Slow death by uniform (PART 1)

Injury prevention

Breaking news!!!! The modern police uniform is uncomfortable. Okay maybe not so newsworthy but I’m going to spend the next few weeks explaining how the uniform causes mechanical compensations that trash your body. When I say trashes your body I mean it TRRRRAAAAASAAAHHHHEEEESSSSS your body.  If you’re a uniformed officer, this is something you need to read and understand.

To realize how bad the uniform is we need a standard of movement to test, something that’s scientifically validated, widely used, reliable and a good predictor of injury. Enter Gray Cook and the Functional Movement Screen.

What is the Functional Movement Screen?

Think of the screen as standardized field sobriety tests for your movement quality. It uses seven movement tests all scored from 0-3 and three clearance tests which are not scored but simply look for pain.

0 Means you have pain in the movement pattern.

1 Means you can’t perform the movement pattern but have no pain.

2 Means you can perform the movement pattern, but it has some issues.

3 Means you have are competent in the movement pattern.

The screen also looks for asymmetries in the movements.

Predicting injury

If you score below 14 you are at an increased risk for injury during physical activity.

If you have asymmetries you are at an increased risk for injury during physical activity.

If you score a 1 on any test you area at an increased risk for injury during physical activity.

The goal is to have a total score above a 14 with all 2’s or 3s, no pain and no asymmetries.

The experiment

I’m not certified in the FMS, but I do have some coach friends down at Catalyst Strength that are. They were cool enough to screen me three times: the first with my normal gym clothes, the second with my best looking uniform, and the third with my modified working uniform. Using the gym clothes screen as my baseline, I wanted to see how much of an effect the uniform really has on my movement and how well I’ve mitigated it.


The results

My gym clothes score was a 19, well above the 14 mark which means I move pretty well and I’m not at increased risk of injury.

In my ultra-professional snug fitting version of my uniform, my score dropped down to a 12, below the cut point of a 14 which is a bad thing.

My working uniform scored above the cut with a 16. Still not as good as the gym clothes, but at least it’s above the cut here and theoretically moving well enough to be not at an increased risk for injury based on score. I did have some ones and asymmetries, so there is still need for improvement.

Gym clothes

pro uniform

working uniform


Movement quality and injury are related. At the most basic level the intent of the screen is really to see if someone moves well enough to increase physical activity without increased risk of injury, and it’s not like we’re hitting the gym in full uniform (By the way you cops that run marathons in full uniform—good job raising awareness for whatever it was but bad idea for your body). The reality is, however, on any given night you need to be able to run, jump, fight etc. in what you’re wearing, and I’m not sure which movement pattern we can assume is okay not to own when we need to do those things. Adjusting your uniform may be the difference between going home or to the hospital after a scrap.

We can only assume that spending thousands of hours in a uniform that causes dysfunctional movement patterns will eventually start to affect your movement when the uniform is not there. This also highlights the need for a maintenance program. Your body will mold to your activities. It turns out that experts can look at skeletons and tell what kind of activities the person did. For example, they can observe twisting from repetitive rotational forces in the arm of a major league pitcher. I’m willing to bet they could pick out a cop’s jacked up skeleton out of any lineup.  Needless to say you have to do something to undo the 40+ hours a week of slow death you’re putting your body through.  I move pretty well without my uniform despite the fact I spend about 1800 hours in uniform a year. I also have a movement maintenance practice. That is the difference.

Final thoughts

I see cops posting online all the time trying to find studies to use as proof that their department needs to make a change to the uniform. Unfortunately most replies are personal and anecdotal at best. I find this concept really interesting but my sample size of one and obvious bias make this experiment inadequate, so more research needs to be done. (Any grad students out there looking for thesis research topic? Millions of cops may love you someday.)

The FMS should be considered as a part of a department’s employment screening and any annual physical testing. Consider testing when a uniform change is made. Adding a tool to your duty belt? Get screened. Getting new pants? Get screened.

Uniforms could be much more “movement friendly” if manufacturers joined the minimalist movement, minimalist (according to Katy Bowman) meaning having the least amount of impact on function, not necessarily referring to the amount of material used. Sorry Lt. Dangle. The challenge is simple: develop a uniform that looks good, can lug around all the standard duty equipment and has the least effect on your FMS screen…. Then hook me up with some cash for the idea.

Over the next few weeks I want to break the problems down a little more in depth. Stay tuned because these may be the most important articles you read all year.

For more information on the functional movement screen

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