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Train Up, Power Up, Save Up
To be a strong Soldier is to be a healthy Soldier. Not just physically, but emotionally, spiritually and financially. Here are a few tips to help you thrive in your high-speed Guard life.
As the spring of 2013 approaches, think of the rest of the year as a clean slate and embrace it with an open mind. Instead of feeling guilty about what you think you “should” fix in your life, which habits to break, or which new behaviors to adopt for your own well-being, why not instead dare to become a new and improved version of yourself? The enhanced version of you sleeps deeply, awakens with energy, is excited to start the day and has the confidence to make things happen.
The first step is to get moving. Researchers at the Mayo Clinic state that physical activity releases endorphins, which elevate your mood while reducing the immune system chemicals that worsen depression. Studies show that as little as three hours a week of brisk walking can halt, and even reverse, the brain shrinkage that starts in a person’s 40s, especially in the regions responsible for memory and higher cognitive function. In addition, the increased insulin sensitivity, fat-burning potential, reduced blood pressure and lower resting heart rate will leave you feeling calmer, more alert and primed to tackle each day. If you’re ready to act on fulfilling your potential, here are some easy-to-implement changes to get you started.
GIVE YOUR BODY A BOOST
STAY FIT ALL YEAR
A Soldier should be able to pass his or her APFT on any given day of the week. When you wait until the last minute to prepare for the test, you run the risk of acute injury (e.g. torn rotator cuffs and pulled hamstrings) because you have not maintained a basic fitness base. Take your own diagnostic test once a month and incorporate sit-ups and push-ups into your weekly training routine. A couple of minutes a day goes a long way.
PICK A GOAL
Taking on a physical goal that is initially daunting is a great way to bring all the other areas of your life into focus. When tackling personal goals, such as running a half-marathon, determine the number of weeks before the event and divide this time into three-orfour- week training blocks with a minitest in each block. After each minitest, determine what went well and where to improve, then adjust and drive on.
“If you want to kill somebody fast, deprive them of sleep,” writes Robb Wolf, author of The Paleo Solution. You might ask: “What’s the big deal if I’m a little tired?” Well, lack of sleep leads to a weakened immune system, weight gain, less brain clarity and reduced neuromuscular control that can put you at greater risk of injury. Be sure to block out all light in your bedroom, including electronics, and if needed, download a white noise app to lull you into slumber.
It’s unhealthy (causes 1 in 5 deaths a year), accelerates the aging process, costs a lot (a $5-pack-a-day habit adds up to $1,825 a year) and is smelly. If you feel you are ready to quit and pocket that money, start by identifying what triggers the behavior: a cup of coffee, a drink, a break at work, a stressful day. Then come up with a strategy in each of these situations to avoid lighting up—go for a walk instead of a smoke break, drink lots of water, don’t carry a lighter, avoid that cup of coffee, etc.
WORK ON FLEXIBILITY
Incorporate range-ofmotion training into your daily routine to have more energy, run faster, lift stronger, and reduce headaches, depression and stress. Start by sitting and standing with good posture to balance out your core and back muscles—even that can be challenging if you are used to slouching. For every hour of sitting, take five minutes to stretch your hip flexors, quads, calves, chest and neck to undo the daily stresses you place on your muscles and joints.
Maximize your time available and increase fitness through timed intervals. Two basic approaches are reps for time (or AMRAP: as many rounds/reps as possible) and time for reps (how fast you can you do a given workout). If you maintain a form standard in either format, you will work harder than simply counting to 15 before resting. Example: 20 push-ups, 30 sit-ups, 1/4-mile run; six rounds for time. Try random combos of exercises, reps and rounds, or do as many rounds as possible in 12 minutes.
MOTIVATIONAL TIPS FROM A DRILL SERGEANT
Staff Sergeant Adrienne Corna knows a thing or two about motivating people. As a drill sergeant with the Ohio National Guard’s Recruit Sustainment Program, Corna specializes in transforming mere civilians into mentally and physically tough recruits ready for Basic Combat Training.
FACE YOUR FAILURE
Every moment in life is an opportunity to learn and grow, even when you fail. You may have just experienced a failure, but this is a new moment. Focus on the strength of the present and the hope of the future.
