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Welcome to the HPRC Blog. We've got lots of information here, from quick tips to in-depth posts about detailed human performance optimization topics.

A big name for a common knee problem

One very common cause of knee pain has a fancy name, but avoiding it can be quite simple if you follow some important advice.

Chondromalacia is a knee problem that can have a number of different symptoms, including pain. It can your ability to exercise, but even more problematic is that it can interfere with your ability to meet the demands of your military duties.

Here’s the basic rundown on chondromalacia: In a healthy state, the kneecap has soft cartilage beneath that allows the bone to glide smoothly against the other bones of your knee joint. When the smooth surface wears away, the back of the kneecap becomes rough and rubs the other bone surfaces, causing pain. The key to avoiding this condition is maintaining that smooth surface.

According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, muscle weakness, imbalance, or tightness in the thigh muscles can contribute to chondromalacia. It’s important to maintain strength in your quadriceps and hamstring muscles; follow a strength-training program to develop and maintain strong muscles. Also, make sure that you have enough flexibility in your quads; if the muscles and tendons are too tight, they can force the kneecap to move or “track” incorrectly in the natural groove of your knee joint. If you do a lot of running, make sure your footwear isn’t old and worn, because the shock-absorption of shoes decreases as they age. When it comes to knee pain, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Strengthen and stretch your muscles, and you’ll be on your way to keeping your knees ready for action.

In the middle of a fight, change your focus

If fights with your loved ones last longer than the argument itself, then check out this strategy for refocusing your mind and calming your body.

When you find yourself in an argument with a loved one, it’s important to be able to move on afterwards without being burdened by negative feelings. But sometimes the negativity can hang on after the argument itself is over, and can make interacting with the other person difficult. It’s important to work out those negative feelings so that they don’t fester and wreak more havoc in your relationships.

Here’s how: When you find yourself in the middle of an argument, take a time-out before you become too worked up. It’s easier to shake off negativity at this stage. Stay levelheaded enough to stop the argument, walk away, focus on something else, and make yourself focus on positive thoughts about yourself, something else, or your loved one. While you are doing this, also engage in some stress-management techniques such as deep breathing or progressive muscle relaxation; you can learn about them in the Mind-Body Skills section of HPRC’s website. By refocusing your thoughts and letting go of stress in your body, you’re more likely to feel calmer, slow your heart rate, and be less reactive to the other person. Once you’re calmer, you’ll probably find it easier to interact more positively with the other person and do or say things that can enhance your relationship.

For more ideas on strengthening your relationships, check out HPRC’s Relationship Enhancement section or this article on “Basic Training for Couples Communication.” And for more information on handling stress, check out HPRC’s Stress Management section.

A snappy way to get into shape

Snap into shape! Learn about the benefits of using elastic bands during resistance training rather than free weights or weight-machine exercises.

Anything can disrupt your usual workout routinesummer 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.

Get SMART about setting goals

HPRC Fitness Arena: Mind Tactics, Total Force Fitness
Filed under: Goals, Mind, Mind tactics
Want to train smarter? Learn this structured process for setting goals in a way that will help you reach them.

There is a structured technique to setting goals called “SMART.” It stands for “Specific, Measurable, Action-oriented, Relevant, and Time-sensitive.” Using the SMART technique can help you to jump in to a goal now, fuel your motivation, and help you follow through. Check out HPRC’s Answer “Set SMART goals” to learn how you can put this method to work for you.

For single Warfighters coming home

Coming home from deployment as a single Warfighter? Check out HPRC’s 10 Performance Strategies for easing back home.

HPRC’s Performance Strategies “For single Warfighters coming home” gives you helpful tips for returning home after deployment if you are single. It highlights suggestions that manage your expectations (as well as those of your family and friends), as well as ideas for easing back into “normal” life, establishing an at-home schedule, increasing your support system, and other important aspects to consider.

Stand up for your health!

