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Stop shin splints

Shin splints—sharp, sore, and/or throbbing pain that runs down the front of your shin—are common among those who exercise regularly. But how can you prevent them?

Shin splints can sideline you from your regular workouts, but there are things you can do to help relieve the pain and quickly resume your exercise routine. Shin splints—a common injury among athletes, particularly runners—refers to pain in the leg below the knee, usually on the medial (inside) part of your shin. This pain can be caused by micro-tears at the bone tissue, possibly caused by overuse or repetitive stress. The best way to prevent shin splints is: Don’t do too much, too soon.

Shin splints usually occur after sudden changes in exercise or physical activity, such as rapidly increasing your running mileage, boosting your workout frequency or intensity, or even varying changes in surface, such as running more hills. To help reduce your risk for shin splints, you can follow the 10% rule: Increase your workout no more than 10% per week. That applies to the number of miles you run and how often and how hard you work out.

Other factors that can influence your risk include worn-out shoes, over-pronation, and excessive stress on one leg from running on a cambered road (the curved, downward slope from the middle of a road to the edge for drainage). If you run an out-and-back route, while not always safest in street traffic, you can run on the same side of the road each way. Or use the sidewalk instead. If you often run on a track, switch the direction you run.

Shin splints will usually heal themselves with proper rest. Consider taking a break from your regular workout routine and cross train with lower-impact workouts such as swimming, pool running, or biking instead. Basic self-care treatments such as stretching, ice, and anti-inflammatories can help relieve pain. If the pain doesn’t improve with rest, or if the skin is hot and inflamed, see your doctor to make sure you don’t have a more serious injury such as a stress fracture or tendonitis.

Can exercise relieve chronic pain?

If you struggle with chronic pain, you might ask, “How can I exercise if I’m in pain?” or “Won’t exercise make it worse?” Read about exercising to reduce pain.

If you struggle with chronic pain, you might feel that exercise is futile: It hurts when you don't exercise and it hurts when you do. However, a properly structured exercise routine might help reduce some kinds of pain and keep other kinds from worsening.

It’s important to know the difference between chronic pain and injury-related pain. Acute pain—the body’s normal response to physical injury—usually can’t be relieved through exercise. In fact, exercise can worsen your acute pain, so it’s not recommended. But if injury has been ruled out and your pain lasts for more than 3 months, you might be able to partially manage or even reduce your chronic pain through exercise.

Still, exercise can help reduce pain in several ways. It mostly increases endorphins—the body's natural painkillers — which help block pain, enabling you to relax. Exercise also helps boost serotonin—a brain chemical partly responsible for mood and the perception of pain—reducing stress and improving mood. Pain increases stress, which then reduces serotonin. Since exercise increases serotonin, it also might bring relief from pain-induced depression.

If you’re thinking of adding exercise to your pain management plan, consider the following types: aerobic, strength, and flexibility. But make sure your exercise program is specifically tailored to your needs. Some exercises might be easier or more difficult to complete depending upon the type and location of your pain.

Visit HPRC’s Physical Fitness section for information about training, exercise, and injury prevention. And consult your healthcare provider before beginning any exercise routine and if you experience pain during or after exercise. 

Vertical core training

Get off the floor and strengthen that core!

Your core is more than just your abs: It includes lots of other muscles that stabilize your shoulders, hips, and pelvis. Strengthening all of your core muscles can be difficult with traditional “ab routines” done on the ground. Crunches aren’t the only way to strengthen your core. So, get up off the floor and add something new to your core-workout routine.

HPRC offers a video series on vertical core training. These routines are not only good for your six-pack, but improve strength in your back, hips, legs, and shoulders—all critical components of core strength. Whether it’s lifting ammo cans or loading a truck, a strong core will help you move safely and efficiently.

Visit HPRC’s Muscular Fitness and Flexibility page to learn more. Use these videos to guide you through various exercises that will help improve total core strength, flexibility, and stability for everyday activities and optimal performance too.

Fit kids for life

September is National Childhood Obesity Month. Learn how to help your kids get active and stay healthy.

There’s an obesity epidemic in this country, and it’s not just affecting adults. Childhood obesity impacts more than 23 million children and teenagers in the U.S., putting them at risk of high blood pressure, diabetes, and cholesterol.

