Physical fitness for your career and your life

Many police departments now have formal programs to keep us in shape. My question is why should we need anyone else to do that for us?


Upon my retirement more than two years ago, it occurred to me that many of the people I had started my career with were no longer alive. Many had died of cancer, stroke, heart attacks, and diabetes (to name a few).

As part of my duties as a training officer for nearly five years at the San Jose (Calif.) Police Department, I was given the dubious chore of becoming a Fitness and Nutrition Instructor. Part of that meant being sent to the Cooper Institute of Aerobic Fitness in Dallas, Texas.

It was, in a word, incredible! That was perhaps some of the best training I ever had in law enforcement.

Fitness and Nutrition
We all go through our careers thinking we are going to come across that righteous bad guy or that bank robbery suspect that will lead to our destruction. Fortunately, for most of us, it is that 20, 30, or 40 years on the job that ultimately leads to our demise.

Many police departments now have formal programs to keep us in shape. My question is why should we need anyone else to do that for us?

Maybe for me it was easier as I grew up being an athlete, and maintaining a workout regimen just made sense to me. Another incentive for me was I wasn’t a huge guy like so many are. I came on the PD at 5’ 8” and 180 pounds.

But for me my lack of size became readily apparent when a linebacker-sized guy on PCP decided he wasn’t going to jail one summer evening after I had only been on the job for a couple of years. That began my weightlifting regimen, to which I still adhere today.

What I could never understand was why so many of us let ourselves go to the point of not being able to pick up those retirement checks. I know of virtually dozens of officers that died either a short time before, or just after retiring. And for what, I ask?

While I was on the street, our department, for the most part, had a very fit patrol force. We had a number of sports teams that many people took part in. For the average officer, we are mostly in the best shape of our lives in the basic police academies.

I remember running that ridiculous eight-mile course and thinking to myself, “I will never run this again.”

And I haven’t.

I still do aerobics several days a week and combine it with weightlifting.

Many of you may not be able to run, jog, or lift weights and I know the enumerable reasons why as I have heard them all.

Most of us can walk, however. Unfortunately, in our profession, eating and drinking too much is still acceptable. For most of us, that becomes our death knell.

My Challenge to Cops
The challenge I give cops, since we all love a challenge, is to see if they can do something relatively simply, ridiculously simple actually, like walking briskly (if possible, you should have a physical if you haven’t performed aerobic type activity for years) for two to four minutes, three times a week.

No, it isn’t a typo. You read it correctly, walking briskly for two to four minutes, three times a week (more to follow in another article).

Hopefully by now you have picked yourself up off the floor and composed yourself due to the outrageous laughing fit you had upon reading about walking. You will notice I mentioned walking briskly, not strolling.

I know what you’re thinking. “It took me 15 years to put on this 25, 50, or 75 pounds.”

You are absolutely correct. So done properly, how long do you think it will take you to take it off safely? The optimal word here being safely. I cannot answer that question as we are all unique. The key term here is reasonable. Be reasonable and take your time.

Starting with Stretching
Perhaps one of the best things going is stretching. Like most of you, I never stretched, until I tore the hell out of my Gastroc Nemius — I know, I had never heard of it either (it is the pencil thin muscle that runs up the back of your lower leg, adjacent to your achilles tendon and into your calf muscle) — as I attempted to make a cat-quick exit from my patrol car to catch a rape suspect fleeing on foot.

I flung the door open and braced it with my left foot, and swung around in the car seat so both legs were firmly on the pavement. I took one step with my left leg and down I went!

I stood up and once again thought I would start chasing the kid — he couldn’t have been more than 15 feet away from me at this point — but for all it mattered, it could have been 15 miles. I wasn’t going to catch him, or a cold, or anything else for that matter.

I’ve been stretching ever since.

If you are starting over, that may mean getting up a little earlier or walking at lunch in your beat, but the most important issue is merely to start. Obviously if you think you want to start a weight-lifting program, get with someone, preferably a professional, who understands the mechanics of weight-lifting. Regardless of what you decide to do, please take your time.

By taking your time, you can enjoy the benefits of working yourself slowly back into shape.

If you have a pre-existing medical condition, consult your physician first. Remember, it took you time to get out of shape, it will take you time to back into shape.

About the author

Dr. Sancier began his law enforcement career at the Atherton (Calif.) Police Department as a Reserve in 1978 and then became a regular in 1980.  While working at APD Greg worked patrol and also worked in a collateral assignment as a Hostage Negotiator. While working full time as a police officer Greg applied and was accepted into the Master’s Degree program in Clinical Psychology at SJSU.  He worked at APD until 1985 when he went to the San Jose Police Department. While at SJPD Greg became a Hostage Negotiator as a collateral assignment as he worked in patrol, the training unit, and then in the Crisis Management Unit (CMU) where he worked the last 7 years of his career.  Upon joining the SJPD Greg earned his Master’s Degree in Clinical Psychology in 1989. During his tenure of nearly five years in the  training unit at SJPD Greg taught in service police officer’s classes such as Psychology of Survival, Officer Safety / Survival, High Risk Car stops, Defensive driving tactics, Fitness and Nutrition, Defensive Tactics, to name a few.  Greg applied and was accepted to the Ph.D. program at the Western Graduate School of Psychology in Palo Alto in 1992 while he worked full-time in the training unit at the police department.

Contact Greg Sancier

 

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