The CrossFit strength and conditioning program is used by many police academies and tactical operations teams and many members of the law enforcement community. Orange County, Fla. Sheriff’s Office has a part-time SWAT team of 40 deputies; four deputies are full-time SWAT team members. In the past, they have produced one of the top teams competing in the SWAT RoundUp International. Most of the members of this team have adopted functional fitness to their physical training.
Two OCSO SWAT deputies, Deputy Ron Batista and his partner, Chris Marcus, are CrossFit-certified instructors, and own and operate a gym as CrossFit affiliates. As instructors, they were taught the essential mechanics of functional movement in terms of safety and performance; fault identification and correction; seeing, organizing, cueing, and feedback; and the essentials of a good trainer and effective programming. They were certified by the CrossFit headquarters staff.
In this regard, OCSP SWAT showed up at their fellow team members’ CrossFit gym. The assembled deputies split into two competitive groups for a hard-driving, sweat-and-grunt workout. They competed with each of the other team members doing as many rounds as possible within 18 minutes, including five SDLHPs (Sumo Deadlift High Pulls), seven pull-ups, and 10 box jumps. Completed sets were marked in chalk of the gym’s floor. Who was counting sets and repetitions? The SWAT deputies were.
What is CrossFit?
Crossfit is a two-pronged program involving both exercise and nutrition. With exercise, CrossFit is a core strength and conditioning program designed to maximize an athlete’s general physical preparedness. It is not a specialized fitness program to prepare an individual for one particular athletic ability such as power lifting. Nor does it concentrate on isolated movements because such exercises work a single joint or muscle.
Instead, CrossFit (as the name implies) is a deliberate attempt to optimize physical competence in each of a cross-section of 10 recognized fitness domains: cardiovascular and respiratory endurance, stamina, strength, flexibility, power, speed, coordination, agility, balance and accuracy.
The physical movements, which comprise the CrossFit program, are compound, multi-joint skills, working several muscle groups, and preparing the body overall for multiple sports and athletic enterprises. When fitness is broad, inclusive and general, participants become well-rounded athletes who will be better at any sport they play. Exercises can include push-ups, sit-ups, squats, back and hip extension, ball slams, barbell work, dumbbell exercises, handstand variations, rope climbing, kettle bells and pull-ups.
The CrossFit program is conducted in a gym where members of the group push each other in a friendly way. It is this intensity of a group setting that makes CrossFit so successful. A healthy, competitive spirit leads to a tendency for those working out to go beyond their capabilities. A competitive push is what is often missing when workouts are performed in home gyms by individuals doing their individual fitness programs. Users of home gyms tend to lack drive and performance results. Of course, it is important that movements are done correctly, something the coaches monitor.
CrossFit workouts are intense and are based on a short, medium and long format. A short workout is 3–10 minutes, a medium workout 10–20 minutes, and a long workout is usually 30 minutes and beyond. CrossFit has a very unique approach to ensuring safety in their program by advocating learning the mechanics of the movements, then adding consistency in training, and finally intensity.
The programs can be modified to work around injuries by lowering weights or substituting different exercises. In CrossFit, WOD means Workout of the Day. These constantly varying workouts are the foundation of the program and are programmed very carefully, based on the skill sets the instructors want to work.
CrossFit is about fitness but also about nutrition, since some people do not get the results they are looking for if the beneficial nutritional aspects of fitness are not stressed or followed. Performance is best when an individual eats properly. The recommendation that eating meat and vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch, and no sugar is adequate to the task of preventing diet-induced disease, but Crossfit feels that a more accurate and precise prescription is necessary to optimize physical performance.
Finely tuned, a good diet will increase energy, sense of well-being and acumen, while simultaneously flensing fat and packing on muscle. When properly composed, the right diet can nudge every important quantifiable marker for health in the right direction.
According to Greg Amundson of CrossFit, the company advocates the Zone Diet by Dr. Barry Sears because it closely models optimal nutrition and provides accuracy, is measurable, and is repeatable. It is felt the Zone Diet amplifies and accelerates the benefits of the CrossFit regimen. Issue 21 of the Crossfit Journal (a free download of the article is available through Google) offers a comprehensive overview and start-up guide for implementing the Zone Diet. Included are definitions, charts and recipes.
