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Tactical Fitness: Do this not that for your chest

Go to any gym on a Monday and all the guys are doing the same body part, chest.  Did you ever stop and ask yourself why you train chest every Monday, often with triceps?  Is there a gym law that says all guys must get a pect pump on Mondays?  Society has imprinted on men that a big chest is a visual measure of power, strength and is intimidating especially when under a uniform.  So for years we have pushed heavy objects away from our bodies while lying on our backs or sitting on a machine.  Is this job specific? Are you required to lay on the ground to do your job?  I know that many departments still use the bench press as a test, don’t get me started on that one!

Law enforcement is a very dynamic job, it requires balance, agility, power, strength and stamina.  Lying on a bench performing a group of exercises that we in the sports medicine world know damages the shoulder and has limited carryover into your job makes no sense.  Not only are there better exercises out there for pushing but they are safer and much more effective.  The reason that heavy bench presses are so dangerous is that the shoulder is not designed to move that way with the body fixed.  The machines and benches also take the shoulder into dangerous ranges of motion often with excessive loads.  Couple the fact that you sit way too much which places additional strain on the shoulders and neck and let’s face it folk’s heavy traditional chest training just slows you down and gets you hurt.

I taught a tactical fitness class a few weeks ago and I recall an operators shock at how strongly his chest contracted with some exercise that worked his whole body and not just isolated the chest wall.  Not only did we train “pushing” movements standing and in a prone position we never sat or lay on a bench.   Of course there is a time and place for dumbbell pressing but it is limited, lets instead focus on what will keep you fit, focused, healthy and safe.

1. I love any exercise that will involve the hips, abs, balance, strength and power plus increase flexibility.  The first exercise is a split squat to a chest press.  With a band or cable place one leg in front and one leg behind in a split stance.  Lower down until just off the floor and pause,  as you raise back up press the band out just like a chest press.  Once you get the hang of it imagine a snake, coil on the way down and explode on the way up.  Try 3 sets of 12-15 reps each leg.

2. Let’s look at the Olympic bar differently.  Take that bar that you thought must stay on a rack or bench and wedge one end into a corner.  As the pictures show get your body into a rooted foot position and a ready stance.  With strict attention to arm and elbow tracking perform a standing incline press with the bar.  Keep your hand in line with your elbow as the bar lowers.  This is also a great abdominal, hip and back exercise.  Try 3 sets of 12 reps.

3. Take a look at the article by John Willis on TRX training, I love the straps for all sorts of functional pushing movements.

4. I love an exercise called a core press, arguably one of the best tactical exercises out there.  As the picture shows, get into a tactical stance and root your feet to the floor.  Holding a band or cable press the band until your arms are locked, pause and return to the start position, repeat for 15-20 reps and switch sides.  To advance this exercise move the band attachment higher or lower, stand with a narrow stance, stand on an unstable surface or step forward or back with the outside leg as you press.  All I have to say is tactical and fight specific. 

As always control is key, and form trumps reps.  Always warm up and use your foam roller to mobilize that tight and adhesed tissue prior to exercising.  Be fit, stay safe.


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About The Author:

Bryan Fass is the author of “Fit Responder”, a comprehensive wellness plan for the first responder, and the Fit Responder Blog. Bryan has a Bachelor’s Degree in Sports Medicine and is certified as a licensed athletic trainer and a strength and conditioning specialist. He was a paramedic for over 8 years. Bryan has authored four books regarding fitness, wellness and human performance. Bryan is available for Consulting and Speaking on Public Safety Fitness Testing along with Fitness, Wellness and Injury Prevention Programs. Contact him via email to