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HPRC Fitness Arena: Physical Fitness
The Human Performance Resource Center is here to serve Warfighters and their families, commanders, and healthcare providers. If you’ve visited before, you probably know that we focus on “total force fitness.” But do you really know what that means—or how HPRC got started? If you’re curious, check out this PDF that describes HPRC, what we do, and the vast amount of information we cover. In addition, you may have noticed that we use the term “human performance optimization” throughout our site; this article also explains what that means.
Stretching and strengthening the muscles of the foot and ankle can help you prevent (and recover) from ankle sprains. The Foot and Ankle Conditioning Program from the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons focuses on recovering from injury, but it includes well-illustrated exercises that are good for preventive conditioning too. Here are some other exercises useful for strengthening the foot and ankle structure:
- From a seated position, “pretend” writing the alphabet with each foot, in both upper- and lower-case letters.
- Stand on one leg on a pillow for 10 seconds and then switch legs. Be sure to have something nearby to grab for balance if necessary.
- From a seated position, use a resistance band looped to a secure surface, and wrap the other end around your forefoot; then move your foot/ankle forward, backward, and side-to-side, flexing at the ankle.
An ankle sprain involves damage to ligaments—bands of tissue that help hold joints together—in the foot and ankle, usually from the force of landing wrong on your foot. In military populations, ankle sprains are very common, significantly affecting operational readiness. In fact, ankle sprains are more common in the military than in civilian populations and more likely among women than men. By strengthening the muscles in your legs and feet, you can give more support to your ankle in the event of a misstep or an encounter with uneven terrain. The transition from military boots, which offer more ankle support, to traditional athletic shoes may also leave you and your ankles feeling vulnerable to twists and sprains. Start including ankle-strengthening exercises into your daily workout routine to help keep your ankles strong and free from injury.
Figuring out knee pain can take some detective work, although injuries are a common cause. For example, sports-related injuries such as anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tears and chondromalacia (also called “runner’s knee”) can cause pain and affect performance. You can help prevent such injuries by strengthening your lower leg muscles. Strengthening your hamstrings and quadriceps, which cross the knee joint, can give extra stability and support to your knees. Leg exercises such as squats, lunges, curls, and extensions will improve muscular strength and endurance in your hamstrings and quadriceps.
Weight management is also important in preventing some knee injuries. Excess body weight only adds stress to the knees during weight bearing activities, like walking, running or jumping.
Another key to prevention is listening to your body. If you feel that minor symptoms are getting worse, it might be a good time to temporarily modify your training until symptoms subside. For example, if running is part of your cardiovascular routine, consider trying a few weeks of alternate activities that are less stressful on the joints such as swimming or biking.
Walk into any fitness center on base or take note of a group of soldiers training, and you’ll probably notice at least a few people in form-fitting synthetic t-shirts. The sports apparel industry has exploded in popularity over the past decade, with numerous manufacturers now competing to develop, market, and sell the newest pieces of clothing (shirts, shorts, underwear, socks), all geared to keep athletes cool while competing or training in hot environments. Is there any science behind these claims? Does tight-fitting clothing made of “high-tech” materials actually help with heat regulation and enhance athletic performance?
You heat up when you exercise, and sweating is the primary method your body uses to stay cool. Sweat evaporating off your skin is the most important method your body has to cool itself during exercise. High-tech materials are supposed to enhance “wicking”—the delivery of sweat away from the skin surface toward the clothing, which allows for evaporation—and limit the absorption of sweat by the clothing itself. Cotton, by contrast, absorbs moisture, so it’s not considered a good choice for exercise.
To date, there’s no evidence that this high-tech clothing improves thermoregulation when worn during exercise in hot environments. Specifically, researchers found no differences in heart rate or body and skin temperatures when subjects performed repeated 20–30 minute bouts of running outfitted in shorts, sneakers, and either a form-fitting compression or traditional cotton t-shirt. Research has also found that wicking sportswear had no effect on cooling when worn under a bulletproof vest or on a cycling sprint when worn under full ice hockey protective equipment. As of now, the best advice for staying cool during exercise in the heat is to wear lightweight clothing, stay properly hydrated, and listen to your body for signs of potential heat illness. For more information on performing in hot environments, please visit the “Heat” section of HPRC’s Environment domain.
The physical demands of military life are challenging, and if you’re not prepared, they can lead to injuries. The injury prevention series we’ll be running over the next several weeks will provide you with information and strategies for preventing some of the most common injuries: those to the knee, ankle, rotator cuff, back, iliotibial band and wrist/hand. Prevention is key: Taking time for the small stuff may have big payoff down the road. Much of what the exercises done for recovery after an injury can actually be done to prevent the injury in the first place. Stay injury-free for optimal performance! Check back soon for the first in this series.
