As an exercise professional with over 15 years of physical therapy, athletic training and human performance experience it never ceases to amaze me the length that people will go to in their attempt to be fit. There has not been a single day in the gym where I have not witnessed people performing incredibly dangerous and detrimental exercises in the name of fitness. Over the years I've had many coworkers, colleagues and partners complain of pain and injury from performing exercises that they meant to avoid an injury by doing. Frankly I am not sure where people come up with the exercises that they perform or were they learn how to do them.
People hire professionals that study for years and are experts in their field when something is out of our scope of knowledge. I for one have no desire to do my taxes or fix my own car; I choose to hire somebody who studied to do that. Yet when it comes to our most valuable asset, our body, we embark upon scientifically unproven and often dangerous exercise programs, frequently using machines and devices that have no scientific basis in exercise. Exercise science and the field of human performance have been rapidly evolving as new data shows better, safer and more efficient ways to gain strength. So let's explore some of the major changes in exercise science over the past few years that relate specifically to law enforcement and public safety professionals.
1) Abdominal Training: entire books have been written about the changes in strengthening and conditioning of the abdominal wall. Many of the favorite exercises such as crunches, leg raises, ab machines and side bends have been proven through human testing to cause far more harm than good. The abdominal wall was never designed to, nor does it, function in isolation. Its primary purpose is to cause tension in the torso, more commonly known as the core, and the new concept referred to as stiffening the spine. Athletes or officers that have the ability and the endurance to brace the abdominal wall, causing spine stiffening, will drastically reduce their chance of injury to the lower back. At the same time these athletes or officers are able to generate much greater power and force along with better body control to perform athletic and job tasks. Remember, control is key.
2) Anaerobic Conditioning: up until a few years ago it was still believed that the ability to run long distances was a premier marker for fitness. We now understand that the ability to perform short and intense bursts of activity with the ability to recover quickly is a more accurate marker of fitness for public safety employees. Think of it like this: if you have to sprint up six flights of stairs and immediately confront a violent subject, the quicker you are able to get your breathing back under control the more accurate and effective you are as officer. We've always known that sprint training, or as our gym coach used to call it suicides, would increase our fitness. Simply stated the best athletes are not always the strongest or the most fit. Usually they are the ones that recover the quickest and are ready for the next drill or event. Rapid recovery is key.
3) Power Development: power simply stated is a combination of force and speed. In all aspects of life and especially in law enforcement the ability to generate power is an absolute necessity. Power however, is difficult to generate and does not transfer well into the real world if it is trained while using a machine. Having the ability to control your force and direct the force of another away from you creates a tangible tactical advantage in any altercation. Power exercises, must be performed using full body explosive movements in a standing position. This could take the form of barbell, kettle Bell, cable or elastic band movements. Being able to move an object rapidly under complete control and maintaining proper body position equates to perfect power transfer on the street. Control, speed and recovery are key.
Core strength, anaerobic conditioning and Power development: three things that are rarely trained in the gym properly. If you plan on sitting down to exercise or even worse laying down on a bench then there is no way to achieve safe and effective fitness. As an officer it's part of your job to be fit and strong. By no means do you need to squat a ton and bench three plates. While impressive, it has little carryover onto the street.
Some tips on how to change your training and rapidly get the results desired are to master the technique of spine stiffening. Perform exercises that require you to stand, often on one leg. Find a trainer or coach that has studied the principles discussed here, and make sure they understand the postural distortions inherent to the job. Learn self care techniques such as self massage and foam roll myofascial release to mobilize tissue and increase performance while decreasing your chance of injury.
The fact that you are reading this article and hopefully some of the others posted on officer.com means you are open to and ready to change. Let's work smarter and not necessarily harder while staying injury free.