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How to run hills

Running hills can be hell, but proper form can help reduce fatigue and your risk of injury.

Hills: They can cause your heart to race, lungs to hurt, muscles to burn, and brain to ask, “Why am I doing this?” But running hills is one of the best ways to get in shape, as long as you run them correctly. Your form is important for running uphill, just like it is for running on flat ground. Running uphill with bad form can cause unnecessary fatigue and perhaps injury over time. But there are a few things you can do to maintain proper form and boost your performance:

  • Lean in from your ankles. That is, resist the urge to bend over or lean in at your waist, which puts all of the stress on your quadriceps (rather than getting help from your glutes, hamstrings, and lower leg muscles). It will cause you to fatigue sooner too.
  • Swing your arms. Use the forward motion of your arms to help propel you up the hill. Exaggerating your normal arm swing a bit can help, but just make sure your arms are swinging front to back and not coming across your body.
  • Drive your knees. Think about lifting your knees just a little bit more as you’re running uphill. This also will help propel you upwards.
  • Shorten your steps. Your form might naturally change from midfoot strike to more of a forefoot strike when you’re running up hills, especially the steep ones. Shortening your stride will help keep you more upright and efficient when pushing yourself up the hill.

Strengthening your core and lower body can be particularly helpful for hill running. Planks, pushups, and vertical core exercises will help you maintain an upright posture. Lunges, reverse lunges, squats, and box jumps strengthen your quads, glutes, and hamstrings while also improving power. Calf raises and foot slaps will improve your lower leg strength and stability too.

Whether you’re on a treadmill or Heartbreak Hill, practice good form for optimal performance.

Posted 19 April 2017

Boost your push-up performance

Learn some tips on how to improve your push-up performance.

Push-ups are a simple, but telling, exercise. They measure your upper-body strength and endurance, but they’re often a sticking point for service members during their fitness tests. So, how can you improve your push-up performance? The short answer is: Do more push-ups. Just like you have to train faster to run faster, “practicing” your push-ups is the best way to increase your strength and endurance. That said, there still are other components to a push-up that you might consider when trying to improve your overall performance.

Core strength is critical to a good push-up and injury prevention. Improving your core strength with balance and vertical core exercises and planks will help improve your performance and push-up form. No sagging!

Push-ups require a lot of shoulder, chest, and arm strength too. Building up those muscle groups also will help improve your endurance and power. If you can’t do a full push-up, start with incline push-ups (against a bench or box) or bent-knee ones to build your strength.

You also might notice that your legs get tired during your push-ups; that’s because they’re working to support your body as well. Increasing leg strength, particularly your quads, also will help reduce overall fatigue.

If you’re looking for a more detailed plan, try West Point’s Cadet Candidate Fitness Improvement Program. You can use their spreadsheet to map out a fitness program based on your current abilities. Remember to properly warm up before you push up too!

Posted 12 April 2017

Exercise intensity: Less isn’t always more

How important are high-intensity workouts?

The saying goes that “less is more,” but when it comes to exercise intensity, that might not be the case. We know that some exercise is better than no exercise, but is more-intense exercise better than moderate-intensity exercise? How hard should you push? And what are the benefits? What are the risks? With the growing popularity of high-intensity workouts, it’s important to consider both the risks and the benefits.

The role of intensity during exercise has been demonstrated. For example, the risk of death in older adults is lower for those who walk at a faster pace than for those who walk at a more leisurely pace. Short-duration high-intensity interval exercise has similar, if not better, benefits compared to long-duration low-intensity exercise. These benefits include reduced risk for chronic disease, increased oxygen uptake, and overall improved exercise performance. Since the number one barrier to exercise individuals report is not having enough time to exercise, this is important: With increased intensity, workouts can be shorter in duration, and you can still reap the benefits. You also can feel “afterburn” following high-intensity exercise, which means your body is burning calories even after you’ve completed your workout.

The good news is that exercise intensity is relative, so you can benefit from exercise at a level that is you consider high intensity, whether you’re just starting out or you’re a seasoned athlete. Shoot for your target heart rate as a good start to gauge intensity. Not every workout needs to top out the intensity scale. In fact, doing too much too often can lead to overtraining and injury. Remember to listen to your body and incorporate rest or light days into your workout regimen.

Compression garments: Do they work?

Compression socks, sleeves, and other garments are popular among athletes, but do they actually increase performance and decrease recovery times?

Compression garments come in a variety of sleeves, socks, shorts, and full-body suits. The amount of pressure, or compression, they provide depends on the type and size of the garment. Compression garments help push blood toward your heart and prevent it from “pooling” or collecting in the compressed areas. Compression sleeves also are used in clinical settings for those with lymphedema, where blood circulation is poor, or to prevent blood clots.

