LE Cardiovascular Fitness

One of the most frequent questions I am consulted for is on cardiovascular fitness. How do you test it? How do you train for it? What is the most effective progression to use?

What if I told you that in all of public safety we are rarely required to run distances in our uniform; however, we spend much of the time utilizing stored cellular energy, or the Anaerobic system. Now, this energy system is not very efficient and fails quickly, but you utilize it much more than your aerobic system when you respond to a call.

Look at it this way: if you get in a foot chase, have to carry a patient down the stairs or battle a working fire, what happens to your breathing? It goes up, your heart rate elevates and muscles burn. This is your body trying to rid its self of CO2, a waste product of muscle activity.

The more conditioned you are to buffer and blow off the CO2, the quicker you recover and are ready for the next bout of physical effort. Traditional running will help prepare you, but rarely are you running marathons in your uniform; much more likely is the chance you will be sprinting, jumping, fighting, lifting or carrying.

  • Anaerobic training is shorter than aerobic training in duration (less than two minutes), in which oxygen is not a limiting factor in performance, and requires energy from anaerobic sources. These energy sources involve the utilization of phosphagen and lactic acid from your body, and enable you to perform brief, near maximal muscular activity (
  • Full recovery is not achieved, but as you perform more of this type of training, you will be better able to tolerate and utilize increased concentrations of lactic acid.

The primary benefits of anaerobic training are:

  1. Increased Cardiovascular Capacity.
  2. Increased Cardiovascular Recovery Ability.
  3. Strength Gains.
  4. Power Gains.
  5. Improved Speed.
  6. Decreased Body Fat.

The great news is that for all of you who dislike running long distances, you no longer have to, as much! Research clearly shows that short bursts of intense activity will benefit the responder much better that aerobic fitness.

Now, I am not saying that you never have to do aerobic training; it does help but in public safety it is rarely necessary. For fat loss and overall health, long duration moderate paced training is still very beneficial. If you are under stress or have blood pressure/metabolic issues, long duration aerobic conditioning is still the best medium for you.

So how do you train anaerobically? Short bursts of intense exercise with short rest periods. I will provide some examples but please keep in mind that there are hundreds of ways to train anaerobically and I will present you with just a few to get you started.

  • First warm up, jog, stretch.
  • Run 50 yards - do 20 Pushups - run 50 yards - 25 squats with your hands behind your head - jog back to the start. Repeat 4 times total.
  • Stair stepper for 2 minutes (or bleacher walk) - 15 Squat to rows with a resistance band - Repeat 4 times total.
  • 25 Yard shuttle run (suicide) - 30 second Plank - Repeat 4 times total.

Please keep in mind that these exercises are not for the deconditioned person. You must have a basic level of fitness to even attempt these. For some of you these are easy - trust me they get much harder as we get more advanced. The biggest issue is that almost all of us have muscle imbalances and postural distortions that need to be addressed prior to exercising intensely. Stretching, massage, proper exercise and nutrition all need to be addressed prior to beginning any exercise program, particularly anaerobic training. Remember that the goal of Anaerobic training is not to recover fully, if your body and mind are not primed the risks out weigh the reward.

The other major benefit of anaerobic training is that because distances are not needed it is easy to do while on duty. Step-ups on a truck or even just a high curb, short sprints, pushups, resistance band exercises and body weight exercises can all be employed while on duty. Why not get paid to exercise?

To help get you started I will put up a few sample programs on my web site. Be sure to see the stretching section before beginning the more advanced conditioning programs.