STEP 3: Develop a Physical Training Regimen
12 Steps to Become a Police Officer: Step 3: Develop a PT Regimen
This is STEP 3 of the series 12 Steps to Become a Police Officer: Mindset, Preparation and Equipment For Your First Year.
Ok, cops need to be in shape. But what does that mean? What kind of shape? Where do you begin? For this third step of twelve towards becoming a police officer, I am suggesting you develop, revamp or adjust your physical training (PT) routine. One way to approach this matter is to differentiate what is required just to get in from what is an optimal level of fitness. Then you will know the starting point and the goal. Below are nine general items to consider when developing your regimen.
How to Develop a PT Regimen
- Know the Basic Requirements: The PAT & Medical Screening
- Find Your Agency’s PAT
- Attend Agency PAT Sessions
- A Note on the Medical Screening
- Don’t Ignore the Red Flags
- The Right Mental Approach: PT Should Be Fun
- Beware of Trends
- Start Small, Start Now.
- Train to Dominate, Control and Survive
“…differentiate what is required just to get in from what is an optimal level of fitness. Then you will know the starting point and the goal. “
- Start With Knowing the Basic Requirements: The PAT and The Medical Screening
What is required? In a nutshell, you must pass a fitness test and be medically screened. A police fitness test is a standardized set of exercises, a timed run and/or an obstacle course designed to test whether you can handle the general physical demands the job. The medical screening is a specific examination from a doctor that is customized for public safety workers.
2. Find Your Agency’s PAT:
If you have visited various police websites that enumerate the hiring process, then you know agencies tend to call the fitness test step a Physical Agility Test (PAT). Sometimes it will go by other names, i.e. Physical Fitness Test, but the objectives are consistent in that the agency needs to have a standardized method to examine and score your physical abilities.
Los Angeles Police Department calls their test the Physical Fitness Qualifier (PFQ), which includes the four following steps:
1) Maximum sit-ups in one minute
2) 300-meter sprint
3) Maximum push-ups in one minute
4) 1.5 mile-run.
As you can see, if you are moderately athletic, the individual components of the test are not overly strenuous on their own. However, it is important to take the PAT seriously. Often, the time between each test can varies, and many recruits will tell you the proctors moved from one test to the next with not much of a break between. Also, many PAT’s and police academies incorporate and an obstacle course. Practice your investigations skills: find out details about the course you will face and then practice navigating the obstacles.
The objective to merely pass the test is not enough. For most agencies, the PFT is not just Pass/Fail, but there is a score assigned to each component depending on how fast you complete the run, or how many pushups you do. Considering the intense competition, one or two points can mean the difference of getting selected or not. If you are plain out of shape, then do not fret. At least now you have identified the target and can work up to it.
If you have narrowed your list of agencies down, go to each of their websites and find their PFT information. You will need to start customizing your PT regimen according to their PAT.
“Considering the intense competition, one or two points can mean the difference of getting selected or not.”
3. Attend Your Agency Pat Sessions
Many agencies invite applicants and recruits to systematized PT sessions specifically to prepare for the PFT and the Academy. ATTEND THESE SESSIONS. The benefits of these sessions beyond the exercise cannot be overstated. You are making a demonstrated effort to the team before getting the job. The training coordinators will know you. You will have a chance to network with—and learn from—fellow applicants. Please avoid the Lone Ranger mentality. It’s tempting to try to keep to yourself during this process. But you are entering a realm of public service. You need to get more comfortable working with a team, and this is fun place to start. Not to mention, there may be someone there whom you can help; you are also entering the business of helping others, so why not start with your friends?
I will not get overly detailed as to the precise steps to take to prepare for the PFT, as they vary quite a bit. But the general steps I recommend are as follows:
- Find your agency’s PAT and design your own training plan to replicate that test.
- Time and quantify your performance, and continuously enhance your goals according to your scores.
- Join the agency’s PT sessions. Get to know other applicants.
- Start NOW and commit! If you don’t have time, make time. One of my favorite Training Officers whom I will reference repeatedly in this series once reminded me that it is amazing how easy and fast it is to get a great “smoke session”. If you think it takes a lot of time to get in phenomenal shape, take look into the science of high-intensity interval training. (HIIT). One famous form of HIITT is the Tabata Protocol, or simply “Tabata’s”. A Tabata drill is 20 seconds of work (squats) followed by 10 seconds of rest, then another 20 seconds of a new exercise. This cycle is continued for eight rounds. I really like this drill. It can be psychologically daunting to think “I need to go PT for one hour” versus “I only need to do squats for 20 seconds”. Then, when I have completed one round, I think to myself “well, that wasn’t so bad, I think I’ll do a second round…”. Give it a try. One more thing about Tabata’s: they are an amazing way to start your day. Get your blood moving and your muscles pumped before you head out.