But can they increase your performance and decrease your recovery times? Compression garments have been shown to help blood flow to working muscles during exercise, but that necessarily doesn’t translate to better performance. Most studies look at compression socks during running, and most evidence suggests no difference in athletes’ performance levels during runs when compared to those not wearing compression socks. In addition, there’s no decrease in recovery time or blood-lactate levels.

Still, those wearing compression socks report “feeling better” and “less tiredness” in their legs during their runs. They also feel less sore following the exercise bout. And while there might not be an actual benefit of wearing compression gear, if you feel better wearing it—either during or after exercise—then keep doing what works!

Swimmers: Don’t hold your breath

HPRC Fitness Arena: Environment, Total Force Fitness
What is hypoxic blackout and how can you prevent it?

Swimmers and free divers who hyperventilate before holding their breath for long periods underwater are at risk of hypoxic blackout—loss of consciousness—that can result in brain damage and death. (It sometimes is known as “shallow water blackout,” but this can be confusing because there are other causes of “shallow water blackout.”)

Hypoxic blackout often affects skilled, fit, and competitive swimmers and free divers. They practice breath holding or hypoxic training in water to increase their ability to hold their breath for longer periods of time. But depending on the technique, this can be a dangerous practice.

Breathing is a process of exhaling carbon dioxide (CO2) and inhaling oxygen. The actual urge to breathe is caused by a buildup of CO2 within your lungs. If you simply try to hold your breath underwater, the physiological urge to breathe will eventually take over so there isn’t a significant risk of “passing out.” However, some swimmers and free divers have found that if they hyperventilate before diving into the water —either by rapid breathing or taking deeper breaths—they can hold their breath for longer periods of time. It’s the act of hyperventilating that can be deadly.

When you hyperventilate before underwater swimming, the amount of CO2 is reduced in your lungs and the urge to breathe is diminished. Without warning, you can lose consciousness—at which point a breath is forced and water fills your lungs. Unless rescue is immediate, brain damage and death are likely outcomes.

Training with instructors and a skilled free-dive or swimming community will help reduce your risk of tragic accidents. In addition, there are other things you can do to avoid hypoxic blackouts.

  • Don’t hyperventilate before underwater swimming.
  • Never swim alone.
  • Don’t ignore the urge to breathe underwater. 

Training by suspense

Learn how to get a total-body workout with suspension training, using just your body weight as the resistance to perform exercises that build strength, flexibility, and balance.

Suspension training is popular among both civilians and service members, for good reason. If you’re on deployment or otherwise traveling, it isn’t practical to lug around heavy exercise equipment. But pack a couple of suspension-training straps, and you’ve got part of a well-rounded training routine covered. Once the straps are securely anchored to something sturdy enough to hold your weight, just place your hands or feet into the loops, and your body weight enhances the effectiveness of exercises such as pull-ups, push-ups, lunges, core strengthening, and more.

While there are various ways to adjust and adapt the exercises for less experienced exercisers, this type of workout does call for some initial joint and core stability. There’s also potential risk of injury, especially for beginners. Before you try this for the first time, it’s a good idea to get some advice and guidance from a suspension-training professional. More gyms are now offering suspension-training classes, so you also can use one of these to get started. In the meantime, visit the National Strength and Conditioning Association’s page about suspension training for an idea of what to expect.

EPOC-alypse, now!

Some exercise programs claim their workouts give you “afterburn.” But does your body continue to burn calories after exercise?

Have you ever raced to the top of a long flight of stairs and found yourself gasping for breath just minutes later? Excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC), also known as “afterburn,” occurs after strenuous exercise as a way to bring your body back to its normal metabolic rate. It takes time for your body to replenish the oxygen used up during exercise, and during this time you continue to burn calories as a result of your elevated metabolism.

You might have experienced EPOC after completing a tough workout, remaining hot and sweaty even 20–30 minutes later. The good news is that it doesn’t take a long workout to achieve that afterburn. Still, it means your workouts need to be more intense. Rounds of short bursts of high-intensity exercise—such as cardio or resistance training—followed by a period of low-intensity exercise or rest is the best way to achieve afterburn. This style of intermittent high-intensity exercise can burn more fat, improve glucose tolerance, and even increase your aerobic fitness. Many commercial programs and gyms claim their workouts will increase EPOC, but this isn’t “new science.” And you don’t have to pay extra money to achieve the same results.

