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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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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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