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HPRC Fitness Arena: Physical Fitness
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.
Lugging around heavy weights and other exercise equipment while traveling or on deployment isn’t the most practical idea. Pack a couple of suspension-training straps, however, and you’ve got part of a well-rounded training routine covered. Suspension training has gained a lot of popularity among both civilians and service members alike, and more and more gyms are now offering suspension-training classes. Once the straps are securely anchored to something that won’t move and is sturdy enough to hold your weight, place your hands or feet into the loops, and your body weight enhances the effectiveness of exercises such as push-ups, lunges, core strengthening, and more. While there are various ways to adjust and adapt the exercises for less experienced exercisers, this type of workout requires some initial joint and core stability. There is also potential risk of injury, especially for beginners. Before you try this for the first time, it’s a good idea to get some advice and guidance from a suspension-training professional.
The Army has several resources to help you train for the Physical Fitness Test (APFT) and to build and maintain your fitness levels throughout the year. HPRC has issued a series of documents to help you increase aerobic fitness as well as muscular strength and endurance. Under the Army PRT tab in our Physical Fitness Program Guides section you will find links to videos that demonstrate specific preparation, conditioning, and recovery drills found in TC 3-22.20, Army Physical Readiness Training, as well as other sources of information to guide you in developing and carrying through on your training commitment.
Army Physical Readiness Training, TC 3-22.20, is available in an app for your iPhone. The app includes exercise videos and workouts to help you succeed in increasing your cardiovascular fitness, muscular strength and endurance, and mobility—all of which are required to pass the Army Physical Fitness Test.
This past July, the Military Health System focused on promoting Total Force Fitness, giving priority to seven top areas: tobacco-free living, drug-abuse prevention, healthy eating, active living, injury-free and violence-free living, reproductive and sexual health, and mental and emotional well-being. They suggest managing your own health and wellness by making healthy choices between doctor’s visits. For inspirations and ideas that can help, check out HPRC’s ways to:
- make healthy food decisions for yourself, and your family;
- become tobacco-free and/or reducing substance use;
- be active for yourself, your family; and
- enhance your mental and emotional health.
Operation Supplement Safety (OPSS) has now been launched to answer many of your questions about Dietary Supplements. Visit the OPSS section of HPRC’s website now to learn more!