While physical fitness and nutrition are important for everyone, they are especially important for those who protect and serve. The demands placed on an officer’s body are unique. Often, he or she could be spending long periods of time sitting or standing, with little opportunity for positional changes. These long periods of relative inactivity can be interrupted by short, intense bouts of exertion. There are few, if any, occupations that match these characteristics. Recently, Tom Labocki and I had the opportunity to speak and present at the annual Fort Lee Police Department meeting. Our presentation discussed ways to improve cardiovascular health and episodes of low back pain in these tactical athletes.
Besides the general, long-term health detriments caused by long bouts of inactivity, short-term musculoskeletal issues can arise. Long periods in one position can lead to adaptations in the muscles and joints, ultimately leading to stiffness, weakness, pain, or actual injury. Luckily, these issues can be improved, mitigating the chances for pain and injury.
These adaptations follow the old adage of “If you don’t use it, you lose it.” The easiest way to avoid stiffness and weakness of muscles and joints is to utilize proper (and consistent) stretching and strengthening. Based on police officers’ occupational demands – as well as avoiding the spectre of low back pain – exercise should focus on the spine and lower extremities. General stretching of the low back, gluteals, piriformis, hamstrings, and calf muscles is best, and can be performed anywhere. Along with stretching, strengthening of the core and large muscle groups of the legs can help to stop the progression of low back pain.
Cardiovascular health is another important aspect of the job. There are many approaches to “cardio.” But when looking for “bang for your buck” and the sometimes instantaneous physical demands placed on officers, high intensity interval training (HIIT) should be the modality of choice. Not only can a 15-minute HIIT routine (including warm up and cool down) produce the same cardiovascular benefits as 30 minutes on a bike, elliptical, treadmill, etc., but it more closely mimics what an officer may have to do during a shift. Police officers don’t run continuously, at one speed, for 30 minutes at a time. They call on their bodies to ramp up from zero-to-sixty, sometimes without warning.
Regardless of occupation or athleticism, the biggest key to success with any exercise program is compliance and consistency. By starting with a daily stretching program, officers can improve comfort, decrease any existing pain, or mitigate the risk for future injury. Next, strengthening drills can be added in as tolerated to improve strength and capacity. As exercise competence improves, strength training can be performed as a HIIT program. One of the best ways to succeed with an exercise regimen is to train/workout the same way you plan on regularly using these muscles and energy systems. This will make your exercise routines more productive and more functional.
For sample stretching and strengthening exercises, click here. If you or your department would like further information or would like to have one of our therapists at your local department meeting, please reach out to your local Excel office.