What is the MOST Important Fitness Trait for Firefighters, EMTs and Medics? The answer is not that simple...
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I often get asked by Firefighters, EMTs, and Paramedics to evaluate their current fitness programs and to possibly give some suggestions. I always try to explain to the individual or group that to evaluate the program we must understand the physical demands of the job.
Research conducted by York University (Ontario) about the physical demands of Firefighting stated-- The most commonly encountered applications of strength and endurance were lifting and carrying objects (up to 80 lbs.), pulling objects (up to 135 lbs.), and working with objects in front of the body (up to 125 lbs.). The most demanding firefighting operations required a mean VO2 of 41.5 ml/kg.min-1 with peak lactate concentrations of 6 to 13.2 mm. Ninety percent of the demanding firefighting operations that were studied required a mean VO2 of 23 ml/kg.min-1. These aerobic energy requirements corresponded to 85% and 50% VO2 max, respectively. Therefore, a minimum VO2 max standard for firefighter applicants of 45 ml/kg.min-1 is recommended.
In layman’s terms, it means this...
As firefighters, we need to be physically ready for almost any event. We need to routinely carry loads of 50 to 100 pounds, climb stairs, and ladders, swing heavy mallets and axes, drag heavy objects, hold, hoist, and stabilize hose lines.
We must also be able to recover quickly from these tasks and perform such activities for prolonged periods of time. Let us not forget that all these actions are routinely done in awkward positions and sometimes on unstable planes.
How do you translate those demands into just one fitness trait? You really cannot. You might be able to run a marathon but that does not necessarily transfer to better performance on the fireground. You might be able to bench press 300 pounds but that also does not transfer to better performance on the fire ground.
The marathon runner can perform at low intensity for a long period of time but would struggle with the quick and powerful movements we do as firefighters like hose line advancement and carrying equipment upstairs. Likewise, the 300-pound bench might help if the floor is clasped on you (honestly if that happens you got other issues to worry about) ... But all that muscle forces you to burn through a bottle before you can complete a task.
So, what is the most important fitness trait for firefighters? I believe it is balance. A balance of strength and cardio, a balance of core strength and mobility, and a balance of anaerobic power and aerobic endurance. And every firefighter needs to have a fitness plan and program that promotes a balance of these traits.
Every firefighter fitness program MUST work to improve performance, reduce injuries, and prolong careers.
There is also a systematic way to build your fitness. If you look at the above demands, the first fitness component that needs to be addressed is cardiovascular conditioning and recovery, next would be core strength and muscular endurance to be able to carry these heavy weights in awkward positions. Then then you look at overall muscular strength, power, flexibility, and recovery.
So basically, we need a functional fitness program that emphasizes functional circuit training, core training, balance and agility, joint flexibility, overall strength, endurance, and power. And this must be devised in a manner to progressively challenge your muscles and body to insure proper form and injury prevention.
Are you training this way? What I see is that a lot of firefighters are working out and hitting the gym but are resorting back to a program they are comfortable with or that they followed in high school. As a firefighter, you need to think about your fitness like an athlete and train the way you perform. Make sure you are working mobility exercises, core work, intervals, and full body strength exercises into your workouts. Find a way to incorporate fireground movements like crawling, steps, slams, drags, and pulls into the program. And have a plan!
Chest and triceps on Monday and skipping legs and core does not help your performance on (and off) the fireground!
For the last 15 years, it has been my mission to educate and motivate firefighters to start training more functionally! Our FRF programs have helped thousands of firefighters, EMTs, and medics train properly and improve their level of fitness.
I want to show you how to train properly. Click the link below and find the best workout program for you and your goal. Now is the time to get Fire Rescue Fit! All our programs include eating guidelines, workouts, instructional videos and pictures, and coaching.
I am on a mission to help 100,000 firefighters, EMTs and medics improve their fitness and change the fitness culture of the fire service.
Let me know how I can help you and your crew GET Fire Rescue Fit!
Stay safe and #GETFRF,
Aaron Zamzow “ZAM”
Gledhill, N. and Jamnik, VK. (September 1992). Characterization of the physical demands of firefighting. Can J Sport Sci. 17(3):207-13.