Flexibility is often the most overlooked component of a an effective firefighter workout program. Incorporating flexibility exercises in your workout program has shown to help firefighter performance and reduce injuries by:
- Increasing physical efficiency and performance
- Increasing neuromuscular coordination
- Decreasing risk of severity of injury
- Decreasing risk of lower back pain
- Decreasing delayed onset muscle soreness
- Decreasing stress and tension
What is the best way to increase flexibility?
If you are like most of us, you were taught how to stretch in your high school weight lifting class and you’ve likely continued with pretty much the same routine ever since. Science, however, has moved on. Researchers now believe that some of the old school workout warm-up regimens are not only a waste of time but actually pose potential risk. This “old school” warm-up routine of starting your workout with a brisk walk or jog, then some simple body-part static stretches (holding them for 20 to 30 seconds) can actually harm your body and weaken muscles. In a recent study conducted and the University of Nevada, Las Vegas athletes generated less force from their leg muscles after static stretching (holding stretches for over 10 seconds) than they did after not stretching at all. Other studies have found that this stretching decreases muscle strength by as much as 30 %. There is however a more efficient and effective way to warm-up and increase your flexibility at the same time.
Warm-up (actively) to Reduce Injuries.
A warm-up should do two things: loosen muscles and tendons to increase the range of motion of various joints, and literally warm-up the body and muscles. When you are at rest, like you are when static stretching, there is less blood flow to muscle and tendons and they can actually stiffen up.
Dynamic Stretching (active warm-ups or movement prep exercises) are movements through a range of motion without holding at an end point. Dynamic stretching avoids bouncing motions and tends to incorporate more sport-specific movements. This form of stretching prepares the body for physical exertion and sports performance.
Dynamic stretching increases range of motion through movement and increases blood and oxygen flow to soft tissues prior to exertion. I feel that out of all of the various components of a workout (core work, strength training, intervals) the dynamic warm-up is the most important. Firefighters that consistently incorporate this components see great performance improvement and injury reduction.
How do you perform dynamic stretches? Rather than have you hold your stretches, as in traditional static stretching, you move your body into position just for a few seconds and then go back to your starting position. This type of warm-up routine “wakes up” your muscles and increases flexibility, not just for your workout but for the rest of the day.
Here’s why that’s important: let’s say you’re stepping off the rig and your foot slips off the step. How well your body reacts to that slip depends on your muscle efficiency and balance.
Dynamic stretches, switch on your body’s small muscles, which helps with balance and increases muscle efficiency. They prepare your body for random, quick movements found on the fire ground by fine-tuning its nerves and feedback mechanisms. Generally, I recommend to do 5 to 10 repetitions of each of the warm-up exercise. This dynamic warm-up is harder than you think, at first it may feel like a workout itself.
Here is an example of one of the active warm-ups from workout #3 of the The Ultimate Fire Athlete Workout Program (click here for more info).
-Knees side to side (6-10 reps each side)
-Straight leg raises (6-10 reps each side)
-Cross-overs (6-10 reps each side)
-Step back, reach and twist (6-10 reps each side)
Click Here for a Video of this 4 exercise Active Warm-up routine (or click below)
Give these exercises a try, you’ll be better prepared for not only your workout but for whatever challenges your daily activities bring.
I feel that incorporating an Active Warm-up into your workout will increase your flexibility, speed recovery, increase your strength and ultimately prolong your career as a Fire Rescue Athlete.
Stay Safe and Healthy,