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HPRC Fitness Arena: Physical Fitness

Find your Target Heart Rate

Filed under: Cardio, Heart, Heart rate
Tracking your heart rate is a great way to keep track of your exercise intensity.

Monitoring your heart rate is a useful tool you can learn to use to guide your training and make sure you’re getting the most out of your workouts. It can help make sure you’re pushing hard on interval days (vigorous exercise) and taking it easy on recovery days (light exercise). But what do words such as “light,” “moderate,” and “vigorous” mean when it comes to exercise?

You can determine your exercise intensity using your maximum and resting heart rates. Then you can use the Heart Rate Reserve (HRR) method to calculate your Target Heart Rate (THR) to determine what range your heart rate should be in for your desired exercise intensity. We provide a step-by-step process you can follow. Read more here.

Breathe better, run better!

Learn how to improve your breathing technique while running.

There’s no hard-and-fast rule when it comes to how to breathe when you’re running, but there are a couple points to consider. During light to moderate exercise, people tend to inhale through the nose and exhale through the mouth. Breathing through your nose helps minimize the number of allergens that get into your airway, warm the air before it gets to your lungs (which can be helpful in cold temperatures), and increase the concentration of oxygen in your blood. However, as exercise intensity increases, most people switch to breathing through the mouth because they can inhale more air per breath with less resistance.

Running experts suggest practicing diaphragmatic breathing (“belly breathing”) rather than shallower chest breathing (where you raise your chest and shoulders when you inhale). In the former, your diaphragm (an important muscle in the breathing process) is pushed downward when you inhale, creating space in your chest cavity. You should feel your belly expand as you inhale. It promotes greater expansion of your rib cage and lungs, giving you a fuller, deeper breath. It takes a little practice to learn how to breathe like this while you’re running, but if you lie on your back and breathe, practice yoga, or even play a wind instrument, you’ll know what it feels and looks like.

Finally, remember not to slouch when you run. Lift your torso and chest and lean forward slightly. Form also can affect how you breathe.

A “natural” way to recover

If you’re in any stage of a recovery process (physical, mental, or spiritual) it may be helpful to get outside and spend some time in nature.

Exposure to a natural green environment can help reduce your stress levels and improve your health and well-being. So, feeling blue? Go green! Some of nature’s restorative benefits include improved positive mood, energy, and vitality; decreased anxiety, depressive thoughts, perceived stress, and hostility; as well as improved recovery times after surgery and less need for pain meds.

Exposure to nature can also reduce your heart rate, blood pressure, blood sugar, and stress hormones, as well as improve your sleep, immune function, and brain activity. Interestingly, people who live in neighborhoods where streets have more trees report feeling healthier, with fewer symptoms of poor health such as heart attack, stroke, obesity, and diabetes. Neighborhood greenness has also been tied to longer life expectancy.

Depending on where you live, finding a natural environment can be tricky. You can find state and national parks online or look for local parks and gardens in your area. Even walking along a neighborhood street with lots of trees, spending more time viewing nature (through a window), or having indoor plants within view can make you feel better. You may want to experience nature on your own, with a buddy, or with a group of fellow service members or veterans. For group outdoor recreational activities, check out the Sierra Club Outdoors program (or, specifically, their Military Outdoors program). So if you’re feeling stressed, down, or not your usual self, get outside and go green!

Tunes and training

Do you listen to music when you exercise? Find out how it affects your workout.

Music can have a huge effect on your performance and mood during exercise. Without realizing it, most people push themselves harder or move faster during exercise when listening to fast-tempo music, which increases heart rate as well as speed, endurance, and in some cases the rate of perceived exertion. Exercisers also feel an improved sense of well-being when working out to music.

So why is it you prefer certain songs when you’re exercising? One explanation suggests that a part of your brain tries to match the movement of your body to the beat of the music. In fact, scientists have found that when you listen to music with about 125–140 beats per minute, both your heartbeat and your movements synchronize to work at the most energy-efficient, optimal level for exercise. In essence, the music works with your brain to coordinate your bodily functions and optimize your workout.

The best workout songs seem to share certain characteristics:

  • 125–140 beats per minute during exercise, but slower for warm-ups, cool-downs, and some endurance-type exercises
  • A motivational or upbeat message
  • Familiar tunes or a preferred style of music
  • A tempo that matches the rhythm of your exercise

Ask your buddies about their workout playlists too. They might have something totally different to offer—a new beat to stay fit with. So turn on, tune in, and train!

For more tips on how to optimize your workout, explore HPRC’s Physical Fitness domain.

Moms-to-be: exercise for a healthier birth

There are many benefits of continuing to exercise while pregnant. Now you can add healthier birth weights and a reduced chance of C-section to the list!

Exercise leading up to and during pregnancy has many health benefits. Recently, the effects of exercising during pregnancy have been found to benefit the birth process as well. Regular exercise with pregnancy can contribute to a healthy birth weight for your baby without increasing the risk of premature birth. It may even decrease the risk of needing an unscheduled cesarean birth. For these reasons, continuing your exercise routine could help you have a healthier and safer birth. Staying active contributes to a healthier pregnancy. It also helps you maintain a healthy weight and establishes exercise habits that, if continued after your baby is born, help you get rid of the weight gained during pregnancy. There are many ways to keep up with your physical fitness during pregnancy while still keeping you and your baby safe.

What exactly is a “trigger point”?

What is a trigger point, and how can one be treated?

Does it ever feel like there’s a baseball in your calf? Or what about that tight spot under your should blade? This might be something called a trigger point, more commonly known as a “knot.” Even experts aren’t completely sure what they’re made of, but they seem to be caused by overuse and/or bad biomechanics (that is, bad posture).