You might consider yourself healthy since you get at least 30 minutes a day of exercise, but what you’re doing the rest of the day may have a greater impact on your health and performance.

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,

Focus on food, not supplements

When it comes to nutritional value, dietary supplements just don’t measure up. Choose whole foods such as fruits and vegetables instead to fuel your performance.

Food and health are hot topics these days. Just turn on the TV, pick up a magazine, or glance at the margins of your social networking site and you’ll hear and read about the supposed health benefits of dietary supplements containing this or that food component and the promises that they will “burn belly fat” or some similar claim.

Many of these promising food components belong to a group of compounds referred to as phytochemicals—chemicals produced by plants as a means of protecting the plants from various diseases.

Interestingly, when you eat plants (such as fruits and vegetables), the phytochemicals they contain might protect you from disease too. Researchers have found that people who eat a lot of fruits and vegetables have lower rates of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and many other diseases. Scientists haven’t discovered exactly how these compounds work to protect us, but they have discovered that they seem to have a synergistic effect. That is, the compounds seem to work better in combination, especially when they are supplied in their natural form—whole foods. Consuming isolated single compounds, as in dietary supplements, rarely has the same beneficial effect as eating the whole food. See these resources about fruits and vegetables and how they may impact your overall health.

Focusing on single nutrients (in pill form) is not only expensive, it just doesn’t offer the promise that a balanced, varied diet can. Focus on food, instead. For more information about the benefits of food versus dietary supplements, check out this OPSS brochure, “Nutrition: Fueled for Fitness.”

Get into a state of flow

HPRC Fitness Arena: Total Force Fitness
You’ve heard of being “in the zone,” but do you really know what it is? Find out what is involved in getting yourself into this optimal state of flow.

The state in which athletes perform at their best is often referred to as “the zone,” but researchers refer to it as “flow.” This experience of being completely immersed in an activity involves:

  • Clear goals and immediate understanding of whether actions are helping or hurting progress towards goals.
  • Intense and focused concentration on the present moment.
  • Merging of action and awareness.
  • Absence of self-consciousness and anxiety.
  • Time seems distorted (slow in the moment and fast retrospectively).
  • Targeting of your attention where it is most needed.
  • Challenges or opportunities feel like a stretch but still match your skill level.
  • Feeling in control and prepared to face whatever happens next.

You can experience flow in myriad ways, whether you’re engaged in combat, playing competitive sports, or raising children. Flow can’t be forced, but you can set the stage for it by learning good stress management and practicing key skills through repetition.

For more information you can use to help you get in the zone, check out HPRC’s Stress Management and Mind-Body Skills sections.

Be a “Joy Multiplier,” not a “Joy Thief”

Filed under: Mind, Mood, Relationships
The way you respond to someone when they share good news can either enhance or detract from your relationship. Learn how to strengthen others with “Active Constructive Responding.”

At the Warrior Resilience Conference V in August 2013, representatives of the Comprehensive Soldier & Family Fitness (CSF2) program discussed one of the resilience-promoting skills that they teach for strengthening relationships: Active Constructive Responding.

Active Constructive Responding shows “authentic interest” where sharing creates a deeper experience for both individuals. For example, when someone shares a positive event with you, the best response is to show interest or excitement about what he or she is telling you, followed by a positive conversation about it. By doing this you can be a “Joy Multiplier.” By comparison, it’s important not to do any of these:

  • Kill the joy by focusing on possible negatives about the event (being a “Joy Thief”).
  • Bring up something that happened to you, turning the attention away from the other person, or completely ignore what you were told (being a “Conversation Hijacker”).
  • Respond to the other person as if distracted and/or with limited interest (being a “Conversation Killer”).

To learn more about this technique (and the ones to avoid), check out this presentation from CSF2. And for more about CSF2, check out this section on HPRC’s website.

What’s all the compression about?

Compression garments have become a part of sports uniforms and everyday athletic wear, but can they actually help your performance?

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.

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