We gotta start somewhere.


Here’s the deal, being a cop can be AWESOME! Having a badge is the a ticket to the greatest show on earth. One thing about being a cop no one told you before you joined the brotherhood is that this job will wreck your body. The reality is that someone probably told you but you were 22 and bulletproof  which makes you deaf to such warnings. The ugly truth is that your body takes a slow quiet beating day after day that you don’t notice until its too late. You end up injured, broken and off of work. If you’re lucky enough to last your 30 years to a full pension you probably wont have enough use of your body to really enjoy your retirement years if you don’t do something about it sooner than later.

We gotta start somewhere

We got to start somewhere our first project is to go after the champ. Low back pain (LBP). It sends cops to disability retirement all the time so mission one is to start take a crack at it.

Cops have crappy backs so do most modern humans.  Back pain is estimated to effect 80% of the American population at some point in their life and it costs us an estimated 50 billion dollars a year. Cops back problems are only slightly more common (about 6% more than the the rest of the population).  While the injuries are not necessary unique cops deal with a specific set of compromises that send us to pain city so what does the research say?

There a handful of studies that have been done on back pain. If your interested in reading a summary of the studies here ya go. Allow me to summarize the summary.

  1. Sitting in a car with a duty belt on is bad.
  2. Sitting in a car with a duty belt on while over weight is worse.
  3. Sitting in a car with a duty belt on while overweight and not having any physical activity is really really bad.

The studies correlate risk factors but at best we’ve only been theoretical about the actual mechanism of injury. Most theories seem to focus the blame on the weight of the duty belt others focus on uneven weight distribution being contributing factor. But ultimately everyone’s just hypothesizing so I’ll toss in my two cents with the rest of guessers.

It’s all about position. We need to take a look at positions we’re in or more importantly the positions were restricted from getting into as we spend all day sitting in uniform. Long story short were stuck in mid range positions and hanging on the meat. We almost don’t hit full range of motion in our hips so our bodies adjust to the ranges we require of it which on a routine basis is enough to sit in a car and reach the steering wheel. Most of the time just chill with our musculature turned off letting our body create a crappy default position that translates from our sitting to our standing, running, jumping, ect. So that’s where were going to start. The default position.

Before you move well you need to learn to stand well.  I get that it sounds super lame. It’s hard to get stoked about standing but standing is a technical skill. Building a template on how to organize your body in a way that protects your back is key to injury prevention and longevity. Practice it enough to make it your default position and will unlock performance even when your tired. This is truly the first steps on the path to being pain free.

Yo mama’s coaching cues are so bad…

Like I said standing is a skill and it’s not as simple as you probably think. When you young your parents probably told you to stand up straight. It’s the right idea but a little more coaching needs to happen here. Go a head give it a shot real quick stand up straight. Chances are that you just extended across the length of your spine. Which does counter the kyphotic curve of the thoracic spine making it a little flatter and makes you “puff” your chest out  so you look confident. This also exaggerates the lordotic curve of the lumbar spine. This is not a straight back. Yo mamas coaching cue is so bad it just gave you stripper back.  Trying to stand up straight without making your hips neutral is like trying to build a tower of playing cards on a slanted table. It’s not gonna work right.

Standing up “straight” with a huge extension load in the lumbar spine. That big sweeping curve in my low back that’s “stripper back”

To stand well means you have a neutral pelvis with a supported flattish spine.  It’s more than just standing upright and not slouching. It’s active standing. The yogies call it Tadasana (tah-DAHS-uh-nuh) or mountain pose. The quick and dirty on it is this. Working from this position protects your back. When you work from a protected position your body knows it and opens up the flood gates of power with more range of motion. If you really want to dig into the reasons why check out Kelly Starretts’s book Becoming a Supple Leopard.

Follow this quick sequence and see how you feel.

  • Start by standing with your feet under your hips and pointed straight. (for the yoga purists out there true tadasana starts with feet together)
  • Squeeze your but to bring your hips to neutral and externally rotate your your legs. Think of screwing your feet into the ground. Left foot counterclockwise and right foot clockwise. if you are doing it right you will see the arch in your foot rise.

    K eep your feet stay straight and your toes on the ground. just add tension to the system with external rotation generated at the hips to screw your feet in the ground.

If you think your flat footed chances are you stand like a fool. Top: Collapsed flat foot with navicular drop which is a mechanism for injury. Bottom: foot with arch created with a little butt squeeze and some external rotation.

  • Keep your ribs down. If you find yourself getting puffy chesty you’re  overextended at the thoracic thoracic spine then you need flatten it out.
  • Support the flat thoracic spine and keep your shoulders back with active, externally rotated shoulders. With your arms at your side turn your thumbs away from your body by rotating your shoulder. Keep your elbows close to your sides and move your hands away from your body. Think reverse seal clap.

    Fist try to just pull your shoulders back. It probably feels more stable than letting them hang out in the front of your shoulder capsule. Now try the external rotation model shown here. Did you feel that the contraction across your back? That’s what were looking for to support your back. You don’t have to walk around with your arms out just hang on to the tension back there to keep your shoulders back and the spine supported.

  • Get tall. If your head is ahead of your shoulders thing about makeing your neck as tall as possible. This cue seem to work better than bring the head back

The difference is suttle but the ramifications over thousands of hours is not. Top : Overextended back with anterior pelvic tilt is a recipie for disaster. Bottom: Neutral pelvis generated with a squeez of the butt and a little external rotation.

If you have back pain you might find going through this sequence alleviates the pain. Detectives might call a clue. This neutral position or some variation of it is what you should strive to be in at any given time. When you stand, walk, run, deadlift or squat. Any time you move you challenge your ability to maintain this position. The goal now becomes to test how much load you can handle with a braced flat back. The more  demand (weight, cardiovascular, any kind of fatigue ) you can handle without breaking your neutral position is the new metric by which we need to start judging our movement.

Knowing how to learning to organize yourself to stand is only the beginning. Once you learn the model you have the opportunity to make a better decision. Now go make a better decision.