4 essential elements to the perfect police workout routine

Developing the perfect police workout and making exercise part of a regular routine will go a long way toward preventing potentially career-ending injuries

As a police trainer, I have noticed many officers start their career in top physical condition and retire severely physically altered. Too many police officers are leaving their physical fitness to chance and ignoring their personal fitness and wellness. By leaving fitness to chance, a police officer may find he or she is physically challenged by the duties expected of the job, which creates tremendous officer safety risk. 

A foot pursuit in full duty gear can be as taxing as a marathon. A back-alley lone struggle with a resistive suspect has more at stake for the officer involved than a heavyweight champion fighting to retain a title.

Too many officers are dying in the line of duty without being killed in the line of duty. They put their heart into their career. When police work becomes physically demanding and causes an officer’s heart rate to suddenly increase, the heart isn’t able to bear the strain.

Police work is physically demanding

Since these physical moments of ultimate exertion are imminent for every street officer, it behooves all who wear a badge to find the perfect physical police workout and to do it regularly.

The most common barriers police officers have when starting or continuing a fitness program are usually barriers built in his or her mind. Here are some keys to overcoming these mental barriers.

  1. Convince yourself that you love working out. Once that is done, hold that thought for the rest of your life.
  2. Understand that no matter what physical condition you are in now, that condition can be improved one workout at a time.
  3. Do not require a partner to workout with you. Trying to work through two schedules only offers twice as many excuses to skip a workout.
  4. Have a flexible workout schedule of three to five days a week, but never less than three. 
  5. Have an out-of-town and vacation workout alternative. Two weeks off can cause a serious set-back. When you don’t work out, even for a short amount of time, your entire body begins to deteriorate.
  6. Realize that the easier you make it to give up on your workouts, the easier you may give up physically on the street.

The perfect physical workout

The perfect workout develops these four essential elements:

1. Improve muscular and joint flexibility

It is imperative that a police workout includes full range of motion movements. Extra time should be spent on stretching the hamstrings and lower back to reverse the inflexibility, which is the natural result of seated patrol and sitting at a desk.

Police officers need this flexibility when they have to suddenly exit the squad in full foot pursuit or rescue mode.

The key with stretching is to have a fitness professional teach you how to stretch correctly.

2. Increase cardiovascular strength and endurance

The most common cardiovascular activity is running. Running along rivers, up bluff passes, across battlefields, in a city or rural settings can enhance the experience, even for officers who do not like to run. Build in a pause to take in nature to make the run even more enjoyable.

Police officers can also camouflage running with another activity whether it’s a slow jog while dribbling a basketball and shooting lay-ups for repetition or even tossing a football around. You can even try running to the spot of your ball while playing golf.

Other ideas for cardiovascular workouts include bicycling, swimming, skipping (jump roping – just look at any professional boxer), kettlebell, walking fast or any number of professionally marketed cardiovascular workouts.

In every career there comes those urgent moments, when conditions will cause even the most ill-prepared officer to instinctively run. Physical training does not ensure you will catch every fleet-of-foot felon, but it increases your odds that you will survive the pursuit.

3. Build muscular strength and endurance

Effecting the arrest of any resistive suspect requires a combination of technique and strength. Muscles will atrophy if not regularly stimulated. For resistance training, police officers can choose from free weights, kettlebells, machines or bodyweight (e.g. push-ups, pull-ups, squats, isometric holds) for building pure muscular strength and endurance. 

4. Improve fitness levels to ensure better performance on the street

Police fitness instructor Tim Powers has described this as specificity of fitness training. Some physical training is directly transferable to street performance. To prepare for the resistive suspect, while in the weight room, concentrate on upper body strength exercises from the bench press to the pull-up. The repetitions will be appreciated when the path to victory is paved by physical strength and endurance. While doing cardiovascular workouts consider running steps and sprints to prepare for the sudden acceleration needed for the emergency response on foot.

Additionally, all elements of fitness can be obtained by a police officer in any martial arts studio. The exercise is achieved while practicing skills that have direct application on the street. For those officers and trainers who maintain that martial arts techniques do not work on the street, my personal survival is at the very least anecdotal evidence that they do.

Speaking of physical, before you start working out after a long period without exercise, make sure you have a complete physical.

It is imperative for every police officer to discover his or her perfect police workout and make exercise part of a regular routine and lifestyle. You will find it so gratifying and emotionally fulfilling you’ll wonder why you never did it before.

Once your perfect police workout is discovered, work out like your life depends on it, because it does.

This article, originally published November 2016, has been updated. 

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