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Trainer Talk

Functional Fitness for Law Enforcement Officers

Functional Fitness for Law Enforcement Officers


Law enforcement work comes with fitness demands that are unique among professions. An officer may spend hours in a car, but then have to suddenly burst into an all-out run, climb a fence or stairs, lift or drag significant weight, engage in defensive tactics and more. Add to that the psychological pressures and stresses, and you’ve got a physically-demanding career, to say the least. One of the best ways to prepare for these demands is through functional fitness—a varied and versatile exercise approach that trains your body to perform real-world physical tasks safely and efficiently. When people hear “functional fitness,” they often think of CrossFit—but that’s just one well-known version of the concept.

Many, if not most people work out with a focus on muscle-specific, sport-specific or single plane movement. That’s certainly better than doing nothing at all, but blending in functional movement can optimize the effort, increase overall performance and make it more relevant to the job. In addition to getting away from a single muscle/muscle group approach to exercise, functional fitness adds anaerobic endurance. This is critical to overall officer performance, as it simulates short distance foot chases that are likely to be followed by a struggle, grappling and/or fighting.

In fact, fighting is often the most physically demanding element of the job. Fighting fitness is completely different from just being “in shape,” and it taxes different energy systems in the body. To prepare for this, officers should focus on training that incorporates high-intensity interval training, or HIIT. This discipline improves anaerobic capacity, which increases endurance. An important element of HIIT is that it incorporates short rest periods between exercise movements. One great example of this type of training is the Tabata workout, which uses a 2:1 work to rest ratio. For example, a typical Tabata workout would be 8 rounds of a particular exercise, exercising for 20 seconds and resting for 10 seconds. But any activity or exercise can be broken up into high-intensity work-rest intervals, which also offer the benefit of getting more done in less time.

Another tool officers should incorporate in their training is to perform multiple movements and exercises at once—for example, combining a burpee and a barbell thruster (front squat into an overhead shoulder press). Both exercises involve multiple muscle groups and multiple planes of movement, and this helps simulate and prepare for the constant variety of physical demands faced on the street. Many exercises can be combined this way; what matters is that the body is using different muscle groups at once, and doing so in different planes of movement (front, back, side to side).

A commitment to exercise and overall fitness are obviously critical to performance and health, on and off the job. Again, any activity is better than no activity—but in our high-stakes profession, the more we can make our training count, the better. “Survival of the fittest” is very much a reality in law enforcement, and functional fitness is a great way to stack the deck in your favor. 

Mike Dice

Lieutenant, Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office

ASP Trainer since 2015