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Departments : The Winning Edge

Functional Fitness

You can't protect and serve if you're not fit enough to chase or fight the bad guys.

May 04, 2010  |  by James Harbison

Do you believe physical fitness is a relevant component of your job? If you don't, you're mistaken. We are occupational athletes. We need to make physical fitness part of our lifestyle. Most of us engage in some type of physical activity, but how much of that is geared toward enhancing our job performance? How about our survival?

Sports trainers have long understood the value of sport specific training. Military trainers have long embraced the concept of mission specific training. How about cops? What kind of physical fitness programs should we engage in to optimize our job specific fitness?

This article is not intended to be a comprehensive guide to physical fitness. Instead, I want to stimulate your thoughts regarding the composition of your exercise program by offering two important fitness concepts.

Before I introduce these two critical concepts, let me say this: Something is usually better than nothing. Often, the excuse for not maintaining a high level of fitness is related to time constraints, followed by fear of injury or boredom. This leads to personal fitness programs that are less than optimal, but nonetheless, better than nothing. So if you are doing something vs. nothing, keep it up. If you want to go to the next level and optimize your physical fitness and make it job relevant, read on.

Functional Fitness

When we examine the physical activities and demands of our profession, we find things such as lifting, dragging, pushing, dodging, sprinting, climbing, striking, and grappling, to name a few. Our fitness programs should focus on enhancing our ability to engage in these activities. In other words, we need job relevant or mission specific exercises.

While we will most likely derive some health benefits from regularly running four miles, is that activity directly transferable to our jobs? Almost all of us would answer no, because we don't routinely engage in tasks that require us to run four miles as part of our daily jobs. However, we frequently operate under the assumption that a general level of physical conditioning, such as that derived from running four miles, will suffice. But like sports athletes or military personnel, our conditioning should be specific to our needs.

What do cops need? To put this question into perspective, think of the most physically demanding, high-risk activity we engage in: fighting. We have all been in that prolonged fight or struggle that in reality lasted two to three minutes but felt like an eternity and left us completely exhausted, and sometimes injured. This is because the energy systems our bodies use to meet these physical demands are not enhanced by the typical "workouts" cops do.

Likewise, the movements we engage in to fulfill our "workout" are usually not the same as those we engage in during a fight. Our training programs must replicate the demands our jobs place on our bodies. Here are two concepts to help you gain job relevant, functional fitness.

Concept 1: Change Your Intensity

Cops need power, agility, speed, strength, balance, and endurance. Long duration, low-intensity activities, such as extended distance runs, do not promote the first five qualities, and develop a type of endurance that is actually counterproductive to our physical needs. A short distance foot chase, followed by a struggle with your suspect to gain control, requires explosive movement and a different type of endurance: anaerobic endurance.

Dr. Izumi Tabata, a former researcher at the National Institute of Fitness and Sports (Japan), found that high-intensity interval training produces significant improvements in anaerobic capacity, which raises anaerobic endurance. This is important, because sprinting and fighting tax your anaerobic energy systems, and therefore, improving your anaerobic capacity is a highly job relevant fitness goal. Additionally, high-intensity interval training improves your aerobic capacity, giving you a dual fitness benefit. Conversely, traditional aerobic training has been shown to have no effect on improving anaerobic capacity.

CONTINUED: Functional Fitness «   Page 1 of 2   »

Comments (5)

Displaying 1 - 5 of 5

Ima Leprechaun @ 5/16/2010 8:31 AM

I think its ok if Officers want to be body builders but the reality is most of us are just average people. The guys that can run down a suspect with all that police crap hanging off our body as well as body armor and wearing combat boots are rare. Even guys in the best shape have trouble doing that. A smart cop will "out think" the bad guy and save himself a heart attack. Between the radio and a good working knowledge of your patrol area most of us average cops out think the suspect. But wearing all that crap and in combat boots does not make for a good sprinter no matter what shape you are in. My agency required us to carry everything possible with us. We were not allowed to have a choice in what we carried on our gun belt. I always found that to be crazy. I only have so many hands so why did I need three kinds of non-lethal weapons and two kinds of lethal weapons on my gun belt and the necessary radio, handcuffs and extra ammo. Even Jesse Owens would have trouble running with all that crap strapped to his body. Its nice you want to stay in shape and I have no problem with that but some of us had genes that rendered us what we were. We learned to adapt and over come the deficiency through creative thinking. Why is that not recognized as a benefit too.

Ima Leprechaun @ 5/16/2010 8:53 AM

I just wanted to add I am not against physial fitness but to make it relevant to the job the officer must work out in his police uniform with all his equipment, armor and combat boots on. Only then will it directly benefit his on duty actions. All training, including police in service training teaches us that realism is the only way to make any training relative to our job. I think exercise is a good thing and I think anything is better than nothing. But walking and a sensable diet really do go a long way to keep us ready and fit. Many Police Officers have a military background and running is drummed into their head. But running is not the best way to exercise. People that run everyday of their life tend to have early onset of hip and knee problems. Exercise does not need to hurt to help. A lot of these guys believe in the "no pain no gain" theory. But just some kind of exercise and a decent food program make a huge difference in keeping you "job" fit. Also don't forget to use your brain because that is your most powerful tool. And no matter what kind of shape you are in that adrenalin boost you get will carry you a long way toward catching the crook and subduing him. Good defensive training will also carry you a long way too. When a person is under high stress they will do whatever they were trained to do. If you were trained properly you will have the right tools on hand for a safe arrest. Be Safe.

Donny Gordon @ 5/28/2010 11:51 AM

With all due respect to those endowed with bad genetics, an unfit Police Officer can be a operational liability. I think this article does well in covering the need for multi-planer movement exercise. Biceps are cool for the Hunnies, but the more common movements associated with getting in and out of a Patrol Car with a weighted variety of odd twists and turns are the ones that seem to put us out of action. The Meat and Taters: Some excercise is better than none.

Dale Kirksey @ 9/15/2014 3:11 PM

By all means train for functional fitness. I suggest doing at most a half hour workout every other day. Do something different every day, but you can return to favorite workouts occasionally. Take the stairs when you can. My favorite strength and power training tool is a sandbag. Make your own, or buy some online, but get some. They are great functional fitness training tools. There is lots more advice on the "sandbag workouts" page on this website:

Mason @ 1/19/2016 11:28 AM

I think working out is great, half hour of work out is pretty enough to keep you in a good shape always, may having a heavy sex with your partner is enough to boost your enegry and your love to your partner especially if you were a police man or a police woman due the long hours shifts.Therefor try to be always creative for how make your body active.

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