As we reach the end of Men’s Health Awareness Month, known as Movember, Ian, Dan, Russ, and Steve, from the MDP Firearms Training Unit, share their fitness journeys.
The officers each reflect on their fitness history and individual experiences of working to be “MDP fit”, to be able to achieve 7.6 on the bleep test (or equivalent), as the required national fitness standard for an Authorised Firearms Officer. They share their top tips and advice, and pay tribute to the fantastic Defence Occupational Fitness — DOfit — course.
In 1988, at the tender age of 26, after playing some rugby for a few years, I
did a small triathlon in Wiltshire to raise money for a charity. I enjoyed it, but I wasn’t about to start a professional sporting career with my results! I enjoyed another race, in Swindon, in 1989, and during the October that year a friend gave me a recording of the Ironman World Championships in Hawaii. I was most inspired, not by the professional triathletes but, by watching Dick Hoyt race with his quadriplegic son Rick (who was born in the same year as myself), completing an incredible feat of endurance.
In 1990, I joined the Ministry of Defence Police, and at that time meeting the fitness standard was very different to that required of recruits today. It consisted of a “simple” 1.5 mile run and sit ups and press ups. The required completion times were ranked against age and gender, with a wide parameter if you were under 40 years old. After my recruit training in 1990, I started doing more regular fitness training to balance the effects of shift work: this led me to competing in events again.
I believe it’s very easy to become obsessive about a particular sport and I have learnt over time to balance my training and competing, to enable the other parts of my life to have the same or greater importance. I have managed to keep to a path that keeps me fit and healthy, as I approach my sixth decade of completing between five to ten hours of training a week.
I have raced all distances up to Ironman (3.8km swim, 180km bike, 42.2km run). In 2015, I took up the challenge of racing off-road in a Cross Triathlon, which required learning and developing a whole new set of physical skills, creating a new pathway of more functional fitness for me. I have qualified and competed as part of the Great Britain Age Group team at the World Long Distance Championships in 2007 and in the Cross Triathlon, at both European and World Championships, on a number of occasions. This year I returned to racing at shorter distance events (Sprint and Standard — Olympic — distance), achieving two firsts in age group finishes and experiencing new physical and mental challenges; racing short is always hard and strategic.
I’ve now trained and raced for over 33 years, and I always try to keep my
focus on this as primarily being a way to look after myself, keep fit and maintain a healthy lifestyle. I think that becomes even more important as you get older. Staying physically fit and eating a healthy diet helps us to function as we are intended to, and it also improves our mental health and the ability to cope with stress.
In the technological age that we now live, which can reduce our need for functional movement, I encourage everyone to develop a healthy and active lifestyle. Reflecting on the decades of life changes that I’ve experienced, I truly think that the phrase ‘if you don’t use it, you start to lose it’ stands true.
I’ve just entered my seventh competitive age group (five-year banding) in triathlon and, far from becoming less competitive as we age, there are impressive results being recorded by many of my peers. Time to up my game…but this time as a 60–64 age group athlete. I have a new challenge…
The requirement for MDP firearms officers to meet the 7.6 national fitness standard on the bleep test, is understandably viewed as a real challenge for some and officers may feel anxious and concerned about it. It has been proven though that anybody can improve their fitness, at any age. The work involved to improve your fitness may feel difficult at first, but with a regular approach and perseverance it can be achieved. As with all things in life the longer you put it off, the bigger the challenge becomes. If you get fit, stay fit and are then consistent in maintaining that fitness, it will feel easier and less daunting as you move forward. The main thing to remember too is that the benefits of fitness play out in other aspects of your life, far beyond the limits of your job.
From an early age I have been on the larger size. That’s not because I don’t love exercise. I could play football all day as a child, and as a teenager it was rugby. As I got older, I enjoyed long walks on golf courses, it was then tennis and now I’m in to cycling! The reason I’m on the larger size, is because I like food… My nickname is ‘Pear-Shaped Dan’!
Now, if I was writing about food, this would be the easiest thing to write, and my brain would probably tell me I needed to do some research by sampling various delicacies! However, I’m writing about being fit not fat, and I am currently on a journey to a healthier new me.
Over the years, I have tried so many diets. Some worked for a short time, some didn’t work at all. Colleagues would say things like ‘eat less, move more’ and would make it sound like it’s the simplest thing in the world. It’s not!
I had two amazing periods of time when I was able to wear clothes I liked, and I thought I looked quite good. The first, when I went on an exercise frenzy in my mid-twenties — morning run, gym in the afternoon, and dancing in the evening. I shed about six stone in less than a year and was the fittest I have ever been. The second was only about four years ago. I dropped four stone in a matter of months on a Keto diet, and having slimmed right down, I had lots of energy again.
Tennis was then the new activity that I liked to do to use that newfound
energy. That is until 8th October 2019… I have a great picture on my phone from that day. I had got up before work and gone for a 5K run around the village where I live. A fitness app told me it was my fastest run to date, and I felt amazing. 24 hours later I was in a hospital bed awaiting an operation, because that evening whilst playing the last few points in a gruelling three set tennis match, I had slipped and broken my leg in eight places! During the next six months of recovery, I had little or no exercise, and I recall eating lots of fatty foods and watching lots of TV box sets.
