Physical Fitness Training for Police Officers

By Oldham, Scott | Law & Order, June 2001 | Go to article overview

Physical Fitness Training for Police Officers


Oldham, Scott, Law & Order


Most officers come out of the academy in the best physical shape of their lives. Shortly thereafter the strains of shift life and rigors of police work begin to take their toll. Unfortunately, the reverse is true for offenders who go to prison: many enter the system suffering from the effects of a chemical addiction or a life as a couch potato. Through a program of mandated sleep through confinement, three meals a day and all the weights they care to lift, they come out muscle bound, hardened criminals.

As officers age they undergo the normal trappings of life, including family responsibilities, incidental injuries and the continual deprivation of sleep that many assume is part of the cost of doing business. Cops do not lead normal lives; no shift is the usual nine to five. It does not matter what division or job responsibility an officer has been assigned, they are all outside what a "normal" person experiences. As a result of this job related peculiarity, many things that officers enjoyed in their early professional life such as team sports, weight lifting and other fitness related activities, are the first to be sacrificed for time spent doing other things.

Many officers take their physical condition for granted until it is much too late. Every year more officers die from heart attacks or diseases related to the degradation of the body than all those who die from violent attacks and traffic accidents combined. Even more officers are forced to retire early because of similar conditions.

Physical conditioning was once a fact of life with many in the police service. Most recruits came to the job as large men, most straight out of the military where physical conditioning was inculcated into them from basic training. Today many different types of individuals are seeking careers in law enforcement and the profession is without a doubt much better as a result. However, many officers have not had the training to maintain their bodies the way they should have had.

Many freshly hired recruits, while in good shape upon entering the field-- training program, do not have the knowledge, time or desire necessary to maintain that physical fitness. As a result, they begin to let it lapse. The officers who stay in good shape are the ones who have learned to continue conditioning and training the body throughout their career.

There are three areas of concern for those wanting to achieve or maintain physical conditioning and health: physical strength, cardiovascular conditioning and nutrition.

Physical strength

When planning a physical fitness program determine in advance what a specific job requires. It does an officer no good to train for something he will not do. For example, most of the law enforcement community does not need incredible upper body strength, but SWAT officers do. Most of law enforcement doesn't run or walk miles a day, but foot patrol officers do. Officers should train for a specific job function or for those they are aspiring to achieve.

No matter what professional assignment an officer is in before he sets about any physical fitness routine several questions need to be answered. What physical characteristics are they trying to enhance or preserve? What does the specific job require? What physical traits are needed to achieve those goals?

Most officers come from the patrol division and want to enhance the fitness characteristics needed for that assignment. What specific function does the patrol officer need in order to perform his or her job safely? Without a doubt there is a need for cardiovascular fitness. Ever see, or better yet hear, the vastly overweight and out of shape cop chasing someone down the street? Often these officers sound as though they will have a heart attack prior to retaining the suspect into custody. There is also a need for physical strength conditioning as well. Officers do not need to be able to crush steel in their bare hands or run a four minute mile to be a cop, but they do need to be able to pick themselves up and get out of their own way otherwise they can put not only themselves but also their partners at risk.

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