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Functional training for optimal frontline preparedness

Law enforcement officers can be seen as occupational athletes and also “chameleons of a wide range of professions” as they are constantly adapting to operational demand and performing a variety of physically demanding tasks. Sports experts widely recognize specific proficiency training designed for specific proficiency outcomes achieves optimal sport-specific results. This same theory holds true for law enforcement.

September 7, 2017  By Isabelle Sauve

A challenge or hindrance for officers is without doubt the actual protective equipment and use of force items they contend with while on duty. Paradoxically, these items are in fact intended to promote safety and ease job performance. The equipment is without dispute operationally beneficial and essential; however, it can also be inadvertently harmful by inviting overuse injuries. The weight, unevenness and bulkiness of the gear places strain and mobility constrains on the body. Even basic repetitive motions — such as getting in and out of a cruiser while wearing a duty belt and body armour — takes a toll over time. Targeted functional training can offer injury immunization while handing law enforcement officers an athletic competitive edge.

Proper physical conditioning is also related to a reduction in the frequency and degree of application of force.  
Officer fitness should focus on overall conditioning of power, strength, endurance, speed, coordination, agility, balance and flexibility. A weakness in one or more of these areas could ultimately be life threatening on the frontline. As an illustration, an officer with outstanding aerobic capability but poor conditioning otherwise could be in danger without the strength and power to take down a violent assailant. With proper training, the body can learn to adapt and to perform surprisingly well under numerous circumstances and conditions. The content of training programs must be continuously modified to achieve and maintain optimal full body conditioning.  

Fitness programs do not need countless hours of training for visible gains. In fact, a targeted 20-minute workout of high-intensity interval training will deliver physical conditioning gains and contribute to functional law enforcement related physical fitness. Numerous activities such as cycling, swimming, rope work and running can be turned into interval workouts. The notion is to alternate between high intensity/controlled explosive work and rest intervals.

Strength and conditioning programs can greatly benefit from multi-joint and multi-planar movements since they most closely reflect the actual physical demands of law enforcement. These activities (squats, lunges, burpees and planks) recruit and train multiple muscles synergistically. Handcuffing an active resistant suspect, for example, requires the engagement and co-ordination of several muscle groups.


Embracing an active lifestyle can also support functional training and exponentially contribute to job specific fitness gains. The warm summer weather is an ideal time to participate in outdoor activities with family and friends.

Additionally, stretching should not be left aside. Routinely engaging in a few minutes of stretching will greatly support muscle, ligament and joint health as well as flexibility. Stretching periodically to break up long periods of sitting or of inactivity boosts mental focus while simultaneously being good for the body.

The inclusion of various types of training regimes and recreational activities fosters well-roundedness and job readiness. A more exhaustive analysis of training programs and components of fitness such as anaerobic power, cardiovascular endurance, metabolic conditioning, flexibility, muscular power, endurance and agility will be covered in upcoming articles.

Isabelle Sauve is a 10-year OPP veteran currently with the Emergency Response Team (ERT) at the Almaguin Highlands Detachment in Burks Falls, about 300 km north of Toronto. She can be contacted at:

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