Colorado State Patrol Academy
According to Captain Jon Barba of the Colorado State Patrol, the Colorado State Patrol Training Academy has been using CrossFit as its primary strength and conditioning program since 2003. Today, thanks to the hard work of Coach Greg Glassman and his devoted followers, the CrossFit training principles have become mainstream. Back in 2003, one of the biggest hurdles they had to overcome was the fact that very few people had ever heard of or seen anything like CrossFit.
There were numerous selling points used to promote Crossfit to Colorado State Patrol’s command leadership. First, the program could be implemented with little to no additional equipment and was well-suited for training large groups of individuals (such as a cadet class) at once. Second, CrossFit is based on functional movements that are universally scalable. By manipulating load and intensity, every cadet could complete the same workout.
Third, the program places significant demands on the Glycolytic Energy System. This is the energy system that best aligns with the demands of police work. Fourth, with the emphasis the CrossFit Program places on the Glycolytic Energy System, the workouts are kept relatively short and therefore fit better with the limited time they are afforded for physical training.
Some obstacles that the academy had to overcome in putting their program in place were the elimination of the long-distance formation runs, the perception that the cadets would “not get stronger” without regularly lifting weights, and the perception CrossFit was too intense and would lead to a significant increase in injuries.
Captain Barba’s philosophy has always been to do fewer things better, therefore the following modes comprise the bulk of their programming. They consistently strive to get the most “bang for their buck,” and therefore focus on multi-joint exercises that emphasize kinetic chains over simple movement patterns: bodyweight calisthenics,
kettlebells, barbells, medicine balls, Concept II Rower, and sprints of various distances.
The benefits they observed with the program include a decrease in injuries, specifically overuse injuries commonly seen with excessive training in the Oxidative Energy System (long formation runs). They also found that there was a significant increase in the cadets’ capacity to do work across broad time and modal domains, and a significant increase in their skills performance—especially in dynamic arrest control scenarios where the cadets demonstrated the ability to fight harder for a longer period of time.
CrossFit Striking Trainer
George Ryan is a Southern California police officer assigned to the SWAT team. He serves on the team’s CNT, Firearms and Defensive Tactics cadres. With over 27 years of experience training and teaching in the martial arts, Officer Ryan was inducted into the martial-arts Masters Hall of Fame in 2008. He also is a contributor to Ultimate MMA Magazine. Ryan founded, and is the instructor for, the CrossFit Striking Trainer Course.
According to Ryan, law enforcement officers need workouts that challenge them mentally and physically. Since officers never know when they will have to hop a wall, wrestle with a suspect, etc., their workouts must prepare them for the unknown and unknowable. He feels that CrossFit, with workouts that are constantly varied and focused on functional movements, is perfect for law enforcement. Also, when you have a job that does not follow a 9 to 5 schedule, CrossFit’s short, intense workouts are an all-important bonus.
CrossFit Striking takes this compatibility with the needs of law enforcement officers to the next level. The course is designed to teach participants the basic striking concepts of MMA, boxing, and self-protection, and how to properly incorporate them into CrossFit workouts. In addition, the participants are taught ways to realize a fighter’s fitness level while increasing their core strength, rotational speed, and power. These workouts also develop a critical self-protection skill—striking. It is another way for law enforcement to prepare for a combative altercation in the pavement arena.
To this end, the course offers cutting-edge instruction on the proper bio-mechanics of striking and how to maximize speed and power, regardless of the participants’ skill levels. Everyone from MMA fighters to non-CrossFitters have taken the course and had a great experience.
However, CrossFit Striking has received some of its most enthusiastic response from the law enforcement community because this group of participants appreciates the course’s simplicity, intensity, realism, and focus on proper mechanics. In fact, there are now several police academies conducting CrossFit Striking workouts for their recruit officers during combatives training.
Performance is a feature in the worlds of both CrossFit and SWAT. Police using the program experience direct, on-the-job benefits. For example, push-ups improve officers’ abilities to pick themselves up off the ground quickly, and strengthened muscles help in chasing suspects and going over fences, as well as controlling bad guys.
A SWAT callout at a tactical standoff can go on for over 12 hours, so mental and physical preparedness, and nutrition are important. In a tactical environment, tactical team members must finish the mission both fit and alert. Does CrossFit contribute to better health both on and off the job? Yes. No question about it.
Jim Weiss is a retired lieutenant from the Brook Park, Ohio, Police Department and a frequent contributor to LAW and ORDER. Mickey Davis is a California-based writer and author.