Firefighter Fitness

TangoSierra916

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  • Oct 11, 2017
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    Hello everyone,

    Did a search here but didn’t see much in this specific topic sorry if I missed it.

    I saw a post or two on LEO fitness, while I think there may be overlap in areas curious on any insight you all may have into FF training and workouts.

    I grew up an athlete and have always enjoyed training but being a FF I find it challenging at times to pick a workout core discipline/goal:
    -mass gains to build power for lifts and carries
    -quick twitch fiber training for more explosive movements
    -heavy cardio to help with masked scba breathing

    I debate this because on scene I’ve seen personnel struggle to remove doors/people or move hose/tools due to a lack of strength. On the flip side I’ve seen personnel breathe through a scba bottle way to fast, usually those who carry more weight. These are all very risky occurrences on scene so I’m trying to continue to train specific to the job.

    So far I’ve errored on the side of strength first then cardio and has worked well for me, but I don’t want to train to be a muscle bound hulk and have no flexibility and/or range of motion. I know a well rounded regiment is ideal just curious if any fellow FF have had the same debate and what you did or currently do.

    Any insight helps, thanks all!
     

    RoterJager

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    Oct 21, 2013
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    All of it. But in reality, look at what kills more FFs per year than anything, cancer and suicide withstanding. Cardiac events. Don't get me wrong, you need strength but look at it as a pyramid.

    Cardio at the base
    Muscle endurance in the middle
    Strength at the top.

    Our workouts generally have a cardio portion at the start for a half hour, running steps in a weighted vest or running. Followed by some sort of circuit training.

    To change it up we do a circuit with cardio built in. Usually 1 minute per workout for 5 circuits, up to seven workouts. We'll usually do two of those.

    On my off days I try to run and/or then do some sort of kettlebell workout or sandbag workout.
     

    TangoSierra916

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  • Oct 11, 2017
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    For sure cardio is the big killer outside of mental health. I appreciate the help, I feel good about how I train just looking for anything extra people do or stuff that has been learned too from being on the scene.
     

    ClangClang

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    I debate this because on scene I’ve seen personnel struggle to remove doors/people or move hose/tools due to a lack of strength. On the flip side I’ve seen personnel breathe through a scba bottle way to fast, usually those who carry more weight. These are all very risky occurrences on scene so I’m trying to continue to train specific to the job.

    So far I’ve errored on the side of strength first then cardio and has worked well for me, but I don’t want to train to be a muscle bound hulk and have no flexibility and/or range of motion. I know a well rounded regiment is ideal just curious if any fellow FF have had the same debate and what you did or currently do.
    Not currently an FF, but took the civil service test for my state, placed in the top 3% on the physical exam out of 12,000 applicants, and eventually got a job offer. Also a bit of a semi-serious biathlete, exercise science junky, and high altitude climber. I spend a good portion of my year training for something or another.

    Strength
    If "training to be a muscle bound hulk" was easy, no one would be impressed by body builders. You're overthinking it. Train strength to be strong enough to fulfill the requirements of the job. You can get strong without becoming huge if you're like 98% of the rest of humanity. Most people (other than genetic unicorns) don't become massive hulks even through a dedicated heavy lifting regimen without heavy supplement use, unnatural protein intake, bulk/cut cycles, etc. Long story short, you're not gonna come out looking like Arnold. And you're absolutely right, the more body mass you have (especially muscle), the more air you'll need. Firefighting is an endurance sport, and when your body is your engine, you really don't want to be dragging around any extra weight.

    Focus on compound lifts, lots of core work to keep your back healthy (tons of FFs have their careers ruined by back problems), and absolutely never neglect flexibility and mobility. Don't overfocus on your glamour muscles (chest and biceps). Never skip leg day. Going to a yoga class 3x per week is (in many ways) more important than hitting the gym and lifting heavy things up and putting them back down again.

    Cardio
    From a cardio perspective, you'll need 2 things. A strong cardiac base, and the ability to sustain extreme output for short periods. A strong base means being able to sustain a moderate physical output while keeping your heart rate down below your anaerobic threshold. The anaerobic threshold is the level of effort where your body can no longer burn fat for energy and needs to start burning blood glycogen instead. The firefighters who die after working an MVA neglected their cardiac base for their entire career (assuming they didn't have a comorbidity like obstructed coronary arteries).

