Cops who CrossFit: Anaheim officers prep for first-ever ‘Guns ’n Hoses’ competition
The cop is sweating bullets.
He darts at dusk out the door of the warehouse.
Another cop is inside on the ground, straining to get to his feet.
A third police officer mightily heaves as she slowly ascends a rope.
Anaheim Police Det. Johnathan Bailey, Lt. Brian McElhaney and Officer Leslie Vargas aren’t involved in some life-and-death incident with bad guys.
They’re in a CrossFit class — among the growing number of cops, firefighters and other public safety workers who have turned to the high-intensity strength and conditioning program to be more fit on the job.
Bailey, 38, is on the second of three half-mile runs during a recent hour-long workout at CrossFit Ethos in Laguna Hills.
McElhaney, 46, is right behind Bailey, pounding out the first of three rounds of 25 plyometric push-ups — speedy, explosive and muscle-shredding “jumping” pushups during which hands leave the ground.
And right behind McElhaney is Vargas, 33, climbing up a 15-foot rope — the second of three exercises in today’s “WOD,” for workout of the day.
When the workout is over, McElhaney is asked how he feels.
“Gassed,” he says with the stupid-happy-exhausted look of someone who has just put his body through the shredder. He glances at one of the women in mid push-up.
“There are no Barbies here,” McElhaney says.
CrossFit has become popular in law enforcement, trainers and officers say.
Long gone, cops say, are the days when just pumping iron qualified as staying in shape – the so-called “beach muscles” approach to fitness.
Consisting mainly of a mix of aerobic exercises, body-weight exercises and weight-lifting, CrossFit, officers say, is a functional form of fitness that translates well to some of the real-life things they may have to do on the job — say, lifting a person off the ground or hopping a fence during a foot pursuit.
Barbells, dumbbells, gymnastics rings, pull-up bars, climbing ropes, jump ropes, kettle bells, resistance bands, rowers, massive tires — this and other equipment is all at CrossFit Ethos, which like other CrossFit establishments doesn’t call its main workout space a gym but rather a “box.”
And despite its image among many members of the sedentary class, you don’t have to be Superman or Superwoman to do CrossFit. People of all levels of fitness are welcome, CrossFit Ethos trainer Emily Nelson says, with workouts “scaled” to accommodate those who can’t perform the prescribed WODs.
“I’m stronger now than when I was in high school,” says Bailey, a detective on the Anaheim PD’s Family Protection Unit who began CrossFit about four years ago after mostly just doing weights.
Vargas has been doing CrossFit for about a year. She said it has helped her with some back issues caused by years of patrol. She loves the group-oriented, encouraging atmosphere of CrossFit classes. The last person to finish a WOD typically gets the loudest cheers.
“This is one of the few places where everyone will cheer for you, regardless of your level of fitness,” Vargas says.
McElhaney has been a CrossFit junkie for 2 ½ years. He loves the structured nature of the WODs.
“I have to make decisions all day,” says McElhaney, the Crimes Property Bureau Commander in the APD’s Investigations Division. “It’s nice to come in here and follow a program.”
McElhaney, like Bailey and Vargas, typically does CrossFit four times a week.
Although CrossFit has become a lifestyle for McElhaney, he, Bailey and Vargas have added incentive to hit the “box” often these days.
On Saturday, April 18, the Anaheim Police Association will hold the first-annual Guns ’N Hoses “Battle of the Badges,” which will feature 50 two-person teams competing in a series of CrossFit-style workouts at the Anaheim Packing District’s Farmers’ Park.
Bailey and Vargas will be competing; McElhaney will be volunteering.
The competition, which has fire, police and civilian divisions, will benefit the Anaheim Police Survivors and Scholarship Fund (click here for more information).
Until then, for these Anaheim cops, it’s back to the WOD.
“Stay tight, Bailey!” Nelson shouts over rap/hip-hop music as the detective performs the last of his plyo push-ups.
Vargas is almost done with her last set.
“One more! One more!” Bailey cheers her on.
“I can’t feel my shoulders,” Vargas says after finishing.
“That’s because they’re numb,” Bailey tells her.
Bailey is working a child-abuse case this day.
After a day at the office and the 5 p.m. CrossFit workout, he takes a sponge bath in the bathroom and emerges in dress slacks, a pressed shirt and a necktie to return to APD headquarters.
He has interviews to do. He has a bad guy to catch.
Fifteen minutes or so after the workout, McElhaney no longer is sweating.
“This is not like a gym,” he says, his body and mind awash in endorphins. “It’s a community.”