When it comes to physically demanding jobs, firefighting certainly tops the list. It would be difficult to rush into a burning building or manage a fire hose weighing several hundred pounds without some degree of physical fitness.
Firefighters, in addition to understanding the science of fire how it starts and spreads and how it can be contained and extinguished must meet strict physical standards. While the exact physical standards vary by fire department, in general, firefighters must be able to carry a certain amount of weight, complete running and climbing exercises within specified time limits, and perform other tasks related to flexibility and balance. These standards not only improve firefighters’ on-the-job performance, but also lessen the likelihood of injury or death in the line of duty.
Even if you don’t plan to become a firefighter, you can use firefighter physical standards as a guide for your own workout. A workout inspired by fire crews will ensure that you have cardiovascular fitness, strength, flexibility, and endurance to spare.
Before You Begin
As with any workout, talk with your doctor to determine whether you have any risks or other issues that could cause injury or illness. Depending on your current level of fitness, start gradually and increase the amount of weight you lift, the number of repetitions, and speed as you gain strength. Listen to your body: If an exercise causes pain or discomfort, stop and get help from a professional trainer or rest until you can continue. A severe injury can sideline you for weeks or months and set you back even further.
While having access to free weights and strength-building equipment will increase the effectiveness of this type of workout, you do not need any special equipment. In fact, body weight exercises, in which you use the weight and resistance of your own body instead of equipment, are very effective and an important part of this plan. Otherwise, all you need are some stairs and a decent pair of running shoes.
Firefighters need speed and endurance, so cardiovascular training is necessary. Most fire departments require staff to run at least an 8-minute mile, so begin by jogging and build up your endurance until you can comfortably sustain that pace for at least two miles. As you build your strength, add some hills or stairs into your workout. Explosive or burst training is also good for building cardiovascular endurance, and emulates the type of work that firefighters often do. Perform a series of sprints, or try hopping, burpees, jumping rope, or a series of other high intensity exercises to build endurance in short bursts; many experts find that timing the exercises is more effective then counting repetitions or sets.
When firefighters are maneuvering through burning buildings, they often have to climb over obstacles or find alternate means of entering or exiting the space which may or may not be easily accessible. That’s why exercises that rely on using one’s own body weight are so useful. Firefighter fitness trainers recommend combining body weight training with high-intensity intervals, which means several periods of intense exercise with limited rest periods in between. This type of interval training mimics the environment in which firefighters work after all, there is little time for rest when you are conducting a rescue or putting out the flames. Develop a circuit of exercises that works all of your major muscle groups using your own weight as resistance. Lunges, squats, crunches, planks, burpees, lateral jumps, pull-ups, push-ups, and Pilates inspired moves will all build muscle strength and endurance, while burning fat and calories.
Flexibility and Balance
Even people who work out regularly and are in good physical shape often neglect to include flexibility and balance exercises into their routines. These exercises are important, though, to prevent injury and improve overall strength and conditioning. And for a firefighter, flexibility and balance could mean the difference between life and death. Imagine trying to maneuver through burning debris without injury if you have little to no flexibility in your back or legs.
All workouts should begin and end with periods of light stretching as part of a warm up and cool down. However, consider adding other flexibility exercises to your routine several times a week; yoga and Pilates are always good choices. If nothing else, a series of neck, shoulder, and torso rotations followed by some toe touches and hamstring, quadriceps, and buttocks stretches will help maintain flexibility.
Even if you never enter a building that’s engulfed in flames to save an entire family or rescue a kitten from a tree, you can still be as physically fit as a firefighter and it might just be the best shape of your life.