    Almost all athletes who have never specifically trained their cardiac base tend to have very poor cardiac fitness. I was a textbook example - in my early 30's I was running a 6:15 mile so I thought I was "fit" but my HR was pegged at the 175-180 redline the entire time. I had no idea that it was bad. I spent 2 years training to develop my cardiac base and now do the same thing with an HR at 160, which is a massive improvement.

    To build your cardiac base, you need to understand "Zone training." Essentially, you break your heart rate down into 5 zones, from Zone 1 (basically at rest) up to Zone 5, which is your maximum red line. And Zone 2 is where you need to spend the bulk of your training time. This is calculated as 55-75% of your maximum heart rate. You should go out and physically test your maxHR, but otherwise for the purposes of this discussion, use the formula maxHR = 220-your age. For me, at 35 years old, the formula tells me my maxHR should be 185 and through running wind sprints wearing a heart monitor, I've discovered it's 188, so it's pretty close.

    Once you figure out your max HR, you then need to log serious time in Zone 2. For me, that was jogging at a 12:00/mile pace to keep my pulse around 135-140 for 2 hours, twice or three times per week, for many months. It's boringly slow, but it's the only way to actually deepen your base. You are training your body to do easy work without having to burn sugar, only fat. Making these kinds of changes to your body at a cellular level takes multiple seasons, if not years. It's not a quick process. Lots of info on this is available online and in books, so I'm not going to write a novel here. The best book I can recommend for this is Training for the Uphill Athlete by Scott Johnston. Literally anyone and everyone can benefit from this type of training. Even if you don't adhere to the full training plan, you can still benefit from some amount of Zone 2 training. Hopefully you'll work it into your training plan.

    Regarding your max output cardio, I'm of the opinion that intervals are the optimal way to train this. I like 30 seconds of 95% output, followed by 30 seconds of "recovery" (lol) at 85% output. This cycle is HARD because 85% doesn't feel like recovery. It can take several weeks of dedicated training to even be able to sustain this for more than a couple cycles. If this is something you want to pursue I can send you some articles by Olympic coaches on the exact methodology. This is really only applicable to people already in excellent shape. Otherwise you risk injury. The other thing you can do to train the unique requirements of being a firefighter is wrestling. Air management is a huge factor in wrestling because of the contortions you get twisted into and the resulting inability to actually expand your diaphragm.

    Prioritization
    Finally, to answer your most complex question - what do you focus on and when? The answer is "periodization" - training a single aspect for a fixed period. By specifically focusing on one area at a time, you actually are giving your body the opportunity and time to respond to stimulus and make improvements. Specificity and rest (taking the time off between cycles) is how you make gains. For your goals, I think 4-5 week periods is probably about right. Spend 5 weeks focused on each of your three areas. This means performing 4-5 workouts per week on the key focus, and 1 workout each on the other 2. You don't ever want to neglect anything, but you absolutely need to spend concerted time working on each aspect. After 6 months (i.e. running through your full cycle twice) you will start to see real gains, and after 12 months you'll be astonished at how far you've come.

    Good luck on your journey and stay safe!
     
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    TangoSierra916

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  • Oct 11, 2017
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    @ClangClang that response was awesome thank you! I hadn’t thought of the periodization approach but it makes a lot of sense for my application like you mention.

    I agree the cardio component and core strength are key to Ff demands so the approach you laid out I think makes a lot of sense.

    If you wouldn’t mind sending the articles you mentioned on cardio output that would be awesome, thanks again!
     

    CuriousChuck

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    Nov 11, 2019
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    I mainly focus on cardio, and muscular endurance, sure carrying heavy things is cool but @RoterJager hit the nail on the head, cancer and cardiac events kill firefighters.

    I have found that since I work a 48/96 I break my workout schedule in to 6 day blocks.

    Day 1 & 2. These days consist of pre-habilitation for my hips, and shoulders, as well as doing a 30 minute yoga session, and then whatever your favorite body-weight workouts are, or in lieu of bw donning the airpack and doing bag drags, or whatever strikes my fancy. I know that this sounds incredibly loose and unproductive but on these days I don't really get to control my schedule, so what I do focus on is preventing injury, and flexibility. Try to hop on the treadmill, rowing machine, stair stepper, or do some form of cardio at work.

