4 quick and easy ways to sharpen physical skills
Tactics you can practice regularly, no matter how busy your schedule
By Steven Benusa
Corrections is a dangerous profession — no one can argue otherwise. In order to keep ourselves (and our fellow officers) safe, we need to be very skilled in both defensive techniques and in the use of tools, such as pepper spray, electronic control devices, batons, handcuffs, and other restraint devices. Unfortunately, no matter how high your level of training, defensive tactics skills will always be perishable. And without consistent practice, these skills will erode to the point of being ineffective when needed.
Years ago, one of my training mentors taught me that there were three things you needed to do to become skilled: repetition, repetition, and repetition. However, once out of the academy, most officers — unless they are part of a special unit — will get only minimal training, and many aren’t willing to put in extra time practicing unless they’re getting paid for it.
So the question becomes, “How do we get the repetitions required to develop a high level of skill with limited time and resources?” Here are four ways to increase your skill through repetitions with minimal time and effort.
1. Do one rep with an equipment check
Before every officer goes on duty they should check their equipment to make sure that it is in proper working order. When you do this, do it in the manner that you will use it. For instance, when checking your handcuffs, practice the proper way to remove the cuffs from your duty belt, the proper way to hold the cuffs and simulate handcuffing a subject. If you carry a baton, practice properly drawing the baton, striking with it and smoothly re-holstering it.
Each one of these acts only takes only a few seconds, costs zero dollars, helps you retain your muscle memory and gets you mentally prepared for the start of your shift. During a five-day workweek you will have performed five repetitions with each piece of your equipment. In a month you will have performed more than 20 repetitions, and by the end of the year you will have completed hundreds of repetitions.
When practicing, don’t forget to mentally review your department’s policy on using each piece of equipment. When training with your correctional tools — as with your empty hand skills — you want to get to the point where using them becomes a reflexive action and you don’t have to think about it.
2. Integrate strikes with stretching
Going through a series of stretches before the start of your shift is an excellent way to help prevent injuries and keep your body healthy. When doing this, add your defensive tactics strikes into your routine. Perform them slowly, concentrating on proper technique (including a good stance) and emphasize full range of motion so that you get a good stretch. After doing the technique slow for form and getting a good stretch, you may want to add a few more reps increasing speed and power.
Law enforcement trainer Gary Klugiewicz refers to this as a tactical warm up. Like your equipment check, it doesn’t take long, helps you retain muscle memory, assists in preventing injuries and helps get you mentally focused for your shift.
You can also use this concept before or after your workouts. Whether you run, lift weights or play sports, adding a few strikes and/or kicks to your pre activity warm up (or post activity cool down) will help keep your skills sharp and it only takes a few seconds.
3. Make the most out of the training you do get
During training, I see most officers wanting to practice new techniques just once or twice. This is not enough to ingrain the muscle memory you will need to use the skill months down the road. Don’t practice the skill until you can do it right. Practice the skill until you cannot do it wrong. When practicing control holds, a good rule is to do repetitions until you can perform the skill properly with your eyes closed. This way you can be certain that you have developed substantial muscle memory.
When attending a training class, show up a few minutes early and/or stay a few minutes late to get in extra repetitions or to work on skills not covered in the class. These extra few minutes every training session combined with the above practices will pay dividends over the years.
While in class, stay focused. Practice new skills at the most realistic level possible don’t just go through the motions.
Remember: Practice doesn’t make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect.
After every class, mentally review what you did and don’t let yourself forget what you learned.
4. Experience is a great teacher
When forced to use your defensive tactics or physical control skills on the job, you should learn a lesson with each contact. Don’t let the lesson go unnoticed. The best learning repetitions will often be the ones you do in the real world. After each physical contact you should ask yourself three questions:
• What did I do right?
• What did I learn?
• What will I do differently and/or better next time?
When looking at incidents where officers found themselves in terrible situations and came out of them on top, often a common factor is that the officers had prepared themselves in advance for that terrible day. These four tips can help you to stay prepared.
Stay strong everyone.