Written By: Pat Skinner
My name is Pat Skinner and I am a Law Enforcement Officer (LEO) in New York state. I have been an investigator for two years. Prior to that I was a road trooper for nine years and know both ends of the spectrum. I know what it is required from this job from a physical standpoint. I know what it is like to ride in a patrol car for 12 hours in the dead of winter, rarely getting out of the car. I know what it is like to shag calls for an entire shift, getting in and out of the car 30 times in the heat of summer with that hot vest on. I know what a 30 hour day feels like, and how the rest of the week after that feels. I know what overnight shifts feel like.
All of these things contribute to our well being as people and as LEO. It is my goal to help educate and inspire LEO to take control of their fitness and become the best version of themselves they can be. Then, they are physically prepared to handle all of the unique set of circumstances that comes with being a LEO and they can become the best father, husband, wife, mother, friend, or leader in the community they can be.
Some facts to deal with if you are a LEO: Police work is stressful. Shift work is stressful. Being in a car chase or a foot pursuit is stressful. Being spit on, called a piece of shit, a worthless pig, etc., can be stressful. Being in a fight, especially one you absolutely cannot lose, is stressful. Seeing a family grieve over a lost one is stressful.
This is every day at work. You may not perceive these things as stressful anymore, but they are still stressors. We are just so conditioned to these scenarios that for us as LEO, they don’t FEEL like stressful situations. Our bodies have become so used to ramping up that we don’t know what cooling down feels like. Does this make sense? The job is stressful and a stress that people outside the LEO world could not understand, despite your best efforts to describe it.
Now everyone has stress from life, family, and work as well. This is not me complaining about the stress that comes from this job in any way, shape, or form. We signed up for this and it is the profession we chose. But as LEO we have to recognize that there is an inherent amount of work-related stress that might not exist in other professions.
I write about, read about, and learn about exercise. Exercise is also stress, which we impose upon our bodies. Our bodies then adapt to this stress and become stronger and more fit. But if you ramp up the imposed stress of exercise to max levels every day and you frequently encounter stressful situations at work, your body is on high alert around the clock. So the important thing for LEO is to recognize this and build a training program that is sound and allows us to recover quickly from stress, whether it is from work or imposed through exercise.
THE DISTINCT TRAINING PROGRAMS LEO FREQUNETLY ENGAGE IN
There are four types of training programs LEO follow that I frequently see.
1. As shocking as it may be to fitness-minded people, some LEO don’t exercise. At all. To get on any LEO job that I know of, you have to pass a fitness test. For some, passing this test was the high point in their fitness journey. They then do nothing again. Or if they do something, it is very minimal. If this is you, just start something, anything, today. If you need help, ask the fit guy at your department.
Say, “I need some help starting a workout program and was wondering if you could assist?” If the fit guy at your department won’t help, ask me and I will help you get started. A perfectly fine thing to do if you have been doing nothing is to workout two days the first week. Walk one mile the first day. Three days later, do 10 push-ups, 10 sit-ups and 10 squats. The next week, do a bit more. The next week, do a bit more than that, and so on. You get the idea. Start slow but STAY consistent. Consistency wins every time. Soon enough you will be able do 10 rounds of push-ups, sit-ups and squats. Just build smartly and start today.
2. The second program a LEO follows is the “Running Man.” They run and therefore they are fit. But fit for what exactly? For the “Running Man”, it’s always about the miles. More miles is better. 10 miles last week, 15 this week, 50 next month. WHY? I am seriously asking WHY? Why is it the belief of so many that running is the ONLY way to get fit? Unless you plan to run competitively or have running-specific goals, a more balanced fitness approach for anyone, especially a LEO, is a wise thing. There are better, smarter ways to get in your aerobic work, without the pounding on your ankles, knees, and hips that come with dozens and dozens of miles. Second, when was the last foot pursuit you had that was five miles long? And if it was five miles, there was surely some walking involved and you better have gotten on the radio and called for help. People that run for fitness do it for the aerobic benefits, right? Another way to reap the aerobic benefits of exercise and reduce the pounding that comes with frequent, long, slow distance running is to create aerobic sessions with mixed movements.
An example could be:
- For 30 mins at 70% effort, continuously complete the following Row 250m
- 10 burpees Farmer’s walk 50m
- Plank on elbows 30 seconds
Depending on your level of fitness, you will be able to complete approximately 5-10 rounds of this. It is a nice little aerobic session that includes some burpees and a personal favorite of mine, carries. You could extend this for 60 mins or even longer. Change the movements and keep the effort moderate, and the possibilities become limitless.
3. Mass Gainer 3000. This guy is about one thing: acquiring mass. 8000 calories a day, every day. Four protein shakes, two steaks, six big macs, and more. The one and only reason for existing is to get bigger and bigger. All that size is useful, but let’s put the extra fries down and make sure we aren’t out of breath by walking up the stairs, all right
For this individual, I would slowly add aerobic work to his program, make some diet modifications, and look to make him a more well rounded athlete/LEO with a slightly more balanced approach to fitness and exercise.
