What is the Best Way for Firefighters to Work Out?

High knee 2Often I get asked: what is the best way for firefighters to work out? And my answer is directed by this truth: firefighters need to be proficient in all components of fitness. Any firefighter who has performed physically on the job knows this to be true, but this has been shown via tons of research studies too.

The 5 components of fitness

There are 5 components of fitness: muscular endurance, muscular strength, aerobic capacity (cardiovascular fitness), flexibility and body composition. While the jury is still out regarding whether being flexible really reduces injury risk for firefighters, we know that overexertion is the cause of most injuries and heart attacks, so the first three listed are without a doubt very important for firefighters to possess.

So back to the question at hand. The answer is: the best way for firefighters to work out varies by the individual. Meaning, the most important thing for you to work on is the component(s) of fitness that you are least proficient in. If you have a very high aerobic capacity but aren’t real strong, your need is to gain strength.

Therefore (if you were to ask me what the best workout for you would be), you should cut down to the minimum amount of cardiovascular training that is needed to maintain your aerobic capacity (depending on the intensity, around 2-3 workouts per week) and focus more of your efforts on resistance training – as heavy as you are willing to go.

If you are very strong but you can’t hold your arms up and circle them for a minute, you need to work on muscular endurance: do exercises that involve a lighter amount of resistance (could be body weight), performed over a longer period of time. The firefighters who go through my fitness test every year perform a “plank,” which is a great example of an exercise to improve muscular endurance. By the way, see if you can do a plank (picture below) for 3 minutes. Since that is the max time for my plank test, everybody kills themselves trying to make it there, but many do!core-test-plank

There are so many different workout programs out there. Lots of these are effective but there is no ONE best way to workout. The key is to assess where you’re at in terms of your fitness level and find exercises/a workout program that helps you improve in your weak areas. And, just as important, do it in a way that you can find enjoyment (more about that topic here).

What components of fitness do you think you need to improve on? What have you done, or what do you think you need to do, to work on it?


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By | 2018-05-21T17:10:04+00:00 January 21st, 2015|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. Jason Dennis May 23, 2013 at 4:37 pm

    I realized I needed to improve endurance so I went searching in an old army PT manual and found a work that has helped increase endurnace and strength. Basically stems from increasing push ups but I have adapted it to leg and back endurance. It has worked awesome and I am excited to see if my numbers have increased this year during my fitness test at work. It isnt easy, but it is quick and I currently enjoy doing the routine.

    • Karlie May 23, 2013 at 5:07 pm

      Great Jason! Looking forward to your fitness test this fall!

  2. Jon May 23, 2013 at 5:43 pm

    Karlie great reminder to not become one sided when it comes to our fitness. I have found that working on all different aspects of my fitness, muscular strength, endurance, aerobic endurance, etc. during the course of the week not only keeps me interested with variety but seems to help with keeping me from becoming injured with chronic overuse injuries. In the past, these overuse injuries were a common problem for me, but by working on each area of fitness during the week I am managing to stay injury free.

    • Karlie May 23, 2013 at 6:16 pm

      Excellent point Jon, and thank you so much for commenting so others can realize this too. As you stated, doing the same things over and over again is definitely a recipe for overuse injuries.

  3. Lou venezia February 26, 2014 at 4:36 pm

    Flexibility and need to lower my body fat %.

  4. Trevor Riant February 26, 2014 at 7:52 pm

    My Watch PTI is also the British stand-up paddle board champion and he gets me and my crew to do circuits that cover both cardio and muscular endurance, I can tell you from experience that it works much better that spending a solemn hour in the gym.

    • Karlie March 5, 2014 at 5:07 am

      Yep, efficient workouts are the best!

  5. Rob Martin March 5, 2014 at 1:39 pm

    Great article about 5 aspects of physical fitness. A few things came to mind when reading it. All of us operate / function as a whole. We are the sum of our parts. Therefore, mental fitness and emotional well being play into our operational readiness. As a firefighter, or any athlete (firefighters are operational athletes in my mind) I need to consider how to support myself as a whole. Our lifestyle demands are such that having workouts that address functional fitness as well as mental fitness are advantageous. Yoga is one of my regular activities that I have found to be of great benefit. Thanks for the great articles, keep ’em coming!

    • Karlie March 5, 2014 at 6:11 pm

      Hi Rob, I agree. Doing yoga (even just every so often) has really improved my ability to stay calm and focused. I think to some, suggesting yoga conjures up images of circus-like poses that involve excessive flexibility and balancing on your head. You and I know that this is far from the truth for basic/level 1 yoga. I wish more firefighters would be open minded to basic yoga as the benefits toward mental health, in addition to flexibility and muscular endurance, are great.

  6. Sheila Beuler March 5, 2014 at 4:48 pm

    Hi Karlie,
    Just wanted to give you a shout out on your great advice and tips! Thanks for your work with firefighters and for promoting their health and safety. I send your tips out to our firefighters all the time. Take care, Karlie 🙂

    • Karlie March 5, 2014 at 6:11 pm

      Thanks so much for the shout out Sheila, I’m so glad I could be of service to you and your department!

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