The number one gripe I get from every officer I challenge to get (and stay!) fit is, “I don’t have time.” Is that so? I think to myself, “How many of us spend an hour a day just staring off into space or at the television?” Plenty, right?
Obviously, it would be wonderful if law enforcement agencies came up with a way to provide an hour a day for an on-duty workout. I argue that it is as important as shooting, knowing policies, and tactical training.
As much as I like to tease them, firefighters are doing the physical fitness thing right. Of course, they generally get time to work out on duty (in between naps — I told you I like to tease them), and police officers generally don’t. And with nationwide staffing concerns and a tough financial climate, we’re not going to get police agencies to buy into that concept anytime soon. That leaves us police officers to work out on our own time, and I see that as being just one more hour added to our shift.
Start Early, Stick To It
We work in an age where we are being targeted. Criminals spend time planning how to hurt us. We may have to rescue one another. The idea of having to drag an injured and obese cop out of harm’s way can be a troublesome one, but very possible.
I recently spoke to an academy class and instructed them to tell their families that the shifts they’re about to begin working are one hour longer than they actually are. If the agency is on 4-10s, that’s an 11-hour shift. For 5-8s, it’s a 9-hour shift.
I advised this because few things are more difficult than trying to get your family to “buy in” to another hour away from home after they have become accustomed to you getting home at a certain time.
We put in all that effort in the academy, weeks of suffering and physical training — and yes, I called it suffering — and slowly over our careers many of us shed that “suffering” in favor of stuff we enjoy more.
If I sat here and told you that I love to cause myself physical distress, and that I love that more than getting home from work and having a cold beer — or Bloody Mary, because that feels more socially acceptable at 0730 — after my shift, you’d know I’m a liar. I despise running… so I should run more. There is no way I am going to allow an exercise to defeat me. If I don’t like It, I force myself to do it so I can conquer it. Hello – this is Sparta.
My activity of choice is CrossFit. I am a tremendous advocate for this type of fitness training. I think it is highly relevant to our profession. You have to push as hard as you can push for a set amount of time, or repetitions. I’m awful at nearly all of it, but I plan to get better.
It really doesn’t matter what physical fitness activity you do, as long as you DO! Get moving, and do it when you want to do it the least… Yes, the least!
In his book, Force Under Pressure: Why Cops Live and How They Die Dr. Lawrence Blum says to exercise when you are the most exhausted — to teach your body to push when it is the most exhausted.
Many officers tell me that they have to exercise before work, to get in “work mode.” I have always found that desirable. Of course, if you start your shift at 0600, that might not be easy for you.
“I have to put on my war paint and all, so adding more time that early in the morning would not be practical.”
“Forcing myself to stay up and work out after getting off work at 0300 has always been tough for me.”
Those are excuses.
My current shift has me working midnights, and I’ve discovered that exercising before or after work is equally challenging. Before work exercise takes away from my family, and after work – well I’m tired!
But I’ve determined that once I finally get there and do it, I feel better. I sleep better when I work out after work, and I am more alert at work if I get the blood flowing before my shift.
There are many schools of thought on that — before shift or after it — and it generally boils down to what you enjoy.
Making Fitness Your Hobby
I suggest that you find an activity that benefits you in your profession. While I would agree that perhaps fishing is an excellent activity for stress relief and provides time to decompress, it does not get to count as your “physical fitness” just because it is referred to as a sport!
Unless you are conducting tactical knife training while fileting your catch of the day, it is not going to benefit you in winning a fight.
Now all you fishermen/women don’t start sending me hate mail (dad!). I just want you to consider that fishing is for mental relaxation, not physical training.
Encourage those around you — invite them to come to the gym with you. I’m going to keep telling people they should exercise.
When someone asks you what you are training for… the only acceptable response is: “life.”