Train like we are in it: functional exercise

CarolinaFireJournal - Tim Deppen
Tim Deppen
07/25/2010 -

I’m pretty much like every firefighter believing in the ideology of, “we should train like we’re in it.” Everything we do should be mimicking the incidents we respond to.


As firefighters we must be equipped, trained and physically able to do this great job of ours. I’m not saying that we need to be marathon runners, or have the body of mister universe to do our jobs, but rather maintain a high level of fitness; ready physically to respond to our community’s call for help. I read somewhere that firefighters use as much energy in a major incident as football players do in a game. That’s quite a bit.

For the most part we lead sedentary lives at the station with little or no exercise. One minute feet kicked up in the chair and two minutes later, on scene at a two story residential structure with heavy smoke showing. And now with the added stress of doing a search with confirmed occupants still inside. Are we physically ready?



Sure, most of our calls don’t require that intense level of energy. But when we’re called out in the middle of the night, having to make our bodies do something it’s not used to doing, is a prime time for injuries, or worse yet, a heart attack.

It’s no secret that heart disease continues as the number one cause of firefighter fatalities. We know that fire fighting is one of the most dangerous occupations in the world. Statistics show that 50 percent of the injuries are lower back, sprains and strains. By implementing functional training exercises we can help prevent these types of injuries and improve our performance on the fire ground, not to mention improving our overall health.

Injuries cost the fire service billions of dollars annually;  increasing functional training equals increased performance keeping us off sick leave, feeling better, living longer and mentally knowing that when, not if, the time comes we will be ready.

Functional training/exercise is that latest buzzword in the gym — and for good reason. It’s about training our bodies to handle real-life situations.

Wikipedia says that, “Functional training is a classification of exercise which involves training the body for the activities performed in daily life.”

Functional training has its origins in the rehabilitation field. Physical therapists developed exercises that mimicked what patients did at home or work in order to return to their lives or jobs after an injury or surgery. Thus, if a patient’s job required repeatedly heavy lifting, rehabilitation would be targeted towards heavy lifting, if the patient were a parent of young children, it would be targeted towards moderate lifting and endurance, and if the patient were a marathon runner, training would be targeted towards re-building endurance.

Being firefighters, the training and exercise is obvious. We should, and need, to be exercising and training as though our lives depend on it. And more than that, our community depends on our ability to be prepared.

Here are some ideas on functional exercises, but not limited to. Use your own imagination, anything is better than nothing:

  • Wearing an air pack or weight vest while performing all the exercises just like you would on the fire ground.
  • Walk and crawl (yes I said, crawl on all four appendages) around station and if you have stairs use them.
  • Throw the high-rise/systems pack over your shoulder and walk the stairs as much as possible.
  • Climb a ladder.
  • Drag something. Possibilities: hose line, an old tire or if you have one a, manikin.
  • You can use a bench press bar or a functional exerciser for simulating pulling ceiling.
  • Don’t limit yourself; use your imagination to replicate the fire ground activities.

The bottom line is whatever exercises we do we should be “Training like we are in it”.

FF/EMT Tim Deppen, started off as a volunteer were he fell in love helping people. He is now a full time firefighter and has developed a functional exercise machine for pulling ceiling.
Comments & Ratings

  5/23/2013 10:55:24 PM

New Comment 
A rollnig stone is worth two in the bush, thanks to this article.

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