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Hard-Core Training for Hard-Core Cops, Part 1

Attention to those who consider themselves serious, professional “tactical athletes” as termed by the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA). The Tactical Strength and Conditioning (TSAC) program was designed by the NSCA for just those police and military “athletes.”

Maybe you’re not on the SWAT team, a police cyclist or a K9 officer, but simply put, you just like to “get after it” when it comes to physical training or competitive hobbies. Perhaps you drag race, parachute, mountain bike or road race, compete in water sports, or anything else that draws those same adrenaline junkies that the SWAT team does. Whatever the case, this is for those who strive to go above and beyond that of the average Jane or Joe.

It is for the solid human machine that jumps out of an assault vehicle wearing a Kevlar helmet and a Level IIIA tac vest, carrying a Halligan tool and rifle. It is for those who run with a lead and are pulled by a powerful K9 on uneven terrain, who lift that 75-pound dog over a fence and continue on with the track. It is for those who sprint to a domestic in progress on a bicycle in extreme heat, powered only by the rock solid, lactic acid-filled quads and hams.

It’s for those who love to push themselves beyond that of a “normal” citizen and for those who will someday save—or necessarily take—someone’s life because they were able to achieve and maintain a superior level of functional fitness and foster a powerful, winning mindset.

Functional, specific, hard-core training will be addressed to improve performance, strength, power, and mental toughness in those who dare venture into this arena. This next statement is serious: It is assumed that before attempting these suggested drills, a solid cardiovascular, strength, and power base has already been built.

Just like other extreme programs such as Crossfit, P90X, “Kettlebell Challenge” and 300s are not for beginners, “extreme” training if not implemented prudently can be hazardous to those who are of mediocre fitness levels or just starting out. And although we use the word “extreme” because of its popularity, this really shouldn’t even be termed “extreme” at all because it is assumed that the body has gradually and appropriately been prepared for such activity under proper and professional supervision.

In addition to some practical functional training exercises that will apply directly to the specialty positions mentioned above, the differences between “Olympic lifts,” “power lifting,” training for power, and weightlifting will be clarified. This is mentioned because there are common misnomers that exist about these much different types of training. Proper rest and recovery, appropriate protein and carbohydrate intake, and the question of whether to include legal performance-enhancing supplements in an elite fitness program will be addressed.

The Terms Defined

“Weightlifting is an actual sport in which athletes attempt to lift as much weight as possible in the snatch and clean and jerk (exercises).” Just lifting weights is termed “resistance training” and is what comes to mind when you hear the word “weightlifting.” “Olympic lifting” is the term that should be reserved for athletes who are competing in the exercises mentioned above at the Olympics.

“Olympic lifting” is commonly but incorrectly generalized to those who are doing those exercises but not competing in the Olympics. “Powerlifting” is a sport in which the most possible weight is lifted in the squat, deadlift, and bench press, and because of the sheer weight moved, these exercises are usually done at relatively slow speeds. Powerlifters require maximal force production at slow velocities.

The term “powerlifting” is misleading because “power” involves an element of time: Power = Work / Time. To obtain optimal power you must obtain maximal work in the least amount of time. Very light loads move very quickly but do not require much work (force x distance), so resistance that is too light, such as a chest pass with a 1-pound medicine ball, will not achieve maximum “power.”

Conversely, extremely heavy loads are very difficult to move quickly, so the “time” element of the equation reduces power. As a result of simple physics, developing power in the human body is a finely tuned balance between the amount of weight moved and the speed of that movement.

Training for Power

For those who wish to maximally improve power, such as the tactical or bicycle officer, both the force and velocity components must be trained. Just as you wouldn’t train on a bicycle to improve your running speed, the more specific the movements to that which will be done in the field (the more functional), the better the transfer to improved performance.

An example of power specificity would be a police cyclist doing interval sprints on a bicycle with a 1:1 work-to-rest ratio. Another would be a K9 officer performing a clean with a weight similar or slightly greater than the dog to simulate lifting the dog over a fence.

Heart Rate Monitors

Appropriate intensity is a must if specific goals are to be reached. Using a heart rate monitor is a great way to achieve your intensity goals at a glance. Models such as the Polar RS800cx are no longer referred to as “heart rate monitors” but are now called training computers because they do much more than just display heart rate and calories burned.

They can download to a computer, print graphs and are easily programmed for entire training routine to ensure proper intensity levels, duration, work-to-rest ratios, and recovery. They are equipped with GPS technology, can determine altitude, figure cycling power output, route mapping, and more. They can help control stress levels through biofeedback whether during reality-based training (RBT) or on duty.

Using recovery heart rate, these specialized training computers can be used in functional competitions, such as a timed obstacle / firearms course in full gear. Using time and shot placement as the marker, competitors drive through the obstacle course, shoot six rounds, then the heart rate must recover to 100 bpm or less—then and only then—are the last shots allowed to be fired.

A time penalty should be assessed for shots missed because accuracy is important when unleashing with a .223 Rem round. Those whose heart rates recover faster (more fit) will have the least amount of time and will win, provided all shots are in.


With all of the equipment that special response teams employ, it makes sense to train with added weight. Any combination of the tac vest, rifle, ammo, shield, helmet, SL6 or other less-lethal option, battering ram, fire extinguisher, bolt cutters, Halligan tool, self-contained breathing apparatus, hydration system, or miscellaneous tool pack…well, you get the point.

A tactical team member can easily weigh 50 or 60 pounds heavier with the added gear, which could cause muscles, tendons and ligaments to be injured if the prior physical training didn’t include additional weight.

On top of this, temperature extremes in various climates, rain, snow, fog, and desert sun can add discomfort and danger in the form of heat-related sickness and death. Care should be taken to properly hydrate and replace electrolytes during training, as well as in real-world incidents.

Here are some examples of applicable exercises that can help a tactical team member physiologically and mentally prepare for duty. Remember, it is assumed that a solid base has already been built before implementing a more functional training program with added weight. Even so, initiate all new activities with body weight only, then gradually progress to full duty gear and more if possible.

The “basic” exercises include 1) hill training both up and down (short distances), which can also be achieved on treadmills using the incline option, 2) short sprints with full tactical gear with proper rest period in between (1:8), 3) add over and under obstacles to the course, 4) torso rotational training, Russian Twist, 3-D Dumbbell Matrix, multi-directional wood chops and 5) pull-ups, including assisted, free weight, and with added resistance for fast and furious improvements, i.e., pull yourself up and over that backyard fence in full tactical gear with no problem.

Kathleen Vonk has been a certified police officer in Michigan since 1988, currently with the Ann Arbor Police. She earned a BS in exercise science and a BA in criminal justice. She can be reached at

Published in Law and Order, Jun 2009

Rating : 9.0

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