There are certain parts of the body that we, as fire rescue athletes, are more likely to injure. If you look at the statistics of firefighter injuries you would see that they most commonly affect the back, the shoulders, and the knees. Also, as society continues to become more sedentary and glued to TVs and mobile devices, our posture continues to diminish. This poor posture can also lead to frequent injury and pain to the shoulders and back.
We can all agree that sometimes injuries cannot be avoided, we work in some taxing environments and injuries will happen. But, there are some things (exercises) that you can do to help minimize your chances of injury and improve your posture. So, today I wanted to introduce you to the stick-up, thoracic rotations, and the single-leg bridge. These exercises may be a little unusual but can help your posture, reduce pain, and help your performance on and off the fireground. You should try to incorporate these exercises into your workouts at least 2-3 times each week.
Click on the video for an overview and demonstration of the exercises.
Exercise 1: The Stick up. This exercise is also referred to as the "wall slide." This is a great exercise to improve upper body flexibility and shoulder mobility. Find a wall that doesn't have any pictures on it. Stand tall with your back leaning flat into a wall. Press your arms into the wall, flare them out from your sides, and bend your elbows at 90 degrees, like a field goal signal. Maintain contact with the wall as you slide your arms vertically overhead. Straighten yours the best you can while still keeping contact with the wall. Pause on top, then return to the starting position. Try to perform sets of 10 to 15 reps. This is a great exercise to do as an active warm-up before your workouts.
Yes, it looks simple—and it is. But you’ll love how good it makes your shoulders and upper back feel.
Exercise 2: Thoracic Rotation. This exercise helps “mobilize” your upper back by rotating at your thoracic spine. (That’s where the name comes from.) Like wall slides, this is another great exercise for your upper body posture. Just look around your firehouse: See anyone with a hunch in their upper back? (Make sure to take an honest look in the mirror, too.) Compare this "hunched" posture to that of a good athlete. The difference should jump at you: Good athletes have good posture, chest up and shoulders back.
You can fix this "hunched" posture by doing the thoracic rotation exercise.
Drop down on your hands and knees and place one hand on the back of your head. Rotate your upper body to the side with the elevated arm, twisting your chest to face that direction before returning to the starting position. Do not allow your shoulders to round forward during the exercise. Pull your shoulders back and keep your chest up the entire time. Also, do not allow your lower back to over-arch during the movement. Keep your core tight and brace your abs to prevent injury. Do sets of 10 reps on each side. This is another great exercise to perform during your active warm-up.
Exercise 3: Single-leg bridges. Poor posture and tight hips can lead to back injury. For instance, when you sit a lot—as most of us do—the muscles on the front of your hips become short and tight. And, your butt muscles which are important for maintaining low back strength can get weaker. Now, the combination of tight muscles on the front of your hips and weak muscles on your butt can greatly increase your chances of back injury. Add that to an already high instance of injury in the fire service and your chances of low back pain and injury are even higher. There is something that you can do to help! The single leg-bridge strengthens your glutes and can reduce the tightness in your hips.
Lay with your back on the floor with your feet flat and knees bent. Raise one leg off of the ground, pulling the opposite knee to your chest. This will be your starting position. Execute the movement by pushing through your heel, extending your hip upward, and raising your glutes off of the ground. Extend as far as possible, pause for 2 seconds, and then return to the starting position. Do 5 to 8 reps in a row for each leg, remember to hold the top position of the exercise for 2 seconds.
Try to incorporate these exercises into your daily workouts or perform them every shift with some foam rolling.
Your posture and your career will be glad you did!
Stay safe and Get FRF!
Aaron Zamzow (ZAM)