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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   »


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