Filed under: Physical fitness
One of the best but most-overlooked ways to prepare for your Physical Fitness (PFT) or Physical Readiness Tests (PRT) is to make sure your body is well fueled. Proper fuel and a good workout strategy can get you ready to take on the challenge!
- Keep hydrated. Drinking enough fluids will help your body function at its highest level. These amounts can vary depending on weather and location. Don’t restrict drinking water because you’re worried about weigh-in. This can backfire at test time.
- Eat something light. You’ll need enough fuel to perform well, but too much can slow you down. Proper fuel should come from a high-carbohydrate source about 200–300 calories such as cereal, fruit, and milk. Or a slice of whole-wheat bread with egg or nut butter. Yogurt and fruit are nourishing pre-test snacks too. And try to eat 30–60 minutes before your PFT/PRT, if possible.
- Avoid trying new foods. Try new bars, chews, gels, or other foods during training, but not before your test because you could experience gastrointestinal upset. Give yourself time to use the bathroom before too.
How do you know how much weight to lift when you start a resistance-training program? Most programs are designed around lifting a percentage of your maximum strength.
First, you need to find out what your maximum strength is. A popular method is the one-repetition maximum test (1RM): the most weight you can press once but not twice. You can also do multiple-repetition tests for a reliable estimate of maximum strength. A 5-repetition test seems to be accurate, but more than 10 reps is unreliable.
This instructional video demonstrates the American College of Sports Medicine’s (ACSM) protocol for a 1RM test. ACSM’s protocol can also be applied to a multiple-repetition test. For example, determine the most weight you can lift 5 times, but not 6 times, for a 5-rep max test. If you have doubts about whether this is the right test for you, be sure to consult a healthcare professional.
The second step is to determine what amount of weight—as a percentage of your 1RM—you should use to improve your muscular strength and endurance. Typically, your muscular strength should improve if you use 60–80% of your 1RM. You should be able to improve your muscular endurance using about 50% of your 1RM. Once you’ve assessed your maximum strength, use this conversion chart from the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) to determine your 1RM percentages.
There’s an unpleasant situation that runners sometimes experience called “runners’ trots” or diarrhea. While short lasting and generally harmless, they can be annoying and cost you time during training or a race.
Certain activities such as high-intensity or long-duration exercise and vertical-impact sports (e.g., running vs. biking) increase your risk of gastrointestinal (GI) discomfort. Dehydration, poor conditioning, medication, and eating habits can cause GI irritation too. Despite the lack of hard evidence as to what causes these GI issues, there are things you can do to help settle your stomach:
- Avoid trying new foods or sports drinks during a race.
- Increase the time between eating and activity. Wait at least 3 hours after eating a large meal, or eat a smaller meal or snack closer to training time.
- Plan out your meals, especially for endurance events.
- Pay attention to what you eat to help identify foods that increase your discomfort during running. It’s best to avoid these until after you finish your race.
- Limit your intake of gas-forming or fiber-rich foods (e.g., broccoli, onions, and beans).
- If you’re sensitive, avoid coffee and other forms of caffeine before a run.
- Hydrate before and during endurance activities; it will help blood flow to the GI area.
- If you use sports gels or chews for endurance events, drink enough water (three to eight ounces every 15–20 minutes) to stay hydrated.
- Give yourself time to use the bathroom before an endurance exercise.
- Increase distance and intensity gradually.
If symptoms persist for more than a few days, even at rest, seek medical attention. Enjoy your run!
Whatever your goals are, keep in mind that they’re easier to accomplish when they’re SMART goals:
It’s a well-established method for fitness-oriented goals—to lift a certain weight, cycle a century, or run a marathon in a certain amount of time—and it works equally well in other areas of life. Maybe you want to reach a specific rank at your job or finish college by a certain date. Goals aren’t just for dreaming big; they’re for achieving.
- think through exactly what you’re aiming for;
- determine if this goal is a good fit for you;
- measure and track your progress;
- use success-oriented language to think and talk about your goal; and
- break down the end goal into manageable steps.
Not only is exercise good for the body, it’s good for the mind. The expert consensus from the International Society of Sport Psychology is that exercise can increase your sense of well-being and help reduce anxiety, tension, and depression.
For veterans coping with depression, PTSD, or other mental-health issues, sports and exercise may be a great way to relieve stress. Scientists have shown the positive benefits of physical activity on symptoms of depression in veterans. What’s more, Veterans’ Administration studies have found that physical activity—especially vigorous activity—can decrease the risk of PTSD among Warfighters. The opposite is also true: Veterans who do not engage in physical activity are more likely to experience PTSD. Several organizations specialize in physical activity and exercise for warriors and their families, but you can always try a yoga class, a family bike ride, or other fitness opportunities in your community.
Getting motivated to exercise and stay active can be especially difficult for those suffering from PTSD and depression. Here are some tips to help you get up and get out the door.
- Make a date with yourself. Put it on your calendar or set a daily alarm—whatever you need to do to remind yourself that you’ve set aside some time for you to exercise. And don’t stand yourself up!
- Set a SMART goal and write it down. Post it on your bathroom mirror, your fridge, your car dashboard—wherever you’ll see it daily to remind yourself of what you want to accomplish.
- Recruit friends or family members to help. Telling people what your goals are is a great way to stay accountable. An exercise partner is especially helpful when you need that extra nudge to get off the couch and start moving.
- Keep a journal. Record your exercise activities and how you felt afterwards. While you may not feel better after every workout, you probably will most of the time. Being able to go back and read/remember how good exercise made you feel may motivate you for the next workout.
Being overweight puts you at risk for a whole host of health issues, but most people don’t think about the risk posed to their knees. The anterior cruciate ligament, or ACL, is one of the major ligaments of the knee and one of the most susceptible to injury. Injury information on more than 1,600 men and women at the U.S. Naval Academy showed that those with a higher body mass index (BMI) had a greater incidence of ACL tears. A difference in BMI of only 1.2 (25.6 versus 24.4) made the difference between having and not having this kind of injury. (To learn more about BMI, read HPRC's explanation.)
Like the adage “You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone,” knees are something we generally take for granted. To stay on top of your game, you need your knees. An easy way to protect them is to drop the extra weight you’re asking them to carry around.
Warfighters and family members looking to track their food choices now can use the United States Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service (USDA-ARS) National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference (called The Standard Reference or SR). This nutrient data is widely used and has been incorporated into many smart phone “apps” and interactive websites. Of particular interest is the USDA’s SuperTracker, where users can customize their dietary plan and physical activity. For more information, read how to access this nutritional data.