If you are like us, you sometimes find yourself wondering; “what does the perfect firefighter specimen look like? What are their strengths? Do they have any weaknesses? Can I be one?” The snowflake answer to this is you are all perfect in your own way, and you don’t need to improve or change a single thing to be better at
what you do. You may be 350 pounds and sweat when you hear the word “gym,” but you are not at all a risk to you or your brothers.
The real answer is more complex. Yes, there is no such thing as a completely perfect physical specimen of a firefighter. It doesn’t exist. Yes, your department may have the marathon runner, but he doesn’t have the strength of the firefighter that’s in the gym deadlifting and squatting. And the guy that can pick up a Volkswagen doesn’t have the endurance of the psycho that runs marathons as a hobby. Take the World’s Strongest Man competitions as an example. These men can lift a thousand pounds, pull a jumbo jet, or hold 600-pound pillars in each hand for a time, but after their short event, they are so winded they sometimes need to be held upright and are always given oxygen, and take a VERY long break before the next event. As firefighters, we don’t have the luxury of short working periods or long breaks before we get back to work.
The reality is, firefighters are people. We aren’t exempt from the rest of the human population because of the job we do, but we are still held too much higher standards. Being “regular people,” we are also prone to limitations when it comes to height, weight, dietary restrictions, and so on. That also means we all have cravings, bad days, and fall off the wagon once in a while, but that shouldn’t prevent us from being the absolute best we can be, or keep us from being in the best possible shape we can be in.
If we could all build a firefighter, I’m sure it would be a 6’2” gazelle that could run for miles but have the physical strength of a silverback gorilla and could rip a door off its hinges instead of using the irons. If you are one of these, PLEASE let me know, because I’m sure we could all benefit from your workout plan. Unfortunately, you can’t have both extreme strength and extreme stamina. Sacrifices have to be made to go in whichever direction you’d like to go. But what if you want to have both?
The answer is simple. Work on both. Have days devoted to strength training, and days devoted to cardio. For example; you want more endurance, but your short-burst strength is already great. To do this, on one of your cardio days, run a farther distance at a steadier pace, and on your workout days, train with whole-body exercises with body weight or light weight. These exercises consist of pull-ups, push-ups, hang cleans, deadlifts, kettlebell swings, thrusters, planks, tire flips, or beating the tire with a maul.
Is your endurance amazing but strength lacking? Keep up your normal cardio schedule, but on one of your cardio days throw in sprints instead of distance running. For workouts, focus on the power lifts and strengthening of your muscle groups. Some of these lifts are the deadlift, hang clean, power clean, shoulder press, squats, pull-ups, lunges, bent-over rows, and so on. The thing here is to not work two major muscle groups on the same day. So, when you workout your legs, avoid also working on your shoulders, but you can work “accessory” muscles such as your core or biceps.
Are you just starting off and limited in all areas? Trust me, you aren’t the only one and won’t be the last. Everyone starts somewhere, and at least you are starting. For situations like this, it is particular on the person. Meaning you may be “country strong” and already be able to squat a mule or pull a locomotive, but just needed a push to get in the gym. Or you may have been a star track athlete in high school and still have the endurance, but it has been ten years since you’ve really trained. Either way, I would first recommend focusing on proper diet, losing weight (if needed), and working on proper lifting technique and form. Once you are comfortable, do a month of the endurance exercises stated, then a month of the strength exercises.
Will this article be your magic golden ticket to becoming your department’s perfect firefighter? Probably not. Because no matter how strong or agile you are, you can’t teach passion or skill. But it WILL give you the basic tools needed to constantly build yourself up, make yourself stronger, and to give yourself more endurance. It will help you flip that couch and breach ceilings during overhaul or make your air bottle last 30 minutes instead of 15 or 20.
Your body is the most important tool in your arsenal. I will always stand by that. But just like the halligan, you need to train with it and practice with it often to be effective with it. The gym is your training grounds, so use it often.
Would you or your fire department like a workout plan? Contact Thin Line Fitness today or visit their facebook page!
Ian is a professional fireman, a Veteran Air Force Firefighter, and a Certified Personal Trainer with ten years in the fire service. His passion for physical fitness has led him to begin Thin Line Fitness.