More recently, the U.S. military has taken action because it considers childhood obesity a threat to our national security. Many young adults aren’t fit to fight. Now’s the time to instill healthy exercise habits in your kids to help them become healthy adults.

Regular exercise can build strong muscles and bones and promote overall health. It’s especially important that children exercise and learn healthy habits early on. Exercise also can boost kids’ self-esteem, improve sleep, and stimulate learning in school.

According to the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, children and adolescents need at least 60 minutes of physical activity every day, including:

  • Aerobic exercise for most of the 60 minutes. On most days, this can include either vigorous-intensity activities (such as running, swimming, and jumping rope) or moderate-intensity activities (such as walking or skateboarding). Make sure to include some vigorous-intensity exercise at least 3 days each week. Check out Let’s Move! for ideas on how to get active as a family.
  • Muscle-strengthening activities. These can include playing tug-of-war, exercising with resistance bands, or climbing on playground equipment. Strengthening exercises should be done at least 3 times a week.
  • Bone-strengthening (impact) activities. These can include running, jumping rope, basketball, tennis, and hopscotch. Impact activities, which strengthen bones and promote healthy growth, also should be done at least 3 times a week.

Learn more about DoD's efforts to help keep your kids active and healthy. Check out the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) page for resources and tips to help raise awareness about National Childhood Obesity Month too. And visit HPRC’s Staying Active section for ideas on how to boost your family’s fitness.

Best time to exercise

Is there an ideal time of day for exercise?

The best time of day to exercise is the time when you can maintain a consistent exercise routine—not necessarily the same time for everyone. You also might experience better training adaptations when you exercise consistently at a regular time. For example, if you work out at noon every day, your body will adapt to perform at its best at noon.

Above all, exercise should be enjoyable. After all, if you don’t enjoy it, you’re less likely to keep up with it. So here are a few things to keep in mind about making exercise fit into your schedule.

Morning. It might be easiest to maintain a consistent exercise regimen by starting your day with a workout. Other things that come up during the day can affect your plans to work out later in the day, and motivation often fades as the day progresses. However, since your body and muscle temperatures are lower in the morning, it’s especially important in the morning to warm up properly before exercise.

Afternoon. Optimal adaptations to weight training seem to occur in late afternoon. Levels of hormones such as testosterone (important for muscle growth in men and women) and cortisol (important for regulating metabolism and controlling blood pressure) seem to be at optimal ratio later in the day. For some people—because hormone levels vary from person to person—lifting later also might be more beneficial because their testosterone can respond better to resistance exercises. 

Evening. The biggest caveat about exercising in the evening is how it will affect your sleep. Everyone is a little different. Some people can exercise right before bed and have no trouble sleeping. For others, it can make it difficult to get a good night’s sleep. There are lots of factors that can affect your sleep. Experiment to see what works for you.

Remember that other factors such as your work schedule, fitness goals, current diet, and sleep habits also affect your workout routine and physical performance. But whether at the end of the day (or in the morning or afternoon), a consistent exercise routine is the best routine.

Fueling your adolescent athlete

HPRC Fitness Arena: Nutrition, Total Force Fitness
Heat, humidity, and tough workouts can all be a part of your adolescent’s sports training program. Learn how proper nutrition and hydration help them play well.

School still might be out for some, but many teen athletes are already busy with fall sports practices. And knowing what and when to eat and drink can help them be on top of their game. Your teen’s schedule might seem more like a pro athlete’s workout schedule with two-a-days, strength-training programs, and speed training. However, these are often building blocks of teen athletes’ training for sports. Fueling the Adolescent Athlete contains useful information on how they can fuel their bodies before, during, and after practice.

Fueling comes in two forms: what teen athletes eat to provide energy and what they drink to help stay hydrated. Eating nutrient-packed meals and snacks before, after, and even during practices and games is essential for optimal performance. The right balance of carbohydrates and protein work together to fuel and build muscles.

Staying hydrated goes hand in hand with peak performance. It’s often difficult for adolescent athletes to stay hydrated in heat and humidity, but drinking regularly and keeping an eye on their urine color can be helpful.

