Firefighting is a physically demanding profession that often covers a wide range of activities, from fighting a five-alarm warehouse fire to playing ambulance to Mrs. Smith when her sciatica starts acting up. Each course requires today’s fire professionals to be in peak physical condition, including intense physical exertion, agility, strength, and endurance. As anyone who has been a first responder knows, your shift is either full blown chaos from start to finish, or absolutely boring, and rarely between, so workouts need to be squeezed in wherever possible so as to not fall behind.
Functional Training for Real-World Preparedness
Firefighters encounter a wide range of movements and scenarios during their duties, from carrying heavy bunker gear to climbing ladders and rescuing victims. Functional training, which focuses on exercises that simulate everyday movements, is essential for building the strength and flexibility required on the job. Incorporating exercises like squats, lunges, deadlifts, and overhead presses can help firefighters develop functional strength and better movement mechanics. My first interview for my current job included the question “could you, in full tactical gear and on your hands and knees, drag a 180 lbs. man to a window, then lift them out of it?” I said yes, obviously I could… And I did… But it wasn’t nearly as easy as I had assumed it would be.
High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)
HIIT is a time-efficient workout strategy that alternates between intense bursts of activity and short periods of rest. Aside from being effective when you never know when the tone out is coming, sending you into an uncertain mission, this type of training helps improve cardiovascular fitness, endurance, and stamina – all critical attributes for firefighters. HIIT sessions can involve exercises such as sprints, burpees, kettlebell swings, and battle rope exercises. The short but intense nature of HIIT workouts mirrors the quick bursts of energy needed to suit up in bunker gear, work a nozzle, or crawl through a partially collapsed structure.
Circuit Training for Total-Body Conditioning
Circuit training involves a series of exercises performed consecutively with minimal rest, so par for the course in the station house. Firefighter-specific circuit workouts could include a mix of bodyweight exercises such as push-ups, pull-ups, and planks, functional movements like tire flips and sled pulls, and agility drills including ladder drills and cone exercises. Circuit training can even be used as inter-squad competition, so the whole team can participate and encourage each other.
Team-Based Training and Simulations
Speaking of camaraderie, firefighting is often a team effort, requiring seamless coordination among crew members. Incorporating team-based workouts and simulations can enhance communication, cooperation, and synchronization among firefighters. Training scenarios that involve working together to carry heavy objects, simulate rescues, or navigate obstacles can be valuable for building teamwork, as well as putting some checks in boxes for training requirements. Get as big as you want, but the bean counters still need their paperwork.
At the end of the day, the goal is strength, speed, and efficiency is to save the lives of the victims, as well as the firefighters themselves. Whether it’s a few pull ups after dinner before the crazy calls begin, or a full-on hose relay on a Saturday morning while it's still… the q word I won’t use, functional strength is an essential part of being on the job. And part of making those calendars for additional house funds sell better.