Let me start off with the standard CYA disclaimer. I’m a certified strength coach and cop, not a doctor or physical therapist. Be sure to consult with your doctor or PT before doing anything discussed here.
It’s no secret a career in law enforcement wreaks havoc on an officer’s body. High-stress environments, late nights and poor dietary decisions are just some of the factors contributing to our unhealthy existence. What’s often overlooked is the stress our uniforms, equipment and job requirements place on the body. These stressors often lead to knee, hip, back and neck issues if not properly addressed. When not addressed, we see increases in sick time, injured-in-the-line-of-duty statuses and early retirements. This just further exacerbates staffing shortages and keeps morale in the toilet.
Just like I ask in most of my articles, what’s being done about it? Same answer: Nothing. The “adapt and overcome” profession has failed to do so, yet again.
Inherently, being a police officer might be the most impractical job on the planet for a million reasons. At the top of the list is our ridiculously outdated uniforms. For a job that requires physically fighting for your life, pushing cars in the snow, crawling on the ground, kicking doors and sprinting from a seated position, why in the hell are we dressed in polyester pants and shirts with shin-high boots? Let’s not forget all the shiny and important shit we have pinned to ourselves.
Instead, officers should be wearing athletic sneakers, comfortable/breathable pants and a realistic shirt that allows for proper mobility and safety. At this stage in the game, it’s widely documented how unhealthy wearing a duty belt is for your hips and back. Never mind sitting for 16 hours. Again, this isn’t news. This has been studied. Some agencies have listened and adapted. Yet most agencies refuse to adapt because they’re either stuck in the past or, worse, someone is afraid a realistic and functional uniform will make us look too scary. The sooner the public remembers who we are and what our function is, the better off everyone working the street will be. It’s time to stop catering to the softest people on earth and get back to owning who we are and what we signed up to do. But that’s a whole separate article.
Below, I will address a few key problem areas and how to remedy them. What you will need: a lacrosse ball or similar, YouTube and a clear area to stretch.
Boots above the ankle restrict mobility and cause issues upstream at the knee. To mitigate this, officers should use a lacrosse ball and roll the bottoms of their feet and their calf muscles. This is called soft tissue work. It isn’t comfortable, but it’s effective. Couple this with a traditional calf stretch and you’ll see an improvement in your ankle stiffness. YouTube search terms: calf smash, calf stretch and ankle mobility drills.
Tight hips can be a major contributing factor to low back pain. We wear a weighted belt and sit for eight-plus hours a day. This causes imbalances and inhibits powerful muscles of the posterior chain. To fix this, lie prone on a lacrosse ball and dig it into your hip flexors on each side for about one minute. Follow this with a half kneeling hip flexor stretch for one minute on each side. Last, perform three sets of glute bridges. YouTube search terms: hip flexor smash, half kneel hip flexor stretch, hip mobility drills and glute bridges.
Thoracic spine (upper back)
Sitting crammed in a cruiser for a double, wearing a stiff vest and typing reports for hours is certainly going to cause postural issues. It forces our shoulders to round forward and can lead to a litany of neck, back and shoulder issues. To fix this, use a lacrosse ball and perform soft tissue work on your pec muscles for one minute on each side. Then do the same to your lat muscles. Now, statically stretch both the pec and lat separately for 30 seconds to one minute. Follow this with some prone Ts, Ys, Is and/or wall angels. YouTube search terms: pectoral smash, lat smash, pec/lat static stretch, shoulder Ts Ys Is and wall angels.
Now, these aren’t magical overnight fixes to all your ills, but if performed regularly, these steps can help mitigate the postural stressors of the job. They should be incorporated with a strength program, proper sleep, hydration and healthy eating. I know — easier said than done, but it’s possible. Don’t be like everyone else and fail to adapt and overcome when it involves your personal health.
Feel free to contact me directly with questions or for more information on staying fit for duty.