For more adolescent and family nutrition information, check out HPRC’s Family Nutrition section.

Exercise and breathing in summer

Exercising outside on hot, humid summer days might do more harm than good. Find out how to beat the heat!

Exercising outdoors can be uncomfortable and sometimes unhealthy when it’s hot and humid, but there are ways to work out through the weather woes. You’re more likely to breathe faster and deeper and through your mouth—bypassing your nose’s natural filtration system—on hot days. You also risk greater exposure to air pollutants (such as carbon monoxide, particulate matter, and ozone) that can inflame your respiratory system. However, the risks associated with not exercising at all are far greater than the risks of exercising outdoors.

So, plan ahead before exercising outside. And limit your exposure to pollutants, especially on days and in conditions when pollution is bad.

  • Avoid exercising in heavy-traffic areas, such as along highways and during rush hour.
  • During warmer months, exercise earlier in the morning or later in the evening, when ozone levels and temperatures aren’t as high.
  • Check the domestic or international air-quality ratings to determine when it’s safe to exercise outside. Limit your time outside on Code Red and Code Orange days. Environmental conditions on these days aren’t healthy, especially for children, the elderly, and those with existing respiratory conditions.
  • Exercise indoors when the air quality indicates high ozone and particulate levels.
  • Before any demanding physical activity, limit your carbon monoxide exposure by avoiding smoky areas and long car rides in congested traffic.

Activity trackers: Fun fitness tools

Learn how activity trackers can help keep you motivated, moving, and healthy.

Activity monitors or “activity trackers” can be fun and useful tools for monitoring your exercise and other activities. Some products also track your sleep every day. And some even can track your diet. With the ever-evolving technology, there’s likely a tracker that’s best for you: from simple step/distance/calorie-counting to smartwatches with GPS tracking.

These days, the most popular trackers seem to be wearable wristbands. Check out our updated comparison chart of some popular trackers to help find the right one for your needs and budget. While they can be fun and interactive social fitness tools, it’s important to remember they’re not meant to be used as medical devices. All activity trackers will have some margin of error, and none of them make perfect measurements. Be sure to speak with your doctor if you’re looking for a specific medical device.

Still, if you want to stay active, motivated, and healthy, then an activity tracker might be a perfect fit! 

It’s Men’s Health Awareness Month

The Military Health System has declared June as Men’s Health Awareness Month. Exercise, good nutrition, and regular screenings can help keep you healthy.

The best ways for men of any age to stay healthy include understanding risk factors, exercising regularly, eating right, and getting screened for potential health issues. Heart disease and cancer are the leading causes of death among men. The good news is that exercising and maintaining a healthy lifestyle can help reduce your risk for these illnesses. Visit your doctor for routine checkups too.

The Military Health System has declared June as Men’s Health Awareness Month. Wear Blue Day is Friday, June 17. Wear blue to help raise awareness about men’s health issues. Help spread the word that good-health habits keep them fit and strong. And visit HPRC’s Exercise section for information on strength training, fitness guidelines, and more.

PFT/PRT prep—Part 1: Aerobic conditioning

The PFT/PRT is designed to test your cardiovascular endurance and muscular strength. In this three-part series, HPRC takes a closer look at each component, offers tips on training optimization, and suggests how to prevent common training-related injuries.

Preparation for your Physical Fitness (PFT) and Physical Readiness Tests (PRT) takes time and discipline. Training for the test isn’t something you should start the month before the test, and the habits you develop leading up to the test should be ones you continue even after the test. Weekend warriors and procrastinators are at greater risk for injury, and it’s likely that your performance will be less than optimal when it comes time for the test.

If you’re just getting back into shape, be sure to do it gradually. Once you’ve resumed a regular exercise routine, you might notice some aches and pains. Listen to your body. Watch out for symptoms of common athletic injuries such as overuse injuries and knee pain. It’s important to address these issues early to minimize any damage and get you back in action as soon as possible. Maintaining your exercise routine after the PFT/PRT and challenging yourself along the way will keep you in warrior-athlete shape year round and prevent deconditioning.

HPRC provides a series of articles with guidelines to help you prepare for the PFT/PRT, beginning with this one on aerobic conditioning. Read more...

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