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A Comparison of Training and Physical Performance of Police Students at the Start and the End of Three-Year Police Education

Lagestad, Pål; van den Tillaar, Roland

Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: May 2014 - Volume 28 - Issue 5 - p 1394–1400
doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000000273
Original Research
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Lagestad, P, and van den Tillaar, R. A comparison of training and physical performance of police students at the start and the end of three-year police education. J Strength Cond Res 28(5): 1394–1400, 2014—The purpose was to compare male and female police students exercise and physical performances at the beginning and the end of a 3-year police education. Two hundred thirty-five subjects answered the survey about exercise and 85 subjects (58 men: age = 23.7 ± 2.8 years, body mass = 82.1 ± 7.8 kg, height = 1.83 ± 0.06 m; 27 women: age = 24.9 ± 3.1 years, body mass = 66 ± 8.5 kg, height = 1.70 ± 0.09 m) participated in the 4 physical exercises (bench press, pull-ups, standing long jump, and 3,000-m run). It was found that the priority of maximum strength training increased (p < 0.001), whereas the priority of endurance and sprint training decreased during the 3-year period, with no differences between gender (p ≥ 0.28). The performances in the strength-related physical tests, bench press, and pull-ups also increased in the same period. These changes were the same for both genders. Findings showed a discrepancy between what is reported as necessary physical skills in police work and what actually is trained during the police education. This discrepancy was caused by the large focus upon maximal strength in the physical examination program in the police education.

Department of Teacher Education, Nord-Trøndelag University College, Levanger, Norway

Address correspondence to Pål Lagestad, Pal.lagestad@hint.no.

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Introduction

Work in the police force demands several physical skills in their daily work situation (6,16,18,24,26). Shephard and Bonneau (26) showed that patrolling requires strength, endurance, and mobility. Furthermore, police officers often have to lift and carry suspects, climb and cross barriers, push vehicles, and run after suspects (18). Bonneau and Brown (3) reported that police work mainly requires crawling, balance, climbing, lifting, carrying, pushing, and pulling. Maximum strength, muscular endurance, leaping power, and speed seem to be important to conduct these movements. However, Lagestad (16) showed that police students who had worked as a police officer for 1 year reported that endurance and muscular endurance were the most required physical abilities in patrol work and that maximum strength was the least important physical ability among 4 physical abilities (maximum strength, muscular endurance, aerobic endurance, and quickness). Because of these findings, one could argue that police students would prefer aerobic and muscular endurance training when they exercise.

To become a student in the Norwegian Police University College, students have to conduct and pass 4 physical tests in their application procedure. These 4 tests (bench press, pull-up, standing long jump, and a 3,000-m run) were chosen because they capture versatility and give the police students basic physical skills for future police work. The tests also measure physical skills related to maximum strength, muscular endurance, power, and endurance (14). Maher (20) stated early that physical ability tests among police can never be valid, but the test battery is almost the same as is used by the Swedish Police education (30). Almost the same tests are also used by the Military Academy in Serbia (21). However, the Serbian military also uses an obstacle course. Many Police force, like the Dutch police, use an obstacle course that simulates several skills, like pushing, pulling, running, lifting, and jumping (29).

Both men and women who were admitted to the Norwegian Police University College follow the same curriculum. However, according to several studies (9,12,28,32), women do not prefer strength training that increases muscles. In general, women reported that they do not want to have big muscles because they feel muscular hypertrophy is too masculine and in contradiction to femininity. Ulseth (31,32) showed that women do not exercise maximum strength training to the same degree as men do. According to these studies, it may be argued that female police students will not give maximum strength training the same priority as male police students. An appropriate question is to what extent female police students differ from male police students in relation to maximum strength training. One may also ask in what way police training and education regime changes the view on the required physical abilities of these police students during their 3 years of police studies.

In relation with the previous discussion, the aim of the present study was 2-folded: first to compare male and female police students' priority on the type of training (maximal strength, bodybuilding, muscular endurance, endurance, power, and sprint training) they conduct at the beginning and the end of a 3-year police education; second to examine the physical performances in bench press, pull ups, standing long jump, and 3,000-m run among male and female police students in the same period. The hypothesis is that female police students exercise less maximum strength training than male police students and that police students give endurance and muscular endurance training more priority during the 3 years of police studies because earlier studies reported that endurance and muscular endurance were the most required physical abilities in patrol work in the police (16).

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Methods

Experimental Approach to the Problem

To compare the priority on the type of training and physical performance at the beginning and the end of the education, this study used a mixed design in which men and women were compared together with their within-subjects. The independent variables were the type of training: maximal strength, bodybuilding, muscular endurance, endurance, power and sprint training, and the 4 physical tests: bench press, pull-ups, standing long jump, and 3,000-m run. Dependent variables were 2 test occasions: at the beginning of the education and at the end 3 years later, and gender.

