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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.

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.

Don’t let your performance suffer from grogginess

HPRC Fitness Arena: Total Force Fitness
Filed under: Performance, Sleep
Learn about whether sleep inertia impacts your performance.

That “slow to wake up” feeling of grogginess in the morning has a name: sleep inertia. HPRC asked a sleep expert whether sleep inertia is a real threat to performance, and the answer may surprise you: While sleep inertia is a real phenomenon, the threat it poses to performance has never been seriously studied but probably isn’t as bad as you might think.

However, sleep inertia can be a serious issue when cognitive performance—such as problem solving and decision making—is called for immediately on waking. For example, physicians who are awakened by calls from nursing staff have been known to make serious errors. For most situations, though, it’s better to sleep (and pay down any “sleep debt”) rather than stay awake with the intent of being alert just in case you’ll be called on, our expert concluded.

If your head does need to be in the game quickly after awakening, call on some caffeine to help; it can give you the boost you need to get out of your sleep inertia. Popping in some caffeine gum when you wake up (but only when essential) can produce near-normal cognitive performance within about five minutes.

For more information about sleep, check out HPRC’s Sleep Optimization section. And to learn more about caffeine chewing gum, check out HPRC’s article on caffeine chewing gum and performance.

Social media “red flags”

You shouldn’t believe everything you read on social media, especially when it comes to dietary supplements and sports products.

Sports products and dietary supplements are often discussed on social media, but think twice before taking other’s word for it. A recent article in the British Medical Journal notes that claims and endorsements made on social media such as Facebook & Twitter are not regulated and may promote statements that have not been supported by science. Some red flags noted include:

  • Paid endorsers. Do you know that some comments and images about a product can come from people (celebrities and non-celebrities) paid by companies to post great reviews about their products? Be careful that such claims may be coming from a paid sponsor and may exaggerate their results from a product.
  • Endorsed hashtags. The hashtag such as “#ad” is a disclosure recommended by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to indicate that a social media post is coming from someone being paid (or otherwise reimbursed) by the company of the product they are endorsing. If such a hashtag appears in a social media post, then you know that it is sponsored and may be biased. (For more about FTC’s new endorsement guidelines, visit their FAQs web page.)
  • Biased research. Assessing the science behind claims is the best way to evaluate a product. However, a common practice is that companies cite their own labs and research. When it comes to dietary supplements, it’s best to get information about products from unbiased, evidence-based organizations such as Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database, United States Pharmacopeias (USP), or NSF International.
  • Unbalanced comments. When you scroll through a product’s social media page, do you find that all the reviews are positive? On platforms such as Facebook, companies have the ability to delete comments. A transparent company usually addresses negative comments and provides support to establish its position.

Look for these and other red flags when it comes to dietary supplements and their advertising. If you have a question about a particular sports product or dietary supplement and can’t find the answer on HPRC’s website, please use our “Ask The Expert” button located on the Operation Supplement Safety (OPSS) home page.

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