In his book Natural Born Heroes: Mastering the Lost Secrets of Strength and Endurance Christopher McDougal, “…begins with a story of remarkable athletic prowess: On the treacherous mountains of Crete, a motley band of World War II Resistance fighters…… and discovers ancient techniques for endurance, sustenance, and natural movement that have been preserved in unique communities around the world.”
One of the people McDougall discovered in his research was George Hébert and his Méthode Naturelle—the Natural Method. The credo for The Natural Method is “Etre fort pour etre utile. – Be fit to be useful.”
“Be fit to be useful.” should be the credo for law enforcement fitness, starting at the Academy level and continuing throughout people’s careers. Unfortunately at some academies fitness is used as punishment for non-compliance of rules or any other infraction as determined by the instructors. I have been, and will continue to be outspoken against using fitness as punishment. In other academies it is used as a tool to “weed out” people who “don’t have what it takes”(whatever that means), which is also problematic.
Fitness serves a critical purpose in the policing profession. The purpose is not to punish people or to weed people out, it is to “Be Useful”. Be useful to yourself in the middle of a fight or struggle. Be useful to your brother and sister officers when they need your help. Be useful to the public you serve and protect. Be useful to your family. Be useful to being healthy throughout your entire career, and your retirement. If you strive to be fit to be useful, you will also be able to enjoy the many documented overall physical and mental benefits of fitness.
One of my heroes is Lane Douglas-Hunt from the Victoria Police Service. She is one of the fittest police professionals you will ever meet. When I interviewed her a while ago to talk about a violent encounter she had been involved in a few years earlier I asked her why she continued to maintain the high level of fitness that she did. She told me that she owed it to her brother and sister officers. If they ever needed her assistance she owed it to them to have the physical ability to help them. That is a commitment to being fit to be useful.
Functional fitness, being fit to be useful, is not just about high intensity training, or the ability to run for miles. Functional fitness is a broad term that encompasses a wide range of elements including strength, power, muscular and aerobic endurance, anerobic capacity, mobility, and flexibility. Jay Dawes PhD., a professor at Oklahoma State who works with tactical athletes (first responders) encourages a philosophy of being “aggressively average” in all aspects of fitness. You are not training professional CrossFit athletes, Olympic athletes or military special operations personnel.
We should help recruits in the Academy appreciate why fitness is a critical element of being a police professional, a critical element of overall wellness and one of the keys to lifespan and health span. It is important that they understand the importance of “being fit to be useful”. Academy staff need to teach them how to accomplish that in a way that is sustainable throughout their careers and their lives.
They need to understand how to successfully maintain that level of fitness while they are working shift work, when they have limited access to equipment and a gym and while they are raising a family and dealing with the other realities of life. Trainers and frontline supervisors need continually remind people throughout their careers of the importance of being fit to be useful and model that as well. If officers are not willing to do it for themselves, then have them commit to doing it for their brother and sister officers and their loved ones. Encourage everyone in the profession to hold each other accountable to be fit to be useful regardless of his or her assignment.
Be Fit To Be Useful. Make it the credo in your agency and in our profession.
P.S. Here are links to the two parts of the interview Paddy Steinfort did with Lane Douglas-Hunt for The Toughness podcast. They were kind enough to allow me to be part of the interview:
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