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Subjects

To compare the type of training exercised at the beginning and the end of the police education all of the 360 police students (distributed over 2 institutions) who started their 3 years of police studies in Norway 2005 were invited to conduct a survey on the second day of the police studies (August 2005) and after 3 years of police studies (June 2008). The students had 1 lesson of physical activity per week as a part of their police studies and had passed a physical test to be taken up as police students. To pass that physical test, the students had to be well trained (14). Two hundred thirty-five subjects (65%) answered both questionnaires (148 males and 87 females). The dropout rate was 35%—a low number because the subjects had to answer the questionnaire at 2 different times. The descriptive data of the subjects at the beginning of the police studies in 2005 were as follows: male: age = 24.3 ± 3.3 years, body mass = 82.4 ± 8.7 kg, height = 1.82.9 ± 0.06 m; female: age = 23.9 ± 2.5 years, body mass = 66 ± 7.3 kg, height = 1.70.8 ± 0.06 m.

To examine the physical performance among police students in the same period, 85 of 96 (response rate 89%) police students (58 males and 27 females; male: age = 23.7 ± 2.8 years, body mass = 82.1 ± 7.8 kg, height = 1.83 ± 0.06 m; female: age = 24.9 ± 3.1 years, body mass = 66 ± 8.5 kg, height = 1.70 ± 0.09 m) of 1 of the 2 police education institutes participated in the 4 physical tests. Because only the data of this 1 institute was available for the present study, of this institute, 6% of the possible participants did not fulfill the test, had strain injuries, or was sick. The tests took place on the same time of the year on the pretest and posttest (maj 2005; 2008). The subjects were fully informed about the protocol. Before participating in this study, an informed consent was obtained before all testing from all subjects, in accordance with the approval of local ethical committee and current ethical standards in sports and exercise research.

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Procedures

To examine the type of training exercised among the participants, a 10-point scale was used to measure “what priority do you give … (type of training), where 1 = almost no priority, 10 = very high priority.” This method was chosen because the main idea was to compare the priority of different types of training exercised during the police education and compare the priority between them. Using time or frequency were no good options because some types of training demand more time or frequency than others, which makes it difficult to compare the priority of training types with each other. In the survey, endurance training was defined as training that stimulates aerobic capacity. Maximal strength training was defined as training that target to increase 1 repetition maximum (1RM). Bodybuilding was when the goal of the training was to increase hypotrophy of the muscles (6–14 repetitions), whereas muscular endurance was defined as training with a load of 15 and more repetitions. Sprint training was defined as training to increase acceleration and maximum running velocity. Power training was defined as jump training to increase the jumping length and explosive strength.

To examine the physical performances among police students in the same period, the data of 85 students were available on both dates. The students had 2 attempts in each of the 4 physical performance tests (except the 3,000-m run), and the procedures were the same for men and women, except in the pull-up. The best result of the 2 attempts was used for further analysis. All the 4 tests took place at the same location and with the same equipment in the pretest and posttest. The 3,000-m run took place on 1 day, whereas the 3 other tests were completed 2 weeks earlier, but at the same day (standing long jump was conducted first, followed by bench press and pull-up).

Bench press took place on a 50-cm-high bench. The students were lying in a horizontal position and lifted as much weight as they could in 1RM in a smith machine. They had to lift the weight out of the rack, lower it slowly down until they reached the chest just under the nipples. The weight had to be held still on the chest for a second, before they got a signal and lifted the weight up and into the rack again. Their shoulders and their buttocks had to be down at the bench under the whole lifting process. The pull-up took place on a beam. Men were hanging in a vertical position grabbing the beam with pronated grip at shoulder width. Men had to pull themselves up in a regular move straight upright until their chin was over the beam (Figure 1A). Then they got a signal and went down again. They continued until they did not get the chin over the beam again. The women used the same test procedures but differed from men by hanging in a horizontal position with a pronated grip at shoulder width and with their heels resting on a crate (Figure 1B). The rationale for this change was that women in general are weaker than men (21,29) and not strong enough to pull themselves up in a vertical position several times, and the test is meant to measure muscular endurance. Women had to pull themselves up until the chest touched the beam. Then they got a signal and went down again. They kept going until they were unable to lift the chest up to the beam.

Figure 1

Figure 1

The standing long jump took place on a wooden box, which was 2 cm higher than the mat they landed on. They stood with 1 cm of their shoe-tip over the edge of the wooden box. The distance between the wooden box and the back of where the foot landed was measured. The 3,000-m run took place on a flat horizontal asphalt track, with the same start and stop point, and no rise or downhill. The 3,000-m test was conducted at the same time at the day and on days with similar weather and no wind to avoid influence of the weather upon the performance. The subjects were told to control nutrition and hydration by drinking enough water and eat approximately 2–3 hours before the testing.

