3 Exercises Every Firefighter Must Do!

Before I got into the fire service (almost 15 years ago) I worked with athletes, some amateur, some pro.   The main goal of the training was to create workouts that would improve performance (and in some cases body aesthetics).  The first thing we would do is evaluate the motions and muscles needed in their sport, then provide exercises that would challenge and improve them.  These, in essence, are the basics of “functional training.”  So, when I talk about “functional”  firefighter fitness,  I am referring to the physical aspects that we, as firefighters, need to do our job.  Therefore, in order for an exercise to be “functional” for firefighters, it must effectively train us to meet the demands of the fire and rescue ground.  Would you agree?

Would you also agree that the older traditional weightlifting machines and exercises seen in most firehouses do not ‘functionally” address the physical challenges we as  fire rescue athletes need?  I routinely go to different firehouse gyms and see the old universals and leg press machines and someone benching (of course).    Now, we can argue all day about whether or not the leg press machine and bench press are good exercises; all I have to say is that if you are on the fireground and pushing hundreds of pounds off your chest or back, you have other things to worry about.

As stated above, we need to incorporate exercises in our workouts that help us move more efficiently and effectively on (and off) the fireground and the leg press and bench press are not the best options.   If you are not training like a fire rescue athlete, you should.  Here are three exercises that you should incorporate into your workout program that can make a huge impact on your performance.  Take a look at the video and try to incorporate these exercises or variations of them in your workout program.

Here are the 3 Exercises Every Firefighter Must Do.


  1.  Plank variation(s)-  —It’s no surprise that the first exercise in this list is a core exercise. Back injuries are the number one reason firefighters and medics go on early disability so it’s imperative that as a fire rescue athlete you focus on strengthening the core.  There are numerous variations of planks you can do; front, side, elevated legs, etc.  My favorite is the super plank.  This is the regular plank exercise on steroids. This plank variation requires no equipment and is an incredible exercise for improving core strength, endurance, and balance.  As mention previously, core strength is integral for the fire rescue athlete, as all movement occurs around the core. This plank variation will increase core efficiency allowing the body to have greater control and stability.  To perform the Super Plank, start in a push-up position, then raise your right arm and left leg off the ground.   Raise slowly and maintain control.  Hold for a second when your arm, torso and leg are all on the same plane and then slowly lower to the beginning push-up position.  Repeat on the other leg/arm alternating between sides.  Try to perform 6-10 each side.  You can also make this exercise a little easier by starting on your hands and knees.

  2. Full-body Exercises-  I know this is a “loose” definition but we do not isolate muscle groups on the fire ground and you need to incorporate exercises that will functionally strengthen your full-body.   These full-body functional strength exercises increase balance around the joints and helps prevent injuries by stimulating stabilizing muscles.   This full-body approach is will help improve performance and is an effective way to prevent injury.  Make sure your workout consists of functional strength movements like the push-up, goblet squat, lunge, pull-up, these exercises strengthen all joints of the body in numerous planes.  Two of my favorite exercises are the one arm/ one leg row and the floor to ceiling press.  By taking the traditional DB row and changing your stance, you make it more functional.  Give this variation a try, your glutes will be screaming the next day.

  3. Intervals- As mentioned above, the purpose of any exercise or in this case, group of exercises, is to help us perform better on the fireground.   The fireground is a series of go, go, go, then stop movements.   For instance, search and rescue is a series of search, search, search, then stop, listen.   Intervals can mimic this start and stop movement pattern and can improve cardiovascular fitness.  Intervals raise the maximal oxygen uptake (VO2 max) of the body, which, simply put, is the greatest amount of oxygen our bodies can use during maximum effort.  Athletes that can work longer before they reach their VO2 max will be able to accomplish more on the fire ground, especially if on-air.  I like to incorporate highly metabolic fireground movements like crawling, heavy carries, drags, sledges, and stairs into intervals.   You can also use burpees, sprints, climbers and other highly metabolic movements if you don’t have access to equipment.    Try to incorporate some intervals into your next workout.

I know that these “general” exercises can help to improve your performance on the fireground.  Personally, I am not the most talented firefighter and need to rely on my fitness more than most.   These exercises help me and I know they can help you.  So, add some planks, train with full-body exercises, and do intervals.  Let me know if these help.

Stay safe and Get “fit for duty.”

Aaron Zamzow

Want more exercises that can help you perform better on the fireground?  Get my Free Report on the 10 Best Exercises for Firefighters (see below).

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