Should Firefighters Do Yoga or Pilates?

One of my favorite forms of exercise is yoga. Often, I recommend that firefighters practice yoga and/or pilates. However, there are some moves or “poses” involved in yoga and pilates that aren’t good for firefighters.

Benefits of yoga/pilates to firefighters:

It’s pretty well established that firefighters need to have a really strong core, and both yoga and pilates are great for that. In case you didn’t know, these forms of exercise involve really challenging exercises for the core muscles (which includes the abs, obliques and low back muscles). That’s right, crunches have nothing on a “boat pose.”

A second huge advantage of both yoga and pilates is improved flexibility. I can attest, since I do hundreds of firefighter fitness tests yearly, that many firefighters could use a bit more flexibility. Improved flexibility can result in fewer aches and pains and potentially reduce injury risk for firefighters.

Lastly, yoga promotes relaxation. I highly recommend that firefighters engage in some form of stress relief, yoga included, to maintain good mental health. There are even some classes, often called “restorative” or “meditative” yoga, that have a focus on relaxation (and stretching.)

Moves in yoga/pilates that firefighters should avoid:

Like I said, I love yoga, but there are some moves that place a lot of stress on the spine, which I avoid myself. Firefighters should also avoid these moves, since the job itself places high amounts of stress on the spine and ultimately results in tons of back injuries and back pain. So, anything that involves spinal hyperextension (the spine bending backward) and extreme flexion (bringing the toes overhead while lying down) should be avoided. If you are familiar with yoga poses, this means avoid the “cobra,” “upward dog,” “camel,” and “plow” (shown below).Back stretch yoga beauty woman

Have you tried yoga or pilates? If so, what has been your experience? If not, what questions/hesitations do you have?

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By | 2018-06-01T08:01:30+00:00 July 24th, 2013|Uncategorized|10 Comments

About the Author:

Dr. Karlie Moore has a PhD in Exercise Science and Nutrition and specializes in firefighter health. She has conducted fitness testing on hundreds of firefighters and has created the most comprehensive online wellness program for fire departments called the FitCulture program. Dr. Moore is also married to a firefighter and so understands their lifestyle and the health challenges associated with it.


  1. Jon July 25, 2013 at 4:24 am

    I have wanted to do both yoga and Pilates, but have been hesitant to join a class. I do not like videos, but I feel like I would not fit in well with the normal clientele. I guess I should just get over it and drop in on a local class. Thanks for the reminder of the importance in this area!

    • Karlie July 25, 2013 at 5:38 am

      Jon, I can definitely understand that concern. I have taken yoga at a gym/club facility and at actual yoga studios, and there are always dudes in the class. So don’t be self conscious about that. The main thing that I want you to not worry about is skipping those specific exercises that I said not to do. Every yoga and Pilates teacher I’ve ever had has been great about reminding people to make the class their own and not do anything they’re uncomfortable with (they usually give modifications/options for every exercise too). It’s typically a really accepting environment so there truly is no reason to not try it because of self consciousness.

  2. Kevin July 25, 2013 at 8:38 pm

    As odd as it is to suggest that firefighters would do either….. I can honestly say that I did Yoga on a weekly basis for 3 months because it was part of the program called P90X. It was extreme, difficult and way more of a workout than I would have thought!
    It was in the comfort of my own home so I was not able to embarrass myself in public and was able keep my own dirty little secret. Hey I paid for the program, so being a cheap firefighter, I was going to get my moneys worth!
    I still do all the other stuff… free weights, run, mountain bike etc., but Yoga opens up a whole new dimension and I can honestly say the benefits are enormous.
    Look into it, try it at home and make sure no one watches… not even the dog!

    4 hours ago • Delete

    • Karlie July 25, 2013 at 8:53 pm

      awesome, thanks for sharing this Kevin.

  3. Rick July 26, 2013 at 1:59 pm

    I have Osteoarthritis pretty bad, after having my right hip replaced the Dr. suggested yoga as a way to build my strength and flexibility, it has worked great. 1 1/2 years after my surgery I tried out for the local Fire Department and was accepted (been there five years now) I couldn’t have done it without the training that yoga has given me I have been able to develop my core without extra strain on my body (cause you know the job does that enough) I do a half and hour in the morning and another half at night it’s not hard to fit into my schedule and as for being embarrassed I got over being COOL a long time ago.

    • Karlie July 27, 2013 at 12:38 am

      Hey Rick, good to hear! I really liked how you mentioned that it helped you “develop your core without extra strain on your body.” People don’t realize that so many of the exercises that we do for our core muscles can be really stressful for the spine. So thanks for bringing that up!

  4. Anthony Correia July 29, 2013 at 4:08 pm

    Absolutely! back in 2001 our small career FD in Missouri received a AFG grant for fitness. One of the services we obtained for our members as part of a holistic fitness plan was Yoga lessons for 10 weeks for all 3 shifts. At the 1st session out guys joked and acted silly. But they then humored me and participated. BTW, I participated with all 3 shifts. Soon they found out that yoga was tougher than the thought, but the all got into it. The 2nd week 34 out of 36 guys were ready to go when the instructor got there. It didn’t take us long the Yoga helped us with all bodily functions we used as a firefighter with our physical and mental exertion. Mental, it relaxes you, but also teaches you to focus. it helps you control your breathing which helps with air management. Physical it stretches for flexibility and tones your muscles for all the same movements you make as firefighters. I believe Yoga is the most comprehensive exercise that fire and EMS personnel could practice to make the mentally and physically combat ready. Funny thing is FEMA took alternative exercise out of the grant program as request of the fire service consultants. I’m sure none of them ever performed Yoga.

    • Karlie July 29, 2013 at 4:10 pm

      This is great insight Tony, thank you!

  5. Sean September 9, 2013 at 7:36 pm

    Hey, volunteer ff in north NJ, i lift and stay in great shape all the time so i can with stand tasks on the fire ground with less stress. I found that doing yoga since i have a bad back, makes it easier to stay agile and on my toes when i have to do something out of the norm. Yoga is a must, any kind. I have never done Pilates…definitely interest in trying it

  6. Glenn February 25, 2019 at 6:55 pm

    While I am not actively fire fighting now though I am teaching fire academy, I began yoga in June of last year, almost a year now. I began noticing great improvements the first week with the daily left shoulder pain diminishing to nearly gone by the end of week 2 of a trial membership. I went out of town for a week and the pain was returning. The next week back at yoga found the pain subsiding again. I currently go to yoga 4 times a week. My shoulder and hip mobility have increased and my balance has improved. This has positively impacted my physical performance and well being overall. I am sold on yoga.

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