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Statistical Analyses

To compare the type of training exercised and physical performance in the 4 tests between gender and from the beginning and end of their education, a mixed design 2 (test occasion: pre-post: repeated measures) × 2 (gender: males and females) analysis of variance was used. The test-retest reliability (2 repeats per condition) as indicated by intraclass correlations were 0.84, 0.95, 0.96, and 0.97 for, respectively, the pull-ups at the beam, running 3,000 m, 1RM in bench press, and jumping length.

All results are presented as mean ± SD. Effect size was evaluated with

(Eta partial squared), where 0.01< η2 < 0.06 constitutes as a small effect, a medium effect and when 0.06< η2 < 0.14 and a large effect when η2 > 0.14 (10). The level for significance was set at p ≤ 0.05. Statistical analysis was performed in SPSS version 19.0 (SPSS, Inc., Chicago, IL, USA).

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Results

Of the invited 360 students, 235 subjects (response rate of 65%, 149 men and 86 women) answered both of the questionnaires. It was found that maximal strength training became significantly more important for both men and women (F = 39.0, p < 0.001, η2 = 0.148, Figure 2), whereas muscular endurance (F = 11.6, p = 0.001, η2 = 0.05; Figure 2), endurance, and sprint training significantly decreased for both gender (F ≥ 31.9, p < 0.001, η2 ≥ 0.126; Figure 3). No significant differences were found after 3 years of education for the type of training: bodybuilding and power training (F ≤ 2.27, p ≥ 0.133, η2 ≤ 0.01; Figures 2 and 3). Furthermore, no statistically significant difference in training regime at the beginning and end of the education was found between gender (F ≤ 1.17, p ≥ 0.281, η2 ≤ 0.005).

Figure 2

Figure 2

Figure 3

Figure 3

After 3 years, the weight of the subjects involved in the 4 physical performance tests was significantly increased by 2.6 kg (F = 16.9, p < 0.001, η2 = 0.068). However, also an interaction effect was found for gender (F = 7.1, p = 0.008, η2 = 0.03), showing that men significantly increased their weight with approximately 3.6 kg (p < 0.001), whereas women had a nonsignificant change of 0.8 kg (p = 0.09).

The change in type of training prioritized was also shown in the results in the performance tests where the bench press and pull-up (Figures 4A, B; F ≥ 102, p < 0.001, η2 ≥ 0.559) and the endurance, measured by the performance on 3,000-m run (Figure 5A) significantly increased (F = 9.4, p = 0.003, η2 = 0.103). Also a significant difference after 3 years of education was found in the standing long jump performance (F = 5.4, p = 0.023, η2 = 0.061; Figure 5B). However, post hoc comparison on jumping length showed no significant increase after 3 years when men (p = 0.161) and women (p = 0.059) were taken separately.

Figure 4

Figure 4

Figure 5

Figure 5

At the pretest and posttest, significant difference was found in performance between men and women, whereby the men had a higher performance in 3 of the 4 exercise and the women had a better performance in pull-up. However, the change in performance after 3 years was the same for both genders (no interaction effect) in the bench press (F = 3.4, p = 0.068, η2 = 0.041) and standing long jump tests (F = 0.33, p = 0.56, η2 = 0.004). However, the development of the 3,000-m run and the pull-ups for gender after 3 years was not the same (F ≥ 6.5, p ≤ 0.013, η2 ≥ 0.072), that is, women decreased their running time significantly after 3 years of police education, whereas the men did not (Figure 5B). In the pull-ups, the women increased the number of repetitions in the posttest significantly more than the men did (Figure 4B).

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Discussion

The purpose of the study was to compare male and female police students' type of training exercised at the beginning and the end of a 3-year police education and to examine the physical performances among male and female police students in the same period. The main finding was that maximal strength training was given significantly more priority, whereas muscular endurance, endurance, and sprint training were given significantly less priority, with no differences between genders over that period. After 3 years, the physical performance in the 2 strength-related tests was also significantly better for men and women. However, women increased more than men in the total number of pull ups and 3,000-m times at the end of the study.

The priority of training related to endurance, sprint, and muscular endurance (men) decreased from the beginning and to the end of the police education, whereas the priority of maximum strength training increased for both genders (Figures 2 and 3). This was surprising because 1 study among police students found that endurance was reported as the most required physical skill in relation to police work, whereas maximum strength was the second least important physical skill (15). Another study supported this finding (30). According to Figures 2 and 3, police students do not exercise in relation to their own beliefs. Some earlier studies reported that police work is physically undemanding and that most police work do not require physical strength to solve daily duties (2,13,15,19,33). However, other studies reported that patrol work seems to require some basic versatile physical skills, such as maximum strength, muscular endurance, endurance, leaping power, and speed (3,18,26).

