Often 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!
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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