Split your cardio workout into two shorter sessions of higher intensity to accomplish a longer afterburn. For example, if you usually cycle for 50 minutes after work, do two 25-minute rides instead: one before work and one after work. Or replace your normal resistance training with supersets: Pair 2 exercises of opposing muscle groups and complete them back-to-back with minimal rest. For example, combine pull-ups with pushups into one superset, completing 8–12 repetitions of each exercise for 3–5 sets. You also can do a full-body workout by combining 3–4 different supersets. Remember to maintain proper form because it reduces your risk of injury too.

Best time to exercise

Is there an ideal time of day for exercise?

The best time of day to exercise is the time when you can maintain a consistent exercise routine—not necessarily the same time for everyone. You also might experience better training adaptations when you exercise consistently at a regular time. For example, if you work out at noon every day, your body will adapt to perform at its best at noon.

Above all, exercise should be enjoyable. After all, if you don’t enjoy it, you’re less likely to keep up with it. So here are a few things to keep in mind about making exercise fit into your schedule.

Morning. It might be easiest to maintain a consistent exercise regimen by starting your day with a workout. Other things that come up during the day can affect your plans to work out later in the day, and motivation often fades as the day progresses. However, since your body and muscle temperatures are lower in the morning, it’s especially important in the morning to warm up properly before exercise.

Afternoon. Optimal adaptations to weight training seem to occur in late afternoon. Levels of hormones such as testosterone (important for muscle growth in men and women) and cortisol (important for regulating metabolism and controlling blood pressure) seem to be at optimal ratio later in the day. For some people—because hormone levels vary from person to person—lifting later also might be more beneficial because their testosterone can respond better to resistance exercises. 

Evening. The biggest caveat about exercising in the evening is how it will affect your sleep. Everyone is a little different. Some people can exercise right before bed and have no trouble sleeping. For others, it can make it difficult to get a good night’s sleep. There are lots of factors that can affect your sleep. Experiment to see what works for you.

Remember that other factors such as your work schedule, fitness goals, current diet, and sleep habits also affect your workout routine and physical performance. But whether at the end of the day (or in the morning or afternoon), a consistent exercise routine is the best routine.

If the shoe fits—Part 3: Tying your shoelaces

Filed under: Gear, Running, Training
Find out how to lace your running shoes for a better fit.

This third and final article in HPRC’s series about running shoes “ties” everything together. Although there are lots of different ways to tie them, the traditional way sometimes doesn’t cut it. Is your heel slipping? There’s a lace-up for that. Do you have a hot spot? There’s a lace-up for that. Check out the videos below for shoelace-tying fixes to 3 common foot problems:

Heel lock. What are those extra eyelets at the top of your shoes? Use those eyelets and this heel-lock method to secure your foot, without having to tighten the rest of your shoelaces.

Black toenails. Are your toenails turning black and blue? Tie your shoelaces to help pull the shoe away from your toes, giving them more wiggle room. Remember: The lace ends don’t have to be even once you start lacing your shoes. The diagonal lace can be a little shorter to start with, but leave enough so you can finish tying your shoes.

Hot spot or high arches. Is there a sore spot on the top of your foot? Or do you have high arches? Lace around painful areas—not over them—by moving the laces up or down, depending on where the irritation is located.

If you haven’t seen them yet, be sure to read Part 1 and Part 2 of the running-shoe series.

Olympic lessons for career-defining moments

HPRC Fitness Arena: Mind Body, Total Force Fitness
It’s time for the Summer Olympics! What can you learn from Olympians about performing when facing a career-defining moment?

Olympians can teach the rest of us how to perform our best during career-defining moments. While we all can’t compete in the Olympic Games, we can relate to those instances when the pressure’s on and it’s time to perform.

What helps Olympic athletes meet or exceed expectations? Successful team members train together, receive helpful support from friends and family, develop sharp mental skills, stay focused, and honor their commitment to the task and each other. Teams that fail to meet expectations lack experience and have problems bonding. And they tend to face planning or travel issues, problems with coaching, distractions, and commitment issues. Often the best you can do is set routines that guide your attention to actions—within your control—whether you’re an Olympian or someone who values achievement.

Just like your career-defining event only happens once or a few times during your career, athletes know the Olympic Games are unique, rare, and unlike other events. They understand what they’re doing is important. And they’re in the public eye, facing new distractions everywhere.

They’ve spent an extraordinary amount of time preparing and planning for these big events too. It’s natural for an athlete to think, “This is the first time I ever...” Being a “favorite” can come with even more pressure and thoughts such as, “Don’t screw up!”

Nearly all Olympic athletes experience nerves. However, they can experience “butterflies” as excitement to some degree, rather than nervousness. Facing nervousness can be more effective than fighting it or pretending it’s not there. When Olympians or you—during career-defining moments—shift focus to little action plans within your control, gold medals and big successes can be wonderful by-products.

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