Essential Workout Components for Firefighters, EMTs, and Medics.

ATTENTION FIREFIGHTERS, EMTS, AND MEDICS. Does your current workout program address these components?

Without proper planning, your fitness program may be setting you up for failure.  Staying consistent with workouts is definitely a big part of fitness progress.  But, if you are not including these components in your workouts you could wind up injured, bored, and/or in a progress plateau.  Make sure your program includes these essential components.

I have been working as a trainer and coach in the fitness industry for over 30 years and in the fire service for almost 20 years.  This experience has given me the opportunity to write for some of the best trade magazines and present at big conferences (you can/ see read my story here).  The most common question I get (either via email or at these conferences) is "What is the best workout for Firefighters, EMTs, and Paramedics (Fire Rescue Athletes)?  And, more importantly, what are the components of the best Fire Rescue Athlete Workouts?

Read below to find the answer (drum roll please)...

First, there is no single perfect program for every fire rescue athlete (there is one that is close though... click here to find out).  We all know that, as fire rescue athletes, we work in very uncertain situations and circumstances and must be ready for almost anything...

We can also agree that fitness is very important for performance on and off the fire/ rescue scene.   Due to the complexity of our working environment, our workouts have to be functional and effective.  I've seen some very strong individuals get their butt kicked on the fireground and go through a bottle way too fast because they lack the cardiovascular capacity and mobility to perform with an SCBA and on-air.  Conversely,  I've seen some very aerobically fit firefighters lack the strength to advance hoselines and raise ladders.  Peak performance requires aerobic capacity, strength, mobility, core strength, flexibility, and power (just to name a few).

To ensure you are training properly your workout programs must include the correct components.  Here are the six common components that all firefighters, EMTs, and medics (Fire Rescue Athletes) need to address and include in their fitness programs.

Have a plan! You must be balanced with your fitness, and make sure your program emphasizes balance, core, and strength. And, don't skip legs!

  1. The program must be planned using sound periodization and science. Training should follow a developmental approach or progression. This means there should be a hierarchy of training.

It is essential for the fire rescue athlete to develop a training base that should increase the body’s functional capacity. Once this is accomplished, the intensity of the exercise can be increased to emphasize strength and muscular development.  In more general terms, your workout program should work to develop stability, then strength, and finally power.

Regardless of what the training program looks like, it cannot violate this developmental approach.  For this reason, I am not a fan of WOD (workout of the day) programs and fitness apps.  They give you a workout to make you sore and fatigued and, in most cases, do not consider the goal or the next workout.  Firefighters, EMTs, and medics are getting injured in workout rooms and gyms because they do not have a plan, resulting in muscle imbalances from too many presses, pulls, and/or jumps.

Every firefighter, EMT, and medic’s fitness goal should be to improve performance, reduce injury, and improve career longevity.  Every workout should work towards accomplishing these.  Does your workout program do this?


  1. The program MUST place a large amount of focus on core strength and balance.  Based on statistics and injury data, over 50% of the firefighters, EMTs, and medics reading this will have a back injury at some point in their career. Low back pain is the number one reason firefighters retire early.  For a fire rescue workout program to be effective, it must utilize exercises that focus on developing the glutes, shoulder girdle, hamstrings, hips, and abs which all encompass the “core.”  Notice that I didn't say anything about a "six-pack" of abs.  Programs must place an emphasis on performing exercises like planks, side planks, glute bridges, and balance work.   These are great options to build a solid core and must be done consistently.

  1. The program needs to focus on cardiovascular conditioning (aerobic and anaerobic).   When you think of cardiovascular conditioning most people think of running or biking, which in most cases emphasizes aerobic conditioning.  Fire Rescue Athletes need to have a good level of aerobic fitness but cannot overlook the value of challenging the anaerobic systems.  If you've ever humped a "charged" hose line up some stairs or dragged a victim or vented a roof with an axe you realized the importance of anaerobic fitness.  An effective Fire Rescue fitness program will set a good cardiovascular base and then challenge the cardiovascular system with intervals.  Intervals are one of the best ways to simulate the high level of fitness required on the fire/ rescue scene.

Intervals are great for the heart...

  1. The program must (at some point) contain full-body functional strength exercises. Functional strength exercises increase balance around the joints and help prevent injuries by stimulating prime muscles and those used to stabilize joints.  There are no isolating movements on the fire ground, therefore, functional training for the fire rescue athlete must take a full-body approach.  And, functional, full-body training stimulates the core and is effective in athletic injury rehab and prevention.

Functional strength movements like push-ups, goblet squats, lunges, deadlifts, balance exercises, DB presses, and pull-ups all strengthen the joints of the body in numerous planes and should be staples in any fire rescue workout.

Great exercise for firefighters, EMTs, and/or medics!  Are you doing this exercise?

5.  Programs must include and emphasize mobility exercises. The more efficiently and better an athlete moves transfers to better performance on the fireground. One of the biggest mistakes I see fire rescue athletes make is not properly warming up and stretching.  It’s great if you can bench press 300 pounds but if you cannot move your shoulders in all planes of motion, you will get injured and possibly leave your crew in jeopardy.

Active warm-ups are essential during the workout because they raise your core temperature and increase blood flow to the muscles and tendons thus improving your range of motion.  These movements also improve the function of your nervous system. Think of this component as taking a few minutes to warm up a car that has been sitting outside in cold temperatures all night.  Properly integrating active warm-ups and post-exercise stretching exercises will improve the long-term mobility and flexibility of your muscles. The more flexible the muscle and joint around the muscle; the better the fire rescue athlete moves and the less chance of injury and the greater the performance.

Click here for a great yoga routine.

And, #6.  Programs must include recovery days and less-intense workouts.   This is a very important component for first responders due to the stress of the job, the lack of sleep, and the traumas we experience.  An intense workout is a great way to let off some steam and relieve stress.   But, if you come off of a restless and stressful shift, that intense workout might not be as beneficial.   Over time, if you do not let your brain and body rest and recover you will start to experience mood swings, illness, injury, fat gain, and a decrease in overall performance.  The goal is to balance out your workouts and shifts with a healthy mix of medium to high-intensity training with some low-intensity training for recovery.  Some great examples are yoga, recreational sports, walking out in nature, or using a piece of cardio equipment like a bike, rowing machine, elliptical, or even swimming.   You must find healthy ways to alleviate stress and recharge your body and mind.   Thus, workout programs need to take this into account and include them in the overall plan.

This is not an all-encompassing list, but it will give you enough information to help decide if a program has what it takes to be effective for the fire rescue athlete.  Look at your current program and see if it contains these components.

Please Share, Like and Comment if you agree.

Stay Safe and Get FRF!

Aaron “Zam” Zamzow


Fire Rescue Fitness is dedicated to getting firefighters, EMTs, and medics "fit for duty." Each one of the FRF workouts includes the above components and is guaranteed to get you stronger, leaner, and moving better on the fire ground.  Programs also include eating guides, recipes, an FRF workout app, coaching, and access to our private group.  Look at the great results FRF programs produce!

Click here for more information about FRF Workouts

Click here for more information about FRF Workouts


Questions about where to begin?  Contact ZAM by clicking here.

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