    Day 3 is my 'Friday' and I usually go home pet the dog, get a nap, and then start my day. Do some yoga, then I like to do my long runs on day 3. But I will substitute or supplement that for a hike, bike ride, or XC Ski. The point of day 3 for me is to get elevated heart rate for more than an hour (I have been looking into 80/20 running, and am trying to figure this into my overall cardio plans, but I haven't yet). You can split your workouts i.e run in the morning, then go bike with the wife, or ski later by yourself.

    Day 4 is a gym day focused on legs, I am switching to a 3x3 program, but I was using an introductory 5x5 program.

    Day 5 is back.

    Day 6 is just cardio, doing interval runs, or a magic mile just to get the blood flowing and move around.

    My program isn't perfect (I neglect arms in favor of building a strong trunk, and if I were a more dedicated gym goer I could fix this) but it is a work in progress and is adaptive to my schedule. I hope this works out for you, and if you have any feedback or suggestions, I would love to hear them.
     
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    TangoSierra916

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  • Oct 11, 2017
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    Ever hear of Tabata???
    I have, it seems to be very time and interval focused which I like. I didn't know about it until recently when a few department members begun doing it. I’ve had pieces of this in workouts historically to keep the heart rate up through out the workout and it seems to work well. I’ll check it out more thought thank you!

    do you do this currently?
     

    HeavyAssault

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    No but I did back when I was more inclined. I made it part of my weight training routine as well as the cardio. What I found when I was using it was more physical strength as well as endurance with regards to weight training. So when you talk about hauling around gear it's not just cardio you need, it's physical strength/endurance as well. Add to that using Tabata when working on cardio works very good, it's well proven to do that.

    Tabata should be 4 minutes. That's 8 training intervals..... Try doing 20 seconds of dumb bell curls with 10 seconds of rest in 8 intervals for 4 minutes with the goal that the first set reps will be the same as your last set reps. Start at 10 reps....make that thru 8 intervals. Try doing pull ups in a Tabata format....LOL

    I tended to like this much more than the Crossfit style of training overall.
     

    TFJ45

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    I'm a fire fighter as well. I'm getting older now but I have come to realize it's very important to focus on injury prevention, core strength and cardio. Running, jumping rope doesn't matter cardio is a must. I try to do cardio first so I'm loosened up and I'm winded before working out. Similar to pulling L.D.H. or forcing a door before making entry. That being said I do a lot of kettlebells and push ups. Different variations close grip, wide, Spiderman push ups, learning to do the lizard crawl. Not very good at it yet. I have come to find out though, bench press is not a very applicable exercise when applied to the job. Push ups are more than enough and it's a more natural movement (for me). Pull ups are a great exercise too, some sort of decline sit-up is great for the core strength and lower back. The other reason I choose these style of exercises is because it requires use of the entire body as you would in a job related situation. Tire flips, chopping wood or hitting the tire with a sledge hammer alternating between right and left hand. I say this because as a left handed person it helps to be ambidextrous. Not all doors are open the same direction and sometimes when opening up a wall or the floor you may have to switch hands to make it easier. I focus on being functionally strong. I'm not knocking anyone's exercises routines just personal opinion. Do what works for you.
     

    JRaven

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    Listened to a interesting podcast with Anette Zapp - a firefighter from Chicago focused on wellness, performance and health.


    Be a good place to start.
     
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    Shamrock06

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    I’m an active LEO. I try to focus on functional fitness. Running is important in both our career fields in my opinion. Good cardiovascular health helps combat the effects of adrenaline on the body.
    Have you heard of Pat McNamara ? He has a combat strength training program that is unconventional but he is 58 years old and is in great shape.

    Of course it’s important to eat clean but some days are better than others. ;)

    My son nis a newly minted firefighter and he sends my videos of pull-ups from the bay doors of the station. Ohhh to be young again.

    Hope this helps.
     

    fyaman43

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    Kettlebell training.

    Functional strength plus cardio at the same time. Some technique to learn here though (lots of good vids on youtube). Try using a round timer set for 15 seconds on/15 off for 40 rounds (20 total minutes) and do snatches (I get 8 in per work period) for the duration. Tell me if you need to train any cardio after that...

    A study was done using this exact protocol with collegiate soccer players and the VO2 max increases were the same if not greater than running training.

    Any sort of high intensity interval training is what you should be doing for functional fire service training. Oh yeah, and deadlifts.
     

    fyaman43

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    Another great option is good old fashioned burpees... Gets you into the pain cave but worth it.