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Police Obstacle Course | What to Expect!

November 16th, 2020 police obstacle course

What is the Police Obstacle Course?

Many police officer exams now include a police obstacle course.

An obstacle course is an ideal means to test a candidate’s ability not only for physical strength but also endurance, stamina, agility, and a capacity to think fast – on the spot – when confronted with barriers to entry.

Not all police departments include an obstacle course, but many do – and more agencies are now including the course as part of their police test.

Most physical abilities exams include:

  • Sit-ups
  • Push-ups
  • Fixed-distance sprints
  • Lifting weights, such as dummy humans or objects

These tests alone are challenging, but the police obstacle course takes things to the next level.

Each department that includes an obstacle course will, of course, have their own field design. There is no fixed design that police agencies must follow. That said, there tends to be a similar range of features on each obstacle course.

Anatomy of an Obstacle Course

Many police departments, such as San Diego Police Department, include the following features in their law enforcement obstacle course:

  • Stairs and ladders, to climb both up and down
  • Dragging a simulated victim who weighs approx. 150lbs
  • Low-hanging objects which must be avoided
  • Navigating through a series of pylons
  • Fences, which may be 3-6ft in height
  • Tunnels to crawl through
  • Monkey bars that test upper body strength and mobility
  • Nets – which must be rapidly crawled through

Furthermore, test candidates are given a 3lb vest (approx.) which must be worn throughout the entirety of the exam – adding to an already difficult challenge and reducing your ability to move fast on the spot.

The length of police obstacle courses varies, but they tend to average around 450-500 yards in length.

The purpose of the obstacle course is clear – to simulate what a day in the life of a police officer is like. There are many situations in which police officers must navigate their way through often difficult terrain or obstacle-strewn paths to capture suspects. This is physically demanding work and simulates the kind of barriers that officers routinely encounter. Nonetheless, officers are expected to have the physical capability to handle these challenges when and as they arise, no matter how random the barrier or obstacle may be.

Before taking the exam, candidates are advised to wear light clothing and rubber-gripped athletic footwear. On the day of your police test, you will be given more detail about what is/is not permitted, and you will also have the chance to ask questions.

Preparing for the Police Obstacle Course

To pass the obstacle course exam, candidates must be in top physical condition.

Though standard exercise regimens are useful, it’s imperative that you simulate the obstacle course, and its challenges, as best you can in the weeks and months leading up to the exam.

Some departments, such as SDPD, offer candidates the chance to practice their own obstacle course. You should take this opportunity when and as it arises, weather permitting. Most agencies offer weekly or monthly access to their police obstacle course. It also gives you the chance to ask questions if you need to.

This kind of experience is invaluable and it helps you not only prepare for obstacles but also the psychological advantage it offers given that you now know what to expect. Going into an obstacle course “blind”, without any knowledge of what to expect, is likely to lead to failure.

Keep Focused

Remember – though the police obstacle test is an important part of the police fitness exam, it’s worth pointing out that you must prepare for each part of the fitness exam in a proportionate manner.

In other words, do not over-prepare for the obstacle course and lose valuable time preparing for other parts of the fitness exam – such as the sprint or sit-up/push-up tests. All parts of the exam must be passed. Do not compromise your focus. Make a defined fitness plan and stick to it. You must train different muscle groups associated with each test and not assume that by focusing on the obstacle course that you have the ground covered elsewhere. That is a risk not worth taking. You must take a holistic approach that takes into consideration each part of the fitness test.

The same principle applies to other parts of the police officer test – such as the written exam and police interview test.

The strategy is clear: make plans; keep focussed; stay disciplined. That way, you guarantee success at the obstacle course and every other part of the police exam.

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