athletes to nursing-home patients. A study with people who were out of shape found that resistance exercises led to the same kinds of improvements in weight loss and strength as weight machines. In another study, athletes who trained with resistance bands were stronger and more powerful than those who used free weights alone. Resistance bands also can help improve muscle strength and range of movement after injury.

What’s more, resistance bands are relatively cheap, lightweight, and easily portable, so you can continue training even when you’re far from a gym. However, if you’re new to resistance bands, you need to learn to use them correctly to prevent injury and maximize your workout. If you’re interested in learning more about training with resistance bands, check out this pamphlet from the American College of Sports Medicine.

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