4. Medical Screening:
I will keep this portion short because it is relatively simple. Think of your medical screening as an assessment of your body’s functionality and wellness for the long term. Intuitively, you should be diligent in addressing whatever it is that is at least partially is within your control, such getting your blood pressure into a good range. Besides routine vitals and blood tests, the Doc will also check your hearing, vision and musculoskeletal functionality. You generally will not be cleared if you have any significant hearing loss or visual impairment to include color blindness. I recommend contacting your recruiter for details specific for your agency well in advance if you have any concerns, (although you will not have to share any private health information.)
5. Don’t Ignore the Red Flags
If you have any chronic aches or pains, that is not a disqualifier. However, they should be a cause for some serious concern. Police work is physically demanding even on a routine day. If you are experiencing chronic pains, it will only worsen when you add the weight your gear to a rigorous schedule of entering and exiting a vehicle. On an “active” day, you may be sprinting, falling, getting into physical fights or dragging your partner to safety. Pain is a warning sign from your body that there is a problem of some kind. If you ignore it, you may be looking at a short career, marked by range of pain and injury. And, your body may be more apt for a catastrophic failure during an emergency. If you ignore the red flags, you may be putting yourself and the public at risk. If you are not sure about an issue, consult a professional such as physical therapist.
6. Mental Approach: PT should be fun.
Now that you know the basic, minimal requirements to apply, now it is time to develop an approach to either being or enhance a fitness regimen for the duration of your career.
I am not a fitness guru. I am not going to recommend specific regimen, as that should be developed by an individual according to sound direction from experts in the field. I am simply advising you devote the necessary time and attention to developing and committing to a regimen of your choice that is customized for police work.
The best way to do this is to remember that exercise is fun. Do you recall when you were a kid, running around the neighborhood until sunset or chasing a soccer ball until you almost vomited? This was phenomenal exercise you did because you were having fun. You weren’t doing it out of a sense of ethics or in order to achieve some professional goal. It was just fun. Do you still experience that? If not, what happened? Well, you can get it back. Whatever you enjoyed before that got your body moving, perhaps try that again. I grew up rock climbing, but I put it on the backburner for years for no good reason. Of course, in my head, I blamed my job, but I really had no good excuse. Now, when I go climbing, I remember how fun it is. I will climb for two hours straight without any extra motivation needed. It’s just fun, and it helps keep me in excellent shape for police work.
7. Beware of Trends
If you are in, or entering law enforcement, then you are well-aware of the tsunami of “influencers” bragging …I mean motivating others to get “swole”. This is a strong caution to not watch an Instagram or YouTube clip and try to mimic those exercises. That is a good way to get yourself hurt, and not accomplish your goal of getting into a particular kind of shape.
In order to customize your training regimen for law enforcement, carefully deliberate as to what officers actually do in the field. There is broad range of actions required, to include jumping fences and running stairs. So, just from those examples, do exercises that replicate these activities. You will need to achieve some balance of anaerobic and aerobic fitness, or strength and endurance. If you tend too much to one area you will neglect another. I strongly caution you about throwing around a lot of weight, unless you are experienced and highly proficient with proper form and progression. If you have not tuned your body to heavy lifting, you will be prone to joint and muscle pains and injury. Some recruits with the best beach muscles get injured the soonest and can’t finish the PAT run.
8. Start Small. Start Now. Be Safe.
If it has been a while since you trained regularly, I recommend erring towards low-impact recreation such as biking and swimming. This will get you warmed up and it will be fun. Once you have done this a few times a week for a few consecutive weeks, start organizing some functional fitness sessions, such as a Crossfit circuit. These circuits are ubiquitous on the internet; just find one and taper it down to your comfort level. After you have done a few circuits, you can start pushing yourself a bit to get out of your comfort level, and then you are TRAINING! Once you have reached this point, you can start to quantify your performance by time, sets, repetitions and weight. Make sure to change it up!
“After you have done a few circuits, you can start pushing yourself a bit to get out of your comfort zone. Then, you are training! “
9. Train to Dominate, Control and Survive
Once you have developed a training routine, don’t get into a rut! In order to get in the best functional shape, you need to surprise or “shock” your body. Do this in a calculated manner, as to not induce injury. Police officers can plan for a lot of the motions they will need on any given shift, such as stairs or ducking under wires. But of course, we never know the exact type or duration of the physical challenge that will arise with the next emergency. It could be a fight for your life. One of the best “eye-openers” to this very concept is the training drill where training officers exhaust a recruit with burpees or mountain climbers, then cycle them into a defensive tactics scenario where they must fight to live. Each participant quickly learns or re-learns this vital lesson: you can’t plan when or where the fight happens. But you can absolutely control your readiness to dominate when it does.
Now, let’s press forward to STEP 4: Destroy the POST Exam.
Do you have any other recommendations for recruits preparing their bodies for police work? I sincerely welcome your comments! For more information on joining the force, please visit the TacBookUSA blog series