Innovating officer wellness: Denver Police Academy’s data-driven fitness revolution
Emphasizing health and well-being, the academy utilizes advanced technologies like InBody and Omega Wave to monitor and enhance recruit fitness
Police1 is pleased to introduce the first in a series of articles by members of the Global Consortium of Law Enforcement Training Executives (GCLETE) on innovative training initiatives. GCLETE focuses on preparing, maintaining and developing high-quality law enforcement officers and professional staff through evidence-based practice and training. Each article will draw on real-world experiences informed by research and practice. Authors will include police executives and officers, trainers, educators, academy directors, researchers and other experts. Enjoy this inaugural article, and reach out to us to suggest topics of interest.
By Michelle Folmar, Rene Macias and Shelby Haskell
Every department across the United States is struggling with recruitment and facing distinct challenges. Emerging from a global pandemic is just one of the many hurdles encountered. Another significant challenge involves hiring and training recruits from Generation Z. Although this generation is known for their innovation, openness to change, diversity and technological skills, it also presents unique challenges. A primary challenge is teaching a predominantly digital generation to enhance their physical fitness levels, which is essential for them to become safe and effective police officers.
Holistic approach to fitness and wellness
To address these challenges, the Denver Police Department has implemented innovative and holistic methods to enhance our academy fitness program. We aim to develop a training system that aligns with and supports the new generation of officers entering law enforcement. Our training program emphasizes nutrition, injury prevention and improving fitness levels across various domains. One challenge we’ve encountered has been an increase in training more sedentary recruits than in prior decades.
Unfortunately, insufficient physical education and training often lead to reduced strength and conditioning, increased body fat levels and a heightened risk of developing cardiovascular disease.
One challenge we’ve encountered has been an increase in training more sedentary recruits than in prior decades.
Educational focus on health
In the first month of training, we offer recruits a course on proper nutrition. This course lays the foundation for effective training, care and recovery by covering nutritional fundamentals.
Topics include proper hydration, quality nutrition, supplement use and adequate sleep. Additionally, recruits can take part in nutritional counseling. These weekly sessions address specific topics designed to aid recruits in succeeding not only in the academy but in also their personal lives and careers.
Nutritional counseling covers a variety of topics, such as how meal prep strategies, stress management techniques, and ways to enhance the quantity and quality of sleep. By providing nutrition counseling in small group settings, we offer more personalized support and foster a community of individuals committed to achieving physical excellence.
Leveraging technology for training
To develop a high-quality training program, we began with data collection. The Denver Police Academy training facility is equipped with the InBody body-analysis system. The lnBody device monitors body composition, including a recruit’s weight, body fat, muscle mass, hydration levels and visceral fat. Throughout the academy, recruits can use this tool to track their progress in all these categories.
We employ various tools to monitor progress and fitness levels, including the Army Combat Fitness Test, the beep test and a grip test.
Recruits also have access to our Omega Wave system, a tool for assessing brain and heart health. More advanced than standard heart rate monitors, this system gathers data to inform what type of training a person is ready for on any given day. The Omega Wave system evaluates a person’s endurance, speed, power, strength, coordination and skill, providing each recruit with a personalized “window of trainability.” Nutrition, hydration, sleep and stress levels are then analyzed to enhance these windows of training.
We employ various tools to monitor progress and fitness levels, including the Army Combat Fitness Test (ACFT), the beep test and a grip test.
The ACFT measures a recruit’s strength, power, speed, stamina and endurance. It includes a scored benchmark run conducted several times throughout the academy, culminating in a final test that is scored and contributes to the recruit’s overall academy performance.
The beep test is a simple test that helps us measure each recruit’s cardiovascular endurance. This timed event helps gauge but also improve VO2 max levels, which can reduce the risk of heart disease, bolster the immune system and increase overall energy levels.
The grip test measures grip strength, which has been linked to improvement in quality of life and longevity. It also serves as a valuable tool for our physical therapists to track their patient’s progress.
