Implementing a 'tactical fitness' program
A good physical fitness routine can help prevent injuries that have unnecessarily forced many police officers into ‘medically retired’ status
The law enforcement profession presents a variety of unique physical challenges which can cause serious — sometimes career-ending — physical injury. For just one example, you may spend two straight hours seated in your squad car, followed immediately by a foot pursuit which ends in a wrestling match. Some departments are good at giving officers the time and the equipment required to work out and prepare your body physically for the many outside physical forces which will be placed upon you in the line of duty — other agencies leave it entirely up to the individual officer.
I’ve recently been in touch with some folks who have implemented a program that piqued my interest. Dubbed “Tactical Fitness” this health and wellness program targets specific muscle groups with exercises created specifically for situations officers encounter in the line of duty, with the objective of preventing injuries and health-related issues. Tactical Fitness was created by staff members of the criminal justice program at Southwest Wisconsin Technical College and instructors at Orange Shoe Personal Fitness (based in Fitchburg, Wisconsin). The program’s goal is to bring a new culture to departments and recruits using a cost-effective wellness model with stability balls, resistance bands, and TRX Suspension Trainers, a versatile piece of exercise equipment that is portable, lightweight, and can be used in a minimum amount of space.
Southwest Tech received a grant through the Wisconsin Department of Justice to offer a workshop for local Wisconsin law enforcement agencies providing Tactical Fitness training designed to give officers the tools to train their individual departments. Local agencies that participated include the Iowa Country Sheriff’s office, Dodgeville Police Department, Fennimore Police Department, Dubuque Police Department, and Lafayette County Sheriff’s Office.
Keys to Success
Kretschman and Michel told me that they have identified a number of keys for law enforcement agencies to keep in mind during the implementation of a similar program they created in Tactical Fitness. Those keys begin with taking action on a daily basis to improve your officers’ fitness, not their end results. People get caught up in pursuing the “six-pack abs” and the bulging biceps that they lose focus on what the emphasis should be when integrating a tactical fitness program into a department. The department wants to have officers who are explosive, agile, and can control their bodies effectively in any physical situation. None of these require having a body carved from stone. Here are seven other fundamentals Kretschman and Michel identified.
Agencies spend a lot of time training for what Gordon Graham calls “high-risk, low-frequency events”, such as firearms, emergency vehicle operation, defensive tactics, etc. These topics must be trained, but if an agency can spend a small amount of the in-service training time instructing fitness techniques that an officer can train on his/her own time, the agency may see long-term benefits in officer performance. Physical fitness directly impacts an officer’s everyday work performance and is as worthy as any other training topic.
Kretschman said further that the goal of the Tactical Fitness program is to change the attitude of law enforcement officers in concerning the topic of physical fitness. “At Southwest Tech, we have realized that these changes are often challenging for agencies to implement with their respective officers and have focused on shaping this attitude early in an officer’s career while that officer is at the academy level. Understanding that physical fitness is a requirement for both success in an officer’s training and subsequently in that officer’s career, Southwest Tech has made Tactical Fitness the foundation of the training program in the basic law enforcement academy. Southwest Tech has implemented training that will show the students directly how physical fitness impacts their ability to perform law enforcement duties.”
Michel explained that these potential problems can be solved by partnering with an organization that will help your department over the long-term. “Orange Shoe Personal Fitness partners with departments for one year at a time and makes themselves completely available to ensure total success. Forming a fitness program builds a long-term relationship, so choose your professional fitness partner wisely,” said Michel.
“Our biggest challenge has been working with the departments when fitness has not been mandated or even ‘brushed up on’ in years,” Michel continued. “We have programs in place that are cost-effective and will actually put money back into the departments' fitness facilities but it seems that many chiefs are still turning a blind eye to the need for tactical fitness. I’ve talked with numerous officers who know of specific people in the department who are purposely NOT called out to certain scenarios due to the fact that the officer's lack of physical condition would only compound the problem for other officers on the scene. It’s time for departments to realize that they can either make time for a tactical fitness program, or they can make time for filling out workman comp claims and defending themselves in the court of law for not addressing the demand for tactical fitness.”
Tactical Fitness is different than traditional training — it trains officers for the function ability of the job. The focus is not on bench pressing and weight training, instead the focus is on building strength and flexibility in specific areas officers easily strain or injure in the field such as their shoulders and lower backs.
Preventing these injuries is critical for a successful law enforcement career, and programs like Tactical Fitness and a variety of others that approach the “work out routine” from a more practical perspective can give officers the tools they need to maintain themselves throughout their career, allowing them to better serve the public and minimize the potential for health related issues in retirement.
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