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HPRC Fitness Arena: Physical Fitness
Anything can disrupt your usual workout routine—summer 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.
You’ve heard it all before: You need to get at least 30 minutes of moderate to intense exercise each day to help prevent chronic disease and improve your health. But what do you do for the other 23½ hours? If the answer is sitting (or sleeping), then you might have what is known as “sitting disease.”
It sounds like a joke. Unfortunately, it’s not. If your typical day is spent sitting at a desk, sitting while commuting, sitting down for dinner and TV afterwards, and then going to bed, you’re putting yourself at a greater risk for chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and even cancer. Studies consistently show that the more time you spend sitting or lying down, the greater your risk for chronic disease and early death. The simple act of standing up has even more physiological benefits when compared to sitting. The “active couch potato” phenomenon shows that even people who are relatively fit and meet the minimum requirements for daily exercise still exhibit risk factors for metabolic syndrome and other chronic diseases as sitting time increases. Sure, you might take the dog out for his morning walk, or maybe you even did PT before work; but the truth is that the more time you spend sitting the rest of the day, the greater the risk for disease.
You can see from the infographic below (from the American Institute for Cancer Research) that even those who engage in moderate amounts of exercise and physical activity are still at risk for cancer if 12 or more hours in the rest of their day is spent seated or lying down. The risk gets lower as people move more and sit less during the day.
Time is often a major reason that people say they don’t get enough exercise or physical activity during their day. It’s true that work can get busy, but it might just take a little creativity to turn it into a productive work AND physically active day. Here are some tips to help get you up and out of your fancy ergonomic chair.
- Bike or walk to work if possible.
- Take the stairs instead of the elevator (or at least partway if you work on a high-up floor).
- Turn your meeting into a walking meeting.
- Walk down the hall to give someone a message rather than email or call them.
- Stand up while talking on the phone.
- Don’t eat lunch at your desk; walk to the cafeteria or a nearby park, even if you packed your lunch.
- Find out if you can get a standing or walking desk at work.
- Buy a pedometer to track how many steps you take per day.
Doing what you can to increase the amount of time you spend standing, exercising and being physically active will improve your chances of a longer and healthier life,
Compression garments are becoming more and more popular in the sports world. Back in 2001, NBA All-Star Allen Iverson began wearing a sleeve on his arm to help with bursitis in his elbow, helping to increase blood circulation and reduce swelling in his arm. Similar sleeves are used for clinical conditions such as lymphedema, where blood circulation is poor, or to prevent blood clots.
You can find compression garments as sleeves, socks, shorts, or even full-body suits. There are various levels of compression for garments, but they all have gradient pressure, which means they’re a little tighter at the bottom of the garment and a little looser at the top to help push blood toward your heart and prevent blood from ‘pooling’ or remaining in the compressed areas. Most garments need simple measurements around your arms or legs to make sure you have the correct size.
But can these garments also impact your performance and recovery? It’s been found that compression garments do actually help with blood flow and increase oxygen to working muscles. But whether that translates into improved performance is another question altogether.
Most performance-related studies have looked at the effects of compression sleeves or socks on running. Some participants said they didn’t feel they were working as hard when wearing compression garments on their legs. While the relationship between compression garments and performance is still not clear, some researchers have suggested that this psychological benefit of lower perceived exertion might help athletes train at higher intensity. However, more research is needed to show if this ultimately leads to actual performance improvements.
In terms of recovery, more research is needed too. The effects of compression garments on muscle soreness after exercise have been mixed, but there have been no studies on the use of compression socks or sleeves for shin splints and other leg pain. They are sometimes effective at reducing the muscle soreness that occurs 24-48 hours after exercise. Relief of symptoms from wearing these garments varies from person to person, sometimes with no benefit. And it isn’t clear whether wearing these garments during recovery will improve your performance next time.
Physical fitness is important at any age, and it’s especially important that children begin leading healthy, active lifestyles early on. Regular exercise for kids can build strong muscles and bones and promote overall health. Exercise can also boost kids’ self-esteem, improve sleep, and stimulate learning in school. But do you know what kinds of exercise your children or teens should be doing? Check out HPRC’s Answer, “Put some fun in your children’s fitness,” to find out.
