A Quick, Effective Workout That’s Especially Beneficial For Firefighters

Recently I embarked on a journey to outline the advantages and disadvantages of many different types of exercise programs. Each week I’m discussing whether these programs are safe, effective and recommended for firefighters. So far I’ve covered yoga/pilates, P90X and circuit workouts and there’s been some great insight from firefighters so check out the comments sections!stop-watch pixabay

Today I’m going over a general type of workout rather than a specific exercise regime: High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT). This type of exercise has become really popular, spurred by people’s inability to set aside an hour or more for exercise.

Lots of recent research studies have demonstrated the effectiveness of HIIT; it appears to bring on all the same health benefits as longer duration/lower intensity workouts, such as improved insulin sensitivity, and actually produces greater gains in aerobic and muscular fitness. It can also be really beneficial for firefighters to prepare their bodies to go from zero to ten at a moment’s notice.

It works because the rate of improvement in fitness increases dramatically as the intensity of the exercise increases. So, the duration of a workout can become shorter as the intensity increases. Performing high intensity exercise also creates a greater challenge for the muscular system (ie. the leg power that is needed to sprint is much greater than that needed to jog.)

The basic skeleton of an interval workout is simply a “work interval” followed by a “rest interval” and repeat. During the work interval, the intensity must be very high, one in which you would not be able to carry on a conversation. The rest interval should include very light movement and you should be upright (head above the heart). The number of intervals and overall duration of the workout is up to you. If you can complete 10 work/rest intervals that are 1 minute each (20 minutes overall) that will definitely enhance your fitness. Just starting out, you may want to try 5 1-minute work intervals followed by 2-minute rest intervals (15 minutes.)

Each work interval can be the same thing or they can differ, it doesn’t matter. You could simply sprint for 1 minute, followed by walking for 1-2 minutes or you could do a series of heart-raising exercises for your work intervals (ie. jump squats, burpees, mountain climbers, push-ups) followed by a low-intensity exercise like some easy lunges. The possibilities are endless.

The biggest advantage of HIIT is that it takes little time and the benefits are the same, if not greater, than that of traditional exercise training. However, a big disadvantage is that it’s really difficult! It can be very uncomfortable for many people to perform exercise at such a high intensity, and for that reason some people may find it very unenjoyable.

Have you tried HIIT? What are your thoughts or questions about it? Tell me in the comments below.

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By | 2018-06-01T07:57:46+00:00 August 14th, 2013|Uncategorized|11 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. tj August 15, 2013 at 1:47 pm

    For the last 6 months or so I have been working out on my lunch hour doing high intensity circuit work outs that tend to last 10-20 min and I have seen dramatic improvements in my cardio and have lost about 20 lbs.

    • Karlie August 15, 2013 at 8:46 pm

      Thanks for sharing this TJ. So great that you have lost that much weight, and just by working out 10-20 minutes at a time!

  2. bob August 15, 2013 at 8:38 pm

    dear karlie
    this is my favorite type of workout! i was a high school xc coach for several years and introduced hiit style workouts. the team enjoyed the fast pace repeats vs long road runs. the result was less injuries, better kick speed at the last 1/4-1/2 mile of the race and more runners completing the entire daily workouts, together as a team.
    it allowed me as a coach to observe each runners ability/progress and positive competition among the freshmen, jv and varsity.
    today it is a workout that i do 3x a week. the exercises in your previous article are great ones to incorporate.

    • Karlie August 15, 2013 at 8:45 pm

      Hey bob, that is so interesting that you actually used interval training to train for endurance events! Goes to show how effective it is at improving aerobic capacity. And I concur, less mileage = fewer injuries. Awesome.

  3. Lt. Scott Goodwin August 16, 2013 at 12:26 pm

    HIIT training is awesome at working muscle memory and strength. I use the Combat training program from Les Miles Beach Body and love it. Staggers the workout between 30, 45 and 60 as well as the intensity. Good article!!

    • Karlie August 16, 2013 at 5:05 pm

      Great, thanks for the info LT!

  4. Don August 22, 2013 at 7:47 pm

    I have been using HIIT for 8 years now as my main form of fitness conditioning and will never stop. The 10 to 20 minutes of being “uncomfortable” (ha) is nothing compared to the benefits you receive in health, fitness, longevity and injury prevention. The stress of dragging a 2 1/2 inch charged hoseline into a structure or dragging a victim out of a structure fire is nothing compared to my workouts. As a 20+ year firefighter and nearing my 50th birthday I can run circles around men 25 years younger then me. By the way, my recreational activities are MMA fighting and obstacle course racing, both of which I have excelled at thanks to HIIT.

    • Karlie August 22, 2013 at 8:07 pm

      Pretty impressive to hear that you are extremely fit at near 50 years old Don. Thanks for writing this, hopefully it will be an encouragement to others who are also in the “middle age” stage of life.

  5. New Orleans Personal Trainer September 3, 2013 at 2:37 pm

    I had to started out at two cycles. I was really spent after going all out. After seven weeks I am up to eight cycles. This is the best I have felt in years.

  6. Mike April 29, 2015 at 3:56 pm

    Hi Karlie
    There are two workouts that I have found to be very effective, with consistency of use (which I’m delinquent in) 🙁

    P.A.C.E. = Progressively Accelerating Cardiopulmonary Exertion (Dr. Al Sears);
    10-Minute Trainer (Tony Horton)
    These are extremely effective and have many variations plus substitution routines that any user can include. Just take your favorite exercise and put it to one of these formats.


    • Karlie April 29, 2015 at 4:07 pm

      Thanks Mike!

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