Police fitness trainers James Di Naso and Brian Marvin love it when cops say they don’t have time to exercise. That’s a gotcha!
“We ask them, ‘Do you watch TV?’” Marvin told PoliceOne recently. “Of course, they say yes. Then we explain that there are simple workouts they can do during commercials that don’t require any extra time out of their day.”
The payoff: Even with that limited amount of exertion, you can reap significant benefits that will go a long way toward eliminating troublesome physical problems that rampantly plague LEOs.
Di Naso and Marvin evaluate and train officers across the country through the Police Kinesiology Company based in Charleston, Ill. In agency after agency, they encounter — and teach remedies for — afflictions that seem to be inherent in law enforcement, “whether you drive a desk, a computer, or a cruiser,” as Di Naso puts it.
The predominant symptom tends to be pain: lower back pain, neck pain, shoulder pain, muscle pain, random nonspecific pain. Not acute pain, necessarily, but enough persistent, achy discomfort so that your body adapts in unhealthy ways in an effort to alleviate it.
“The pain is usually caused by muscle imbalances that develop from structural changes in the body,” Di Naso explains. “As these changes occur, officers will often use faulty movement mechanics to compensate for body positions that cause them pain. This can affect how you position yourself for barricade shooting, sit, get out of your car, wrestle on the ground, run in foot pursuits, handcuff people, squat behind cover, push a stuck vehicle — all these things and more, even how you walk.
“Plus, you put yourself at risk for more serious orthopedic injuries such as a rotator cuff tear, herniated disc, or a torn ACL in the knee, because you’re more susceptible to injury due to improper movements.”
Much of the problem is rooted in the long periods of sitting demanded of most officers. “Sitting and driving, for example, is an activity, not an inactivity,” Di Naso says. “The posture and movements involved pull your head and shoulders forward and round your upper back. Your pelvis tends to tilt and shift. Muscles and connective tissue associated with your knees and hips shorten and tighten. And so on.
“This is aggravated by your duty belt and vest, which put more compressive force on your spine when you’re sitting than when you’re standing, and by the poor ergonomics of seat design. Some of the effects persist even after you’re out of the car. Over time, the anterior (front) muscles of your body become shortened and the posterior muscles become stretched out and weakened.”
“We see these problems developing at a younger and younger age now,” observes Marvin, a former sheriff’s captain. “Recruits are coming in to law enforcement with an extensive history of sitting already — playing video games, using computers. They’re less fit because of technology, and they don’t train to address their physical issues because they don’t understand them.”
The “cure” doesn’t require long hours at the gym. With today’s over-committed lifestyle, regular, extensive workouts are unrealistic for many cops. In fact, some weight training typically incorporated in health club routines, such as behind-the-neck pull-downs and leg-extension exercises, may even reinforce many officers’ problems, Di Naso and Marvin claim.
When time and professional guidance are limited, performing simple drills they’ve identified while you’re watching TV can give you a good return for minimal effort. “You can gain huge benefits from just 10 minutes a day, if you’re consistent with it,” Marvin promises.
Di Naso agrees. “Important changes can occur with very little sweat equity. These exercises don’t require heavy lifts or profuse sweating or expensive equipment. Try them for 8 to 12 weeks and assess for yourself whether you feel better.”
He recommends that you combine the routines during your TV watching at least twice a week, “three or four times a week if possible.”
Di Naso and Marvin have worked closely with PoliceOne on a number of fitness-related projects, including the popular “Saving Gary” series in which they trained PoliceOne instructor Gary Klugiewicz in exercises to alleviate physical limitations he had incurred during his long career in corrections and defensive tactics. On the BluTube site you’ll find a number of videos from Police Kinesiology, demonstrating routines you can easily employ during TV commercial breaks.
Here are several examples:
1.) The Core Trio (Jackknife, the Russian Twist, and Skydivers)
2.) The Crunch
3.) The Squat
4.) Arm/Leg Lifts (with Skydivers repeated for reinforcement)
As you access each of these locations, you’ll find additional links posted that will take you to more law enforcement-oriented exercises that you may want to integrate over time for variety.
Start moderately, progress gradually — and don’t stop.
“When you start feeling better, there’s a temptation to figure that your problems are fixed and back off,” Marvin explains. “Not a good idea. These exercises can help you rehabilitate your body, but they need to be continued to prevent problems from recurring.”
“Really, you should maintain basic fitness regimens like these for the rest of your life,” Di Naso said. “You want not only to get through your career as injury-free as possible but also to prepare yourself to fully enjoy your retirement with vigor, what we call ‘active daily living.’ ”
Marvin adds: “The beauty of the commercial-break exercises is that they can involve your whole family. Everyone needs to get up and moving a bit, regardless of age, and by doing it together you can reinforce each other in good habits.”
Di Naso and Marvin can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.