Fitness Starts With The Warm-Up

Fitness Starts With the Warm-up
Don't skip the warm-up!

Law enforcement professionals require a degree of physical fitness that can be deadly serious, but is too often overlooked. Police agencies struggle with the needs to require ongoing physical fitness and whether or not any standards would conflict with employment and discrimination laws. Lost in this contradiction is the need for first responding professionals to maintain a reasonable level of conditioning to enable them to accomplish their job tasks and avoid the health problems related to poor lifestyle choices.

Use of force, response to physical emergencies, and assisting during medical crises all occur regularly and demand physical action. While law enforcement is not always a physical job, when it becomes physical it often becomes extremely physical. The foundation of physical fitness seems lost in American culture; if headlines are true, the people of this country are fatter, and less physically fit than any time in our history. A lax attitude toward health and conditioning can be dangerous or fatal for members of law enforcement.

A return to sound physical fitness foundations is needed. The marketing promises of miracle supplements, the promises of ripped abs with no effort, and the lure of soda-based "energy drinks" seem to be winning out over the five basic foundations of physical fitness. As professional members of the law enforcement community, physical training should be a consistent endeavor with health and strength considered as important as weapons proficiency, vehicle maintenance or knowledge of applicable case law.

The foundations of physical fitness are Strength, Cardiovascular Capacity, Flexibility and Body Composition. No foundation and no aspect of physical fitness should be ignored when it comes to physical fitness related to law enforcement practices. Get into shape, get back into shape, or maintain a currently superior fitness level.

No heady mission statements are needed, just sound physical fitness practices - lift something heavy, move so you breath heavy, and move in such a way that your range of motion increases. Throughout this series, various exercise methods will be detailed. Some workouts will be basic, with a focus for the deconditioned or novice trainee, while others will use advanced training tactics.

A good warmup, a sufficiently intense workout, and a cool down - this is a seemingly simple map to a difficult problem. A warmup should be done prior to engaging in any practical training such as firearms, defensive tactics, less lethal weaponry, or other kinetically active practice.  Warming up prepares the body for the coming physical tasks, and may prevent injury. Ideally, warming up should be done for any in-service training that requires movement, coordination or balance.

All workouts should start with a warmup. Warming up is to increase blood flow to muscles, massage the lungs to prepare for increased oxygen consumption, and lubricate the joints that are about to be worked. At no time is any static stretching to be done as part of the warmup.  Stretching cold muscles is counterproductive and stretching should only be done after the muscles have been worked and are flush with blood. This warmup is vigorous and should be done prior to any physical training, whether the training is strength based or merely cardiovascular.

Think of warming up as "priming the engine." Blood will be primed into the muscles, a slight increase in body temperature will occur, and the joints will loosen. The first phase will ready the heart and lungs. The second phase will ready the limbs, joints, spine and muscles. The exercises of Phase 2 must be completed without rest between the different tasks. It is counterproductive to take a recovery break between each exercise; the purpose of the warmup is to prepare for the workout.
Phase 1 is two minutes of moderately vigorous full body movements (jumping jacks, running, squat thrusts, toe walking, heal walking etc.). The first phase is immediately followed by Phase 2, which is done while still breathing heavy. Phase 2 involves muscle movements.

Hand Walk-outs: From standing, bend forward at the waist until hands are on ground, walk body into a plank with hands (keep legs straight), then walk straight legs forward until feet are near hands. Stand erect and repeat five to 10 times.
Pushups: Start in a plank with your body in a straight line from head to heals, slowly lower yourself (on a four count), hold in the bottom position (three count), push through your palms, and return to the up position. If pushups must be modified and done while pivoting on the knees, it is imperative the upper body remain straight from the head to the knees. Repeat five to 10 times.

Twisting Lunges: Step one foot out slightly farther than a normal stride step, keep body upright with chest pointed forward, and lower entire body by bending the forward knee until the rear knee touches the ground. Pause with the knee on the ground and twist at the chest (if the right knee is forward twist to the right, left forward twist toward the left). Return to standing and twist chest back to facing forward. Repeat this on other side for a minimum of five times each side.

Leg Curls: Start from a pushup plank slowly and deliberately curl the leg so the ankle/foot is pulled toward the butt. Slowly and deliberately push the foot back into position and alternate each side for a total of 15 to 30 repetitions.

Circular Steps: Stand erect and lift one leg so the upper thigh is parallel to the ground, keeping the pelvis in line with the trunk and rib cage, circle that leg out to the side. Step that foot down (that foot will point 90 degrees away from other foot), pause then lift that foot until upper thigh is parallel to floor, circle it forward, and return to standing. Repeat this on both sides several times, moving the legs and holding the pelvis static.

Hula Circles: Stand with feet shoulder width apart, hold feet stationary, and keep the upper body stationary while moving the hips/pelvis in a circular clockwise - then counter clockwise motion.  Circle five to 10 times each direction.

Trunk Rotation: Stand similar to the hula circles, but keep the waist/pelvis stationary while circling the upper body clockwise and counterclockwise five to 10 times in each direction.

Arm Circles: Hold the arms straight out to the side and make small circles forward and backward, then hold the arms straight out in front and make small circles. Repeat positions and make large circles.

This is a basic dynamic warmup that is meant to prepare the body for vigorous physical training. The exercises of the warmup are done in order with no pause or rest between exercises. The general rule is you have warmed up if you have increased blood flow and body temperature enough to have broken a sweat. Physical training can begin after the warmup is complete.

Firearms training should be treated as an athletic workout, while most of the skill is based on hand-eye coordination, yet gross motor movement needs to be practiced as an application for job readiness. Defensive Tactics, Baton training and other Less Lethal training should be vigorous and athletic; thus, requiring an adequate warmup.

Warming up before working out is crucial; warming up the muscles, enhancing mobility and preparing with balance exercises allows the law enforcement officer to train athletically. This warmup is meant to be a vigorous preparation followed by intense training. A good warmup raises the heart rate, respiration rate and body temperature.

Do not make the mistake of engaging in stretching until the targeted muscles are warmed with movement and have increased blood flow. Most stretching should be reserved for after exercise.  Before weight lifting, running, swimming or even a group aerobics class, a dynamic warmup will "prime the pump" and ready the body for movement and exertion.

Martin Day is a sworn, full-time police officer in Southwest Ohio, part-time adjunct police academy instructor, Fit-Force (c) certified fitness coordinator, Ohio Peace Officer Training Commission Fitness Specialist and Subject Control instructor,  and an American Kettlebell Club Coach. He may be reached at

Phase One: Jumping Jacks increase circulation and prime the muscles with oxygenated blood.

Push-ups are among the most basic warm-up drills.

Leg curls while warming up prep the often injured hamstring muscles.

Hand walkouts engage the arms, shoulders, trunk and legs.

Published in Tactical Response, Sep/Oct 2012

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