NARROW YOUR FOCUS
Mentally focusing on success and physical hard work is the recipe for achievement. Visualize it and take action, and you will find a way to make it happen.
VARY YOUR WORKOUT
It’s no secret that you need to run and do push-ups and sit-ups to do well on your APFT. But why not spice up your training a bit by doing something different? You’ll not only get out of your normal, boring routine, but chances are you’ll notice yourself getting faster and stronger. Try these ideas to nail your next APFT.
Swimming is a great alternative because it can increase aerobic capacity and strengthen your core while offering a low-impact recovery option. Start out with kicking drills so you can work on an elongated body position while your head remains above water. Fins make this more manageable, though still challenging. Then, hold a pull buoy between your legs while you practice stroke drills. YouTube is a great resource for finding examples of these drills, as is the website BeginnerTriathlete.com. Start out by swimming 15-to-20- minute sessions, two to three times a week.
Cycling improves cardio fitness with little impact compared to running. Whether on a stationary bike, road bike or mountain bike, adjust the resistance so you have to focus to keep your rpms around 90–95. After a 10-to- 15-minute warm-up, add in five minutes of spin-ups where you increase rpms to over 100 for 15 seconds and recover for 45 seconds. Then increase resistance so it’s difficult to maintain 75–85 rpms for three to six repetitions of one to two minutes with a two-minute recovery. Head outside and enjoy 60-to-120-minute easy rides once a week to increase your aerobic base.
Strengthening your core will pay dividends when it comes to your fitness. Simply doing sit-ups will not only leave your core weak, but can set you up for a disastrous injury later. The core consists of the abdominals, obliques, spinal erectors, glutes and many other muscles located around your trunk. By working these muscles routinely, you’ll run faster and be able to do more push-ups and sit-ups. Most important, you’ll have a better chance of staying injury-free.
LEARN TO EMBRACE THE UNCOMFORTABLE
It’s been said that life begins at the end of your comfort zone. Never say “no” or “I can’t.” Always say “yes,” and things will happen that you had no idea even existed.
RECOGNIZE THAT THINGS CHANGE
Learn to be flexible and resilient. Not only will your stress level be lower with your ability to cope, but those around you will enjoy working with you more.
LOOK FORWARD TO THE UNKNOWN
Never fear what lies ahead. As long as you follow your heart and moral compass, things will always fall into place. Take the leap.
CAREFUL WITH IBUPROFEN
For anyone who takes ibuprofen before and after workouts to train harder and lessen muscle soreness, a recent study has a message: The practice could be harmful. It’s well known that one of the drug’s common side effects is possible gastrointestinal damage. But a study conducted in the Netherlands on a group of cyclists and published late last year in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise found that combining exercise and ibuprofen can increase the risk of such damage and weaken the intestines.
This study isn’t likely to be the final word on the topic, and ibuprofen is still widely considered acceptable as a treatment for injuries. But when it comes to using the drug as a preventive step, the study’s authors conclude “that nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs consumption by athletes is not harmless and should be discouraged.”
CONQUER YOUR STRESS
Nobody can argue the unique physical and emotional demands placed on National Guard Soldiers. They juggle civilian lives with continual training even on holidays and constant availability. That’s why emotional fitness is so important. Emotionally healthy Soldiers take pride in balancing jobs, school and family life with the opportunities and benefits that come with military service. Try these ideas to help you maintain a steady course in your life as a Citizen-Soldier.
Nobody is guaranteed a successful journey through life, but the people with the best attitudes seem to truly enjoy the ride. Regardless of your background or past experiences, every day is a new opportunity to choose whether to be happy and whether to bring joy to other people. It’s that simple. Also, don’t ever believe that “nice guys finish last.” Nice people have an advantage: They don’t waste energy keeping score.
LEND A HAND
One of the greatest keys to emotional fitness is doing things for others. Everyone gets chances to “pay it forward,” but few get opportunities to impact others’ lives like National Guard Soldiers. In emergencies, the Guard helps safeguard and restore entire communities. During deployments, Guard Soldiers represent American values to people in need around the world. Always remember what your service means and take pride in everything you’ve learned, earned and given back.
