Functional Fitness

This Coaches Corner first appeared in the February 2015 edition of Calibre Press On-Line Magazine.

Functional Fitness

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: 

  1. Cardio-Respiratory-Endurance
  2. Stamina
  3. Strength
  4. Flexibility
  5. Power
  6. Speed
  7. Coordination
  8. Accuracy
  9. Agility
  10. Balance

Greg : Don HPDAs 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.

Greg Amundson is the Fitness Expert for Calibre Press. Read this article on the 2015 February Edition of Calibre Press On-Line Magazine HERE.