When I entered the law enforcement academy as a recruit, I weighed 120 pounds. The one thing I was good at was running fast. However, I was not good at general physical fitness. I did not know how to work out. What I have find out in the years since is that this is not a unique problem.
After the academy, like many law enforcement officers I lost my fitness routine and became unhealthy. I wasn’t alone. A 2014 Wall Street Journal analysis of data from the American Journal of Preventative Medicine showed that nearly half, 40.7%, of all law enforcement officers in the United States are obese.
Together we need to change. We need to be prepared for anything. We need endurance for a foot pursuit and enough energy left to win a ground fight. We need the strength to pull a victim or partner out of a dangerous situation.
Studies have shown, regardless of race or gender, that developing a physical fitness routine can protect officers from being victims. From interviews conducted by the FBI, they revealed that offenders usually size up an officer’s physical ability when planning to flee, take aggressive action, or surrender to an arrest.
A new start
After working as a proactive cop in high-stress units for over 15 years, I knew some changes needed to be made. I was suffering from PTSI and acute stress symptoms and had been diagnosed with chronic kidney disease. When thinking about my physical fitness routine and nutritional plan, I knew I was unprepared to develop a program on my own.
I did not know where to start, so in March 2022, I decided to hire a professional to help me build a program and get on track. After several conversations, Nick Falke understood me and the need to incorporate these elements to help me succeed as a law enforcement officer.
- Muscular strength and power
- Cardiovascular fitness.
My nutrition principles and routine
When I first met Nick, he stressed, “Staying physically fit is much more beneficial than people believe. Sure, it helps you look and feel better, but by practicing discipline in your diet and training, you will notice it carrying over into almost every aspect of your life. Heightened discipline will grow your relationships, strengthen your work ethic, and help you achieve other life goals.”
Nick walked me through some basics of fitness and nutrition. He simplified my day by providing me with the number of calories I should consume daily from proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. I found this plan easy to follow and I hit my daily goal with a bit of discipline. This was not a fad diet and it allowed me to easily modify my daily food intake to my busy, unpredictable law enforcement schedule. I was able to eat what I wanted if I stayed within my prescribed limits.
When thinking about nutrition, Nick encouraged me to remember these five things:
- Calories are king. If you want to lose body fat, your calories must be below what you burn in a day.
- If you are eating out, there are almost always healthy choices on the menu, even at fast food places. For example, Chick-fil-A sells grilled chicken nuggets.
- Carbohydrates are not the devil and neither are dietary fats. Both are good for you and do not directly lead to fat gain. Do not completely restrict yourself from either of these, as it is unhealthy and could lead to binge eating.
- Make sure each meal is built around a lean protein base with carbohydrates and fats on the side. An example would be grilled chicken with pasta and broccoli.
- No one food will kill your progress; everyone eats unhealthy foods sometimes. Just get back on track as soon as possible and do not undereat the next day to make up for being off track. This could lead to unhealthy eating habits.
My physical fitness principles and routine
I work out seven days per week. I know some fitness experts would recommend rest days. The CDC and leading physicians recommend 150 minutes per week, about 22 minutes per day, of moderate-intensity physical activity and two days of muscle-strengthening activity. Nonetheless, I spend five days per week focusing on muscular strength, power, endurance, agility and cardiovascular fitness.
- Monday: Pull exercises (pull-ups, bicep curls, incline bench rows) and an ab workout
- Wednesday: Push exercises (bench press, dumbbell lateral raises, skull crushers) and an ab workout
- Friday: Pull exercises or legs and arms (barbell hip thrusts, Romanian deadlift, box jump)
- Saturday: Pull exercises or upper body (overhead barbell press, dumbbell bent-over rows)
- Sunday: Legs (barbell back squat, stationary lunge, calf raises)
I incorporate daily indoor bike riding, outdoor distance running or sprints/agility routines.
On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I dedicate my fitness time to practicing Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, which also lets me focus on my agility, endurance, and cardiovascular fitness during this workout.
When thinking about physical fitness, Nick encouraged me to remember these five things:
- You don’t need to spend hours at the gym to get in incredible shape. If fact, you do not even need a gym at all. Working out at home with no equipment can often be highly effective.
- Muscle growth happens when you are sleeping. Ensure you get 7 to 8 hours of sleep every night. Muscle growth will slow dramatically as sleep decreases.
- Train hard, but do not take every single set to failure. Ending each set 1-2 reps from failure will ensure adequate stimulus and help you get more overall volume per muscle due to significant decreases in fatigue.
- Progressively overload each movement. In the gym, record the weights you are doing for each exercise and attempt to add weight to them each week. If you are doing home workouts, record how many reps you can do and try to increase those each week. This is the most effective way to gain muscle mass.
- Listen to your body! If you are sore everywhere, then you probably need a rest day.
My results and continuing journey
Over the past few months, I built a routine around physical fitness and nutrition. I have lost weight and put on muscle, my blood pressure is lower, and my kidney function has stabilized. Emotionally, I am more relaxed and less stressed after my workouts. Overall, I know I am building resilience and ready for what each day will bring as a law enforcement officer.
Do you still believe physical fitness is not for you? Studies have shown that not incorporating a physical fitness regimen into your life could lead to more injuries, hospitalizations, increased risk of illnesses, and more medications for various illnesses.
As I have discussed, with my colleague Dr. Lee, in previous articles, physical fitness helps build resilience, which is essential for all law enforcement officers to survive their 30-year career. Studies have shown that regular exercise and physical activity induce positive physiologic and psychological benefits, protect against the consequences of stressful/traumatic events, and prevent many chronic diseases.
Nick and I joined forces to create Dose of Ethos Fitness to help law enforcement officers build a resilient lifestyle through wellness, fitness, nutrition, discipline and a positive mindset, with the goal of helping cops become better spouses, parents and law enforcement officers. Our workouts are personalized for active law enforcement officers and are led by culturally competent trainers. Find out more here.
NEXT: Why it’s time to go to battle for officer wellness