Photo credit: Paul Combs
You get out of the shower and admire yourself in the mirror as you dry off. Suck in that stomach, puff up that chest, and flex those arms--man, what a specimen! I think that all of us have done this at one time or another. We like to think that we are in pretty good shape, that maybe we even resemble one of the pro athletes or bodybuilders that we see on television, in magazines, or at the movies. We can make that person in the mirror more than what he or she actually is, and really believe it! But is that who we really are?
We sometimes have a tendency to lose touch with reality, especially if nothing has recently happened that "snaps us back in," so to speak. We go along doing the same things the same way without any repercussions or serious consequences. We are lulled into a false sense of security, thinking that we really have our act together--that we are operating on all cylinders and with the utmost efficiency. But are we really, or are we just lucky that the challenges that we have faced up to this point have been relatively simple and within our comfort zone?
Let's talk about training for a moment--particularly physical training. What are you doing to reinforce that image that you see in the mirror each day? Is what you are doing in your workouts consistent with just an image, or is your time spent each workout enhancing and honing skills that will keep you and your partners safe and alive? Are you gearing your PT toward an individual sport, to the point of neglecting other aspects of your fitness that are more germane to what you do on your job each day?
Let me give you an example. I've seen officers that love to pump iron. They would spend five days per week at the gym bench pressing incredible amounts of weight that resulted in huge upper body size. The problem is that these same guys spend little or no time at all on cardiovascular workouts, nor did they concern themselves with any physical coordination type exercises. For all intents and purposes, these guys were bench press machines. They were as strong as an ox. However, when it came time to bail out of the car to chase a bad guy down the street, they are spent after one block. Chase someone up several flights of stairs and then subdue and cuff them...for someone with no cardio in his or her program, that's enough to bend them over in exhaustion. Another example--I am partnered with an officer who is a big runner. He or she runs up to ten miles per day, competes in marathons and other races. When it comes time to bail out with this partner, they have no problem running down the suspect. It's when the bad guy refuses to be cuffed that the runner has the problem. Running everyday, but not doing any upper body or strength training, has caused this officer to be weak and a liability on the street. He or she may run quite efficiently, using very little energy, but when it comes to important tasks like DT's, they are at a disadvantage, lacking sufficient upper body strength.
It is natural for someone to practice and enjoy something that they can do well. That officer that can bench press tons of weight with ease, enjoys doing that and strives to continue to improve on that skill. The officer who is a fantastic runner constantly strives to become even better. But what about something that he or she is not as proficient in? How about having that runner include upper body work several times per week to compliment that excellent cardio workout? Why not include pull-ups, dips, and push-ups? For the guy or gal that loves the iron, why not include running or biking to that routine? Yes, I know that the big complaint is that they will lose size by doing that, but cross training not only evens out your body's balance of strength and cardio, but it is directly associated with everything that we do as cops. We chase bad guys, fight with them, subdue and cuff them. Even when we are not involved in direct conflict with someone, we routinely walk, climb, lift, push, and otherwise use ourselves for a myriad of physical things each day.
Now let's bring this training into another area where we need to maintain proficiency--firearms. A firearm, like fitness, is a skill that may potentially save our own or someone else's life. Just as some of us may be better at certain exercises, so also are we sometimes better at different types of shooting and with certain types of weapons. Once again, the human tendency is to practice those things that we do well, more than the ones that we have difficulty with. I know from experience as a firearms instructor that poor bullseye shooters will rarely ever practice that discipline unless directed to do so, or if a qualification is imminent. That same shooter may enjoy and perform better at shooting more traditional qualification courses and focus on that strength, rather than the ones in which he or she is deficient. The shotgun, which is traditionally more difficult for instructors to teach and for many students to master, is another area in which officers spend less time. Why? The answer is simply because the shotgun is harder to get comfortable with, and to become proficient in. I rarely had any officer request additional shotgun time after the regular firearms session was over. On the other hand, I constantly had requests for more handgun time.
So that person who you see in the mirror each morning, the one who is buff, sexy, fit, and in your own estimation, tactically superior to most others, is not who other people see. What "we" see is someone lacking in certain areas, yet strong in others. We see a good officer who could be an even better officer if only he or she would round out their training to include those things that they don't do as well. None of us are perfect; each one of us has areas in which we need to improve, be it fitness, firearms, DT, tactics, or any other discipline. Get a wake up call; look at yourself through the prism of reality. Recognize that you need to work harder at certain things that are difficult for you to master. Conversely, less time need be spent on those things that come naturally for you and at which you are already proficient. Never be satisfied with that person looking back at you. Challenge him or her each day to become better, quicker, stronger, smarter, or even more compassionate. If after you read this article and tomorrow you find yourself content with that image that you see, call your optometrist--it's time for an eye exam! Stay safe, brothers and sisters.