Security protection 24 hours a day at Idaho National Laboratory requires elite security systems and a well-trained, physically fit guard force. Being an INL Protective Force (Pro Force) officer is a challenging and invigorating career, and the demands of the job begin before aspiring officers even have the chance to apply.
All Pro Force team members must be able to run a mile in under 8.5 minutes, and they must successfully complete a prone 40-yard dash in under 8 seconds. If they are not able to accomplish both drills in the given time limit, they cannot apply to join the Pro Force.
Then, for 12 of their 14 weeks of training, Pro Force hopefuls spend 75 minutes each morning before their classes working on physical activity with trainers Barry Black and Ron Sommers.
“These classes involve sprint interval training, body weight-based leg, core and upper body training, some weightlifting, aerobic activities and stretching,” said Black.
Even some Pro Force hopefuls who make it through their prehire requirements are unable to complete these 12 weeks of intense physical training, which require them to consistently push themselves to run farther, faster, to lift heavier, sometimes outdoors in the sweltering desert heat or cold, blistering snowy mornings, to prove they are capable of tackling all physical challenges that may arise during their time on the force.
After graduating onto the force and making it through their prehire fitness requirements as well as 12 weeks of tireless physical training, officers visit with Black and Sommers every six months for fitness assessments to test cardiovascular health, cardiorespiratory health, musculoskeletal strength and range of motion. Throughout their Pro Force career, the officers must be able to pass their prehire running requirements, and they must always be alert and ready to jump at challenges that demand far more from them physically than these baseline fitness tests.
Black and Sommers have been in the physical training business for many years; it has become a true passion for both of them. They volunteer as trainers in the local Idaho Falls community, applying their passion for strength training and conditioning, particularly at local high schools with student athletes, but also in adult classes.
One of the most challenging aspects of their job is countering all the fitness misinformation on the internet. “People see all kinds of dramatic stunts on internet fitness videos and they want to try those out,” Black said. “We work hard to demonstrate that there are safer, more traditional poses and activities that will accomplish the same fitness goals.”
However, the job also comes with significant rewards. For Sommers, a great reward is learning that he has helped someone avoid surgery through stretches and prehab work that gradually corrected a physical issue. Black enjoys helping people achieve their personal fitness goals, whether these are weight loss, body fat loss, strength increase, or preparation for an intense physical experience like a Spartan race. Black also loves helping Pro Force members who want to join the Special Response Team (SRT), which requires them to meet additional challenging physical standards, enhance their fitness levels.
Both emphasized that sprint intervals are one of the best ways for people to increase their aerobic and anaerobic capabilities. They stressed the importance of weightlifting designed to strengthen the whole body and maintaining mobility, flexibility, and balance while performing all exercises.
“Consistency and intensity are the two most vital aspects of physical fitness,” Black said. “If your workouts lack either of these components, it will be difficult to see improvement.”