Have you ever wondered why people who do the same resistance training workouts day after day aren’t getting the results they want? The goal of resistance training is to create an “adaptation response”—that is, to get your body to change in response to the demands. Once your body has adapted to a specific training program, you need to change the demands you place on it. If you don’t, you’ll find yourself eventually reaching a plateau where you don’t make any more gains—or sometimes even lose progress. One way to avoid this common training mistake is to implement “periodization”—the systematic shaking up of your routine (intensity and numbers of sets and reps). This method can optimize your training gains and minimize the risks of overtraining and injury. Implementing these training routines requires a strength training expert, so make sure you seek assistance. For example, the Army has implemented a new program for Master Fitness Trainers. And for more information on strength training, check out the HPRC’s Performance Strategies for Muscular Strength.
The dietary supplement and fitness industries are filled with sport drinks, powders, bars, pills, gels, footwear, clothing, and an array of devices all claiming to provide you with a competitive advantage, whether it be improved performance or enhanced recovery. With the ever-growing popularity of team and individual sports, professional and recreational athletes of all ages are an easy target for these claims. But how many of these claims are backed by evidence-based research?
A recent report now reviews the quality of evidence behind the claims of improved sports performance made by advertisers for a wide range of sports-related products, including sport drinks, supplements, footwear, and clothing. The team identified 431 performance-enhancing claims for 104 products advertised in more than 100 general, sport, and fitness magazines in the UK and U.S. for a single month in 2012. They found that more than half of the advertisements and their associated websites provided no evidence to support the claims of enhanced sports performance. Only 146 references were found, and only 74 of these met basic criteria for research quality and almost all of the 74 were found likely to be biased or lacking scientific objectivity. Only three studies were rated as “high” quality and probably unbiased. Such lack of evidence makes it very difficult for consumers to make well-informed decisions about using performance-enhancing sports products.
This review makes it clear that many of the claims made for sports and fitness products lack reliable evidence to support them and that more and better studies are needed to help inform consumers. In the meantime, consumers should be cautious when reading claims of enhanced performance and recovery and always remember that “true” evidence-based results mean that a substantial number of independent research studies have been performed, with findings that clearly support the claims made by advertisers. Presently, there is still no substitute for sound physical conditioning and nutrition practices.
For more information on dietary supplements and how to choose supplements safely, please visit Operation Supplement Safety (OPSS). For information on physical fitness and conditioning, please explore HPRC’s Physical Fitness domain. The original British Medical Journal open-access article is available online.
Attention, all disabled service members and veterans! Staying active helps with recovery by rebuilding strength and endurance—and in so many other ways, as well. A positive mindset and a supportive community are as important as fitness, and getting involved sports such as snowboarding, cycling, wheelchair basketball, and others can build both physical fitness and mental resilience. Consider checking out the Warfighter Sports Program developed by Disabled Sports USA. It offers more than 30 winter and summer adaptive sports in more than 150 events nationwide. Instruction, equipment, and transportation are provided to Warfighters and their guests. Become a part of the team and find the events happening in your area today!
For older men, it’s especially important to lead a healthy and physically active lifestyle since the risk for certain chronic diseases increases with age. Multiple studies have found that as little as 30 minutes a day of moderate- to vigorous-intensity exercise can significantly lower a man’s risk for heart disease and related risk factors such as diabetes, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure. Age is also a significant risk factor for developing prostate and colorectal cancers, which makes prevention and risk-factor management even more important for older men.
Exercise has been linked to lower risk and rates of death for prostate, lung, and colorectal cancers, the three most common cancers experienced by men. So get out there! Take a brisk walk, go for a jog, swim, bike, play tennis, even certain heavy outdoor yard work is acceptable for this purpose. If you need more structure, try a gym—many fitness centers offer military discounts on memberships and personal training sessions. Some military facilities also offer group and family recreational activities. The important thing is to find an exercise routine that you enjoy. If it’s not fun or motivating then it’s not likely to become part of your lifestyle.
The benefits of an active lifestyle are numerous, but prevention is one goal to keep your regular exercise program on the right track. Be sure to consult with your physician before starting an exercise routine, especially if exercise is new for you. Living a healthy lifestyle and getting screened for health complications are important ways to maintain readiness, resilience and optimal performance.
If you’re going TDY soon and your travel plans include an airport, read on. Don’t just step on to the people movers between concourses and then sit around while you wait. The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) wants you to turn your travel experience into an opportunity to get some exercise. ACSM’s “Exercise on the Fly” task force is promoting healthy air travel by getting people to think of airports as fitness centers: Every major airport is climate-controlled, with stairs and long stretches of walking areas. For layovers that last several hours, you might even have time to find a park or gym nearby outside the terminal. The task force is working with airport officials to post signs and other materials that promote walking while you wait. They also hope to publish a list of all physical activity opportunities at about 20 major hub airports in the United States. Remember that every little bit counts, even if it’s just a brisk 10-minute walk between terminals. So next time you head to the airport, be sure to throw a pair of sneakers in your carry-on for a workout on the go.