Every first responder needs to read this! Start improving your health and fitness today.
I have worked with first responders for over 15 years and I see and hear it all the time. Heck, I even try to use it myself. We are great at talking about our aspirations and most of the time we are even better at finding ways to put them off.
Are you waiting for the “perfect time” to start eating better, to start working out, to improve your mobility, or to finally gain control of your health?
Are you putting off that dream trip, studying for promotion, a new project, or that skill you’ve been meaning to learn?
If so, some of these phrases may sound familiar:
-When I get a different job.
-When things are less busy.
-When I find a workout partner.
-When I find the right equipment.
-When the kid’s schedule slows down.
-When we get through Covid.
-When I get the right workout routine.
-When we eat all the bad foods out of the fridge.
Tomorrow. Next week. Never….
It seems that we as humans are always “waiting for the perfect time.” For many, it’s a great distraction and justification. It helps us avoid the real—and risky—work of doing.
For others, perfectionism and avoidance serve as strong armor against potential embarrassment, criticism, and failure.
“I could ___ but ___” keeps us safe from pain and potential failure.
Unfortunately, it’s also what keeps us from growing, thriving, and getting more fit for duty.
That’s why all-or-nothing thinking—If I don’t do this perfectly then it’s worthless—rarely gets us to make lasting positive changes. It usually gets us “nothing,” only to bring us back to the next year setting the same goals and using the same excuses.
One thing I have learned by working with thousands of first responders over the years (including my own fitness) is that there is no perfect time to get in shape or better shape, and there never will be.
Oh sure, there might be some magic moment in your fitness journey where the universe comes together… and you’re wearing your favorite FRF t-shirt… and that song you love comes on… and your body is full of energy after a full night of sleep,… and your favorite piece of gym equipment is free (in fact the gym is empty today, hooray!)… and you bang out a set of ten reps like you were 20 years younger.
We know that this moment has a very slim chance of appearing. And yes, celebrate that perfect moment when it comes. But sure as heck don’t wait for it. Stop waiting for it.
Take your moments. Make your moments.
Just so you know, nobody is going to give you any moments. You have to take moments. And by moments I mean "time." Scratch and gouge moments out of other times. Chip off tiny flakes of moments you can. Use your teeth if you must—bite off mouthfuls of those moments. I know a little dramatic but it is true.
You are holding the chisel and the ax. You are the Chief of your moments.
I know the above statement can be frustrating. When someone calls us out about our health and fitness, especially when they say things like: “A 30-minute workout is only 4% of your day.”
I know it should not be the way. It might seem that everyone else’s moments just seem to come to them. Everyone else has enough time. Enough money. Enough motivation. Enough information. Enough muscle. Enough Time (I know I mentioned that one already).
Personally, I’ve been told numerous times that fitness is easy for me and that I do this for a living so, of course, it is easier.
I wish it were true but in all honesty, there are (a lot) of days that I do not want to work out and just want to crush ice cream at night. There are days I want to have that dessert… The challenge is real for all of us!
There is no perfect time to improve your health and fitness. There is, however, a perfect moment. There is actually always a perfect moment.
That perfect moment is now. Here. Today. The living, breathing slice of time that you have in this precise second. Because that is all you ever have: right now.
Here is another secret. You don’t have to actually work to get to the next moment. All you have to do is start. And then, moments will keep moving, as moments do.
One moment will stack on top of another and before you know it, you’ll have arrived at your destination (or have gotten closer to it).
But, but, but…
“But I can’t!” You say. “I can’t get started…yet!
That is the problem. If you can’t get started, you are jumping too far ahead. You are not starting with “starting.” I know that might make you scratch your head but hear me out.
Let’s say you choose to start with reading about nutrition and workouts for first responders. Which you are doing right now. That is the start- only if it keeps you moving on to the next moment.
It is not however a good start if it keeps you stuck in your chair, clicking through a blur of blogs and charts and plans and testimonials until it’s time for lights-out and you haven’t made a single good nutritional choice today or worked out in 3 months...
The next step
Maybe, starting for you shouldn’t be reading about health and fitness or telling your crew you are thinking about getting in shape this year. It should be something else, like walking to the fridge and picking out a shiny fresh apple and eating it.
Or making drinking more water throughout the day.
Or avoiding desserts and mid-morning (sugary) snacks at the firehouse.
Or finally making that annual medical appointment
Or eating more vegetables with each meal
Or walking to the gym to do some stretching, cardio, or weights.
Or .. you get my point.
Starting must be about initiating action. Starting means committing to a choice of some kind or another. This is how you know it is a true start.
Starting is when you measure your weight, health risks, habits, body fat, and health data. Look at the data and then in the mirror and truly evaluate your level of health and fitness (or lack of it).
