Physical training joins firearms training.
Combining Obstacle Course with Firearms
By: Martin Day
Use-of-force encounters are obviously dynamic, with rapid movement, split-second judgments, and a tax on the physical abilities and mental acuity of law enforcement officers. Traditional strength and conditioning training often involves separating cardio-respiratory from power, from speed, and from flexibility.
Basic firearm training is necessarily static with a focus on safely acquiring accuracy. Combining the gross motor skills of physical training with target acquisition can be done by utilizing an obstacle course with inert guns.
Along with basic standard of care for safe physical training, absolute certainty that no live weapons be used is imperative. Once trainers are completely satisfied that the obstacle course can be successfully negotiated, live fire can be introduced with very careful consideration. Proper, safe weapon handling remains important and silliness and shenanigans are absolutely unacceptable. Rubber guns are to be treated as real guns.
An easy obstacle course can be improvised with available mats, barriers and leftover target backs. To develop the skills of flexibility, power, rapid direction change, and flexibility, various obstacles should require various athletic skills to negotiate. The trainee should demonstrate the ability to go over vaults, under barriers, swiftly change directions, sprint short distances, move objects as well as drawing a weapon and acquiring a sight picture under stressful circumstances.
A simple set of obstacles can be made and should include the following: a vault, crawl tunnel, barrier that requires jumping over, low barrier to walk under, low tunnel to walk under, balance beams, objects to dodge by running different directions, simulated culvert to jump, and weight to simulate dummy drags or injured person rescues.
Targets should be strategically placed so that target acquisition, move and shoot and movement to cover skills can be developed. The emphasis of this obstacle course is athletically moving as an emergency responder (marksmanship is not discounted but physical training is the focus).
The vault should be about chest high. To get over the vault, the trainee should be instructed to press his/her hands on the top, jump and rotate his/her lower body over (or on top of the barrier). Explosive power and flexibility are trained and tested with the vault. As a practical measure, traversing a barrier may need to be done to get to a position of cover or to respond to an emergency.
The crawl under barrier should be low to the ground and preferably require several feet (may be gauged by slightly more than average body height) of crawling. Flexibility and body strength are required to make it through the crawl under barrier.
A Jump Over Barrier can be of various height, but for practicality it should be high enough to require explosive power and a coordinated landing on the other side. A folded gymnastics mat, rolled grappling mat, or a box is easily used. If the “jumper” has to step on the top, the barrier is either too high or the jumper needs to develop more power. An alternate is to use a thin barrier that requires stepping over, which moves the focus from power to coordination.
Walk Under Barriers are set up so a “crouched” walk is required. The walk under barrier develops and assesses balance and coordination. Law enforcement personnel must remain vigilant, and prepared with the consideration for subject interaction; thus, the walk under barrier is a good obstacle to mandate a head up, aware position of movement or firearm-ready mobility.
Dodging Obstacles are simply barriers that require a quick change of direction in order to run through them. The dodging obstacles for police-oriented obstacle training can be used to train quick, lateral changes of direction. A practical use of range preparation is to have a firearm (preferably a plastic gun) at the ready position, gain a sight picture, and utilize the lateral movement to simulate moving to and from cover/concealment.
Low Tunnels are similar to the walk under barrier, but require walking while crouched down for a greater length. Some variants could require crawling, but walking with a firearm at the ready instills moving while maintaining a barricaded position or the kinetics of taking position while moving under a row of windows.
Simulated Culverts are easily created by measuring a section of floor and marking it with tape or cones. They are easily run toward and jumped over. Balance Beams can be created by staggering 4-inch by 4-inch posts in a zigzag pattern or even by placing tape on the floor.
Walking a balance beam while changing directions enhances coordination. Balancing after the pre-exhaustion of running through other parts of the obstacle course aids in dealing with the lack of coordination that results under stress. Dummy Drags are easily done by pulling training partners through a flat section of the course. Dummy drags can instill a sense of team work along with training raw power.
Chaining the obstacle course together requires some forethought as it relates to drawing and aiming weapons in relation to the obstacles. Some obstacles lend themselves to training weapon deployment (low walk, dodging obstacles, walking tunnels, etc.). Others should be used to demonstrate the obstacle’s prohibitive influence over safe weapon use (i.e., running to and jumping a culvert with gun in hand—muzzle management and possibility of a sympathetic trigger pull).
The distance between obstacles can be varied. Some skill-based obstacles should be placed immediately after others to test and develop mobility while others should demand sprints of short to medium distance. Running multiple trips through the obstacle course is not only a conditioning tool, but is a great teaching tool when combined with force scenarios.
Being able to deploy a weapon when tired and forced into an awkward position should be practiced so that an on-duty deadly force encounter is not the first time a law enforcement professional has to deliver under pressure. Force stations within the obstacle course are limited by instructor or team leader creativity. Handcuffing, baton deployment, radio broadcasts, and other fine motor and divided attention skills can be added as stations or placed randomly to address performing under stress.
Pairing up the course running participants into patrol partners or small squads is a great tactic for teaching the importance of communication (hand signals), muzzle awareness, and appropriate contact/cover tactics in a stressful, dynamic atmosphere.
Live-fire exercises placed in obstacle course training require tremendous attention to safety. Several more firearm instructors should be present if live-fire exercises are ever considered. Continuous loops of running may not be the safest idea if any real firepower will be practiced. A safer measure for live fire would be to have several instructors bring one student or trainee through obstacles and the range must remain clear of all others.
The concepts of muzzle placement, knowing what is in the line of fire and beyond the target can be reiterated. The need to shoot from a stable body position cannot be over emphasized. Live ammunition exercises should most likely be limited and done under strict controls. A safer measure would be to utilize Simunition ™ or another less-lethal option.
Martin Day is a sworn, full-time police officer in Southwest Ohio, part-time adjunct basic police academy instructor, Fit-Force© 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.