Protect and serve, what all facets of law enforcement are sworn to do. Yet, on the whole, few officers will spend the time to protect and serve themselves. As a mirror to society many officers rely of technology, gear and medicine to protect us. We live under the notion that it will not happen to me, but it can and it will. Even with most departments having fitness testing yearly there is so much red tape surrounding being fit and healthy that even if a test is failed your job is safe. Now, I am not saying anyone should be fired for failing a fitness test but as a profession sworn to protect the public we are not doing a very good job of taking care of ourselves.
Law enforcement, Fire service and EMS all have a growing problem. As candidates applying to academies are less fit and more obese than ever before the bar is being lowered to allow them in; the bar is not being maintained or even raised. As society becomes more violent and the public becomes more obese we cannot afford to allow ourselves to waiver. The cost alone of hiring, training and support of a new officer is enormous. With budgets strained to the max just a few catastrophic injuries can send many departments over the edge. Some estimates show a lower back injury that requires surgery can cost over $10,000 once rehab is complete and knee injuries are not far behind. As a fitness and injury prevention specialist the need to tighten standards even more seems obvious; it just costs too much to hire an unfit employee.
Maybe we should take a lesson from our tactical brothers, if you are unable to pass all facets of the physical testing then off the team you go. SWAT officers spend hours training to stay in peak condition, both for the job and to keep the job. Why is an officer that fails numerous tests allowed on the street? Can we remediate them to achieve a safe and acceptable level of fitness? Yes we can remediate an officer that is unable to pass a fitness test or a job specific test like the POPAT. Often an officer that fails their test is simply told to come back in 90 days and re-test, left on their own to find their way back to fitness.
The definition of insanity is roughly stated as repeating the same thing over and over but expecting a different result. Most officers, if left to their own accords, will go to the gym or hit the pavement and repeat the same exercises that led them to their non-fit state or even caused pain and injury. I constantly see dedicated officers and SWAT members performing dangerous exercises in the gym that will do nothing to help them on the street and will definitely contribute to injury. I implore you to learn what exercises are safe and effective for an officer and that will not contribute to injury by further encouraging postural distortions.
Scene safety is taught early on, know your surroundings, where is the best cover, how can we back off if needed. I believe that officers need to be taught to treat their body like a hostile scene. Be aggressive and always on guard for signs of trouble. For the most part your body will tell you what is wrong; unfortunately we ignore what it’s telling us.
I teach my patients that healthy body parts do not hurt to touch; pain in a joint is not normal. We have been programmed to push through the pain, but when it comes to taking care of ourselves there is a time and place for that. Anyone that has stepped into the gym or onto the field with me will vouch for how hard I train and my level of fitness. Never have I expected my body to do what I ask under that much strain without some TLC. So the following questions are a few I ask myself to ascertain if I am primed for action and they will help you too.
- Am I hurting or aching in any way? If I am what stretches do I need to do.
- Have I been sitting for too long? If so I need to get out and walk a bit.
- Does using a therapeutic foam roller hurt? If I have a lot of hot spots I must pay attention to that area of my body for a while.
- Do my functional warm-ups elicit any unilateral differences? In sports medicine and rehab if a specific movement is easy on one side of the body and not on the other than your body is telling you that there is an imbalance. Pay attention to what it is saying!
- Have I had enough water today? Dehydration is the root of many evils in regard to human performance.
- Did I give my body the proper fuel to heal? Healing foods are an absolute necessity to stay fit and to mitigate the effects of stress; avoid foods that cause inflammation at all costs.
When we are able to take simple and very effective steps to protect and serve ourselves we are better prepared to protect and serve the community. No one wants to let their partner, squad mates or themselves down because we are unable to keep up physically. The amount of time that has been invested in education, training and skill enhancement is countless, it only seems fitting that we invest some time in ourselves.