Starting is when you organize crew workouts and encourage others to join you.
Starting is when you join the FRF Challenge and read all the materials and fill out your goals and set up your calendar.
Starting is when you lift up one foot and put it in front of the other, not when you stand there debating which road to take or wondering if you should have worn different shoes.
Push through. Embrace resistance.
Many people who are just starting out assume that because they feel resistance, they have failed.
Because that workout was difficult.
Because they don’t like certain vegetables.
Because they don’t know how to do the exercise.
Because they don’t know how to cook healthy.
Because their legs burn when they do the stairs.
Trust me we all experience those thoughts and feelings, especially that last one.
Starting will often feel like resistance, at least at first. Like learning a new skill or starting a new job. You must give it time! Resist the urge to press pause. Push through. It will switch tracks, eventually.
Remember: You don’t have to fight the resistance of the entire trip. You just have to push through the resistance of the first few moments.
Get the right support.
In order to flow water from the fire hose, a firefighter needs the engineer to pull the levers.
In order to perform (good) CPR, the medics need someone to do compressions.
In order to go into a burning building, crews need support outside to be ready to go (2 in, 2 out rule).
In order for a Chief to implement policy change, they need leaders to abide and support it.
Sure, we can start- and stay moving—on our own. But it sure helps when others help give us a push or a pull at times. Someone who can place the mirror in front of us to call out our procrastination and waffling. Someone that we can ask those stupid questions to about how many sets and reps and how to do this particular movement.
What to do next.
If you’re still “waiting for the perfect time”, try these tips to help you stop feeling stuck and start taking action.
1. Revise your expectations and understand your responsibilities.
Recognize that there is no perfect time and there never will be. There is only now. And as a first responder, you took an oath to serve your community like you do your own family. The more fit and healthy you are, the better you serve your crew, community, and family!
2.. Just start.
If you feel stuck, just do something. Anything. Find the smallest possible thing you can do right now, in the next 5 minutes, and do it.
Go for a walk.
Go to the fridge and eat a piece of fruit or vegetable.
Go drink some water to hydrate.
Send me a message and let me know how I can help.
Now you’ve started!
3. Carve out time, even if it’s imperfect.
Nobody will give that time to you. You’ll need to take it. Give yourself permission to make “you,” and your fitness and health goals a priority.
Find the time you need in your schedule. Don’t have time for an hour-long workout? No problem. How much time do you have? 20 minutes? 10 minutes? Work with what you’ve got.
Don’t expect things to go perfectly smoothly. Instead, anticipate, strategize, and plan. We do this on the fire and rescue scene by creating incident action plans. Ask yourself:
-What’s likely to get in the way of what I hope to accomplish?
-What is something I can do to help me keep going when I face obstacles?
Instead of waiting for things to ‘slow down,’ start making something happen right now, in the middle of the mess!
4. Expect resistance.
It’s normal. Push through it. Resistance doesn’t mean this won’t work. It just means you’ve started. You only have to get through this moment. This moment of starting will be the hardest. Trust me it will not last long and it is definitely worth it!
5. Get support.
Let go of the concept of the lone hero. Instead, start building your support systems.
Whether it’s a friend or family member, crew member, a workout buddy, or a coach, find someone(s) that supports your journey and can relate to it.
Want help becoming the healthiest, fittest, strongest version of you?
Most first responders understand that functional movement and fitness, eating well, sleep, and stress management are essential to performance and career longevity. Yet they need help applying that knowledge in the context of their busy, sometimes stressful lives.
Over the past 15 years, FRF programs have helped thousands of first responders lose fat, get stronger, and improve their health… for the long term… no matter what challenges they’re dealing with. This has been and will continually be the Mission of Fire Rescue Fitness.
That is why I created the NEW FRF App and the FRF Better Every Shift Challenge This is the most complete program I have ever created! It will challenge you to make healthy and lasting changes and give you the roadmap, tools, and support needed to do so. The CHALLENGE includes workouts, eating guides, recipes, and resources to improve mental health and motivation, along with coaching and support.
This article comes from the heart. I hope it motivates you to initiate a moment and get started improving your health and fitness. Please pass this on to your crew, other brothers and sisters, and anyone that it can motivate.
It is time to get FRF! Let me know how I can help.
Aaron Zamzow (ZAM)
Quite an informative post! Firefighters have demanding jobs. Therefore, managing anxiety and stress is critical, in my opinion. For this, regular exercise might help you calm down and minimize depression, anxiety, and PTSD symptoms. Similarly, it is vital to boost immunity. Exercise can boost your immune system, reduce your risk of sickness, and reduce inflammation.
You are correct! Exercise can help improve all the major ailments we face as first responders!