10 ways correctional officers can get the most out of exercise

The first way to find more time for fitness is to make the time; the next is to maximize the time you spend working out

By George Vrotsos

When you ask most officers why they don’t feel they’re in the shape they want to be or should be in, they give the same reply: It is difficult to add exercise to their daily schedule

When you’re juggling shifts, pulling overtime and trying to spend quality time with family, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and let your workouts slide. However, there is always time for fitness if you approach your training in a calculated manner. 

Follow a program designed by a strength coach and don’t spend a single second in the gym wondering what exercise you are going to do next.
Follow a program designed by a strength coach and don’t spend a single second in the gym wondering what exercise you are going to do next.

The first way to find more time for fitness is to make the time. The next is to maximize the time you spend working out. Here are five keys to each side of that equation. 

5 ways to make more time for fitness

1. Make your shift one hour longer. If you work eight hours, think of it as a nine-hour shift. Use this extra hour to hit the gym before or after your shift. If you schedule it in, it becomes mandatory. This may take some coordination with your spouse and child care, however adopting the mindset that fitness is mandatory will help hold you accountable. 

2. Make quality family time active. Long walks and hikes provide many of the same benefits as cardio. After work or on off days, take the family for a walk. Pull your little ones in a wagon, take the teenagers to a basketball court for a game of HORSE, or make up your own family game. The rules of the game don’t matter, as long as the outcome of the game has your whole family running around the backyard. Your family will be disconnected from gadgets and social media while being active, so it’s a great way to combine activity with quality time

3. Watch TV actively. The average American watches 20 hours of television each week. Make this time count. Do planks or push-ups during commercials. Watch TV seated on the ground while stretching or foam rolling. Spend one minute out of every 10 in a Third World Squat position.

4. Make a "gym go-bag’ to give your training schedule flexibility. Pack everything you need for the gym and keep it in your vehicle, even on days you weren’t planning to hit the gym. Overtime opportunities can come up last minute. If your schedule suddenly changes, a go-bag will allow you to adjust your training accordingly.

5. Have an at-home workout plan as a back-up. Let’s face it: some days you just can’t hit the gym because life gets in the way. Having a workout you can do at home as a back-up will help keep your fitness on track. Bodyweight squats, lunges, push-ups, burpees and planks can all be completed in a circuit for an effective workout at home without equipment.

5 ways to make your workouts more efficient

1. Follow a training program. There are so many options in the gym, it’s easy to get bogged down by decisions. Follow a program designed by a strength coach and don’t spend a single second in the gym wondering what exercise you are going to do next. Programs are outlined so you know every single thing you will do that day before you walk in the door. Athletes don’t just work out, they follow training programs. Police officers are tactical athletes – train accordingly. 

2. Focus on compound lifts. Everyone likes doing isolation exercises like curls and triceps extensions, but if you are pressed for time, focus on the big main lifts that hit multiple muscle groups. A basic strength training that focuses on squats, deadlifts, bench press, overhead press, and rows will hit all your major muscle groups and build functional on-duty strength. If you have extra time in the gym, hit all the isolation lifts you want at the end of your workout.

3. Focus on intensity over volume. Many workout programs focus on volume. Four sets of eight to 12 reps is a common template. These programs are good for building size but are an inefficient way to build strength. Additionally, volume based workouts tend to be long. Try lowering volume and increasing intensity with three to five sets of three to five reps. Lift heavy to get strong. 

4. Superset bodyweight exercises. Utilize supersets, doing two exercises back-to-back with no rest, when doing bodyweight exercises. Supersets work well with exercises that focus on opposing muscle groups, such as dips and pull-ups.

5. Replace long, slow cardio with HIIT. Long, slow, and steady cardio sessions are very time-consuming. When you’re pressed for time, try a high intensity interval training (HIIT) session instead. Running ten 100-yard sprints is a brutally effective training session that can be completed much quicker than a long, slow run. When you have to run on duty it is usually as a sprint and not a long slow jog. Be prepared by doing sprint work.

Make your physical training mandatory, be as active as possible when you are outside of the gym, and make your gym time as efficient as possible and you’ll always have time for fitness.

About the author
George Vrotsos has worked in law enforcement since 2007. He is certified as a Physical Fitness Specialist through the Ohio Peace Officer Training Commission. George is not a medical professional. Please consult your doctor before starting any fitness or nutrition plan.

This article, originally published on 06/09/2015, has been updated.

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