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Muscle Imbalances and Injury Potential

As firefighters there are so many things we need to be thinking about during an emergency scene.  Rig placement, radio communication, building construction, fire location, and smoke color, volume, and pressure are only a fraction of the things that run through our mind at a fire.  Your attention is rightfully focused on these elements and less focused on how you are moving.  For movement, you will draw on unconscious patterns to complete physically demanding tasks in arduous environments.  Unconscious movement patterns are built heavily on your muscle balances or imbalances.

 Muscles balance dictates your movement patterns.  When muscles are out of balance one muscle is working harder than the other and as a result you are altered in your motions.  This is evident during various movement assessments such as the overhead squat.  When performed, the practitioner is looking at specific check points to identify any abnormalities during the function.  An example of an abnormality would be a participant’s knees going inward during the squat.  This is motion is indicative of a number of overactive and underactive muscles that are working too hard or not working hard enough.

But what’s the big deal, right?  


Muscle Compensation Increases Injury Potential

Muscle balance abnormalities lead to poor posture and poor movement patterns that consequently lead to injury. While these injuries may not occur in one traumatic event, they will lead to small injuries that will accumulate over time.  The result can be compounded by muscle compensations that lead injuries to other parts of the body not directly associated with the location of the abnormality.

These muscle imbalances can be exemplified by your turnout gear.  While there have been innovations in turnout gear design, it still creates restrictions to your ability to move.  These restrictions, coupled with the weight of your turnout gear cause your deficiencies become drastically exasperated.  It is in this state of high motion restriction that you are expected to perform the most challenging and critical actions – all while under duress of the emergency at hand.  

Correcting Muscle Imbalances

Thankfully you can rectify these imbalances by conducting a movement assessment to develop corrective exercise program.  A corrective exercise program:

  • Creates a healthy balance between complementing muscles
  • Builds proper posture for improved spinal alignment
  • Allows for healthy movement patterns that when strengthened become habitual
  • Can be performed very quickly using minimal equipment in virtually any location

In the Milwaukee Fire Department, over 900 firefighters have completed movement screenings, and they are usually amazed by what is found.  Once the assessment is complete, we are able to give them a program that will help them move and feel better.  They are amazed at how easy it is to implement these correctives into their daily routine.  By providing our firefighters with these programs, they are able to address their muscle imbalances and create healthy unconscious movement.


In order for you to have the long and healthy career you desire, you need do your best to prevent injuries.  By completing a movement assessment and engaging in a corrective exercise program, you will be on your way to feeling and performing better while reducing your risk of injury.

This article was written by guest blog contributor Jordan Ponder. Ponder is a Captain with the Milwaukee (WI) Fire Department assigned to Engine 30. As an NASM and ACE certified trainer, he is the lead peer fitness trainer for the MFD holding multiple functional fitness certifications. Along with being a professional bodybuilder for the WNBF, he is the director of FIREFIGHTER DYNAMIC PERFORMANCE TRAINING which trains health improving safety with workshops, certifications and consultations. If you are interested in conducting a movement assessment virtually, email for more information, and check out

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