So, where to now… I’m improving my fitness to meet the required 7.6
standard, and thanks to two amazing colleagues and friends, I have all the
knowledge and support to achieve this. One encouraged me to do the Do-Fit course and pushes me every day to do some form of exercise. The other just comes up with random challenges that motivate and inspire me, like “hey Dan let’s do a London to Brighton cycle ride” or “let’s cycle 350km cross country around King Alfred’s kingdom!”
The DOfit course has helped me immeasurably, breaking down some of the barriers of the bleep test. It’s introduced me to some very good fitness apps and reminded me that there are healthier food choices and alternatives for the things I like. I’m on a new fitness journey. I have been educated and I know how to reach my goal — pedalling, running, squatting and slam balling my way there!
I’m a 54-year-old Sergeant, Firearms Instructor. My role is both interesting
and varied. It can consist of a reasonable amount of physical activity when I’m involved in police training or operations, but it mostly revolves around sitting at my desk in front of a computer, driving around the countryside visiting training teams, or watching training. This does not, unfortunately, build core strength or burn many calories.
Prior to joining the MDP in 1994, I served in the Royal Navy where physical training was provided if you had the inclination to take part. On joining the MDP, I passed the entrance fitness requirements with no problem, I had youth and a standard of fitness on my side. As I progressed through my career the annual fitness test came in at 5.7 on the bleep test. I trained and achieved that standard. The ‘Best Effort’ approach was then introduced where we were encouraged to get to 7.6. I did some more training and achieved that — this was a few years ago now — and I then continued to maintain 5.7, as the standard that was required.
In my role now I’m very aware of the firearms licensing procedure and the fact that we need to achieve 7.6 (or equivalent) to maintain AFO status.
When I saw the DOfit course advertised I jumped at the chance to learn how to be healthier and fitter during work time. This was being provided free of charge…what a result!
I completed the course in June this year and it was one of the best things I’ve done in the MDP for a long time. I have never been into going to the gym or taking part in planned exercise regimes, and I can easily put on a stone by looking at the biscuit tin or walking past a cake shop! In this respect, the course did me the world of good.
Friendly, professional, and helpful instructors explained how to eat healthily. They structured training sessions to meet the needs of the individuals on the course, with tips and advice on how to improve our fitness and lead a healthier lifestyle, even when on shift with limited facilities. The odd glance at the biscuit tin or stroll past the cake shop wasn’t completely ruled out either…everything in moderation.
On the course my best effort on the bleep test was 6.3 at first. During the weeks after the course finished, I applied what I had learned, trained regularly, and steadily improved. My personal best is now 8.3 and I continue to train as regularly as I can.
I know that I won’t be worrying any Olympians as this standard is not that
impressive to most, but I’m pleased with my progress. My resting heart rate is down, my clothes fit better, I have more energy, and I am happier: this can only be a good thing.
I put the main reasons for my improvement on the bleep test down to regular circuit training, a better diet and regularly completing the test itself. I still have to work at maintaining my fitness, and I still have to be careful around biscuit tins and cake shops, but I hope that my story helps to motivate people that are in a similar position to where I was. With a bit of effort, you can do this! Give it a go, what have you got to lose?
I am now 55. When I say that out loud, I check myself because I don’t know how that happened! I only realise I am 55 when I look in the mirror and wonder who that old bloke is, or when I do any kind of physical activity — from a day’s DIY to fitness training, the focus of my write-up here.
I have always been someone who keeps fit. That’s not to say I am someone who enjoys fitness, but over the years I have found sports and activities that I do enjoy and have concentrated on those to keep fit. Regardless of whether I’m enjoying it or not, I do now and have always considered physical fitness to be very important, not just for the role I may be doing, but for my health and wellbeing, and as I get older and closer to retirement that aspect is becoming more important to me.
I have had friends over the years who have not looked after themselves, have served for many years in the forces or the police, retired and then sadly died a few short years later. So, I have always been determined to enjoy a long and happy retirement and one way to give yourself the best chance of that is to maintain a healthy weight and a good level of fitness.
I am by no means an expert in this area, but I think there are a few top tips and anecdotes that have personally helped me over the years. These are:
- Find a sport or activity you like and use it to keep fit
- Invest in a decent pair of running shoes, then putting them on and
going for a 20-minute run or a brisk walk is always worth doing
- Find a time of day that suits you to train
- Understand that the hardest part of any training is putting your kit on
- And finally, except that as you get older, your knees, back and pretty
much everything else will ache after you train, it’s just how it is
My final thoughts are that the Force offers a lot of help to support officers in achieving the required fitness standard for their roles. I would encourage anyone to take all the help on offer and think about not only the benefit to the Force, but the benefit to you as you work towards a long and happy retirement.
Find out more about Movember.
Fitness is an operational requirement for our Authorised Firearms Officers, and the MDP provides access to gym facilities, fitness instructors and a Force dietitian to support officers to meet the required standard for their roles.
Operational staff can also access the Defence Occupational Fitness (DOfit) programme, a best practice health behaviour change support initiative, developed in partnership with Public Health England and designed to support MOD and Service personnel. More information is available on the DOfit intranet page.
If you’re interested in a future career with the MDP, visit www.mod.police.uk to find out more about the fitness test and the sports, fitness and wellbeing support available to officers in the Force.
Follow #MDPfit and #DOfit