LAUGH IT UP
Successful teams often mention that they work hard and play hard together. That second part is essential. Soldiering is a tough job, but whether at home, drill, AT or even on deployment, there’s almost always something to laugh about. Laughter is a proven stress buster, takes the edge off of anxiety and anger, and even has some physical benefits. So even when your work is serious, look for ways to lighten the mood. It will keep you level.
CALM YOUR MIND
It can reinvigorate your spirit, ease stress, help you focus, keep you grounded in your values and even boost your immunity. It’s meditation, and though many Soldiers might think it’s not for them, the U.S. military recognizes just how effective it can be for Warriors on the battlefield.
A study of Marines that was reported in Men’s Journal in 2010 said that troops who meditated had greater mental agility, improved athletic performance, better sleep and stronger memories than those who didn’t. The National Institutes of Health says that regular meditation can reduce chronic pain, anxiety, blood pressure, cholesterol, substance abuse and post-traumatic stress.
But for many, meditation remains a distant concept. It shouldn’t be. You don’t have to belong to any religion to practice it, and contrary to what some believe, it doesn’t necessarily involve chanting. Meditation can simply mean quietly contemplating, focusing on your breathing, visualizing a desired result, keeping a journal, or relaxing your mind and concentrating on positive thoughts. Find a place where you can be alone with your thoughts. Then try meditating for five or 10 minutes daily. To learn more, talk to your unit’s Master Resilience Trainer.
You can’t avoid everyday pressures, but you can find ways to de-stress, depending on your situation:
EXERCISE: Nothing chases stress like working up a sweat.
MEDITATE: Clear your mind and get a fresh start.
BREATHE: Take three to five deep breaths and exhale very slowly.
RELEASE TENSION: Starting with your forehead, tightly contract and slowly release the muscles, as you move to the next muscle group (eyes, jaw, neck, etc.).
JUST MOVE: Often, simply going to another place—preferably outside—can help you chill out.
TAKE STOCK OF YOUR FINANCIAL HEALTH
For young Soldiers making their first real money, it can be easy to get the “urge to splurge.” But before you start spending—or worse, taking out a loan for new wheels—now’s the time to start developing smart money habits that could help you retire in 20 or 30 years with a pile of cash instead of a mountain of debt. Here are some tips to steer you in the right direction.
EAT IN TO SAVE MORE
Sound like a crazy place to start? Think again. If you spend only $5 for lunch and $10 for dinner every day during the workweek (this doesn’t include weekend blowouts), that’s nearly $4,000 a year you could be saving. And these amounts are low— most people spend much more. Learn to make foods you like, start packing a lunch and prepare to be amazed at how much money you have at the end of every month.
BEWARE OF CREDIT CARDS
Any time you “buy now, pay later,” you’re spending money you don’t have and paying interest. And unless you’re paying your credit card bill off every month, even more charges and interest are added. You literally can’t get ahead. Instead, pay cash or get a debit card. Rather than borrowing the bank’s money, the debit card simply transfers money from your account. It’s safer, and it keeps you from racking up more debt.
INVEST IN YOUR FUTURE
Instead of paying banks and finance companies to borrow money, why not let them pay you to hold your money? That’s what investing amounts to. Mutual funds and stocks generally require patience, but they pay more over the long haul. Once you’ve got your emergency stash and you’ve paid off your debts, it’s time to start talking to an investment counselor about how much you can start investing and which funds are right for you.
ENROLL IN THE TSP
The federal government’s Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) is a retirement savings/ investment program that works much like a 401(k). The money comes out of your paycheck so you pay lower taxes on your take-home pay. You’re not taxed on your TSP savings until you withdraw them (typically at retirement). Overall, you can save up to $17,000 annually, and you can choose from five different funds to best suit your savings goals. It’s a smart, easy way to save for later.
IT'S YOUR MONEY; GET TO KNOW IT
A lot of people think managing money is hard. But in the long run, it’s a lot easier than always being broke. There are so many resources offering sound advice about saving and investing, a little at a time—the way you can do it. The more you study and listen, the more you’ll learn about making your money work for you, instead of the other way around.