Functional Fitness

How strong does a cop need to be?

By Greg Amundson  |   Feb 24, 2015

In 2004, following three years of dedicated training in CrossFit, I decided to put my fitness to the test and compete in the United States Police and Fire Olympics “TCA” event. “TCA” in 2004 stood for “Toughest Cop Alive”—my kind of competition! (Note: The competition today is known as Toughest Competitor Alive and is open to both Police and Fire.)

The TCA was a multi-event competition, of which one event was a one-repetition, maximum effort lift in the bench press. Although I benched on a regular basis in CrossFit, the workouts involving the skill tended be lighter weight, with higher repetitions. I decided to slightly modify my bench press routine to focus on maximum strength.

One morning Coach Glassman, the founder of CrossFit, came into the gym while I was struggling to bench press 315 lbs. He asked what I was doing, and I told him. Then he asked:

“Kid, what’s your heart rate at right now?”

I replied it was pretty low. I was only focusing on my strength and was purposely keeping my heart rate as low as possible. My primary concern was with lifting some big weight and developing serious strength. After all, I explained to Coach, as a cop, I needed to be strong, and I had a competition to win.

“Well kid, in the event you have to use that strength your developing for the bench on the street, where do you think you’re heart rate will be then?”

In that instant, I realized my training philosophy and program might have resulted in a gold medal at the TCA, but a lost fight on the street. As a cop, I needed to be strong. But more importantly, I needed to have strength at a high heart rate.

I decided on a middle ground. I continued to work on my one-repetition, max strength at a low heart rate, while simultaneously developing strength at a high heart rate. For example, I developed a “street bench press” one-repetition maximum effort test. The test was simple, and tested one element of what I coined “street strength.”

The “Street Bench Press” to test “Street Strength”

  • Run 400 meters as fast as possible; then
  • Immediately perform a one-repetition, maximum-effort bench press.

Here is how the test worked: You subtract your maximum weight on the bench press from your 400-meter run (in total seconds). The resulting number is your score, and it’s often a very humbling experience.

Many of the officers I conducted this test with were shocked to discover that after a 400-meter sprint, their maximum strength on the bench press had significantly declined. However, repeated practice and use of the test resulted in several positive factors:

  1. The 400-meter run time got faster, and was accomplished with more efficiency, resulting in more composure on the bench press station;
  2. Strength at high heart rate increased, resulting in an overall better score; and
  3. Here’s the kicker: Strength at a LOW HEART RATE improved significantly.

It was a win-win-win.

I used that training strategy to ultimately win the gold medal in 2004 for the TCA.

Strength Is Only the Beginning
Dr. Jim Crawley and Bruce Evans, the creators of the Dynamax Medicine Ball favored by CrossFit gyms, were the first to identify ten general physical skills necessary for elite levels of fitness. These are:

  • Cardio-Respiratory-Endurance
  • Stamina
  • Strength
  • Flexibility
  • Power
  • Speed
  • Coordination
  • Accuracy
  • Agility
  • Balance

As law enforcement officers, our goal is to develop balance across all ten skills—of which strength is only one. When I teach the CrossFit Law Enforcement Seminar, I ask officers to observe the list of ten skills, and then determine which one or two skills they don’t need as cops.

It gets pretty quiet. Most of the officers shake their heads back and forth.

Without stretching your imagination too much, I’m sure you can create a scenario in which lack of capacity in one of the ten skills could result in loss of mission or life. Do cops need balance? Yes. Do we need speed and power? You bet. Do we need stamina and endurance? Absolutely. We need all ten, and many times we need two or more skills simultaneously!

The question, then, is how much of each skill do we need? In our training programs, the goal is to develop balance across all ten skills. We want to be as good as possible in each domain, without allowing one domain to become strong at the expense of another.

If your goal is to win the fight for your life on the street, be sure your fitness program is well rounded and prepares you for the unknown and unknowable demands of the job. Bottom line: Train to develop capacity in all ten physical skills.

Until next time, be safe and train like your life depends on it.

The Tests
Following are two great tests of functional upper-body work capacity.


  • Run one mile; then
  • Bench press bodyweight: 30 repetitions.

Note: The goal on this workout is to finish the run, and the 30 bench press repetitions, all within ten minutes. Use a spotter! This test was created by CrossFit founder Greg Glassman.

(The current record at my gym in Santa Cruz is held by a California Highway Patrol officer with a bodyweight of 175 lbs. and a total time of 7:45. Now that’s fast and strong!)


  • Sprint 400 meters; then
  • Immediately perform a one-repetition, maximum-effort bench press.

Note: “Immediately” means within 10 seconds of completing the run or the lift will not count. Do not factor the 10 seconds into the equation below. Note the score might be very low, or even “negative.” With time, your score will improve, along with your strength. Use a spotter!

Subtract your one repetition maximum effort bench press from your run time (in total seconds). For example:

  • Bench press = 275 lbs.
  • 400-meter time = 1:30 (90 seconds)Score = 185 (275 bench press – 90 second 400-meter run / 275 – 90 = 185)

Ideally, Officers reach a level of fitness where the 400-meter run is performed within 1:30, and the bench press is 1 ½ bodyweight or more. Scores over 150 are good and show adequate strength at high heart rate. Once the score approaches 200, your nearing truly elite levels of conditioning. Needless to say, scores can be improved by running faster, bench-pressing more weight, or doing both at the same time! My best and most recent score is 215 (1:20 400 meter followed by a 295lb. bench: 295 – 80 = 215).

Can you beat this score? Submit a YouTube video link of your best score to [email protected]. The top three scores receive a complimentary passes to attend the Street Survival Seminar!

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Greg Amundson is the owner of CrossFit Amundson and Krav Maga Santa Cruz, and the Law Enforcement Liaison for CrossFit Inc. A graduate of UC Santa Cruz, the U.S. Army Officer Candidate School, South Bay Regional Public Safety Academy and the U.S.DEA Federal Academy, Amundson started his CrossFit training in Dec. 2001 at the original CrossFit Headquarters gym in Santa Cruz, Calif., where he was coached and mentored by CrossFit founders Greg and Lauren Glassman. A former U.S. Army Captain, SWAT operator with the Santa Cruz County Sheriff's Office and Special Agent with the DEA, Amundson continues to serve as a Reserve Peace Officer in Santa Cruz, Calif.

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