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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

Tabata developed an exercise protocol based on short rest intervals between work periods. His protocol involves a 2:1 work to rest ratio. Whether you strictly adhere to that or not, the principle of high-intensity work periods punctuated by short rest intervals is the basis for this critical concept. Engaging in high-intensity interval training (HIIT) will have the greatest impact on your functional physical fitness. This has the added benefit of getting more done in less time.

Functionally, you will benefit more from a 20-minute interval run or exercise circuit than a 45-minute low intensity (60 percent to 70 percent maximum heart rate) workout. You can take just about any form of exercise (calisthenics, heavy bag work, swimming) and break it into high-intensity work-rest intervals.

Concept 2: Change Your Movement

When we look at typical strength and conditioning programs, we find they are heavy on movements that are single joint, muscle specific, and single plane. For example, bicep curls or leg extensions. These are great for developing specific muscles or portions of muscles, but they do not accurately replicate job specific strength needs.

Realistically, law enforcement officers use multi-joint, multi-planar movements to get their jobs done. Look at the simple acts of getting in and out of your car, or taking a suspect to the ground. Both activities require the coordination of multiple muscle groups, and require movement on multiple planes. Let's examine each of these movement characteristics more closely.

Multi-joint, or compound, movements involve the use of multiple muscles and joints in a coordinated fashion. An example would be the six-count burpee (superman squat thrust). The movement engages core muscles, chest, arms, shoulders, and legs. The movement should be done in a controlled yet explosive manner to develop speed, power, and strength.

Multi-planar movements involve exercises that move the body on one of the three planes of movement: sagittal (front to back), frontal (side to side), and transverse (rotational). Perhaps the most neglected yet critical of these is the transverse plane. Too often, we overwork our muscles on the first two planes, which limits our functional range of strength and motion, and leaves us susceptible to injury.

For example, wall ball shots with a medicine ball are a great multi-joint explosive exercise. You can enhance this exercise by adding a twist to one side, working your muscles on the rotational or transverse plane. This develops the stabilizer muscles on the transverse plan as well as the sagittal plane. To put this into context, think about the movements associated with many takedown techniques, or as I mentioned earlier, the simple movement of getting in and out of the car.

Maximize Your Training

As I said in the beginning of this article, for most cops engaging in some type of fitness program is arguably better than doing nothing. But you can be so much more effective on the job if your training aims to strengthen the types of movements and endurance needed on the street. If you start to incorporate high-intensity interval training and compound, multi-planar movements into your fitness regimen you'll be well on your way to improving your overall physical performance on the job.

There are many resources available to guide you as you enhance your training. The National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) has a program designed to develop operational fitness for law enforcement officers, called Tactical Strength and Conditioning (TSAC). Carl Bialorucki, of Pursuit Performance Training, has an excellent program specifically developed for law enforcement officers that covers all aspects of fitness performance. Both entities emphasize job relevance and put science behind their methods, which is important (although beyond the scope of this article).

Developing functional fitness is an important way you can enhance your safety on the job. Please remember, it is always wise to see your medical professional before you make a decision about changing or starting a fitness program. 

Sgt. James Harbison is the Basic Academy Coordinator at the Contra Costa County (Calif.) Office of the Sheriff Law Enforcement Training Center, where he teaches defensive tactics and physical fitness.

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