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Lifting for Women

Law enforcement officers are much more likely to be involved in some kind of physical altercation than a gunfight. Ironically, preparing for the gunfight seems get the most training attention. Firearms’ training is undoubtedly vital. Just as crucial is building and maintaining physical strength.

Every day, officers are handcuffing prisoners, breaking up fights, and climbing flights of stairs, all of which require physical strength.

According to the FBI Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted study, 82 percent of officers who were assaulted in the line of duty were attacked with personal weapons, i.e., hands, fists, feet; 3 percent were assaulted with firearms; 2 percent of the officers were assaulted with knives or other cutting instruments. (The remaining 13 percent of the officers were assaulted with other dangerous weapons.)
These numbers speak volumes: a physical assault against us is much more likely than an armed confrontation. And the attacker is not going to care if you are male or female. In fact, females may be perceived as an easier target. Weight training, i.e., lifting, is particularly important for women.

Upper body strength is one of the biggest differences between men and women, so that is where we are going to start. With some attention, this area largely dismissed by women, can lead to significant upper body gains. This series of articles will have specific techniques for each body part: chest, back, arms (biceps and triceps), shoulders and legs.


Women have some common misconceptions about fitness. First, “I will get too big and muscular.” In reality, unless you are on the extraordinary end of the spectrum, and can gain muscle quickly and have a super clean diet you absolutely will not make unflattering gains in muscle mass. In fact, you will see more a more defined and toned figure instead.

Second, “I need to lose weight, so I am going to do cardio instead of lifting weights.” Cardio is good but it is even better when combined with some sort of strength training routine. Cardio will help you lose pounds but lifting weights will help what is underneath the extra pounds look better! The best part of building muscle is that even while you are at rest you will be burning more calories than before.

Third, “I want to lose weight so I am going to skip meals.” This is common – and one of the worst things to do! When you skip a meal your metabolism actually slows down, which means you are burning calories at a much slower rate. It is important to feed your muscles properly especially when dedicated to a serious weightlifting routine.

The bottom line is that once you start lifting weights you will see marked improvements in your overall fitness. Don’t let your biggest roadblock be a mental one. Tell yourself you can do anything – do it and then do more the next time.

Strength Training Routine

A good strength training routine will incorporate exercises for each body part (or muscle group) and even separate those into a body part “split.” The body part split is important to ensure a complete workout for each muscle group. It also allows for ample recovery time in between body parts.

There are many reasons for women to focus on chest. Working the upper body will help to balance out the top half of the body with the lower body. More importantly, firearms and hand-to-hand combatives involve use of the pectoral muscles. Additionally, most fitness tests push-ups. This is an exercise that can be challenging for women who typically have less upper body strength than men. Push-ups are not impossible. They just require consistent effort – all the more reason to begin this series with chest.

Pectoralis – Major, Minor

The chest is broken down into two major muscles: pectoralis major and pectoralis minor. The pectoralis minor lays underneath the pectoralis major, which extends from the clavicle to the shoulder and covers most of the sternum. In order to achieve the coveted “line” down the center of one’s chest, you must work the entire chest group. As with all weightlifting, proper form is critical to making gains and avoiding injury.

Bench Press:

This is one of the fundamental exercises for building your chest muscles. Bench presses should be performed on a flat bench as well as an incline and decline bench to really work all areas of the pectoralis muscles and hit the top (incline), bottom (decline) and center (flat) of the “line.”

The weight bar weighs 45 pounds by itself – if you have never lifted it before, you must have a spotter. Lay back comfortably on the bench with your feet planted firmly on the ground for flat bench, firmly on the pegs for incline, and under the pegs for decline. Next, grip the bar with a wider grip and lift off, do not lock out your elbows, and bring the bar down slowly to about 2 inches off your chest and repeat.

Do not lift your head off the bench at any time during the exercise. As with all exercises, you should exhale on exertion, so for bench press, exhale when pressing the bar upward and inhale as you bring the bar back down.

Be patient. If you consistently work this muscle group you will be able to gradually increase the amount of weight and repetition. If your goal is to simply tone, then go lighter on the weight and increase the number of repetitions, i.e., aim for 15 reps. Alternatively, if your goal is to increase strength, increase the weight and perform fewer reps, i.e., aim for 10 reps.

Dumbbell Flys:

In addition to working the chest line with presses, using dumbbells for flys will work the outer pec muscles. Like bench press, dumbbell flys should be done on flat, incline and decline benches. If you are new to weightlifting, start with lighter weight dumbbells, i.e., between five and 10 pounds each.

Start with the weights extended in front of you (palms facing in) being careful not to lock your elbows. (Imagine you are hugging an invisible bag of groceries.) Next, begin to lower the weights in slow, controlled movement. Finally, end with the weights lowered as far as you can comfortably but do not lower your elbows below the plane of your body.

Dumbbell Presses:

These presses are done on flat, incline and decline benches using dumbbells. Start with the dumbbells extended in front of you with your palms facing your feet. Lower the weights in a slow and controlled movement and end with your arms in a 90-degree angle. The decline version of this exercise can also be done.

Cable Flys

: Cable machines come with many different attachments. For cable flys, use the “D” shaped rings. Cable flys should be done at three positions on the cable machine: the top, the midpoint and the bottom. This ensures you are hitting all points on the muscle. Adjust the cable height based on your height and comfort level.

Position yourself in a comfortable athletic stance with one leg forward with most of your weight on your front foot. This will help maintain stability and balance when performing the cable fly. Grip the D rings, do not lock out your elbows, and pull the cables forward.


There is no reason that women cannot perform push-ups just as well as men. Push-ups require consistent effort no matter who is doing them, men or women. Perform them properly and consistently and you will see gains in your appearance and ability. When performing push-ups, you must break the 90-degree plane on your descent. You can also change up how wide your hands are to hit different parts of the chest.

It may seem like a lot to learn, but once you master the fundamentals it will become much easier. The next article in the series will cover the back muscles. A special thanks to Xsport Fitness for allowing the use of their facility for photographs.

Karen Bartuch has been in law enforcement since 2002, working a variety of assignments including patrol, gang team, undercover, narcotics, policy advisor and intelligence. She is the founder and current president of the Women's Tactical Association. She can be reached at

Common Sense Tips

Wear comfortable, form-fitting clothing so you can see your form.

Listen to music that motivates you – tune out any distractions.

Unless you are in pain, don’t quit – push yourself.

Eat a proper meal an hour before you head to the gym to give you the energy.

Don’t skip workouts. Unless you make time for the gym, it won’t be there!

Hydrate – always bring a bottle of water.

Published in Law and Order, May 2012

Rating : 10.0

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