Anything but Routine

RED OAK, TX — Few police officers throw themselves more fully into their job than does Red Oak’s Nando Pedrero. He finds that police work perfectly suits his intense, restless temperament. A US Navy veteran, he found himself dreading the idea of an office routine as his military service was drawing to a close in the 1990s. “I didn’t want to spend my days sitting in a chair between four walls,” he said, “so I immediately pursued a career as a peace officer.” Nando’s pursuit continues to this day. In fact, you would have a hard time catching him doing anything other than either working or preparing for work.

The most obvious example is his commitment to physical fitness. While most officers recognize the importance of staying fit, Nando has done extensive research and created workout strategies specially geared toward his job. “There’s more to being a cop than just learning how to do police work—it’s also being prepared physically,” he said. He cited strength and endurance as the most important goals of working out. While almost any kind of exercise is healthy, Nando sticks with those that support specific tasks.

Take running, for instance. He does not worry about his pace over a several-mile course. “You’re not going to jog behind a suspect,” he pointed out. “If you’re chasing a suspect for miles on foot, you started in the wrong place. What you need is explosive acceleration – so how about working on sprints?” He finds that 50- to 100-yard sprints give him the acceleration and endurance he needs on the job.

Besides, suspects almost never simply run down a road. To train for the inevitable chase over fences and other obstacles, Nando practices “box jumps.” For these, he starts in a squatting position, then springs straight up to land on top of an 18- to 24-inch-high box.

Weight training is another area in which Nando takes his own unique approach. “Maybe you can lie on a bench and press 500 pounds, but how does that 500 pounds translate to this job? When I catch a suspect, am I gonna bench-press him?” he demanded. He would hate to lose a fight, or even end up winded. “I’d rather last in a fight and be able to handcuff someone than be huffing and puffing, barely able to do anything after.” Here Nando’s 15 years of boxing experience come into play, as he uses training techniques of that sport both to gain strength and to keep his reflexes and agility sharp.

“Being a cop is a mindset. So is being physically fit as a cop,” Nando said. He warned against lapsing into the attitude that riding around in a car all day means an officer does not need to be in shape. Police work is notoriously unpredictable. “You have to live by the ‘what-ifs.’ People depend on us to be their first line of defense,’’ he said. He feels he must stay in tip-top shape because he never knows when he will have to fight or chase someone.

Nando has learned through his studies that the human body adapts to a new activity or exercise within six weeks. In other words, a single often-repeated exercise will stop challenging the body and will lose its effectiveness after that time. To counter this, Nando said, “Why not change your routine every day, and keep your body guessing?” That is exactly what he does. He may go to his gym for strength training three days a week. On other days he works on cardiovascular training at home, hammering out sets of jump rope, pushups and box jumps in rapid succession.

Fitness depends on more than just exercise, and Nando’s eating habits are as focused as his workout regimen. His diet begins with protein, and he seemingly buys enough eggs and chicken breasts each week to feed an army. He pays special attention to timing his meals and exercise. For example, he does cardiovascular training in the morning, when his stomach is empty, and eats carbohydrates to replenish his energy stores after a workout. Between his lean diet and near-constant strength training, Nando finds that his metabolism is unusually high. He compared himself to a furnace, saying, “I have a hard time gaining weight.”

Nando’s pursuit of strength is nothing new, as he has been a fitness buff since age 13. “My dad was into martial arts and physical fitness, and I picked it up from him,” he said. But even before that, “I was never a couch potato.”

Surely he does something besides work and exercise. Yes, but his “hobby” is still centered on police work: he is currently in graduate school and expects to earn a master’s degree in criminal justice by the end of the year. He takes his courses online to accommodate his work schedule.

Even on vacation, Nando stays physically active. “Colorado is my number one vacation spot because of the level of adventure and activities outdoors. You can stop along the road anywhere and find trails to hike,” he marveled. He did learn that exercise is much different in thin mountain air compared to Red Oak’s 600-foot elevation. Once he hiked down a mountainside to a lake at around 14,000 feet, and was surprised when he could not easily run back uphill to the trailhead.

Whether it is fine-tuning a workout or weighing out a day’s supply of meat, everything Nando does is tailored toward his personal goals. He has researched many different nutrition and fitness programs, and simply ignores those that do not apply. “I needed to find what works for a person like me,” he said. The bulky muscles that bodybuilders strive to attain, for instance, would actually hamper him in his police work.

Of course, the best plan is useless unless carried out, which Nando does with characteristic determination. “Sometimes my workouts leave me gasping for air, but I’m willing to push myself. When I’m working days and need to be in at 6:00 a.m., I go to the gym at 3:00 a.m.” But that extreme is not really necessary. “When my son was young and we’d be watching television, I would jump up during commercial breaks and pump out 150 pushups,” he said. “It just depends on what you’re looking for.” Now his son, in turn, comes to him for fitness advice.

Nando is quick to point out that there is no one ideal fitness program for everyone. He is always glad to encourage and share knowledge with anyone who asks. But what if he were in charge of fitness for the police department? He laughed. “People here would hate me.”

Written by Janice C. Johnson