Many departments will conduct a preliminary medical review, which includes vision and hearing tests and height/weight ratios, when you show up for the physical agility testing segment of the application process. (If you successfully complete all the steps of the entire hiring process, you may undergo a more extensive medical examination prior to being offered a job, and usually there is a pre- and post-examination.) During your medical examination, you may be put on hold for further review.
If you are not physically fit during these examinations or do not meet the physical standards, you may be disqualified at this point in the hiring phase. If you don’t already have some sort of physical fitness routine, start one immediately. Law enforcement agencies want people who have adopted a lifestyle of fitness; fit officers are more productive and have fewer injuries.
Your primary task is usually to pass a specific physical fitness test. You should start immediately by researching what your specific physical fitness test will entail and then training for those specific events. Agencies will require you to adhere strictly to the test protocols. If you are required to do 40 sit-ups in one minute, being able to do 100 crunches is meaningless unless you can do the 40 sit-ups.
The specific test you will have to pass will depend on the program, but almost all of them include most or all of the following:
- Distance run. You will have to run a certain distance. Many programs use the 40th or 50th percentile of the Cooper Institute for Aerobics Research Standards as the minimum standard to complete a 1.5 mile run. The requirements may be age- and gender-normed.
- Obstacle course. This involves a kind of rapid scramble over and through different kinds of barriers—fences, barrels, low monkey bars, whatever the department has set up.
- Dummy drag. You will have to drag a certain amount of dead weight, usually 150 pounds, for a specific distance. Even if you are strong and fit, this is harder than it sounds; it requires you to use muscles not often called upon. Definitely try to practice beforehand.
- Weight lifting. Usually, this involves basic bench presses, squats, and curls. How much you have to lift and how many reps depends on your size and gender.
- Sit-ups, push-ups, and pull-ups. Find out the specific number of repetitions required; if it’s more than you can comfortably do now, slowly work up to it.
Keep in mind, your performance on Test Day could suffer because of nervousness. Train to a level that will give you a cushion of 20 percent or more; however, don’t overtrain just before the physical test. You might consider taking a day or two off before the event. If you haven’t done your homework before this, cramming your workouts in at the last minute may only hurt you. It is always recommended that before starting any fitness plan, you consult with a physician first.
It is worth noting that some programs have dropped these strict physical fitness tests in favor of more job-specific testing. Such a test might mimic a foot chase, or a similar high-intensity, police-related scenario. These newer types of tests are meant to focus on job-specific skills rather than brute strength, which may be inherently biased against certain otherwise skilled candidates, particularly women.
In general, being physically fit will help you handle stress (always a big part of any law enforcement job). Fitness increases your stamina and really does help you think more clearly. It will also, when combined with the training you will receive, give you confidence in yourself. There is a physical component to being a police officer that sometimes gets overlooked. Emergency calls happen in seconds, which may require you to jump into action unexpectedly and do anything, including running, lifting objects, climbing fences, or confronting a suspect that you are trying to apprehend.
Remember, always check with the department you are applying to. They will give you specifics about their standards. Some of the larger forces even have scheduled training programs to help applicants get up to the required fitness level.