Surviving the street: Fatigue threshold training for law enforcement

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Law enforcement officers play a crucial role in protecting and serving the public, which often requires them to engage in physical altercations with suspects. To effectively handle these situations, officers must be in good physical shape and aware of their fatigue threshold. This is an important factor all law enforcement officers should be aware of. This is the point during a use-of-force event when you reach physical exhaustion and can no longer control a resisting offender. This often leads to an inability to apprehend the suspect or the use of excessive force. Numerous variables influence an officer’s fatigue threshold. Some of those include age, genetics, physical strength, skill level of defensive tactics and aerobic fitness. This article aims to discuss aerobic fitness. 

Full-body exercises

To begin with, we need to understand that most physical altercations involve the entire body — meaning, when we are fighting a physically resisting suspect, we are engaging both our lower- and upper-body muscles. It is not just our chest muscles or our leg muscles. This is important to know, for if we want to mimic this physical encounter in a controlled environment (gym), we need to select an exercise that incorporates as many muscle groups as possible. There are many resources available that can help you find full-body exercises. But some examples include burpees or a combination of front squats with a press. You could combine body exercises back to back, such as push-ups, lunges and pull-ups. Remember, the goal is to engage as many muscle groups as possible, since you will be using your multiple muscle groups in a physical altercation.

Length of time

Now we need to create a baseline for how long we need to engage in the full-body exercise. What research and expert advice can we find to get a baseline for exercise duration?

  • The “100-second rule,” popularized by Gracie University, suggests that most people give up in a fight after 100 seconds. This highlights the importance of officers being able to maintain their physical endurance during extended encounters.
  • Marlana Hancock, in her dissertation titled “Law Enforcement Fitness Policies in Relation to Job Injuries and Absenteeism,” cited a 2008 Police Chief Magazine article that found it can take up to two minutes to effect an arrest if the person physically resists.
  • A study published in the American Journal of Emergency Medicine revealed that the majority of fights between law enforcement and suspects last for one minute or shorter.
  • High Percentage, a martial arts blog with the stated mission to serve the martial arts community through data-driven answers, claims most fights last for about 48 seconds.

Looking at the times provided, we find 100, 120, 60 and 48 seconds. That averages to 82 seconds, or one minute and 20 seconds. Keep in mind that this is only a baseline that provides a suggestion for how long you may want to train to condition yourself for a physical altercation. One last suggestion for the length of time would include the response time at your agency. Does your agency have an emergency response time of 120 or 240 seconds? This would be an important number to average into your baseline length of time.

Putting the two together

Now that we know we need a full-body exercise that lasts about one minute and 20 seconds, we can construct a workout that can help increase our fatigue threshold. An example might be a combination of push-ups, body squats and pull-ups for one minute, followed by an active rest for a full recovery. You could it repeat as many times as you like. Better yet, take what you enjoy — be it CrossFit, running, old-school workouts or HIIT routines — and incorporate the full-body/length-of-time mindset into what you like. Keep in mind that this is not your primary exercise routine, but a workout that is used to supplement your overall fitness level.

By integrating physical fitness workouts that mimic the demands of your career, you can improve your fatigue threshold and better prepare yourself for success. Success means your survival. Such workouts would include full-body exercises for a given length of time founded on research and expert advice. If you find your fatigue threshold is for only 30 seconds, you may have just discovered that you are not prepared for a physical altercation. It’s better to learn this now than in the street.

Derrick Crews

Derrick Crews

Derrick Crews is a 28-year active law enforcement officer and a nationally recognized police trainer. Derrick believes a professional police response begins with a professionally trained officer. He can be reached at derrickrcrews@gmail.com.

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