Getting rid of these annoying knots usually involves massaging the heck out of them. If you can reach the knot, you can massage it yourself to try to loosen it up. Or you can use things like foam rollers or massage balls to help. If that still doesn’t work, you can talk to your doctor about other treatments such as ultrasound, physical therapy, dry needling, acupuncture, or injecting the knot with medicine.

Even with these treatments available, it’s important to first avoid actions that create trigger points, such as poor posture or exercising without warming up. Don’t confuse trigger points with the sore muscles which can occur after a workout (delayed onset muscle soreness). This kind of soreness is usually harder to pinpoint but will go away on its own after a couple days or less.

Also, make sure you’re exercising with proper form. Ask a certified personal trainer, if you’re not sure. Keep in mind that if your pain began with an accident or lasts after trying treatments at home, you should consult your physician or other healthcare provider. 

Recovery Care Coordinators can help!

Learn how Recovery Care Coordinators help service members during their recovery, rehabilitation, and reintegration process after a serious or catastrophic wound, illness, or injury.

Recovery Care Coordinators (RCC) help wounded, ill, and injured service members, their caregivers, and their families navigate the recovery, rehabilitation, and reintegration process. They help ensure a smooth transition from a recovery and rehabilitation setting back into the civilian community or, in some instances, back to military duty. An RCC is the first point of contact within each of the military services’ wounded warrior programs. RCCs are located at military treatment facilities and installations throughout the country and overseas. Referral to RCCs can come from the service member, a caregiver, a family member, medical personnel, or a wounded warrior program. For more information on the referral process (and for contact numbers), read this factsheet.

How do RCCs help support service members, their caregivers, and their families during what is often a difficult and stressful period in their lives? The RCC develops a comprehensive recovery plan (CRP) with the service member, caregivers, family members, and the recovery team to identify goals and resources needed to achieve those goals, such as assistive technology, education, employment, or housing.

The DoD Office of Warrior Care Policy is responsible for oversight, policy of the Recovery Coordination Program, and standardized training for all RCCs, but each military service branch implements its own Recovery Coordination Program in accordance with DoD policy. The terminology may differ with service (for example, advocate, care coalition, recovery care), but the mission and the standards are the same. Check out the following links for service-specific information:

Postpartum exercise

How soon can you start to exercise after giving birth?

The benefits of exercise in the postpartum period (six to eight weeks after delivery) include decreased physical, mental, and general fatigue, in addition to improved fitness and motivation. It may even reduce depression, as long as the exercise relieves stress rather than provokes it.

Some women who exercise during their pregnancy and immediately resume exercise after giving (vaginal) birth aren’t at risk for post-partum complications (such as excessive or prolonged bleeding, uterine inversion, or infection). However, most women don’t meet the recommendations for exercise during pregnancy, so when you do resume exercise, you should do so gradually.

You may be concerned that exercise could decrease your milk supply; however, exercising women who drink enough fluid (stay hydrated) and eat enough to meet their caloric needs continue to produce enough breast milk. Composition of breast milk remains the same with moderate exercise intensity, but vigorous exercise can cause lactic acid to appear in the milk, which could affect how well your baby accepts your milk. Consider nursing before participating in vigorous exercise.

Returning to physical activity after giving birth depends on the individual. Be sure to discuss your exercise habits and plans with your doctor before resuming your regular workout routine. Visit this web page from The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists to learn more about exercise in the postpartum period. Stay healthy for you and your baby!

Stand up and get moving!

Filed under: Exercise, Walking
Add a few extra minutes of movement to your day, and you’ll be healthier for it.

Too much sitting during the day is linked to multiple illnesses, including heart disease, diabetes, and even some cancers. And sitting has become an all-too-common activity in the modern workplace. One remedy to the problem is the use of standing desks. However, even standing isn’t enough to keep you at your healthiest. Another important weapon against sitting disease is movement. By adding just 2 minutes of walking every hour, you can increase blood flow to your heart and other muscles. These short bursts of movement “wake the body up” and keep important systems working. If it helps, set a timer on your phone or computer to remind you to walk around at least once every hour. This doesn’t replace the recommendations for getting regular exercise, but it will help keep you active and healthy! Get moving!

Spare your back when moving

Here’s a reminder about how to handle heavy objects properly and protect your back when loading your moving truck during PCS.

Service members and their families relocate a lot, and moving to a new home is hard enough without adding injury. Here are some tips on how to properly handle heavy objects such as moving boxes and furniture, and how to take care of yourself if you do sustain an injury:

  • Wear less-restrictive clothing such as looser-fitting pants or workout clothes.
  • Wear closed-toe shoes.
  • Take breaks when necessary. Stretching and reassessing your mechanics can help you maintain proper posture when lifting. HPRC has tips on how to maintain flexibility and remove tension in your body.
  • The U.S. Army has fact sheets on Lifting Techniques for handling heavy objects and How to Safely Perform Pushing and Pulling Tasks.
  • Remember to keep your core tight, and use your leg muscles rather than your back to lift heavy objects.

The best way to prevent back injury is to strengthen your back and core muscles. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has suggestions and exercises to help build your back.

If you’re sore from all the lifting or think you may have pulled something, you can treat the pain with ice and rest—and perhaps an over-the-counter pain reliever—for the first 48 hours. Follow NIH guidelines on how to further treat your back pain if it’s acute. However, if the pain persists, consult your doctor to rule out a more serious back problem or injury before you do any more heavy lifting. If all seems well, consider core-strengthening exercises to support your back. Another option is a yoga class to relieve your pain, build your muscles, and return your back to normal function.

For more about how to protect your back, please visit HPRC’s Injury Prevention Series. Good luck with your PCS!

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