Improving Firefighter Cardiovascular Fitness

What do Fire Rescue Fitness Workouts and the Wisconsin Badgers Basketball Team have in common?  

Before I answer that question, I need to explain a little about cardiovascular conditioning and VO2 max.  VO2max is a measure of the maximum rate at which an athlete’s body is able to consume oxygen when performing a specific activity, adjusted for body weight.   This is a very important measure for the fire rescue athlete, a higher VO2 max means that the firefighter can do more work with less oxygen.  This comes in extremely helpful when doing fire operations (on air) of course.  20130905_162613

VO2 max can be calculated many ways, the easiest is to use a treadmill or track (read more about calculating VO2 max by clicking here.)

Therefore, from the fire rescue athletes’ perspective, your program should not only focus on strength and flexibility but also on increasing VO2 max.  This brings me to today’s topic.  A couple of years ago, I focused on training for the Ironman Wisconsin, which is a very endurance based event.  Even though I completed the event (you can read about my journey here) I still felt that I was lacking adequate cardiovascular recovery on the fire ground (especially on-air). Since that time, I personally have focused on increasing my VO2 max by performing more high-intensity interval training and by running hills.  

This is where the Badgers come into the equation, I just happen to run (and make my recruits run) the same hill that the Badger Basketball Team uses for their training.  We actually ran the entire hill, they were only running partials.  That of course changed when their coaching staff saw us running all the way to the top.  Maybe that’s why they will win it all this year! (#GetFRF)

What contributes to increasing your VO2 max?
There are two major factors that contribute to a high VO2max. One is a strong oxygen transport system, which includes a powerful heart, hemoglobin-packed blood, high blood volume, high capillary density in the muscles, and high mitochondrial density within the muscle cells. The other is speed, or the capacity to contract a large number of muscle fibers simultaneously, as the more muscle tissue is active at any given moment, the more oxygen the muscles demand.  Running up hills helps to improve both of these factors.

Hill Intervals

Try to find a hill that takes anywhere from 20 to 90 seconds to get to the top.  Because running hills can be very stressful on the body, joints you want to make sure to warm-up properly. 
Before I run the hills I perform this warm-up:
Walk for 5 minutes around the park (including one walk to the top of the hill and zig-zag down). 
Perform 10 air squats (slowly)
10 overhead to ground chops
10 walking quad stretches

Head for the hill
If your new to running hills, start slowly, try to jog up or walk up slowly and gradually increase your speeds. 

My regular “Hill” workout is to run up the hill (about 40 seconds) then zig-zag back down to catch my breath 5 x for a total workout of  approximately 20 minutes.  My goal is to increase one hill each week.
Give it a try and let me know what you think.  I can tell you from experience it will be a love/ hate relationship.
Stay safe and healthy,

Aaron Zamzow


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