The role of physical therapy
The Denver Police Academy houses two full-time physical therapists (PTs), who play a vital role in the academy. Firstly, they are available to promptly evaluate and treat injuries incurred during training. Secondly, they develop treatment plans for recruits needing more time to recover. Thirdly, given their close collaboration with academy staff and police officers, our PTs design rehabilitation programs tailored to police work and the specific tasks recruits undertake during training.
In addition to assisting academy recruits, our PTs also provide physical therapy to all police employees for on-duty workers’ compensation injuries and even off-duty incidents. The availability of full-time, on-site physical therapists has significantly enhanced officer health and longevity and has resulted in over $1.4 million in savings for the city.
Adaptive training programs
We have adopted a new approach in the structuring of our recruit workouts. Our goal is always to create a safe training environment, prevent injuries, and promote health and fitness. We recognize that programming must be incremental and consistent to prevent injuries and enable a faster increase in workload.
Physical training sessions are designed to start off at an easier level at the beginning of the academy and progressively intensify in terms of duration, intensity and repetitions. Additionally, we provide scaling and/or modification options based on individual fitness levels. This scaling approach ensures that recruits with high fitness levels are adequately challenged, while those at lower fitness levels avoid injury and feelings of defeat.
We have found that creating small wins for recruits initially struggling physically helps provide them with the confidence and internal motivation to improve.
Progressive training blocks
While our academy is 26 weeks long, each fitness programming block lasts 6-8 weeks. The initial phase is centered on enhancing cardiovascular endurance, providing recruits with a solid foundation. The second phase focuses on high intensity interval training (HITT) which combines short bursts of energy with small rest periods. The final phase of programming focuses on strength training, coupled with a mix of endurance training and HITT exercises. As training requirements evolve, we remain committed to exploring, evaluating and incorporating new programming methods to continually improve our approach.
Commitment to excellence
The Denver Police Academy’s motto is “Excellence through Training.” Our training cadre is acutely aware of the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual demands placed on police officers. This understanding drives our passion for teaching and training, ensuring that every recruit excels in all facets — from law and policy to tactics, defensive tactics, and health and fitness. We strive to model all these areas, not only to our recruits, but to the citizens of our great city and to other law enforcement agencies facing similar recruiting and training challenges.
Be good at what you do ... and go home every night because you were good and not lucky.
About the authors
Michelle Folmar has over 23 years in law enforcement. Currently, she is a command officer with the Denver Police Department. Commander Folmar has a background in patrol, investigations, crisis negotiations, program support for mental health co-responders and outreach case workers, is former director of training, and oversees EDI and operations support. Commander Folmar sits on the Community Corrections Board and is an LGBTQ+ liaison. She has a passion for training, education and evidence-based practices where innovations can be used to increase the greater good and trust within the communities we serve.
Rene Macias serves as the director of employee wellness for Denver’s Department of Safety. Rene served 21 years in the fire service where he held ranks of firefighter, engineer, lieutenant, Battalion Chief and Division Chief. Rene spent 10 years as a lead coordinator or instructor for fire academies spanning both career and volunteer fire departments. While in public safety, Rene has gained extensive knowledge and experience in workplace injuries, preventative care programs, fitness standards, and mental health initiatives. He holds a degree in Fire Science Technology, Exercise Science – Corporate Wellness, and a master’s degree in Public Administration from the University of Colorado at Denver.
Technician Shelby Haskell has worked in law enforcement for seven years, and currently works as an instructor at the Denver Police Academy. She also works as an Arrest Control Instructor and Driving Instructor for the Academy. Technician Haskell is passionate about health and exercise and has an extensive background in nutritional science. She has certifications in Personal Training, working as a Master Health Coach, as well as a Stress/Sleep Recovery Coach. She is committed to excellence in health and training, and started her own business, “Signature Habits.” Her goal is to use her passion to empower those around her through educating the importance of nutritional health and movement for recovery.