Functional Upper body Exercise for Firefighters- Standing DB Press

Changing the stance on a traditional movement can make it more functional for first responders.

What makes an exercise "functional" for firefighters, EMTs, and medics?  In order to answer this question, we must first define what functional training means.   The definitions can be varied and broad and often the term functional training is abused and over-used.  The best definition that I found and one that I think really pertains to the fire service comes from the Mayo clinic.  They define functional training as: “Training the body for the activities performed in daily life”.


In the context of first responders, our daily life or shift requires us to lift heavy patients, drag heavy firehose, climb stairs with heavy gear, carry equipment, lift and hoist ladders overhead, all of which require good core strength and mobility.   Therefore, for an exercise to be "functional' for a first responder, it must help us perform one if not all of those activities.

FRF Functional Exercise of the month.

I get a lot of questions about the best exercises for improving upper body strength on the fire ground.  Here is one of my favorite choices.

The standing shoulder press is a compound exercise that targets multiple muscles in the upper body including the shoulders, triceps, and core. It effectively improves functional upper body strength as it mimics fireground activities such as lifting objects overhead and raising ladders.

Take a look at the video and pictures below.  Feel free to make a print of the exercise and post it in your workout rooms.


functional upper body exercise for firefighters, emts, medics

Exercise overview:  This is a great option to work the core and develop upper body and shoulder strength.  This exercise can be used as a strength exercise or added as an option for an afterburner.  

Muscle Groups Involved:  Core, shoulders, and arms

Coaching Tips:  Standing with feet shoulder-width apart, hold dumbbells at your shoulders palms facing in slightly.  Be sure to have your head in proper alignment (not jutting forward or back.  While keeping the dumbbells at your shoulders, bend your knees slightly.  Slowly press the weights straight over your shoulders.  Hold for a second with your arms fully extended.  Your hands can rotate to keep balance.   After holding, slowly lower the dumbbells back to the starting position.   It is important NOT to let your back arch at any time during the movement. If you have any shoulder impingement, restrict the motion to accommodate or find an alternative exercise.  Repeat as directed by your FRF workout and your level of fitness.  Perform each rep with control.  

Click here for a PDF to print and put in your department workout room.

Additional tips to effectively perform the standing shoulder press:

1. Choose an appropriate weight: Start with lighter weights to focus on form and controlling the weight and gradually increase as you get stronger.

2. Maintain good posture: Keep your chest up, shoulders back, and avoid arching your back during the movement.

3. Control the motion: Avoid using momentum or jerking motions to lift the weights. Instead, focus on controlled movements throughout.

4.  You can also change the demands of the exercise by using a lunge stance or even just standing on one leg.

Let me know if you have any questions.  You can reach me via the "contact FRF" tab.  Please share this information with your crew and print out the exercise and place it in your workout rooms.

Stay safe and #GETFRF,

Zam (Aaron Zamzow)

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