The 11 components of proper police fitness

How can we physically train police officers to enhance fighting ability and control tactics?

By Kelly Keith

Picture this scenario: Suspect is a 250-lb, 6’2” male, large build; police officer is a 120-lb, 5’7” female, slender build. If the suspect attacks the police officer, what factors determine who wins this altercation?

If the above-mentioned police officer trained with weights every day, is it possible she would be able to match the strength of the suspect?

Being fit for duty isn't just about weight training.
Being fit for duty isn't just about weight training. (Photo/Pixabay)

As police trainers with a limited amount of time, are we getting the best return for our time by getting our recruits/officers into the gym on weights and/or running?  Does this type of fitness training turn out an officer who is going to defend him or herself better?

Training with weights and running are great ways to build foundations, but as police trainers, we need to enhance other fitness components that will enable the officer to win.

A simple example is rotary power. Rotary power will address how hard you can swing your baton, punch, kick and/or throw a suspect to the ground. Rotary power is also needed in most escapes from the ground. Officers can increase rotary power just as easily as build bigger biceps!

There will always be strength differences. It is not possible to always be stronger or in better shape than all of our suspects. Many fitness factors have to be considered to optimize a police officer’s fitness and ability to defend him/herself. Here are 11 key components:

1. Muscular power/speed strength

This refers to the ability to produce force in a brief amount of time, in other words, the product of force and velocity. Should a police officer possess strength, but cannot apply this strength rapidly, the amount of strength he has is irrelevant if it cannot be applied in time. Thus to develop power, you must apply speed to the desired movement or specific tactical situation.

This is imperative for a police officer, as the ability to produce force in a brief amount of time is vital in any physical confrontation. There are many very strong police officers who are not able to transition this strength into “speed strength,” which I believe is more beneficial to police officers.

2. Muscular strength

This is considered the ability to produce maximal force. Strength is vital to optimize muscular power, but is different in the speed that the force is exerted. Research indicates that most people can perform about 10 repetitions with 75 % of their 1-rep maximum. Thus if someone can bench press 100 pounds for 1 repetition they are most likely to be able to perform about 10 repetitions with 75 pounds.

3. Muscular endurance

This is the ability to perform repeated muscular actions, which can be very important in any physical confrontation that lasts longer than approximately 15 seconds. In any altercation, the addition of muscular endurance will lengthen the time period you can physically perform under stressful metabolic conditions.

Muscular endurance is an important aspect of a police officer training program. The principle of specificity applies, which means that the muscular endurance is activity specific. A marathon runner has muscular endurance in his legs, but that would not mean he can skate the same distance. By simply running, police officers should not believe they could grapple on the ground longer than a subject that trains for this stimulus.

4. Flexibility

This is the ability to move the joints through a range of motion. In weight training it is vital to exercise both sides of a joint so as to not limit joint flexibility.

There are several benefits of flexibility:

  • Less energy to move a joint through a range of motion;
  • Decreased risk of injury;
  • Increased blood supply and nutrients to joint structures;
  • Increased neuromuscular coordination /opposing muscle groups work in a more synergistic or coordinated fashion;
  • Improved muscular balance and postural awareness;
  • Decreased risk of lower back pain;
  • Reduced stress as stretching promotes muscle relaxation.

5. Balance

Balance is the ability to maintain the center of body mass over a base of support. This is another very important factor for a police officer as the officer’s ability to be stable when the body is in motion is a crucial element in a physical confrontation.

6. Body composition

Body composition describes age, height, gender, body type, body mass, muscle fiber type, etc. Each officer brings their genetic inheritance into the mix however, how they train, and how they use available strategies and integrate them in a performance dictates the degree of success.

7. Cardiorespiratory fitness/aerobic endurance

This is the ability to persist or sustain activity for a prolonged period of time.

For best results, strive for 50 percent to 85 percent of maximal oxygen uptake to get optimal cardiorespiratory results. Duration will vary depending on intensity.

Generally police officers with greater cardiorespiratory fitness have more stamina, less fatigue and fewer injuries.

8. Agility

Agility is sometimes thought of as the culmination of nearly all the physical abilities a person possesses. It is the ability to stop and change direction quickly. I cannot think of any confrontational situations that require speed in only a straight-line movement.

Agility is composed of:

  • Coordination
  • Stabilization
  • Biomechanics
  • Speed
  • Strength (stabilizing / propulsive)
  • Energy system development
  • Elasticity
  • Power
  • Dynamic Balance
  • Mobility

Studies show a tennis player shows greater agility when he has a tennis racquet in his hand than when he does not. Thus training agility is optimized when the implement you wish agility to be utilized is used when training (baton, sidearm, empty-handed, etc.).

This is often overlooked as an aspect of fitness, but extremely important for a police officer. One of the most important qualities of control tactics is for the officer to get off the line of attack. Most police attacks are spontaneous; whether it is a fist, knife or bullet, if the officer gets off the line of attack he is far more likely to win the confrontation.

9. Quickness/reaction time

This fitness aspect is very important to policing. How fast can the officer get to his equipment when the stimulus is presented to the officer? If this aspect is enhanced, the police officer can improve his/her chances of success in a confrontation.

Quickness allows a small officer to prosper in a big “man’s” game and gives a large officer another way to improve their tactics.

10. Speed

Pure speed can give a police officer an advantage in getting to cover, tactically re-positioning, getting to the aid of a victim or catching a suspect in a short foot chase.

11. Coordination

Coordination reflects how well joints manage the muscular firing patterns between or among them. It is crucial in hand-eye relationship needed in policing.

Coordination is prominent in transition exercises (like baton to sidearm). It is also important in shooting and many other firearm activities.

This article, orginially published August 2006, has been updated. 

About the author
Kelly Keith previously served with the Atlantic Police Academy, instructing physical fitness, officer safety, use of force and firearms. Kelly is a jiu-jitsu instructor and has studied wrestling, boxing, tae kwon do and judo. He is also a certified personal trainer, certified strength and conditioning instructor and a certified sports nutrition specialist.


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