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Step 7: Get Ready for the Academy

Step 7: Get Ready for the Academy


Congratulations! You got hired and you’re off to the academy. There is a lot to do before you start. Here we’ll tell you about:

Police academy basics

How to get in shape

What to bring

Schedules and timelines

Police academy basics

The police academy is an environment of high discipline intended to get you into shape as a law enforcement officer, both mentally and physically. The basic academy has four primary missions:

1. Build your character

2. Build your problem solving skills

3. Teach you officer safety tactics

4. Teach you the laws you will enforce

The curriculum will be taught in a combination of classroom lectures, practical exercises, and physical training. Most academies these days are “commuter” academies that you report to each day, and then go home each night.

Because of the nature of the academy’s mission, there will be very strict rules and regulations that you can expect. There will be strict attendance policies (don’t be late, don’t miss class, don’t make up excuses). There will likely be a uniform or strict dress code. If a uniform is required, it will probably be supplied by the academy or your employing agency.

Depending on the requirements of your state or agency, the overall length of the academy session will differ. Most academies will be roughly 4 – 6 months long with no breaks except for state or national holidays. Don’t plan any vacations or time off during the academy session and plan on spending nights and weekends studying.

During your time at the academy build friendships with as many of your fellow classmates as possible. It is always good to have contacts within your own department or within other departments.

How to get in shape

When you arrive at your law enforcement training, you will be placed in a stressful environment and expected to excel in law enforcement education, close quarter living, team work, and pass physical fitness tests (PFT). Most new law enforcement personnel labor over the physical events for several weeks prior. But for those who properly prepare themselves, the PFT can be just another workout.

10 Steps to Joining the Force

Why show up at training unprepared for the physical fitness test? You would be surprised but many people are physically unprepared for life in the police force when they arrive, even though they are former varsity athletes in high school and college. The simple answer to this question is to practice running 4-5 times a week, do pushups, sit-ups, and other calisthenics and light weight, high repetition weights 3-4 times a week for at least three to four months prior to attending ANY law enforcement training. Why make life any more stressful than it already is? If you show up fit and able to pass your PFT easily, the fitness part of military training will be a STRESS releaser – not a STRESS INCREASER

Too many recruits receive injuries within the first two weeks of training, which can either cause delay or expulsion from the training you are attempting. Most are overuse injuries due to running while overweight, lack of flexibility or lack of previous fitness training. Needless to say, when you fail or get injured, life is stressful in the law enforcement training programs. And showing up in shape to your training program enables you to be less stressed and more focused on learning your job – protecting Americans, your partner and yourself on potentially dangerous streets.

• Free Download: Stew Smith’s Lean Meal Options Food

You can bet ALL law enforcement academies will have a physical fitness test that you need to prepare for. However, there is no ONE standard across the country and many states , counties, cities, as well as federal law enforcement agencies all have their own tests. Many PFTs are the same, in fact more than 50% of the test will share similarities to the Navy, Air Force, and Coast Guard test – pushups, sit-ups, 1.5 mile run, a sit and reach, and a body composition test (height / weight – body fat). To prepare properly for your “entrance exam” – find out what you will be tested in and strive way above the minimum standards to ensure your chances of not getting injured at training. It is important to find out what the standards and testing exercises are for the academy you are seeking employment through and get on a plan.

To find out what your state law enforcement agency uses as its PFT, take a look at a near complete list of state law enforcement agencies PFT testing exercises and see for yourself how different each state is with its fitness measuring / testing

• Resource: State by State PFT Requirements

Here are the majority of hurdles you will face at any law enforcement academy:

CORE STRENGTH: To start, you are only as strong as your core, or torso. Ever see a tree whose limbs were bigger than its trunk? So, you need a program that will focus on lower back and abdominal strengthening. This will make sit-ups easier than and not as painful as to those who do not practice sit-ups. Usually pain is experienced if a candidate takes the PFT for the first time and the lower back or hips are weak. For starters, there is a downloadable to build core strength that many use as a warm-up for prior to workouts.

