Movement Competency Vs. Physical Capacity Vs. Specialization

“Your brain is too smart to allow you to have full horsepower in a bad body position, it’s called muscle inhibition. First move well, then move often” – Gray Cook

Fitness programs for law enforcement must include an array of general fitness such as; strength, endurance, power, mobility, stability and flexibility. All are required to perform at a high level when encountering the daily dangers that come with protecting the citizens of their community.FMS 2

But what does “high level” mean?

And when it comes to training; how often do you consider the natural progression of movement?

Do do we consider the evolution of movement and biomechanics from athletic development (pre recruit testing phase or department specific testing) to that of the specific needs of combative athletic development (patrol, task force, even administration)?

Movement is a behaviour; and injury or even stiffness can change the way we perceive an outcome, as well as enter into a situation. Previous injury is the number 1 predictor of future injury. When addressing prevention with officers, we break it down to 3 tiers of movement training which include; competency, capacity and specialized training.

Most often overlooked and neglected is the foundational tier called Movement Competency.

Movement Competency:

Poor movement can exist anywhere in the body and is often masked by compensation. Movement competency strives to identify and address, limitations, asymmetries and dysfunction and ensures you have the foundation for capacity. Much like the air in a tire, if your air is low and you continue to drive it less than optimally – at some point the tire will blow.

Let’s take patrol as an example: A 12-hour shift requires a high degree of time in the seated position; getting in and out of the cruiser. Every minute seated is like performing a repition in the gym – it adds up over time. That stiffness, when we slouch, changes our muscles and tissue and it makes it harder to control our skeleton, because the ligaments and connective tissue strain to maintain that position. This places a greater risk for injury; primarily back injury and can contribute to slow response/reaction time and lack of rotational power.

If you add strength to dysfunction at some point – boom goes the dynamite; or in this case most often a slipped or herniated disc. Work to clean up red flags and ensure you have adequate mobility and stability in the joints AND tissue.

Physical Capacity:

This second tier builds on movement competency. It is the ability for the body to produce or generate force, to propel the body forward and can be quantified by performance testing. Physical capacity also provides the physical reserves to hold postural integrity longer during workouts, and the ability to recover quicker with less fatigue. Here is where fundamental strength, power, endurance, flexibility and agility are implemented.

Growth and development follow the path of movement competency to physical capacity to specialization. Law enforcement training is not like traditional gym training, yet many still train that way. Our performance is only as good as our training and when asked to perform a task we will fall to the level of our preparation and training.


Specialized training is merely the acquisition of skill for a specific task for a specific desired outcome. Historically, the obstacle course has been a cornerstone of first responder testing protocols that require physical production and performance, simulating a foot chase. The inherent message in the obstacle course is a subtle suggestion of natural selection. Can you perform at capacity?

How law enforcement offices train for both health and physical capacity should ultimately transfer to the job, it should enhance control tactics and the necessary ability to respond and react quickly in confrontation., and most often at random.

Some of those specializations include:

  • Spontaneous Attack
  • Weapons readiness
  • Mental Fortitude
  • Reaction To High Stress
  • Spontaneous Foot Chases
  • Adaptability
  • Defense/ Control Tactics
  • Sleep, Recovery & Reorientation


What can you do to ensure you are performing at your peak?

  1. Red Flags: Identify and address movement dysfunction.
  2. Clean it up with corrective exercise – prevention.
  3. Don’t add strength to dysfunction.
  4. Think long-term durability, not just momentary performance.
  5. Add variety and versatility in your specialized training.

Neglect them and you may miss the opportunity to refine and improve not only your ability to move freely, but also the opportunity to improve movement integrity and performance on and off the job.

Quick Shop