Walk into any commercial gym on a Monday and just about every guy is training chest, the ladies are doing cardio and legs. Tuesday brings back for the guys and arms/abs for the girls. Wednesday everyone skips because that’s leg day, the ladies are doing cardio. Sound Familiar? Perhaps even you are guilty of following this pattern of isolation exercise. Perhaps you are insane, doing the same exercise over and over again expecting a different result. I bet you even shot a look at that guy over in the corner doing “strange” exercises like burpee pullups, single leg rows and a bunch of “other” strange body weight exercises. Well that guy is me and it needs to become you.
The life of an officer has some predictability to it. You will sit for long periods, drive, lean over your computer, stand on scene and maybe even run, sprint, climb and fight. Needless to say there is a lot of variability to LE but one thing is clear, you will spend more time sitting than anything else. So let’s see what exercise science says about this postural challenged law enforcement athlete.
1. Do not sit down to exercise: Common sense and exercise dictate that it’s the constant sitting, a repetitive postural position that causes many of the repetitive injuries we see. Back pain, knee and hip pain plus injury all occur from sitting too long, and that does not include all your gear forcing you into weird positions.
So sitting on a machine in the gym to get fit actually contributes to the problem and sitting does not activate the hips, glutes, abs and ‘core’ muscles that you need to do your job. Standing on the other hand does all that and more. Do all your exercises standing, yes boys that includes training chest.
2. Activate as much muscle possible: Sitting all day does not burn extra calories in fact it slows your metabolism down. So let’s activate as many muscles as possible with each exercise. This will boost your metabolic activity substantially and can actually increase your short burst (sprint/fight) ability. Exercises like a warrior chest press, squat to anything (press, fly, row) lunge to any upper body movement. Frankly the list of exercises is so great that I can (and did) write a book and teach a full 2 day class on this type of training.
3. Embrace the Dark side: Those hanging straps, kettle bells, plyometric boxes, sliders, bands and ropes that have found their way into many gyms are actually the tools of your tactical trade! Those ‘toys’ as I call them come from the world of athletic and tactical functional fitness. Instead of your normal chest or back work grab a strap (TRX™ is the best known) and do single arm pushups, push up mountain climbers (feet in the straps), walk out pushups the list is endless, fun, challenging and uses ALL your muscles PLUS you are not sitting down. Rows, single arm rows, squat rows etc.
Kettle bells are also fantastic and the list of exercises is enormous, read up or even better seek out a KB coach to learn the basics. My favorites are full goblet squats, farmer’s walks, swings and Turkish get ups to name but a few.
4. Beware the Fads: As a professional I have to warn you about the fads. There are a lot of programs out there that will make you very fit and very injured. They have numerous names; some are cult like and have nationwide competitions. Others have flashy commercials for home based high intensity training. The bottom line is they will hurt you. The body has a breaking point and we should not embrace a fitness system that exploits this breaking point for the benefit of competition of bathing suits. Training that hard, doing dangerous exercises, excessively loading tissue to the point of trauma only means injury. Maybe not while training but you take that damaged tissue and fatigue to work. When the tissue fails on the street that failure could be fatal. Rule number one in exercise science and medicine is to do no harm, exercise should not cause injury; period.