Police officers have a tough job. From pushing cars to chasing suspects, to crawling, carrying, and jumping while on the job, the work can be physically trying, to say the least. For police and public safety, it’s critical that officers are prepared for these tasks. In a study this month in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, a three-year physical training and testing police program was examined in detail.
The researchers conducted preliminary research to determine the traits police officers need in order to perform their jobs effectively. They reported that various activities occur regularly for officers, like crawling, lifting, and carrying. The most important traits seemed to be strength, muscular endurance, jumping ability, and speed. Interestingly, officers also reported that aerobic training is of particular importance, and that maximal strength is required least often.
The physical tests to become a police officer vary from location to location, but generally they aim to reflect the blend of traits necessary to successfully and safely perform police work. The academy that the researchers examined for this study used the bench press, pull up, standing long jump, and a 3km run for their tests.
The researchers discovered that the priority of training shifted over the course of the three-year training program, moving from a more balanced approach at the beginning toward maximal strength and power training at the end. Since the officers reported that cardiovascular endurance is most important for police work, it seems that the tests had the wrong priority. Three of the four test exercises had substantial strength and power components, so it makes sense the officers in training focused more on strength as time went on. More power training equates to higher scores in this paradigm, but it may not yield better police officers.
Another interesting aspect of this study was the comparison of male and female officers. The researchers noted that, much like the general population, the female police students feared becoming overly muscular. As many coaches point out, this is an unwarranted concern for most women, but it does indicate that the female officers may deprioritize important aspects of their training. The researchers wanted to know if this was actually how it played out. Fortunately, there was no difference in the willingness of the females to engage in the required training, and indeed, their focus on maximal strength also increased over the three years.
It seems that the testing protocols of police academies similar to the one in this study need to be adjusted. The researchers recommend a test that involves an obstacle course and works many traits in sequence, creating varied demands that also develop cardiovascular ability. In the meantime, for police officers and coaches of officers reading this, maintaining your strength levels while changing your focus to endurance training may make police work that much more effective.
1. Pål Lagestad, et. al., “A comparison of training and physical performance of police students at the start and the end of three-year police education,” Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research Publish Ahead of Print, DOI: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000000273
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