I like to pose this question to any firefighter that will take the time to listen to me. I don’t want you to answer just yet. In my previous career, prior to joining the fire service I worked as a Performance Specialist with Athletes Performance (now EXOS). I was fortunate to train some of the top professional athletes in the world and work alongside some of the best Strength and Conditioning coaches in the industry. Most of the coaches that I worked with are currently working in a professional sport somewhere. While I was working as a coach I began testing to be a firefighter in the Phoenix area. During my testing and meeting various firefighters from around the valley, I saw a major issue with injuries and even more tragic, line of duty deaths. That is when I decided to bridge the gap between strength and conditioning for elite athletes and the culture of firefighting. I ask the question again, are firefighters athletes?
What are the goals of a professional athlete? They are to reduce the potential for injury, increase performance and have a healthy retirement. What are the goals of a firefighter? They are to reduce the potential for injury, increase performance and have a healthy retirement. We know that the goals are the same, next we have to look at if firefighters and athletes move the same. How do we quantify movement? At EXOS we used/still use the Functional Movement Screen (FMS). The FMS is used across a wide variety of sports and in the military to get a “snapshot” of how an individual moves. As we know, the leading cause of injury is previous injury and according to Gray Cook (the creator of the FMS) the second leading cause of injury is some sort of imbalance (asymmetry). If we don’t assess how a firefighter moves then how can we know if they have any dysfunction? The FMS consists of 7 movements that directly correlate to a movement a firefighter could be tasked with doing whether on an EMS call or a Structure Fire. What I’m trying to get at is movement transcends all sports and all walks of life. We all move and movement needs to come first. We don’t want to place fitness on top of dysfunction! If the FMS is used to quantify movement in professional athletes and the movement of firefighters directly correlates to the FMS, can we then say that firefighters move like athletes and vice versa? If our goals are the same and we move the same, why are we not training the same?
Before we get into talking about the X’s and O’s of what firefighter fitness training should look like we have to build a solid foundation. There are 4 pillars to a sustainable training system. I want you to think about these pillars as a firefighter but also when you are not at work. Do you touch each one of these pillars every single day of your life? Do you expect elite performance out of yourself every day? Is every day game day? The first pillar is MINDSET. Mindset is defined as walking into a situation or working toward a goal with the full understanding of what it requires and how to accomplish it. Pillar number two is NUTRITION. Nutrition is defined as thinking of food as fuel for the body and brain. Fueling cuts through the latest diet marketing hype. It’s about consuming what fuels the body best. Pillar number three is MOVEMENT. Movement refers to incidental and structural movement. Both are essential for health, weight management, performance and vitality. Pillar number four is RECOVERY. The mind and body repair, re-charge and upgrade during rest. Recovery strategies must be employed throughout each day, week, month and year.
Are firefighter’s athletes? Whether your answer is yes or no really doesn’t matter to me. We have an athletic job and signed a 25-30 year contract when we first started. Every Day Is Game Day-Prepare for it, Fuel for it, Train for it and Recover for it.