4. CrossFit 9000. This guy takes it to the extreme. Full disclosure: this was me for a time. This character does junk work, like two intense workouts on the same day as a 12 hour shift, then hitting some super intense workouts on off days. More is better and even more is even better. When exactly do we recover? When do we come down? I was literally on for 15 hours a day, between working out and working a job where stress levels could go through the roof at a moment’s notice. For a time it worked fine because I was still young, and anything works when you are young. But it wasn’t optimal, not even close. How do I know this? Because I saw two things. Firstly, I saw guys that followed the exact program I followed slowly become more fit than I was. Secondly, I saw guys that did MUCH less than I did get more fit than I did. Why? Because I couldn’t properly recover from the stress of exercise, and they could. Because they weren’t plugged into a stress electrical outlet every day at work. Because they weren’t working night shifts, sleeping three hours during the day and then going on with their day. Working out is a stressor, and being a LEO is also stressful. We need the opportunity to come down from that stress, not create MORE of it.
A thought for everyone: young police officers eventually, hopefully grow much older. Will they maintain their fitness over the years, or will they let themselves go? Will a LEO go so hard that he is a shell of his 25 year-old self by the time he is 40? Or will he do nothing at all and become twice the size he is now? If you do nothing for years it will catch up to you, and it will take some work to get out of those habits. If you go all out and keep burning the candle at both ends, that will catch up to you too. It is in our best interest as LEO to find a training program that is OPTIMAL for our work/life schedules, our lifestyle, and stressors from outside the gym. Every officer is different and has different stressors aside from training and the job. It is a good baseline though that MOST LEO should be working out a minimum of 2-3 times a week with weights or resistance and some form of conditioning. How much exactly, is dependent on the individual.
When you are starting a workout program, or more importantly getting back into a workout program, utilizing smart, specific progression is key. Getting and then staying fit is a process. It’s a process that takes time. You can’t become fit in one workout, one week of workouts, or even a month. You will improve, but it will take time. Steady, consistent work over many months gets it done. Some weeks you might get to the gym four times, some weeks maybe only twice. But it starts now. Why wait another day? Circumstances won’t be better next week or next month. It’s always hard to make change and break out of ruts and form new habits. But today is a good day to start that change. Start with finding 30 minutes to exercise today. Then look at your schedule for the week and find 30 minutes another day. Start small and build up the volume. If you are in supreme shape and love to work out, just pay attention to your recovery and stressors. Don’t ignore them, and don’t be afraid to take a rest day or an easy day in the gym. If you do take a light day in the gym, don’t worry – you won’t shrivel up into nothing. A light day can still be something that IMPROVES your overall fitness. A light day could be a complete day of rest, where you get an additional hour of sleep or family time. It could be a foam rolling or stretching session that will help you recover from prior workouts. It could be an easy tempo aerobic day with the heart rate in control. These kind of days or sessions can help a hard charger IMMENSELY. Now that hard charger will recover fully from his tough workouts and can maximize his growth and fitness. You are only as good as what you can effectively recover from.
All this advice begs the question, how should a LEO train? First, do something you enjoy. Doing any of the above is better than doing nothing at all. I am not pretending to have the exact answer, but I definitely have some ideas. When I design a training program for myself or others, the first question I ask is: “What is the goal?” What are we trying to get out of exercise that will improve your life? For a LEO to be in decent shape, I think he should be able to do each of the following for one rep. I believe that many that are healthy can get to these numbers eventually. It might take years for some, but it is possible.
- Bench – 1.2 x bodyweight
- Power Clean – 1.2 x bodyweight. This could be low, but this is a technical movement
- Squat – 1.3 x bwt. Deadlift 1.7 x bodyweight, 200m run in 38 seconds
- 1 mile run – under 7 mins 30 seconds for males
These numbers are minimums that I think all LEO should strive towards.
An excellent conditioned LEO might have the following numbers Bench 1.4x BWT
- Power Clean = bench Squat – 1.8x BWT DL – 2.2x bwt
- 200m run in 28s
- 1 mile run in under 6 mins
Once you have reached these numbers, you should continue to strive and then exceed them. Again, there will be exceptions to these based on injuries and other confounders, but they are nice obtainable numbers for most to hit and then eventually exceed.
So how should we train to hit these numbers? This needs to done with smart strength training principles and smart aerobic work. We need enough training to elicit an adaptive response, but not so much that we can’t recover from it before the next session, or that we are so sore that we can’t move at work. We aim to improve each piece slowly but surely, while staying injury-free and getting plenty of sleep and proper nutrition to support the training.
The next question I ask is, “how many times a week and for how long can you train?” From there, we start to develop a training routine that will work for the individual. We want the person progressing towards their goals on a consistent basis without getting off track. This could mean anywhere from two
workouts a week at the start of one’s fitness journey or up to possibly 10 smartly planned sessions a week for someone that is young enough and has been training for a long time, and incorporates fitness in lifestyle.
My final message to all LEO
Take control of your fitness. Make positive changes today. Strive towards being the best version of yourself.
About The Author
Pat Skinner is a CrossFit Level 1 certified and OPEX Level 1 Program Design certified trainer. He has been a law enforcement officer for 11 years and understands the unique requirements of the job. He was co-owner and head coach at CrossFit Binghamton for 5 years. He has written workout programs for himself and others for 6 years and seeks to constantly refine the craft. His blog can be found at https://pattraining.wordpress.com