Several explanations can be given about why maximum strength training is given more priority during the police education. One main reason may be that 2 of 4 tests are related to maximum strength. Strength training affects the grades positively. From 2011, standing long jump was excluded from the physical examination, and bench press and pull-up constitutes 2 of 3 tests in the physical examination. Lagestad (15) showed that police students reported that it was easier to increase the performance in bench press than in the other physical tests. Furthermore, maximum strength training differed from other type of training by being more structured, and the police students used complicated training programs and more goal-oriented training, in contradiction to other types of training. This is another possible explanation of why maximum strength training is given more priority during the police education. The study also found that police students reported that it was very important for them to be able to solve physical conflicts, and the performance in bench press is an important factor when the police use arresting techniques. This may also contribute to explain why maximum strength training is given more priority during the police education.

Figures 2 and 3 showed no differences in type of training exercised between men and woman, both at the beginning and at the end of the police education. In the introduction, it was argued that several studies pointed out that maximum strength training that causes muscle hypotrophy is problematic for women (9,11,12,28). However, in our study, it was reported that female police students prioritize maximum strength training and bodybuilding as much as male police students (Figure 2), which was also found in a study among Swedish police students (30) and firefighters (23,30). Thus, this may be a pattern that characterizes female police students in general.

An explanation for our findings may be that female police students have to exercise maximum strength training to be accepted as reliable and honorable among other police colleagues. Doran and Chan (11) highlighted the importance of physical skills as an important symbolic capital in police work (8). Symbolic capital is a resource available to an individual on the basis of honor, prestige, and recognition and serves as value that one holds within a culture (4). An alternative hypothesis is that these women are educated in training and does not hold to the false belief that strength training will make them grow huge muscles. Empirical research has highlighted that there is still some skepticism connected to women's suitability for police work in some police cultures because of their lack of physical strength (1,6–8,17,22,25,34). By developing maximum strength, female police students develop physical capital (4,27).

The performance changes of the police students in bench press and pull-up differ positively from the other performances because both male and female police students perform significantly better in these tests at the end than at the beginning of a 3-year of police studies (Figures 4 and 5). Male students also performed better than Serbian military cadets in pull-ups, by lifting themselves up approximately 4 more times (21). The findings support the results that maximum strength training is given more priority during the police education (Figure 2). One may argue that maximum strength training also improve the performance in pull-up. Maximum strength training with up to 5 repetitions is close to the numbers of repetitions conducted in the pull-up test. Also Tärnklev and Widing (30) showed that the performance in bench press stood out as the one where both female and male Swedish police students performed better in the end than in the beginning of their education.

Men gave endurance training the same priority as women through the police education. However, only women decreased their running time significantly after 3 years of police education (Figure 5B). Furthermore, men did not increase the number of repetitions in pull-up in the posttest significantly as much as women did during the police studies (Figure 4B). Increased body weight between the pretest and posttest can explain the performance changes in both 3,000-m run and pull-up. It was reported that men significantly increased their weight (5) with approximately 3.6 kg during the 3 years of police education, whereas women had a nonsignificant change. Correlation analysis between body weight change and change in physical performances found significant correlations between the change in pull-up performance (r = −0.40) and 3,000 m performance (r = 0.23), indicating that weight increases over the police education had a negative influence on these 2 performances. This may explain why female police students improved their performances in 3,000-m run and pull-ups during the period and male students did not. Furthermore, different pull-up technique between men and women (Figures 1A, B) can explain why women performed more pull-ups than men. Men started hanging from their arms in a vertical position while women started hanging from their arms in a horizontal position. Women relieve some of their body weight on the heels resting on a crate and did not have to pull up all their body weight as men did. With increased maximal strength in both, this increased strength would have a bigger impact on the results of the women because they did not need to lift the whole body.

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Practical Applications

Our study showed that after 3 years of police education, maximal strength training was given more priority, whereas muscular endurance training, endurance training, and sprint training significantly decreased, with no differences between male and female police students. More focus upon maximum strength training also resulted in better performance in the strength tests after 3 years for both gender. Given that bench press and pull-up constitute 2 of 3 physical performance tests on the physical examination, this gives an unnecessarily large focus upon strength training. Because maximum strength seems to play a minor role in the daily work situations in the police force in contradiction to endurance, this priority is problematic. Therefore, trainers and coaches at the Police University College should strive to organize their lessons more toward endurance and muscular endurance training. Thus, the 3 physical tests ought to be replaced by an obstacle course that measure versatility related to several physical skills. This could affect the police student's physical training to be even more suitable and health related. Now that we have seen how the police students training regime changes during the police education, future studies should try to examine what happens with the police students' physical training regime after some years as police officers in the police culture.

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Keywords:

bench press; endurance; maximal strength; muscular endurance; physical skills; pull-ups

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