What are the best exercises to stay tactically fit or street fit?
That is a question that is frequently asked to me in emails and at seminars. This is a difficult question to answer since an officer's job is physically diverse and seldom reproducible in the gym. The best answer I can give is to incorporate high intensity training or 'HIT' into your training.
HIT is a style of exercise that will boost heart rate, metabolism, muscle endurance and anaerobic capacity. What is anaerobic capacity you ask? It's your body’s ability to work at high intensities for short periods of time. Think of it this way, when an altercation occurs it generally lasts for less than a minute. During that minute your body must be able to function at 100% capacity with total control of physical actions and breathing. The more anaerobically fit you are the quicker the recovery and more rapidly you are ready for another physically taxing event while being able to deal with the task at hand. Seldom will you run a marathon in uniform, law enforcement and public safety are series of short physical activities usually lasting less than 5 minutes, aerobic conditioning will help but HIT is where the money is. Think of this scenario, while responding to a call 3 flight of stairs must be quickly climbed and a physical altercation immediately ensues. If the 3 flights of stairs winded you I fear how the physical altercation will turn out. HIT not only prepares you for this because it's true to life but it's how your body was designed to function.
Our muscle cells and liver store what is called glycogen; it's cellular fuel. This fuel is usable for only around 90 seconds to 2 minutes before it's depleted, hence the muscle burn we experience. The body naturally replenishes this fuel after a few minutes but we can train our bodies to do it quicker and more efficiently. Have you ever wondered why most exercises are done in the 10-15 repetition range and anything above that causes fatigue and burn after 20 repetitions or so? That's the gas running out. The beauty of HIT is if properly followed we can achieve a fantastic heart rate response along with muscle activation. Essentially getting a cardiovascular and fat burning workout along with your anaerobic threshold training in one workout.
With all that being said to properly do HIT takes an assortment of multi-joint movements, so get it out of your head now using machines and isolation exercises like bicep curls. My favorite combination of HIT involves a push, a pull, a jump, a press and a core movement. As an example is a push up followed by a pull up followed by a bench jump followed by a squat press and finished with a bear crawl. Each movement is done for 7-10 reps without rest till the sequence is complete. Rest for 90 seconds and repeat 3-5 more cycles. That is a basic example of a HIT sequence: 2-3 more sequences will follow the first for a total 3-4 sequences of exercises.
At this point I feel it necessary to differentiate from many of the other intensity training techniques popular in law enforcement and public safety. Many of these styles, techniques or clubs advocate movements and repetition ranges that are frankly too extreme. Now, when I say extreme please understand that I am an injury prevention and human performance expert so it's hard to turn off the analytical side of my brain that screams that exercise is going to hurt you! Recently I have assessed and rehabilitated quite a few colleagues who have followed some of these workout programs. My problem is this: for most officers and public safety employees the postural strain from your job is relentless and ultimately damaging. Long hours sitting, forward leaning posture and computer work all take their toll on the body, not to mention the bending and lifting. It makes no sense to go out and do exercises that will contribute to injury just for the sake of being fit.
On the street it does not matter how many reps with X % of body weight you can do in 90 seconds. What matters is muscular efficiency coupled with muscular endurance; this cannot be achieved if movements that are inherently dangerous are regularly performed. With that being said there is a time and place for tactical fitness routines but that is best left for the tactical officers and even then superb flexibility and agility must be standard in these officers. Personally I prefer one day per workout week devoted to tactical fitness. The rest should be spread out with HIT and strength training that incorporates postural stabilization movements to pre-habilitate the common injury points.
Now that all the ground work has been done lets provide a sample routine to follow. This routine is designed for the experienced fitness enthusiast, which means in the gym consistently 3 or more times per week. Warm up with some jogging and functional Stretching. It would not be a bad idea to get on the foam roller and do some self myofascial release prior to this workout. For the novice exercisers out there simply cut down the sets to 2 or 3 and take two minutes rest between.
Sequence # 1: Bar Therapy using an Olympic bar. 5 reps each of 1) Deadlift 2) Bent over row 3) Hang Clean 4) front squat 5) squat press. Remember to perform each exercise without rest but with strict attention to technique. Rest 90 seconds and repeat for a total of 3 sets.
Sequence # 2: Kettle Bell Madness using a Kettle Bell (or a dumbbell) perform for 7 repetitions 1) Squat chop 2) Overhead Squat 3) Swings 4) Squat to Chest Press 5) Kettle Bell Push up. Again, no rest between exercises, 90 seconds between sets for 3 sets.
Sequence # 3: Clean Up For 7 repetitions perform 1) Turkish get ups (3 reps each side) 2) Burpee Pull-ups 3) Bench Jump 4) Plyometric Pull ups (jump pull ups). For this final sequence only 60 seconds rest between sets.
The bottom line is to have fun, work hard, use excellent technique and above all be fit, strong, healthy and much more physically able than your opponent.