It is often assumed that the ‘Push’ station of the Police Physical Abilities Tests (PATs) are a measure of upper body strength or endurance. While upper-body pressing power is a major factor, the ‘Push’ requires whole body involvement. If you only train for pressing, you still won’t get anywhere if you fail to transfer force from your core...
I mobilize every day. Or at least.... most days.... But that's beside the point. What I am trying to say, in a less-than-elegant manner, is that mobilization is important, and it should be done often. My car, my desk, and my kitchen table all contribute to some sticky spots in my Range of Motion that I need to work out on a regular basis. BUT. I have a different set of tools than most of the people reading this. I have a pretty strong knowledge of anatomy and access to clinicians and soft-tissue tools that aren't commonplace.
But again.... that's beside the point. The POINT is that you don't need any sort of advanced anatomy knowledge, fancy or expensive tools, or to pay $50 every time you have sore calf muscles. You are perfectly capable of doing regular maintenance on yourself. All it takes is a simple understanding of a few simple principles to get you heading in the right direction. That is what I outline in this post.
Before you start to pull, you need to know how to hang. I recommend starting here with How to do your first Pull-Up: Part 1 and working through the progressions.
Once you are comfortable hanging from the bar, and you have adequate scapular strength, mobility, and control, you can move on to the Pull-Up. If you have followed the hanging progressions, chances are very good you can already struggle your way up to the bar. It might not be perfect, but it is a start. The purpose of Part 1 was to develop the proper starting position and kinesthetic awareness (i.e. body awareness) required to build a strong pull. In Part 2 we are focusing on the actual pull. I still recommend your continue your hanging training, in order to maintain your shoulder health.
The pull-up is one of the best exercises in existence. It is a full body movement that requires not only upper-body strength but also core control and appropriate mobility. For athletes, or anyone else who wants to maximize sports performance, the Pull-Up should be a staple in your program. Along with the deadlift, it is probably the best single exercise (if there is such a thing) that teaches you to tie the trunk to the arms, and integrate your core and upper extremities.
Unfortunately, most men and women are unable to do pull ups. Even among those who can, most can't do a REAL pull up, but rather a shortened range, poor technique, grunting and screaming (sometimes literally) mediocre form of a pull-up. Don't get me wrong, I applaud you if you can manage to get your chin above the bar, regardless of the technique, because it still puts you ahead of 99% of the population. However, literally everyone should be able to do at least a single, clean technique, chest-to-bar pull up. Yes, CHEST to bar. Not chin to bar.
The good news is that you can get there, no matter where you start from.
Short answer? It depends.
The more often you train, the more results you will see.... to an extent. How much you train isn't as important as how well you recover.
How well you recover is highly individual, and a product of multiple factors...
First, take a 22 years old with an athletic background? She's fresh out of college, where she ran track, is working reasonable hours and has a sunny-disposition. She can probably train 2x a day for 7 days a week, eat pizza, and make still progress.
How about the 45 years old guy who's overworked? He's been working at a dead-end job for 15 years, has slowly gained weight and takes melatonin to get to sleep every night. His recovery abilities probably aren't quite as generous as they used to be. He will need to be more conscious of how he sleeps, what he eats, and how he spends his downtime.
The one thing both of these people have in common? Good habits will maximize their results.
2. Training Experience (aka Training Age)
If you have experience with resistance or cardiovascular training you can usually train more often than a brand-spankin'-new beginner.
Being able to train twice a day is one thing, but you also need time to recover from every session you put your body through. That includes extra sleep (quality sleep), and time to prepare proper meals to meet the needs of your recovering body (which is literally re-building the tissues you damaged during your training session).
4. Type of Training
Some types of training take more of a toll on your body than others. For example, long-distance running and heavy resistance training can be devastating to your body, and leave you walking with less than a spring in your step for days following.
Lighter resistance days or short/high-intensity workouts will usually allow you to bounce back much quicker. This allows you to accumulate more training volume over multiple sessions than you could have in the single, much more demanding, session.
Keep in mind, the grueling long-distance runs and the heavy-double resistance days have their place, but you don't need to be training that way every week.
5. What are your goals?
If you have more demanding goals, you will need to have higher training demands. This means not only training hard but also training smart.
However, if your goals are general health, or if you just want a Physical Abilities Test (PAT) time that meets your application requirement, you can trade in the 'extra' training days and replace it with the activities that make life worth living. Not feeling the gym today? Take a hike (in the literal sense), go for a bike ride, or even just a walk around the block.
*6. A great recovery day is better than a poor training day
I don't mean you get to sit on your butt and binge-watch Scandal. But taking a day out of the gym and spending it with your family or friends can be just as valuable as yet another day in the gym, as long as you've earned it. Sprinkle in a short recovery style workout (ex: 1 min skipping, 25 BW Squats, 15 Push Ups, 30 walking lunges, FINISH), and 10 minutes of mobility work and your day off can have just as positive of an effect on your training.
But Mark.... How often should I train!?!
Ok, fine. I'll give you some actionable guidelines. However, understand that the below recommendations are extremely general, and how often you train combined with what type of training you are doing is something you need to figure out on your own (or, preferably, with the guidance of a great trainer.
Here are some basics:
Strength and Resistance: As a general guideline, if you're new to strength/resistance training I would recommend training 2-3 times per week. Use your soreness as a judgment on how much you can handle.
Cardiovascular/Aerobic Conditioning: If you are performing High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), I would recommend training 3 times per week.
B.Kin, Canadian Society of Exercise Physiology CPT
My answer will always be strength.
Don't get me wrong, cardiovascular conditioning is a huge part of health and performance, whether you are training for a marathon, a Physical Abilities Test (PAT), or are seeking to improve your health. However.... be strong first.
Part of the reason I recommend strength first is because of how long it takes your body to adapt to strength training demands. Initial changes in strength occur quickly, however most of these improvements are your nervous system becoming more efficient. This is usually accompanied by only a small change in body composition (i.e. increased muscle mass).
Even though changes in strength can occur quickly, many people plateau because of poor programming or not properly managing their intensity. (This can be prevented, or at least minimized, with proper progression and programming). This plateau usually occurs about 3 months into strength training.
Other changes associated with strength take much longer, and even up to several years, to develop. While your muscular strength will increase quickly, other adaptations including tendon, ligament and bone adaptations will take much longer to match your increase in strength.
For those of you who are training for a PAT, the bright side is that you can usually reach the level of strength you need to pass before you hit the plateau. But for those of you who are smaller in stature, and for many female Law Enforcement Candidates, it can take as long as 6 months or even a years worth of training. Take for example a woman who is 5'5" and 120 lbs. She is going to need to be able to Bench/Floor Press a much larger percentage of her weight than another who is 5'10" and 180 lbs.
Aerobic conditioning, on the other hand, can be trained very quickly. If you really push yourself (with a HUGE focus on recovery) you can reach an adequate fitness level (whether for health or the PAT) is little over a month of consistent training, starting from a moderate fitness level.
It is very rare that my answer to this question is conditioning. Human beings are wired to be aerobically fit, regardless of body composition. That is one of the reasons we respond so quickly to conditioning training.
Start with strength. You are never wrong when you increase your strength (CAUTION: when you increase your RELATIVE strength).
B.Kin, Canadian Society of Exercise Physiology CPT