Strength Training for Police Officers
One of the best things a police officer can do in his or her spare time is to strength train. You figure you’d have to when you have a job that requires you dive out of moving vehicles, run out of a burning building, and have the grip strength needed to cling onto that bottom part of a helicopter.
Okay, maybe this sounds more like the plotline to Lethal Weapon 5, but police officers need to take care of themselves just like everyone else. I tip my hat to the men and women that keep us safe, so I hope this article is a small way of showing my appreciation for those in blue.
For those in law enforcement, strength training can not only help their job performance but also improve their quality of life. Research shows that non-behavioral factors such as job anxiety and long hours can predispose police officers to obesity (1). A study comparing obese police officers to non obese found that the only two variables separating the two were physical activity (1). It’s been said plenty of times that most people don’t appreciate a good police officer till they need one, so let’s reach out and try to give police officers some up-to-date information in regards to helping improve their health.
While bench pressing is as American as apple pie, resist your urge to shove people out of the way Monday morning to hog the flat bench. Training for a specific activity requires a smart and comprehensive approach so your time in the gym is not wasted. When I work with an athlete, we have to establish what needs to be fixed, what the needs are, and then what the athlete wants. One thing a police officer needs is a great grip. Whether it’s restraining a suspect or yanking some smart-mouth punk off his skateboard, a nice devastating grip can help.
The best way to do this is to combine thick bar training with your regular strength training. Grip is very specific, so working on your forearms directly won’t cut it. Instead, use thick barbells or dumbbells with your normal routine of pressing, pulling, and doing biceps curls. Most commercial gyms don’t purchase thick bar implements, but you can go online and purchase what are called Fat Gripz. For 40 bucks you can buy a pair of small sleeves that you can slip over any barbell or set of dumbbells. You can purchase a set here (don’t worry – UEFP doesn’t get any sort of commission for this kind of stuff). You can also wrap a towel around a chin up or dip bar to work your grip. The more your vary your grip (width, which directions your palm face, etc.) the stronger your grip will become.
Long hours spent in a patrol car may mean your posture suffers. Across nearly all clients, the external rotators are almost always weak. The external rotators are also known as the muscles that make up your rotator cuff. Strengthening your rotator cuff can help improve shoulder health, but it can also improve your job performance. A strong rotator cuff will allow a police officer to quickly grab equipment off of their belt, as well as maintaining that same equipment in their belt if a skirmish with a suspect were to ever happen.
One of the best exercises to improve the rotator cuff is external rotation. You can see the exercise here. The following is a sample program that you can do to increase your rotator cuff strength:
Weeks 1 and 2 – 12-15 reps, 2-0-0-1 tempo
Weeks 3 and 4 – 8-10 reps, 3-0-1-1 tempo
Weeks 5 and 6 – 6 reps, 4-1-1-1 tempo
Just make sure you use very light weight – these muscles can only handle so much. You can pair external rotation with days that you perform any type of bench pressing.
Speaking of that patrol car, having to spend most of your shift sitting in the car can wreak havoc on your hamstrings. Your hamstrings are made up of 3 muscles that rest in the back of your thigh. Having those muscles be so tight can result in an injury if your patrol suddenly turns into a chase on foot. You could also strain them doing random tasks. I once worked with a client who tore his biceps picking up a wet towel off the bathroom floor. Simple stretching can go a long way; when your muscles are warm you can perform this hamstring stretch. Increasing flexibility is all about relaxing your body, so instead of counting how long you hold the stretch, focus on your breathing. Hold each stretch for 3 deep breaths.
These simple suggestions can go a long way at improving your performance on the job. They might even seem simple at first, but it’s the little things that count. Taking care of yourself will keep the rest of us safe. After all, how many of us are willing to sign up for a job that requires you to jump on the hood of a car?
1. Can, S.H., Hendy, H.M. “Behavioral Variables Associated with Obesity in Police Officers” (2014) Industrial Health 52;3, 240-247