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.
Working out by yourself is fine if you’re self-motivated, but getting a buddy to tag along can provide the motivation needed to really ramp up your workout. Let’s face it—a bit of friendly competition can help you push harder than if you were alone. In fact, research has consistently shown that performance is substantially improved when you exercise with someone (even a virtual partner)—unless the workout is complex or involves tasks that require coordination, when the performance can degrade (i.e., "choking under pressure"). So, for best results, practice your difficult routines with a trainer, and then engage in healthy competition to optimize your performance. Keep in mind that not just any friend will do. It’s best to get a buddy whose skill level is similar to your own.
If you are eating good-quality foods in a well-balanced diet, then supplements aren’t necessary to achieve optimal performance. However, if you think you need to take supplements, make sure that you are well informed about the effectiveness and safety of the supplements you are taking or considering adding to your diet. Visit HPRC’s Dietary Supplements Classification System and the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database to learn more about performance supplements. In addition, check out our introduction to Operation Supplement Safety (OPSS), the new Department of Defense educational campaign about to be launched to help determine the relative safety of a dietary supplement product.
If you have ever bought a pair of toning shoes, you probably noticed you haven’t developed a Kardashian-curved derrière or a Brook Burke body just from walking around in them. You’re not alone. Recent developments have brought toning shoes back into the spotlight for the media and scientific communities. An independent study by the American Council on Exercise found that these kinds of toning shoes do not increase muscle activation or caloric expenditure compared to regular athletic shoes. However, a positive outcome may be that these shoes have motivated people to get out and walk, a physical activity that has many health benefits—without special shoes! Caveat emptor!
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) has been one of the military’s top priorities in the past few years, especially after reports of projected rates as high as 30% in veterans. However, a May 2012 Science article points to new findings that might indicate lower PTSD rates currently across all services—between 2.1 and 13.8%. Taking into consideration under-reporting due to stigma, the authors suggest these low rates might be due to the targeted attention that PTSD has received, along with interest in bolstering Warfighter resilience. The article cites the military’s adoption of resilience programs such as “Battlemind” as possible contributors to these low rates. The authors recommend more in-depth research to determine the effectiveness of such programs.
In training, in the field, and even when you’re not thinking about it—such as moving ammunition boxes into a transport—your muscular strength and endurance are essential components of your overall fitness. But training to improve muscular strength is not the same as training for muscular endurance. Muscular strength is the amount of force that a muscle can produce with a single maximum effort. Muscular endurance is the ability to sustain a muscle contraction over a period of time, or to repeatedly contract a muscle over a period of time.
When applying the FITT principle to your muscular fitness routine, here are some guidelines to follow:
Frequency. According to the most recent guidelines set forth by The American College of Sports Medicine and in agreement with other military fitness programs, resistance training for muscular fitness—both strength and endurance—by the “whole-body” training approach should be performed two to three days per week with at least 48-72 hours of rest between training sessions. The “split-body” approach involves focusing on one set of muscle groups one day and a different set on another day. This allows for consecutive days of resistance training in a cyclical routine. For example, you might exercise upper body muscles one day, followed by lower body muscles the next, and core/back muscles the third day of the rotation. Cycles in the split body approach will vary depending on how many muscle groups are exercised per day.
Intensity. With consistent training of two to four sets of reps per muscle group, most people see an increase in the size and strength of their muscles. However, even one set can result in improvements, especially in novice exercisers. When training for muscular strength, the weight you use should be about 60-80% of your one-repetition maximum (1RM). If you’re new to weightlifting or have not lifted weights for a while, start at 60%. (See our Healthy Tip on how to determine your 1RM.) For muscular strength, aim for eight to 12 reps per set, with a two- to three-minute rest between sets. If your objective is to improve your muscular endurance, the recommendation is 15-25 repetitions at no more than 50% of your 1RM, with a two- to three-minute rest between no more than two sets. A well-rounded muscular fitness program should include both strength and endurance training, but consider your specific goals when deciding on your approach.
Type. There’s a lot of different equipment you can use for resistance training, including machines with stacked weights, free weights, and resistance bands. Some exercises don’t require equipment, just your own body weight. For example, pushups and sit-ups, as assessed in the PRT, will help improve your muscular endurance. Individual exercises should focus on the major muscle groups such as the chest, shoulders, upper and lower back, abdomen, hips, thighs, and calves. Read more about the advantages and disadvantages of different types of training equipment, and about workouts that utilize your own body weight or minimal equipment.
Time. The duration of a resistance-training workout can vary considerably and is less important than maintaining proper form and technique. As for the tempo of each exercise, The American Council on Exercise (ACE) recommends lifting the weight for a count of two seconds, and lowering for a count of three to four.
