The Differences between training to be a Combat Athlete and a Law Enforcement Officer

There are a lot of similarities between physical training regiments for a Law Enforcement Officer and a Combat Athlete. Both required bursts of high intensity, and the ability to apply enormous efforts quickly and precisely. However, a combat athlete has many luxuries that a Law Enforcement Officer simply doesn't.

For instance...

1. Warm Up.

The Combat Athlete: 

A fighter knows when the fight is going to take place. They have scheduled practices, and ample time to warm up their muscles and joints for the demands that they know are coming. A proper warm up is important to maximize the results that will receive from their training session.

The LEO.

The LEO does not know when they are going to need to jump (sometimes literally) into action. A police officer needs to be able to go from 0-100 instantaneously. They can't radio back with "got it! I'll be there in 15 minutes after a couple laps around the block and a few dynamic leg swings". When it's go-time, it's go-time.

A good training program will represent these differences.

Do not misinterpret what I'm saying, a proper warm up is important, and should be used in most of your training sessions. By warming up the tissues, we make sure they receive adequate blood flow, proper nervous system priming, and even get into the right mindset for training. However, the occasional high intensity training session should be conducted without a warm up. Literally zero. Start at rest, and go all out.

It isn't wise to approach a training session this way if you are either new to training, or currently suffering from any injuries (also, make sure your heart is in good health!). Poor fitness, bio-mechanical asymmetries or mobility restrictions could all result in injuries, or at the least a seriously painful case of D.O.M.S.

"...the occasional high intensity training session should be conducted without a warm up. Literally zero. Start at rest, and go all out."

Instead of jumping right into your usual high intensity session, dial it back a bit and try it without a warm up. Here is an example: on your next sprint, forego the leg swings and the warm up lap and instead start your sprints at 85-90% intensity.

***NOTE*** Always remember, "if it feels like it's going to snap, it probably is!" I have told this to my athletes on multiple occasions, and have more than once had to hold back an "I told you so| post game. Push yourself in training, but don't be reckless.

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2. Mobility

The Combat Athlete

For combat athletes, mobility is extremely important in preventing injury and optimizing performance. In order to maximize the amount of power they can produce and how much prepared they will be for fight-night, they must work on mobility daily.

The LEO

The worst case scenario for a combat athlete who neglects their mobility work? They lose the fight, or get injured. For the LEO who neglects their mobility work it can literally be the difference between life or death, either theirs or a civilian.

In order to prevent a debilitating injury in the field, an LEO should be performing at MINIMUM 10 minute of mobility work daily. (I suggest getting Dr. Kelly Starrett's book; Becoming a Supple Leopard HERE, or here for the non-affiliate link) to guide your mobility practice.

Proper, consistent mobility work will not only help prevent you as an LEO from getting injured, it will also potentially save the lives of civilians by maximizing your performance as an officer.

Where this shines the most is when an officer is called after multiple hours of sitting in the car. Their hip-flexors are short, quads are stiff and their discs are shrunk. This is a recipe for injury if the LEO then has to sprint or engage.

3. Length of Effort

The Combat Athlete

As combat athlete always knows exactly how long they are going to fight (or at least how long they intend to fight, pending an early KO). For this reason, a combat athlete can structure their training for pace, and endurance. Training will look different for a 15 minute fight and a 25 minute fight. The aerobic energy system then becomes a major contributing factor to combat success.

The LEO

As LEO has no long an engagement is going to last. While most engagements are short, lasting only a few seconds to a couple minutes, it is possible that an altercation can take much longer. LEOs need to train for both scenarios, and their training should include short, high-tensity exercise to exhaustion, longer/traditional interval training, and the occasional long-form low intensity aerobic session.

However, High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) and Spring Interval Training (SIT) sessions, such as TABATA style workouts, should be the primary method of conditioning. These type of sessions emphasize the use of, and develop, the anaerobic energy system. This is the energy system that contributes to bursts of high intensity that last short periods of time. How fit your anaerobic system is will determine your ability to sustain high-intensity for the duration of an engagement.

While the training for Combat Athletes and Law Enforcement Officers share many similarities, ultimately the demand placed on LEOs is unparalleled. It is the LEO's responsibility to maintain their fitness and mobility for more than just their personal safety.

-Mark

B.Kin, Canadian Society of Exercise Physiology CPT

Author: Mark Murdoch, Kinesiologist, Chiropractic Student. Have questions? Email me. I want to help! mark@leofitness.ca