Training Log

Starting Strength in the Real World

Training Considerations for Law Enforcement

by Tyler Perkins | December 21, 2021

lifter at the bottom of a squat

Due to the paramilitary nature of law enforcement, it is no surprise that the same training pitfalls the military continues to perpetuate (Read military related articles here) have crept into these organizations as well. Starting at the bottom, from every criminal justice academy to local law enforcement and all the way up to specialized and “elite” agencies, the training emphasis is that of running, pushups, and situps. If an academy recruit is extremely lucky, they might find themselves doing some form of a HIIT workout or throwing around some kettlebells and many actively employed Law Enforcement Officers (LEO), find themselves continuing to do similar activities or looking for a WOD to perform.

I have had the bizarre misfortune of having an entirely out of touch “personal trainer” hired by the criminal justice academy I attended, have us do planks on our bare elbows in a gravel pit because, as she put it, “You never know when you’ll be fighting someone in gravel!” I couldn’t help but wonder if at our next session, she would be hardening us up for a plank fight on used hypodermic needles or, if she was going to throw in a condom or some broken bottles for realism. This same expert also insisted that every time you eat a cheeseburger, you experience mild cardiac arrest. While I admit that my experience may have been particularly ridiculous, I know I can’t be the only one to have been subjected to this extremely misguided training regimen, or something similarly useless.

The reality is that the days of the COPS television show where a LEO chases a person down a road, over a fence, through a sewer drain and finally, assumes a plank position on a bed of gravel are largely over. These days (at least in my experience) a lone LEO running after someone through a dark alley is mostly discouraged for both safety and practical reasons.

So, if the days of running after perps are over, how should the modern-day LEO train? Well, if you want apprehending and detaining an individual to be less of a struggle, dragging or carrying an injured or incapacitated person to be faster and less of a problem, breaking down a door to be quick and efficient, if you would like to be a stable human wall during riot control and if you want the most efficacious way of simply combating hours of sitting; then you need to be strong – and you get that way by strength training.

On the rare occasion a LEO finds themselves running after somebody, or over to something, this event will almost assuredly be a shorter sprinting event, not a lengthy endurance evolution. Luckily, the LEO participating in a strength training program will find that increasing a minimal or nonexistent squat and deadlift will not only increase strength, but it also makes you faster as well. Win/win.

Aside from being physically more capable of completing a LEO's daily occupational duties, the presence of a big, huge, uniformed gorilla commands a certain amount of respect when he enters a room. It's specifically useful in circumstances such as walking into a stranger’s house full of intoxicated adults engaged in some violent altercation and demanding that – like children – they go to their rooms, which is at least 50% of police work. It is my personal observation that the bigger and stronger the LEO is, the less physical combat they will engage in. When my walrus-mustachioed Sergeant (who had a 500lb bench press) grabbed a person by the arm, there was generally no argument and the person happily complied. Conversely, my experience was that smaller or physically unimpressive men and women seem to get into scraps far more regularly. And because going home unscathed should be the name of the game, if getting big and strong utilizing a strength training program helps to facilitate this outcome, the choice makes itself.

An additional factor to consider is time and compliance. A common LEO work schedule usually involves some variation of 12-hour shifts, a few days on, a couple days off, etc. And because of the speed in which a day off seems to vanish – especially somebody working night shifts – and the lengthy, tiring workdays, a LEO looking to train in some form or fashion would seriously benefit from participating in the most effective, least time-consuming activity possible. An average Starting Strength training session lasts around 1.5 hours and is done 3 times per week which is a relatively low time commitment for such dramatic results. A proper strength program also will not leave the trainee constantly sore to the bone, or feeling beat-up and broken. All of these factors simply cannot be replicated with any other program, and all are huge considerations when it comes to finding a training method that a LEO can and will stick to and that best fits into a hectic schedule.

Apart from strength training making a law enforcement officer more effective and useful on a day-to-day basis, it can help address the issue of debilitating back pain that runs rampant among LEOs. The hefty and outdated duty belts worn around the hips hold at a minimum a pistol, extra magazines, handcuffs, tasers, pepper spray, a baton, phones, knives, a radio, and can weigh nearly 30 pounds. They flop around and shove into your hips and back, and coupled with hours upon hours of sitting in a patrol vehicle, your lumbar spine is crying uncle in very short order. It screws up many otherwise healthy and fairly young retirees with plenty of active life ahead of them out of enjoying the rest of their years.

Building a ruggedly strong back and hips via squats and deadlifts is a remarkably effective way to fix and preserve your precious back over your time in that occupation, and can set you up for successfully not being crippled when you decide it is time to move along.

Finally, I will close with a often quoted but, exceptionally prudent Starting Strength-ism: “Strong people are harder to kill...”

And in a violent, high-risk profession that might be just what you are looking for.

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