Progression. According to ACE, once you are able to perform the maximum number of repetitions correctly and with relative ease, increase the amount of resistance by five to 10%. This applies to repetitions performed for both strength and endurance.
Minimize the risk of injuries by using proper form, exercising with a partner, and paying attention to signs of excessive fatigue and pain. And if you’re new to resistance training, consult a certified personal trainer on proper lifting techniques.
The next Op-Ed in this series will discuss mobility training for the PRT.
Families are constantly confronted with problems and the need to find solutions to them. In addition to all the challenges of everyday life that civilian families go through, military families also have to cope with additional stressors specific to the military, making the ability to solve problems a crucial skill.
Individuals tend to fare better in relationships when they discuss challenges with each other and then directly act on those problems. A book by two researchers suggests the following process for making decisions:
- Specifically state the issue
- State why the issue is important
- Brainstorm and discuss possible solutions to the issue
- Decide on a realistic solution
- Pick a specific amount of time to try the solution
Give this structured process a try and see how it works for you. For more ideas about family communication and problem solving, visit HPRC’s Family & Relationships section.
Family separations in the military have the added stress of uncertainty. For that reason, couples may need to make additional effort in order to communicate well while separated. Two studies offer tips for how to handle communication during deployment.
One recent study examined communication between military husbands and their wives during deployment. Interviews with wives of deployed Warfighters revealed that couples can deal better with the stress of being separated by balancing talk of everyday things with more meaningful conversations. Couples generally seemed to benefit from keeping deployment communication similar to non-deployment communication in both planned and spontaneous discussions.
Another study examined communication during deployment, as well as PTSD after deployment, and found that the positive impact of emails, care packages, and letters depended on how happy participants were with their relationships. More emails, packages, or letters during deployment sent between happier couples was associated with lower PTSD symptoms post-deployment.
Both of these findings suggest that strong, happy relationships play an important role before, during, and after deployment. For more ideas and tips for optimizing your communication and/or relationships, visit HPRC’s Family & Relationships domain.
In an April 2012 Times article Dr. Martin Seligman, whose work on “positive psychology” influenced Comprehensive Soldier Fitness, explains his stance that soldiers can enhance their mental toughness through optimistic thinking. By seeing situations as temporary—“It will go away soon”—or specific—“It’s just this once”—or changeable—“I can do something about it”—you can make it through adversity and perform optimally. The training also emphasizes how resisting negative thoughts such as “Maybe I don’t have what it takes to be a soldier” while expressing gratitude—“I made it farther than I did last time”—are part of the puzzle to building resilience and becoming mentally tough. To learn strategies that can help build mental toughness, visit OSOK’s Mind Tactics module in HPRC’s Total Force Fitness domain.
Memorial Day began as “Decoration Day” after the Civil War. In 1882, Decoration Day became widely known as Memorial Day, and after WWII it became a day to remember all our fallen heroes, not just those from the Civil War. In 1967, Congress passed the law making it an official holiday to be celebrated on May 30, subsequently changed to the last Monday of May. We at HPRC extend our greatest appreciation to those who have perished for our nation and offer our sincere sympathy for the families left behind. There are many ways people choose to remember those who gave their life as a supreme sacrifice to our country and its ideals, but most involve outdoor activities with families. HPRC (www.hprconline.org) is dedicated to providing our Warfighters and their families the information they need to build their resilience to prevent injury and illness and carry out their missions as safely and effectively as possible. Our desire is to reduce the level of sacrifice our warriors have to make as they fulfill their future missions for us and for our Nation.
When you begin a resistance training program, how do you know how much weight you should be lifting? Most muscular fitness programs are designed around lifting a percentage of your maximum strength.
The first step in this process is to determine what your maximum strength is. A popular technique for assessing muscular strength is the one-repetition maximum test (1RM), or the maximum amount of weight you can press once but not twice. Alternatively, multiple repetition tests can be performed as a reliable estimate of maximum strength. One study found that a five- repetition test was the most accurate, but no more than 10 reps should be used to estimate strength. This instructional video will demonstrate the ACSM protocol for a 1RM test. This protocol can also be applied to a multiple-repetition test. For example, determine the maximum amount of weight you are able to lift five times, but not six times, for a five-rep max test. If you have doubts about whether this is the right test for you, be sure to consult your doctor.
The second step is to determine what percentage of your 1RM, in weight, you should use to improve your muscular strength and endurance. Typically, improvements in muscular strength are seen when using 60-80% of your 1RM. Increased muscular endurance is achieved using about 50% of your 1RM. Read more on muscular fitness and more details on how to train for each here. Once you have assessed your maximum strength, use this conversion chart from the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) to determine percentages of your 1RM.