On that day, 72 law enforcement officers lost their lives.
A physical agility test must be passed before you can join the police academy. Many departments require candidates to take a physical test either during or after the police academy, too. However, the two tests are not the same. The police academy test is far more rigorous than the department test. However, many of the same things are tested – such as upper and lower body strength, dexterity and speed of movement, aerobic capacity, and endurance. Some departments go further and add breathing capability and body fat measurements.
The police agility test is one of the most well-known parts of the police officer exam, and one of the most feared parts of the exam. Candidates must prepare in the weeks and months ahead – both physically and mentally. The test is also known as the physical ability test or physical performance test. The purpose of the exam is clear – to establish whether you are physically capable of handling the intense demands of what law enforcement officers encounter daily. Not all police departments handle the exam in the same way. Some departments place greater value on the physical performance test than they do on the written exam.
As part of the police fitness test, candidates can expect to be measured on:
Standards vary among departments, but it’s not uncommon for many departments to standardize tests in-line with the best available evidence of what constitutes the most accurate way to test candidates. For example – more than ever, departments try to test candidates as if they were facing real-life scenarios. The obstacle course test is a classic example. Here, candidates are expected to navigate a course with skill and dexterity; to handle the physical demands of a pressurized environment that may require you to save another person’s life. Here is where dummy weight comes in, which requires substantial upper body strength. The 110-foot course will take you through several hurdles, to ascend a 40-inch wall, to worm your way through a serpentine section, and a 27-inch crawl to top things off. You may also be asked to drag or carry a weight of 150 pounds across a distance of 100 feet. Some police departments ask candidates – to their surprise sometimes – to do the obstacle course in reverse order.
Police physical agility tests also measure other essential skills – such as hand-eye coordination, balance, and motor skills. There are many routine tasks – such as rapidly exiting patrol vehicles, that need to be mastered. Another essential aspect of the physical ability test is endurance – the degree of stamina needed to endure intense physical demands. One of the most common ways to test endurance is to ask candidates to take a 220-yard run. Candidates may be asked to complete the run in a specified time, or they may compete with other candidates to determine who has scored the highest. A combination of both testing methods may be used.
As we’ve learned, physical abilities tests are designed to replicate real-life situations that newly trained police officers can expect to face. Police officers are expected to maintain these fitness standards throughout their career. Officers are tested on their physical agility on an ongoing basis, including:
The standards are high – but that is to be expected. For this reason, the police fitness test poses a significant challenge to aspiring police officers. Some states, such as California, have instituted rigorous testing requirements. For instance, candidates are asked to ascend a 6-foot wall – both rapidly and dextrously. However, even though these standards are high, aspiring police officers should not worry too much. Many departments report high success with the physical abilities exam. What’s needed is for candidates to prepare in the weeks and months ahead – not just physically, but also in terms of optimizing their diet and sleep regimens.
Not all police departments score the exam in the same way. For example – some departments allow for variation between gender and age. Older candidates may not perform to the same physical standards as younger candidates, for example. That said, there are differences. Take New Jersey, for example, which does not discriminate based on gender and age. Their rationale, when asked, is that these factors should not determine who passes because the physical demands they face remain the same. “If an older candidate does not meet the standard, why should they be allowed to join the police academy?”, they argue.
Sit-ups tests and push-ups tests are always performed on the physical ability exam.
If you haven’t yet prepared for the police fitness test, sit-ups and push-ups can easily prove to be your downfall. It’s vital that you prepare now, as progress does not come about overnight. For the sit-ups test, candidates will be asked to lie down and interlock their fingers behind their head – their feet flat against the floor and knees bent. Then, you will be asked to start – often needing at least 32 sit-ups over the course of 1-minute.
Many police departments also ask candidates to do a sit-and-reach flexibility exam. Here, candidates will be requested to remove their shoes and sit down with their legs in the extended position and their feet placed against a surface – such as a box – with toes pointing upward. Feet are usually kept apart, not wider than 8-inches. Then, candidates will be asked to place hands on top of each other and to reach out as far as they can. Measurements will then be taken. This test may happen several times – often as many as three times – and the best score will be taken.
For the push-up test, candidates will be asked to descend to the standard push-up position – namely, with their hands kept apart, usually shoulder width, and their back not arched. Throughout the test, hands and fingers should be in alignment with the shoulders – straight-ahead and not slanting inward. The examiner will then place an object on the floor, between your hands and under your head, where you are expected to reach as you push down. To pass the push-up part of the police agility test, candidates should perform 22 push-ups that qualify as legitimate push-ups. Poorly executed push-ups will not be counted.
To prepare for the police fitness exam, candidates need to put together a workable schedule that covers all parts of the exam; an effective timetable that meets the physical standards you are setting out to achieve.
Progress takes time. It also depends on how active you have been over the past 6-months or 1-year period. If you haven’t been too active, you may find it more difficult to initially achieve results. However, this is part and parcel of the body’s mechanism of conditioning itself over time. Diet plays an enormous role as well. To maximize performance during an exercise session, candidates should eat healthy and wholesome foods; naturally rich protein foods to build muscle; and quality carbohydrates that nourish your energy needs over the long-term. Sleep is vital, too, because sleep rejuvenates the body and assists in healing and building muscle and repairing any damage that may have been caused. Stay away from junk food and alcohol. Excessive consumption of either will hamper your long-term goals and set you back.
Make a training schedule that you can stick to. This schedule should include exercises that cover all aspects of the police agility test – including aerobic, cardiovascular and endurance exercises. You can practice the obstacle course in different ways. You can create a course at home, or in a local park. Many candidates contact their local police department to ask if they can practice the police physical course they have. Many departments are happy to accept. For sit-up, push-up, and sit-and-reach tests, these should be practiced almost daily. At minimum, candidates should practice these fitness tests 5-times per week.
Similarly, with aerobic exercises – aim to do both sprint and long-form aerobic exercises at least 5-days per week. Add variation, too, to ensure that as many muscle groups as possible are being trained. During the obstacle course, you will be tested in different ways than you will have prepared for. Upper body strength training is essential – and should be done at least three times per week. Vary the training of different muscle groups each time – and never forget to train your legs too! Always expect the unexpected and train as many muscle groups as possible. This way, you can cover as much ground as possible for the police physical ability exam.
On the day of your physical agility test, wear the appropriate clothing. You also need to keep well hydrated throughout the exam and mentally alert. It’s very important that, the night before your fitness test, you have an excellent sleep. This will immeasurably improve your focus, dexterity, balance, and overall exam performance. If you are tired and groggy and didn’t sleep very well, this will have an enormously deleterious effect on your performance.
By implementing these essential strategies, you will ace the police agility test and make your way through to the police academy – where you can expect to face an even tougher physical ability test!