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Making workouts count: How to workout SMARTer, not harder

Ditch the “all-or-nothing” attitude and replace it with “a little goes a long way” approach by following these five steps

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As soon as you feel comfortable, you can work your way up to other activities or exercises.

We all know that exercise improves our energy, mood, sleep and health. But making exercise a habit – especially when working long shifts – is easier said than done.

That’s why officers need to take a SMART approach. This means you can ditch the “all-or-nothing” attitude and replace it with “a little goes a long way” approach. Set yourself up for success with the following five steps:

1. Start slowly and build gradually

Starting a workout routine is a marathon, not a sprint. Literally.

Just like there are plenty of steps you need to take in order to become a police officer, there are also crucial steps you must take when starting a workout routine. If you’re not ready to hit the weight room just yet, start with brisk walks outside instead.

Fun fact: a half-hour in the sun and fresh air gets you a full day’s dose of Vitamin D. Bonus points if you include a workout buddy, friends or family members, or even a pet during your workout. Adding in the social aspect to your workout can also help reduce your stress levels.

Starting small and keeping the workouts simple may seem like a slow way to ease into a workout routine, but it will get you on track to building healthy habits. And as soon as you feel comfortable, you can work your way up to other activities or exercises.

Top tip: Don’t forget to stretch before and after a workout. It adds another five to 10 minutes to your routine, but it’s an essential part of exercising. Stretching before and after you finish a workout will reduce pain and risk of injury.

2. Motivate yourself by changing up your routine

Walking not your cup of Joe? No problem. Find activities you enjoy to start or add to your workout routine. Think bicycling, boxing, martial arts, rowing, hiking, dancing, or swimming. Exercise doesn’t have to be a daunting task.

Keep your workouts fun and exciting by changing things up from time to time. What that looks like will look different for every person. Maybe you thrive in a competitive environment and joining an adult tennis, soccer, basketball or volleyball league is more thrilling than the thought of jumping on a treadmill or riding a stationary bike.

There are plenty of exercise alternatives. You just need to find what works best for you, but having a routine in place will make a difference in the long haul.

Top tip: For beginners, try to do the same workout routine for at least six to 12 weeks to perfect the exercises you have started. Then, change up your routine every four to six weeks after that. Sticking to the same routine for too long may not only bore you but can also lead to a plateau in your progress and training.

3. Anticipate that you won’t have a lot of time – break up your workouts instead

Working out 30 minutes a day, five times a week sounds great. But let’s be honest, you don’t have hours to spend in a gym after you factor in your shift schedule and life outside of work. The best part is that a little exercise goes a long way, and repetition of a weekly routine can have a profound effect on your physical and mental health.

Try doing two 15-minute workouts or three 10-minute workouts. And remember, you don’t need to do them consecutively. You can break them up throughout your day when you have time. It is just as effective as completing a 30-minute workout in one go.

Breaking up your workouts will also help in case your routine goes from regular to off-track due to life, overtime at work, or sickness.

4. Rest when you need to by listening to your body

As a police officer, you’re already a highly motivated individual. That personality trait may leak into other aspects of your life, like going from 0 to 100 when taking on a workout.

But it’s important to listen to your body and be flexible when taking on a new workout or routine. If you’re not feeling well either due to sickness or pain, take a day or two off to rest and recover. After resting, gradually resume your workout routine. Do not power through pain – that’s a recipe for injury.

Experiencing shortness of breath, nausea, or dizziness while working out? You may be pushing yourself too hard. Reevaluate your workout plan and revise it accordingly.

5. Try not to be discouraged by what you can’t accomplish – yet

Easier said than done, right? We’ve all been there. After a few months of working out consecutively, it’s human nature to question why the results you’re seeking aren’t coming as fast as you thought they would. Instead of obsessing over those results, focus on your consistency and how your fitness goals make you feel. Improvements in mood and energy levels will happen quickly, but the physical payoff may take some time – but it will come.

Getting out of shape doesn’t happen overnight and getting back into shape is a process. Expecting big changes too soon will lead to frustration and may even derail your motivation to continue working out. Don’t focus on how far you have to go to reach your goals. Rather, focus on where you’re at now compared to a month ago. For example, maybe you struggled to jog for 10 minutes without stopping, but now you’re able to jog for 20 minutes straight at a quicker pace. Progress is progress – no matter how small it may seem.

Top tip: Keep track of your progress by writing it down. This may look like something formal like a fitness journal or it could be as simple as pulling up an app on your smartphone to track your progress.

Complete the box at the top right-hand corner of this page to download a year-round fitness tracker to keep track of your progress.

Whether you’re pursuing a suspect or need to react swiftly to an unexpected event, agility training equips you with the speed and power necessary for the job. Watch our informative video for expert tips and insights to start transforming your fitness routine today!

Sarah Calams, who previously served as associate editor of and, is the senior editor of and In addition to her regular editing duties, Sarah delves deep into the people and issues that make up the public safety industry to bring insights and lessons learned to first responders everywhere.

Sarah graduated with a bachelor’s degree in news/editorial journalism at the University of North Texas in Denton, Texas. Have a story idea you’d like to discuss? Send Sarah an email or reach out on LinkedIn.