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A Systematic Approach To Firefighter Fitness Part 1


As firefighters, most of us follow SOP’s, algorithms or protocols depending on what type of call we go on. The goal of these procedures is to provide a systematic guide to our decision making process. What if we just showed up on a fire and said “well, I feel like doing this today”. That would be unacceptable because inevitably we would miss an important component of our fire attack. We need to think about this concept every time that we step inside a gym or a weight room for a training session. Do you just show up and then decide, “I’ll do chest and tri’s today”. Or do you go to the gym and spend half the time watching TV or just trying to decide what you want to actually do? When you do go to the gym is it only to lift weights or just do cardio? Don’t get me wrong, it is important to lift weights and do cardio but we all know those firefighters that just like to do one thing or another. We need to understand that there are so many pieces to the puzzle that we are potentially missing.  Therefore if we have a systematic approach to training, we will never miss any important component of our session. This article is just to highlight what the different pieces are and why they should exist in every single training session that we do.

This system has existed for years and it is the way that the top athletes in the world are spending their time in the gym. Like I have mentioned before, firefighters need to be afforded the same resources that the top athletes around the world have access to, and the great thing is we can accomplish everything with minimal equipment and cost.

Don’t forget, this system only comes into play after a thorough evaluation has occurred. How do we know how to train someone if we have no idea how they move or what heart rate zones to train them in? And of course do not try any exercise program without consulting with a physician first.

Now, we are not here to get into specific exercises. All we are going to talk about is the foundational aspect of what each cog to this system is and how it applies to the fire service. The system includes Pre-Hab, Movement Preparation, Medicine Ball, Plyometrics, Movement Training, Strength, Energy System Development and Recovery/Regeneration.  In this article we will be discussing the first four pieces. Part two will discuss the rest. The beginning of a systematic training session is called Pre-Hab. Pre-Hab exercises will be derived from your Functional Movement Screen. 65 percent of injuries—both athletic and lifestyle related—come from overuse, which is to say from repetitive use of joints that are rendered dysfunctional by muscular imbalances. Since prehab addresses the muscular imbalances that lead to injuries, it helps prevent many of the lower-back injuries, shoulder-joint problems and hamstring pulls” (  Remember, the second leading cause of injury is asymmetry. How many of you out there have suffered a lower back or shoulder injury? One of the best ways to prevent them in the first place is to start off each session with some good Pre-Hab work. The next bit of time will be spent doing Movement Prep. “Movement Prep, as the term suggests, prepares your body for movement. It’s a series of innovative and dynamic movements that increase your core temperature, prepare your nervous system for physical activity and strengthen your body. As opposed to a traditional warm-up, Movement Prep actually makes you stronger and helps yield long-term flexibility gains. You’ll actively elongate your muscles in a series of movements, which can improve balance, mobility and stability. Think of it as warming up with a purpose” (  Just incorporating Movement Prep into your routine by itself will make you stronger, more stable, and able to produce more power. All very important components of being a firefighter. Think about the begining of the day for a recruit academy. Are we setting our members up for success every day? If you like static stretching, that is still ok, but it should exist at the end of a workout.


Following Movement Prep we will be throwing a Medicine Ball around. “In this age of high tech equipment, the medicine ball is very simplistic, yet incredibly effective in training the whole body through a complete range of motion. Medicine balls are especially great for building strength through your hips, torso, and shoulders, also known as your “pillar.” This is important because your pillar strength is key to most of your athletic moves. It's essential for movements like your golf swing, throwing a baseball, and blocking and tackling in football” ( . The stronger our “pillar” is the more efficient we will be at forcing entry, moving and deploying hose and throwing ladders just to name a few. Following some med ball work, our Plyometric portion will commence.  “When most people hear the word "plyometrics," they immediately think of repeated tuck jumps or, in more extreme cases, YouTube clips of athletes jumping out of pools or over cars. Any plyometric activity is dynamic, and you need to prepare for it appropriately. EXOS workouts and training programs often feature a series of plyometric jumps. These jumping exercises — up and down, side to side, twisting back and forth – activate your central nervous system, stimulating the body’s fast-twitch muscle fibers so that you can generate force as quickly and as efficiently as you need. Plyometrics can also teach your body to reduce force more efficiently, which is just as important as generating it. A lot of injuries occur because you can’t decelerate quickly enough. The elasticity developed from plyometrics helps you slam on the brakes” ( Think of every time you have to step off a rig. You are either landing on one leg or both legs. If you are unable to decelerate that force efficiently we are setting ourselves up for an overuse injury. Just think about how many times you do that throughout a day, week, month and even a 25 year career!

Look at all that we have talked about so far. We haven’t even spoken one word about lifting a weight…don’t worry we will get there. It is a big part of our system. Sometimes though, it’s the not so sexy parts that get overlooked that can help us reduce the potential for injury and increase our performance.

For more information go to




2. Verstegen, Mark, and Pete Williams. Core Performance: the revolutionary workout program to transform your body and your life. Pennsylvania: Rodale Press, 2004.

3. Verstegen, Mark, and Pete Williams. Core Performance Essentials: the revolutionary nutrition and exercise plan adapted for everyday use. Pennsylvania: Rodale Press, 2006.



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