• Free download: Stew Smith’s Lower Back Plan

UPPER BODY STRENGTH: All tests have some form of test for upper body strength – the most common is the pushup. But pull-ups, rope climbs, wall climbs are also common exercises for testing prior to the Academy. Practice climbing fences, getting over walls, and climbing ropes as you may see them at the Academy again. Do not assume you will make it over a wall. It is tough and requires technique, especially if you cannot do any pull-ups or have the strength to lift you over these obstacles.

RUNNING: There will always be running. Usually 1-2 miles is tested, but often an obstacle course, agility course and speed will be tested in shorter 300-400m runs. The only way to get better at running is to practice running using proper mechanics, breathing pattern, and it also helps not to be overweight. The running routine will focus on the above and the food plan and maybe some non-impact cardio activity like biking, swimming, elliptical gliding will be required IF you are 20-30 lbs over weight.

More Fitness Resources

MORE TIPS: In regards to the physical fitness test, the ways to combat anxiety are similar to those of academic testing taking anxiety. The PFT anxiety removing techniques are:

1. Be well prepared for the test – Do not start “studying” (exercising) for the PFT a week or two before the test. Fitness is a daily habit that needs to be developed 4-6 times a week. (See articles at for ideas)

2. Test yourself – Take the PFT once a week. It is the stopwatch that causes most of your anxiety, so train with the stopwatch when doing pushups, sit-ups, running etc…

3. Maintain healthy lifestyle – Eat more fruits and vegetables than fast foods, sleep regular hours, drink more water, and exercise 4-6 times per week. You do not want to be overweight when attending any academy. Pain will only follow.

4. PFT taking meals – On the evening prior to the PFT, drink water, eat more fruits and vegetables as in salad, and lean forms of protein like fish and chicken. Pasta is a pre-race favorite among runners and swimmers also. On the morning of the test, eat fruits like apples, bananas, or baby carrots – all high on the glycemic index and provide blood sugar for immediate energy.

5. Test the way you train – Do not do something for the first time on test taking day like eat a protein bar or energy drink. Find out what works for you during your practice tests.

6. Relax – Take deep breaths before the stop watch starts and think positively.

7. Treat yourself to a reward IF you reach your training goals.

Once you arrive to your test well prepared, the PFT becomes “just another workout” and the only anxiety you will get is a healthy dose of adrenalin that enables you to compete with your counterparts. So, test and time yourself often. The anxiety felt by most LE personnel is largely due to performing within a time limit. The more your workouts are timed the better you are at “pacing” yourself, thus eliminating most anxiety.

Check out the PoliceLink fitness article archive for more information on nutrition, physical training, running, and other tips to make you a healthier person. Articles and eBooks available at are written by former Navy SEAL and law enforcement fitness author Stew Smith, CSCS. You can email him personally for answers to your fitness questions at

What to bring

Most academies will tell you ahead of time what to bring, if anything. Many academies require that you only bring yourself, well groomed, and in conformance to the academy’s dress code. If there are any supplies you should bring to the academy you will have been told ahead of time. If you are still unsure contact your academy session’s administrator and ask nicely.

It is a universal rule that students are not permitted to bring firearms into academy classrooms. If you have a personal firearm, leave it at home. Check with the academy before showing up with a service weapon to ensure they have a place for you to store it while attending the training.

Schedules and timelines

Most states have an oversight agency that set the minimum standards required to be certified as a police officer, deputy sheriff, jailer, corrections officer, etc. The specific standards differ from state to state and also differ for each job role. The basic academy session, however, is generally anywhere from 4 to 6 months and is held weekdays during normal business hours. Depending on special classes or training programs, there may be some classes that are held on off hours, such as nights or weekends.

The only breaks you will have during the academy are state and national holidays. Don’t plan to go on vacation during your academy session and be sure to be on time every day. Being late is not acceptable under any circumstances.

An academy session’s full schedule, down to the hour, is planned out long before the academy session even starts. The schedule may be available on the academy’s website or by asking for a copy from the instructors. But remember, the schedule is subject to change, so don’t plan anything in your personal life that can’t be canceled at a moment’s notice to accommodate any unforeseen changes to the academy schedule.

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