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Fitness from the Small Department Perspective

Whats going on everyone?

So I came across an article from Its a website the covers all aspects of the job on a national level geared mostly toward rural departments. A vast majority of the content centers around firefighting technique, training, and happenings with the firefighter community on a broad spectrum. So while I was getting things up and running a few months back I figured it would be worth going on the old google machine and typing up firefighting fitness techiniques (I believe.) The article was entitled "3 Exercises all Firefighters should be doing."

What immediately caught my attention was that there are departments that mandate time during a tour where the crew is to workout. Good luck with that shit. You can mandate anything you would like but if someone isnt there forcing the issue there isnt a chance 100% will buy in.

"Well, there is about 20 percent that exercise all the time, 30 percent or so that exercise some of the time and well … the rest just sit on the bench and watch the rest of us work out. Sure sometimes they 'stroll' on the treadmill but that's it, just enough to say they worked out." - Pretty accurate. But thats not the purpose of this post. Its definitely a step in the right direction that physical fitness is being place as some kind of a priority thought the execution is lacking.

"Working out or training What's happening here, and in most of the departments we work with, is that the crews are working out when they should be training.

Working out has no goal in mind. It does not take into account factors like time of year, weather or when yearly firefighter fitness tests are done. A workout has no long-term focus; it's short-sighted and often creates many underlying biomechanical issues that have been proven to cause injury.

For example, most workouts tend to focus on "gym science." Monday is chest and tris; Tuesday is back and bis; Wednesday is legs, which most skip and then go back Friday to do chest and arms again. Sound familiar?

A scientifically designed training program specific to firefighters will look like this three-step program.

Week 1 to 3: Foam rolling and active stretching, stabilization training, core conditioning and moderate cardio.

Week 4 to 6: Foam roll and active stretch, 2-to-1 pull/push ratio strength training to begin correcting agonist-antagonist imbalances in the body, advanced core conditioning and moderate cardio.

Week 7 to 9: Foam roll, active stretch, basic power development and high-intensity interval training.

This example shows that timing, phases and exercise order are very important. Physiologically, it makes no sense to train to sheer exhaustion on your long week; that fatigue goes with you the rest of the shift.

Train hard on your short week. Focus on power, mobility and stabilization exercises during your long week. What the research has clearly shown is that it's volume not load that causes most of the on-duty fitness injuries. Not picking on cross fit, but their exercises are almost all high-volume and low-load — sets to failure.

International Association of Fire Fighters' data has shown that 33 percent of all injuries occur from training to not get hurt; too much volume (intensity) causes these injuries. What we are seeing now is that heavier weight (load) is safer when on duty during the long week as high-load, low-rep exercises cause less fatigue, which equates to a lower on-duty risk of injury."

Not only is this applicable to any department anywhere that has a training protocol or physical fitness standard, this is applicable to any John Q Gym-Goer stepping into a conventional gym such as a Planet Fitness, Equinox, Crunch, etc. And for those who want a plan, good luck on affording a personal trainer at the rates at which they charge. What needs to change, not only for departments that have a practice of mandatory workouts and physical standards, but for the fitness community as a whole is a plan. "A Goal without a plan is just a dream." - Herm Edwards (Former NFL Lineback, and former coach of the NY Jets and Kansas City Chiefs) Having a tangible goal and a road map with defined checkpoints is where progress is made. CrossFit refers to their methodology as "observable, measureable, repeatable." Arbitrarily going to the gym and just doing stuff may have some small benefits in the short run but without a guide and a shit load of consistency it becomes very easy to fall back on old habits.

The article also mentions listening to your body. Where me and the author start to separate in ideology are dividing weeks into long and short and then taking your training and placing it into those two categories. Now listen 4 years on the job is zero time, I get it. But power, mobility, and stabilization should be part of an everyday training program irregardless of how long, hard, short, sleepless, tours can be. It is to the benefit of the performance of the first responder to do so! High volume? Yes please! Low load to failure? Absolutely. Maybe not to absolute failure, a rep or two shy of that but none the less we will never find out what our limits are unless we push them! "Low rep excercise causes less fatigure, which equates to a lower on-duty risk of injury." Yeah no shit there is also no progress and essentially settling for mediocrity. Im not saying crush bench mark workouts while on duty but push your limits within the realm of reason. Make it difficult, make it a challenging training session. More often then not an injury is the result of poor movement as opposed to heavy volume. So if we are really looking to limit on duty injuries from working out, maybe its time for paid department to start teaching about physical fitness along with the how and why to working out.

There is alot more to this article and I will be reacting to it more at a later date. BUT I have some programming to do and work to take care of to get ready for this coming week. Stay safe out there!

- Chris