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Fitness in the Firehouse

According to the CDC heart disease is the leading killer in the United States. Additionally we know according to NIOSH, and the United States Fire Administration that the leading cause of fire service Line of Duty Deaths (LODD) is heart and cerebrovascular diseases (heart attack and stroke). While many factors play a part in these diseases physical fitness plays a huge role in prevention of these deadly diseases, and it is one of the few factors we can control. The following are some tips, and tactics to get you and your shift out of the recliner and into the gym!

Don't take NO for an answer: Fitness is MANDATORY for this job, not because it is an SOG, or policy but because it is required in order to perform at the highest level of service delivery that our job, and our citizens demand of us. Also your personal physical fitness does not just affect you! If you are unfit you could be a danger to your shift mates, by not being able to perform when the incident demands it. This could lead to shift members getting injured, thus now affecting their families, and so on and so forth. Contracting one of these deadly diseases is a life changer for YOUR family as well. So your fitness is not just about you, it is about your wife, kids, shift mates, and everyone we serve, so NO can't be an option.

Teamwork: We already do everything as a team, we show up all around the same time for shift, we cook, clean, watch tv, go on calls, and everything else as a team. Physical fitness should be NO DIFFERENT! Working out together is one of the best motivators out there. You are more likely to work out when everyone else is doing it, and you’re more likely to push yourself when others are watching you. It also adds another level of brotherhood and bonding for the shift, knowing that your shift mates are working just as hard as you and will be ready when they day comes to perform on the fire ground.

Scalable: Workouts especially on shift need to be high intensity, challenging, and mimic fire ground tasks. However they must also be scalable to meet every ones fitness ability. Perhaps someone is not ready to run a mile, so walk breaks should be allowed but encouragement to push themselves should also be implemented. Perhaps someone is great at running but cannot do a pull up, an alternative exercise should be placed in the program that works the same muscle group but can be completed and inspire them to push harder not discourage participation.

No Judgment Zone: Has anyone ever heard of Planet Fitness brand of fitness centers. It is a gym (I use that term loosely) that is for the casual fitness enthusiast. It has little to no free weights, and complex lifts and exercises are not allowed due to their intimidating nature. While this "gym" is not great they did get one thing right. At Planet Fitness they have a NO JUDGMENT ZONE which means no making fun, no intimidation, and no discouragement. This needs to be the mantra of every firehouse during workouts. Discouraging someone for walking, lifting a lighter weight, or needing to do less reps is counterproductive to the overall goal of getting all members of the shift involved. Let's be honest would you workout with a bunch of people who do nothing but make fun of you? Probably not, so make sure the environment is one of encouragement, and positive actions. Also do not mistake pushing someone to better themselves as negativity, we often do not know what we can accomplish until we are pushed.

Find your motivator: Find the thing that will make you continue to keep getting up and working out. It can be ANYHING! For some their families are motivators, for others the thought of a long and healthy retirement is the lone motivating factor. Fitness is a critical portion of being able to reach any goal in life or the fire service. You want to spend time with your family? Then you better be in shape so that you get as much time as humanly possible. You want to enjoy retirement? Then you better work out so that your body can with stand the punishment it will endure during a long career. No matter your motivator use it when you are feeling down, and not wanting to get up and workout.

Set goals: The best way to continue with a fitness program is to have a goal to accomplish. Your goal can be anything, just make it measurable, and reasonable. Losing 40lbs in 5 months is measurable and reasonable, losing it in a week is just about impossible. Setting reasonable and measureable goals will keep you going and give you a target to shoot for.

Accountability: Lastly hold yourself and your shift mates accountable for staying on target and meeting goals. Perhaps setting up a “penalty” for missing goals, or cheating on work outs or diets. One firehouse I know has a burpee penalty every time someone eats a candy bar. Members of my company decided that if they did not meet their weight loss goal they would ride the ambulance for 7 shifts in a row! Even if your system is simply texting your members on an off day to get them to the gym, DO IT! We should all be in this fight together!

Those are just a few ways you can get your shift up and moving on a daily basis. In order to thrive on the fire ground and survive after retirement the firefighter must adopt an occupational athlete mentality. We need the cardio of a marathoner, the strength of a power lifter, and the endurance of an Ironman! Physical fitness is not an option, firefighters are athletes, TRAIN LIKE IT! 

This article was written by The First Twenty Firefighter Functional Training Panel member Robert C. “Robby” Owens, Sr., Lieutenant, Henrico County Division of Fire, VA.

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