If you’ve been experiencing pain, burning, numbness, or tingling in one or both of your hands, you might be experiencing symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome. This “tunnel” in the wrist carries the important tendons and nerves that supply your hands with motor and sensory functions, allowing your hands to move and feel. Swelling inside the carpal tunnel can squeeze the median nerve that passes through it, causing discomfort. According to the Defense Medical Epidemiology Database, in the military, women are more likely than men to develop this condition. It’s also more likely to develop with age and rank. There are surgical and non-surgical treatments for carpal tunnel syndrome, but as the saying goes, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” The University of Maryland Medical Center has advice, which includes:
- Do exercises to keep your muscles and tendon flexible. (See the UMMC link above for detailed instructions.)
- When performing repetitive activities your the wrists and hands, take frequent breaks, even if it’s just for a minute or two at a time—called “microbreaks.”
- Use correct posture and technique, especially wrist position when using a keyboard or hand tools.
- Make sure that your work area is ergonomically sound. Military-specific information is available from both the Army Public Health Command and the Naval Safety Center.
HPRC’s Physical Fitness domain also has a section on Injury Prevention.
If you start to notice hip or knee pain during your PT runs, you might be experiencing iliotibial band friction syndrome—ITBFS for short—a common overuse injury. The iliotibial band, or IT band, is a thick band of fibrous tissue that extends down the outside of your thigh to where it attaches to your tibia (your larger lower-leg bone). As with all injuries to muscles and tendons, prevention is key. In most cases, ITBFS is brought on by combinations of factors—such as increasing your training mileage too fast, running on banked surfaces or downhill, pre-existing IT band tightness, and weakness of the lateral hip muscles—so paying attention to all of these is important for prevention. Incorporate some of these methods into your daily routine to help prevent ITBFS:
- A hip-conditioning program, as recommended by the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, can help you prevent ITBFS.
- Self-myofascial release methods such as foam rolling can be helpful with this hard-to-stretch area of your leg.
- Don’t do too much too soon. Gradually increase your running mileage or workout intensity. Guidelines for healthy adults include: (1) Increase the duration of your exercise program 5-10 minutes every one or two weeks over the first four to six weeks; or (2) increase your weekly training volume by no more than 10% per week.
- Stretches for the IT band and other muscles of the thigh and lower leg should be held for 30 seconds and repeated three to five times daily.
If you already have ITBFS, you probably notice more pain in the lateral (outside) hip or knee when you run downhill or when lengthen your stride. If left untreated, it also can lead to pain when you walk up and down stairs or sit for long periods of time with your knees flexed. Of course, you should consult with your physician for proper diagnosis and treatment. On your own, however, care usually includes the RICE and ISE methods.
Allowing time for the iliotibial band to heal is important for full recovery, so consider an alternative training routine (take a break from running and cycling) or take time off altogether. As the inflammation subsides, it may help to add stretching and strengthening exercises.
A 2011 study of musculoskeletal injuries in an Infantry Brigade Combat Team deployed to Afghanistan found that low back pain due to stress and strain on the back (not actual spinal cord injuries) was the most common complaint. Common causes of back injury include overuse, poor physical conditioning, and incorrect body movements when lifting and moving objects. Fortunately you can decrease your chances of injuring the muscles and ligaments of your back. The key is prevention: Stretching is one way to help prevent lower back pain, but it’s essential to use correct posture and body mechanics when you pick up and move objects such as heavy ammo cans! Daily back exercises (from the Mayo Clinic) and stretches can help strengthen your core and improve your posture, and the University of Maryland offers more valuable tips for prevention. If you’re experiencing back pain, however, you need to see a qualified healthcare professional for an accurate diagnosis and exercise program.
Staying in the physical condition you need for demanding duties and missions means that you are at risk for specific types of injuries, and rotator cuff injuries are common among service members. The rotator cuff is actually a group of muscles key to shoulder movement, including the ability to perform overhead activities. For those who are preparing for the CFT, this includes performing the Ammo Lift.
Warning signs of a shoulder injury can include not only pain and abnormal sounds during shoulder movement but also a decrease in strength and mobility/motion. What can you do about it? First, check with your healthcare provider to make sure that your injury does not require medical treatment. Then:
- Rest your injured shoulder! It is important to allow adequate time for healing.
- Use the RICE and ISE methods.
- Strengthen the muscles that control shoulder movement.
- Make sure that you have adequate flexibility of the rotator cuff muscles.
Of course, it’s always better to prevent injuries in the first place. To help reduce your risk of rotator cuff injury, it’s important to develop the strength and flexibility of the related muscles. For specific information on rotator-cuff exercises and self-care, check out these suggestions from MedLine Plus (a service of the National Institutes of Health) and this conditioning program from the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.
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.