Firefighters- START HERE to Improve Your Functional Fitness

With all of the information available on health and fitness, it can be so confusing that frustration takes the place of action. Here is a simple and effective guide to better health and fitness on and off the job.

Over the past 30 years working as a fitness trainer and the last 20 years as a firefighter I have heard, seen, tried, and discussed at the gym and firehouse every popular (and unpopular) fitness trend and diet.  I also try to stay current on the latest research and popular fitness topics so I can attempt to provide some insight into these discussions.  After years of discussions, research, continuing education via seminars and articles, and coaching thousands of first responders I can safely say I have the best formula for fitness success.

Drum roll, please...

For the best fat loss results and performance gains you MUST put cardio training, functional resistance training, and diet altogether.  That is it!  I know this is a groundbreaking statement so I will repeat it.  In order to get the fastest and greatest performance gains, weight loss, fat loss, and/or strength gains and fat loss you MUST put cardio training, functional resistance training, and diet altogether.   Now the second part of this formula is to get these prioritized in this proper order.   

  1. Focus on diet and nutrition
  2. Perform consistent functional resistance training
  3. Work your heart with consistent cardio exercise

Now I could "mic-drop" right here and finish the post with a catchy phrase and a "just do this" line but I think that would probably frustrate you even more.  So, let's break down these steps into a more applicable plan.


1. Focus on diet and nutrition.

There is a wide range of topics we could discuss when it comes to nutrition.  But, no sustainable progress will happen if you do not learn some simple guidelines and started to educate yourself on what is in the foods you are eating.   You have to create a solid nutritional foundation and this is done by reading labels, understanding portions, and monitoring how you feel and respond to any changes in your nutrition.

Before you even think about protein shakes and supplements you need to focus on the basics.  So for the purpose of this post, here are the first three steps to better nutrition.

Step #1.  Hydrate (with water)- Water is needed for every metabolic process in your body.  Staying hydrated can reduce your chances of sudden cardiac arrest and stroke, can help keep your joints lubricated and muscles functioning properly, and can help with cognitive functioning.  Drinking water can help you eat less and feel more full throughout the day.  There are significant health benefits to staying hydrated, especially if you are a first responder.

What you need to do:  Aim to intake at least 100 ounces of water each day.  If you are larger than 200 pounds try to intake half of your body weight in ounces.  If this sounds like a lot, start by substituting water for soda and juices and work your way to that goal.

Step #2.   Determine your current calorie intake- Do you know how many calories you normally eat in a day?  Do you know the common serving sizes of your favorite foods?  Most of us don't which is why this simple step is so valuable.  If you do not know what you are currently eating then how do you know what changes to make (it is a rhetorical question)?   This is the first question I ask when someone asks for nutritional guidance.  And, believe it or not, when you start to understand what you are eating and how much, you start to understand why your results are stalled.   This step is not that difficult, it takes just a few minutes each day and will teach you a lot about food ingredients.

What you need to do:  Measure all the foods you eat for three days and track the calories you eat each day.  There are very helpful and free apps that can help like MyFitnessPal and LoseIt.  There are also paid programs like Noom and WeightWatchers that focus on calorie education.   All you need to do is take note of the serving size, and how much you ate, and let the apps calculate your calories.  This step also requires you to start reading labels to understand serving sizes and calorie amounts.  I guarantee just three days of tracking your calories will teach you a lot about nutrition.

Step #3.   Make adjustments to your calories.  Now that you know how many calories you are eating (step #2) you just need to make a subtle adjustment based on your goal. Weight loss is actually very simple, eat fewer calories than you burn and you will lose weight.  If you are trying to gain weight, consume more calories than you burn.  This does not happen overnight however, you must stay consistent in order to see results.  Here is a great infographic to help (see below).


What you need to do:  Determine how many calories you actually should be eating.  This is where a lot of the confusion can come from.  There are hundreds of formulas and even more opinions on how to determine this number (I'm sure there will be comments).  One of the most consistent and easiest ways to use your daily activity and body weight as a guide.  See the infographic below and use this as a guide.  Make adjustments every couple of weeks based on your progress (or lack of it).



2. Perform consistent functional resistance training.

Just like nutritional advice, everyone and their neighbor seem to be a fitness expert.  I have been working in the fitness industry for over 30 years and have worked with thousands of first responders, members of the general population, and professional athletes and when I read too much, I even confuse myself (doesn't take much sometimes).  But, when I get lost and confused I resort back to these basic workout guidelines.  And... they work!

Step #1.  Devote at least 30 minutes, 3 times a week to functional workouts. The term functional is thrown around a lot these days.  In the context of firefighters, EMTs, and medics it means integrating exercises and workouts that will help you move and perform better on (and off) the rescue scene.  Does this mean you should perform heavy bench presses, deadlifts, and wrestle with alligators for time?   All kidding aside workouts do not need to be very long, they just need to incorporate the rights components and then be consistent.

What you need to do:   Workouts need to be efficient, start with 5 minutes of active movements, incorporate at least 3 exercises that improve core muscles, and at least 5 exercises to work your full body.  Finish your workout with some static stretching, and you have the foundation for improved fitness and performance.

FRF is dedicated to providing you with all the resources and motivation you need to train “functionally” for the job.  FRF just launched the BETTER EVERY SHIFT CHALLENGE that includes access to three (3) FRF Programs (Hero, 40-day, and Ultimate) along with nutrition guides and coaching.  And, you get a Coin and a chance to win cash and prizes.  Most importantly proceeds of this Challenge benefit the FCSN< FRCE< and the Science Alliance.  You can get fit and give back at the same time!  CLICK HERE FOR MORE INFORMATION.


3. Perform consistent cardio training.

Cardiovascular fitness or work capacity can be referred to as the effectiveness and efficiency of your lungs and tissues to transport equivalent oxygen to your muscles during work.  when you add the PPE and stress to the job, the fire/ rescue scene can easily produce heart rates in excess of 200 beats per minute.  Hence why it is extremely important to consistently incorporate cardio training.   Aim for at least 30 minutes, 3 x per week of cardiovascular exercise of varying intensities.

What you need to do:   Cardio workouts can be performed on the same day and/or integrated into functional resistance training workouts.  Every FRF workout program will show you how this can be done (click here).  There are two primary methods to build cardiovascular fitness for the fire/ rescue scene.  The first is with steady-state exercises like biking, stepmill, jogging, rowing, and even walking.  If you are deconditioned and have not worked out for a long time, you need to start here and work your way toward higher-intensity workouts.  A simple run/ walk or bike after your resistance training is all you need to get started.  After you build a solid base of fitness then add the second method of cardio conditioning which is high-intensity interval training (HIIT). This form of interval training mimics the short bursts of high-intensity fireground work, such as advancing hoseline, forcing doors, cutting roofs, climbing stairs, and dragging victims.  FRF programs incorporate exercises like tire and hose drags, sledgehammer strikes (on a tire), crawls, stairs, and sprints in a creative manner that will transfer to better performance in these tasks and better recovery when needed.

I am going to stop right there.  We could dive deeper into each one of these steps but that can lead to paralysis by "over-analysis."  The basic steps listed above are really all you need to follow to make lasting fitness progress.  They have helped thousands of first responders lose weight, gain strength, and improve performance, and will help you too.  All you have to do is stay consistent.  Schedule time each week for workouts, stay hydrated, read labels, understand portions, and STAY CONSISTENT.


You now have the "secret formula."  Go out and execute.

-ZAM (Aaron Zamzow)


PS- Take not ready to join our Challenge?  Get a FREE 28-day Catalyst Program!  Click here to get started.

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