Physical Fitness for the Public Safety Cyclist

By Kathleen Vonk, PCI #042T/EMSCI #063
Ann Arbor P.D. (MI)
IPMBA Secretary

Physical fitness for the public safety cyclist.  Why should we care?  Why should we set our standards higher than those of the average citizen?  Because emergency service professionals contend with factors that are not typical among the average civilian, such as excessive job-related stress, critical incident stress, rotating shifts, and extended tours.  Firefighters and EMS professionals find themselves in dangerous situations involving chemicals and other hazardous materials, building collapses, automobile wrecks, and risky rescues.  Police officers face the reality of encountering people who would try to kill them if contacted. 

These contacts have the potential to turn into violent struggles for life and death, and the officer’s own level of fitness may play a part in the outcome of that confrontation.  As Gene Zink, formerly of Heckler & Koch International Training Division would say, “You may literally have the rest of your life to win that confrontation.”  There is always at least one weapon in confrontations involving police officers, and each year, officers are killed during struggles for their own weapon.  Anaerobic strength, a vital part physical fitness, is crucial in encounters of this type. 

In addition, every year police, EMS, firefighters, and security personnel suffer heart attacks while physically exerting themselves during the course of their duties.  This has happened during struggles with suspects, while fighting fires, while riding bicycles to medical emergencies or other “hot” runs, and even during bicycle training courses.  Cardiovascular fitness is of utmost importance.

While physical fitness is a key element to the health and safety of all public safety personnel, it is perhaps even more essential for those on bike duty.  Pre-screening to ensure that a bike unit candidate meets a minimum level of fitness should be a mandatory step in the selection process, and maintaining a minimum level of fitness should be a top priority for those assigned to the bike.  We have to rely on our physical abilities to ride significant distances during our tours of duty.  These tours may last up to twelve hours in the sun, heat, humidity, rain, wind, or cold.  In addition to having to exert ourselves physically under these conditions, we must carry additional weight in the form of uniform and equipment. 

Basically, we all have a duty to be “fit for duty” whether we are EMTs, paramedics, security professionals, or police officers.  At some point, someone’s life is sure to depend on it – whether it is yours, your partner’s, or that of a citizen you are sworn to protect.   Take your fitness level seriously.  Stay well-hydrated, eat adequate protein and carbohydrates, take in adequate vitamins, minerals and fiber; and don’t overeat.  When you work out, include both anaerobic strength training and aerobic cardiovascular activities. 

Your shift on the bicycle may account for your cardio, but be sure to get in some upper body strength training while not on the clock.  While on duty, incorporate some anaerobic threshold (AT) training into your tour and get paid to work out!  By engaging in some interval training on your beat, you can actually improve your AT.  Ride hard for 30 seconds, then easy for 30 seconds.  Repeat several times.  What good does this do?  It might mean the difference between you or the suspect becoming exhausted first.  Or the difference in whether you are able to perform your duties proficiently after you sprint to a scene.  Or whether the ambulance has to treat you or your patient first!  Take care of your body and continue to serve your community with pride.  By doing so, you are doing a great favor for yourself, your family, your department, and the citizens of your community. 

(c) 2002 IPMBA.  This article appeared in the Summer 2002 issue of IPMBA News

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