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The 4 pillars of LE fitness and wellness

To get into law enforcement, you have to be physically fit, emotionally balanced and mentally sharp – but how many of us maintain those qualities as our careers progress?

Fitness Yard 1.jpg

To varying degrees, the pressures of the LEO occupation and life negatively impact all of us, and our families too.

Photo/Castle Rock Police Department

You beat out a lot of good people to get this job. Physical strength, tactics and your LEO image are important to you. Sometimes when a crook gets under your skin, you secretly hope he’ll fight. Your family is the most important thing in your life, but even when you’re out with them, your head is on a swivel and you find yourself thinking about work. It might not always show in your language, but your faith is strong. Justice is always a big part of your motives, but some of the stuff you’ve done might be hard to justify. You have bad insomnia, acid reflux disease and you take meds for high blood pressure.

The job has sure changed you. Some of it for the better, some not.

Oh, wait. All of that was me.

Prioritizing your wellness

Law enforcement draws in some of the most ambitious people. The bar to get in is high, and rightly so. You have to be physically fit, emotionally balanced, mentally sharp and of exceptionally good character. But the truth is the fitness and wellness expectations that set you apart from the masses are at their highest during the hiring process. With longevity, allowances are made and expectations diminish. The pressures from the LEO lifestyle mount, causing many of us to lower our own bar, too. And that comes at a price.

To varying degrees, the pressures of the LEO occupation and life negatively impact all of us, and our families too. If you want to survive your career and be happy and healthy in retirement, and if you want your family to live the good life now and for them to respect you later, you should systematically care for all aspects of your fitness and wellness now. I want to share a methodical approach that works. It takes commitment, but it will carry you and your family through.

I believe there are four pillars that form the foundation of your personal wellness: physical, mental, emotional and spiritual.

1. Physical

Keeping physically fit is an obvious need as a police officer. But less obvious are intentional mental and emotional fitness pursuits. I’m not talking about mental health. If that’s not a given for you, work on that first.

2. Mental

By mental fitness, I mean your continued systematic growth in knowledge, awareness, wisdom and understanding.

A significant percentage of people stop maturing in their mid-twenties. Don’t let that be you. Your IQ is your intelligence quotient. Basically, it’s calculated by dividing your knowledge number on the top of the quotient by your age on the bottom. Because the bottom number is always growing, if the top isn’t, you’re getting dumber. So, keep learning. And while you’re at it, be sure to remember that happy-healthy retirement goal I mentioned. Your knowledge and wisdom pursuits should include studying things that make you a better cop and a better spouse/parent/friend.

3. Emotional

Emotional fitness revolves around strengthening the source of your feelings, which are the things that make you think, say and behave as you do. To become more fit and well emotionally, you ought to practice being most vulnerable to the people who love you and have your best interests in mind, and practice being tactically invulnerable to those who don’t. Ideally, at one end of this spectrum will be your spouse, children, and close family; the other end of the spectrum would be any known detractors. When both ends get your best efforts, you’ll see your emotional wellness spike.

4. Spiritual

When it comes to spirituality I’m not necessarily talking about religion. Spirituality has always been a significant part of all human existence. Unlike most people, as a police officer you’ve already answered a higher call and you’re willing to give your life for something you believe in. So however it shakes out, in advance of the inevitable crisis and for your own survival, you need to be fit here, too. That means things like tuning your own moral compass so you’ll know what you will do and won’t do no matter the storm, understanding your purpose, growing in character and building up hope.

For some, religion is the medium. For others, it’s something else. Your mental, emotional, physical and spiritual fitness work together to support you. If your spirituality is weak, you can rightly expect it’ll be that exposed flank that breaches your family’s walls first. I know you want your best hope of winning, so find what calls you and have the courage to pursue.

Most LEO adversities start at one of those four areas, but since everything is connected, these job-caused difficulties don’t stay isolated. They become systemic problems, adversely affecting all aspects of on-duty and off-duty life. By having a 360-degree fitness and wellness regimen – meaning regular investments of time and effort in each area – you and your relationships will flourish.

Whether you are looking to get back into academy shape, sleep more soundly, or improve your diet, this 30-day challenge can help you meet your goals

Managing relationships is key

Why are relationships so crucial to your LEO fitness and wellness? In life and at work, how you manage relationships determines your success. Think about it: your work and your home are formed around relationships. Managing relationships is why you get paid and why your community needs you. It’s why your family needs you too. Since all relationships are played out in the physical, the mental, the emotional, or the spiritual, making all four as strong as possible gives you the best hope.

When a LEO starts taking an avoidable nosedive, he or she has usually mismanaged a work-originated relationship. You can make your home life a safe haven or a tinderbox, so you need to pay close attention here.

When we interact in any relationship, it’s called a transaction. Both sides give something and both sides get something. Transactions can be personal or professional, but usually at work they’re a mix of the two. The purest professional transaction is when you simply trade time and effort – and nothing else – for money.

Personal transactions, because they happen on one or more of the physical, mental, emotional or spiritual planes, end up being either investments into or debits from those same fitness and wellness accounts. Because of that, every personal transaction you have will incrementally change you for the better or worse. If you’ve honed your 360-degree fitness, you can decide whether your interactions at work will be personal or professional and just what your investments will be.

Inside the office and out on the streets it’s necessary to deal with people who want something from you and don’t have your best interests in mind. These people are called detractors, and it can be tempting to transact emotionally with them. But if you find yourself letting your detractors get you worked up, that means you’re becoming vulnerable to them. Whether it’s an incompetent sergeant after briefing or a mouthy crook out on some secluded street, if you’re emotionally welling up, you’re depleting limited resources that others deserve.

Don’t forget to call for back-up

Most cops don’t intentionally allow that stuff to creep under their armor, but sometimes it still does (that happened to me a lot). This just means you need to get stronger. So think of your own 360-degree fitness like a full set of armor and then make it strong. Then, when the inevitable LEO drama falls on you, you’ll be able to prevail.

Size up your own fitness and wellness in each of those four fronts, and then focus your time and effort accordingly. But remember, this full-fitness approach works best if you don’t try to go it alone. Our LEO corps is full of men and women who have mastered one or more of these areas. So where your flanks might be exposed, seek out another LEO’s help; and where you’re strong, share your knowledge and hard-earned expertise. Together, we can make this job and LEO life more than just a matter of survival.

This article, originally published on September 28, 2018, has been updated.

Dave Edmonds is a retired Sonoma County (CA) Sheriff’s captain and founder of 360ARMOR, a free, online, membership-based police fitness and wellness organization. His 30-year career included assignments in and leadership of patrol, violent crimes/homicide, SWAT, sexual assault, polygraph and more. He has taught police supervision, management, and leadership at the university level. Dave is interested in LEO fitness and wellness on all fronts. He invites you to join him and other like-minded LEOs at 360ARMOR.