Fit For Firefighting: How To Train When Lives Depend On It

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Firefighters may not have the physique of pro athletes, but that doesn't mean they're not fit.

Take a moment to visualize a firefighter in action. Picture someone carrying a heavy ax with a big coat and large helmet? Did you notice the thick SCBA tank on their back, or the big boots? Well, the ax weighs close to 20 pounds, and the SCBA tank can weigh up to 50 pounds, depending on how full it is. Imagine carrying all of that while sprinting through a fire!

Your local firefighters may not step onto a bodybuilding stage anytime soon, but it doesn't mean you can't learn important tips from their workouts.

If you read this article with an eye toward becoming a firefighter, it'll increase your chances of passing the physical tests.

Each step below represents a different segment of the firefighter workout. Pick a movement or movements from each category and move down the list consecutively as the workout unfolds.

Step No. 1: Start with a Move That Works in Multiple Planes

Traditional strength training workouts will only have you move in what's called the sagittal plane, meaning front to back, like a forward lunge. Now, consider a firefighter, who has to sprint through a burning building. Do they charge forward the entire time? Not a chance.

There are two other planes of motion: frontal and transverse (horizontal). An example of a frontal plane exercise is a traditional standing dumbbell side raise. You're already familiar with the transverse plane if you perform cable chops to build core strength.

With firefighting training, your first movement should be a multi-plane movement for timed rounds. Start with 3 rounds, 30 seconds each. Build to a maximum of 60 seconds per round.

Here are some exercises to choose from:

Step No. 2: Explosive Training

Second up is explosive training. You won't be doing multiple, consecutive jumps during too many real-world situations, but train your joints and muscles to be explosive - you never know when you'll need leap across flaming rafters to get to an attic window! I prefer to measure my explosive training by reps instead of by time. Medicine balls are great for this type of training.

Perform 4 sets of 8 reps for any one of the following movements:

  • Med ball movement
  • Med ball slam
  • Med ball squat to overhead throw
  • Med ball jump squat to Med ball slam
  • Med ball twist and throw

Other explosive movements:

  • Bench jump
  • Bounding
  • Single leg hop
  • Step No. 3: Work One Side at a Time

Unilateral movements, a true test of core strength, involve loading one side with weight in order to resist rotation. By carrying or holding weight to one side while performing a movement, you cause numerous spinal stabilizers to activate. When do firefighters carry something that's equally balanced? Never. Think: ax in right hand and distressed damsel over left shoulder.

Pick any two movements from each of the three sections. Begin by performing 3 sets of 15 reps. After 4 weeks, increase sets to 4 and drop the reps to 12:

Full-body unilateral movements:

Upper body unilateral movements:

Lower body unilateral movements:

Step No. 4: Hit Your Core Hard

When unexpected gut-checks occur in life, at work, we must to learn to adapt. Nothing is more chaotic than the scene of a fire. A firefighter must burst through a building to rescue someone. He activates his core to kick down a door, heft a beam, carry a small child or climb a tree to get your neighbor's cat.

Start with 3 rounds, 30 seconds each. Build to a maximum of 60 seconds per round:

Step No. 5: Backdrafts Require Back Work

A firefighter's shoulders take a beating, so finish your workouts with a direct hit on your upper back. Strengthening the muscles that stabilize the shoulder blades allow you to carry heavy loads, like the average obese American. The goal with this movement is to pull your shoulders down and back.

Pick one of the movements below and perform 4 sets of 15 reps:

You now have five training lessons you need to become a physically fit firefighter. Give the workout a try, and the next time you see a firefighter, you'll have an idea of the physical fatigue they feel after every call.

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By Jimmy Smith

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