What Fitness Culture Defines You?

Being fit for duty is the most basic requirement for every firefighter — both career and volunteer. As we travel around the State testing firefighters, there are three types of fitness culture that are evident. What culture best describes you.


Culture 1

“I have been doing this for a longtime and I never worked out so why should I start now.” This is the firefighter that is often overweight. They would argue that they are physically strong and that is good enough.

Culture 2

“I workout at least 3-4 days a week alternating body parts for strength and muscle mass gain.” This is the firefighter has a whole lot of heavy bench pressing going on. They look good in a duty shirt, but have a hard time moving quickly for any extended period of time.

Culture 3

“I love to run. In fact you can find me running at least 3-5 days a week. This is the firefighter that is participating in 5k’s  or 10k’s on a regular basis. They have great endurance but not much strength.

To determine which culture is best let’s examine some of job requirements listed in  NFPA 1582. climbing six or more flights of stairs while wearing a fire protective ensemble, including SCBA, weighing at least 50 lb (22.6 kg) or more and carrying equipment/tools weighing an additional 20 to 40 lb searching, finding, and rescue-dragging or carrying victims ranging from newborns to adults weighing over 200 lb (90 kg) to safety advancing water-filled hoselines up to 21⁄2 in. (65 mm) in diameter from fire apparatus to occupancy [approximately 150 ft (50 m)], which can involve negotiating multiple flights of stairs, ladders, and other obstacles climbing ladders, operating from heights, walking or crawling in the dark along narrow and uneven surfaces that might be wet

Typical fire department hand-held portable ladders can out-weigh the rescuer, and extend up to a top-heavy 35 feet in length. When fully extended this represents a substantial load that’s hard to control.

Looking at these typical tasks, most would agree that Culture 1 is not the best for firefighters. They may have great knowledge and experience however to complete the job in a safe and efficient way they need to start a workout routine.

Culture 2 is lifting heavy with fewer reps therefore gaining muscular strength. They have the strength to handle any load however endurance to complete the task will be an issue.

Culture 3 is cardiovascular only and they have the endurance but lack the strength to handle the load.

It’s easy to see why a combination of Culture 2 and 3 are needed on the fireground. Even if you love to lift heavy or run, pick at least 2 days per week and do a combination of cardiovascular and muscular endurance moves. These only need to be 20-30 minutes because the Intensity is keep high. High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) can be done in the gym using rowers, kettle bells, battling ropes, slam balls, etc. Here are some examples of exercises using equipment at every fire station.

Hose Slams, Hose Pulls, Hose Hoists, Hose Bundle Carries, Hose Bundle Squats, Hose Bundle Overhead Presses, Tire Sledge Hammer , Tire Flips, Tire Step-Ups, Tire Drags Using a Rope, Foam Bucket or Saw Farmer Carry, Ladder Raises, Ladder Climbs, Ladder Overhead Presses, Ladder Squats.

For Example you could do a Tabata style workout using only Hoses. I like Tabata because the intervals are 20 sec very hard work, 10 sec rest. There are free Tabata Timers you can download on your smart phone. Always warm-up with body weight moves for 3-5 minutes before beginning.

  • I-Hose Slam- 20 sec hard, 10 sec rest Repeat 8 times.
  • Rest 30 sec
  • II-Hose Bundle Carry- 20 sec hard, 10 sec rest Repeat 8 times.
  • Rest 30 sec
  • III- Hose Pulls- 20 sec hard, 10 sec rest Repeat 8 times.
  • Rest 30 seconds
  • IV-Hose Bundle Squats- 20 sec hard, 10 sec rest Repeat 8 times.
  • Rest 30 seconds
  • V-Hose Overhead Press- 20 sec hard, 10 sec rest Repeat 8 times.

This is an example of a 20 minute HIIT workout. Beginners may only do 4 repetitions of each or 2 minutes at each station making this a 10 minute workout. Make it harder by performing in turnout gear. Make it competitive by recording # of reps performed in the 4 minute total. Make it fun by doing partner workouts. Be creative with equipment and workouts.

The main thing is start doing it today and change your culture. One person can be the spark that changes the entire culture of the department.

Karen Leatherman is president/owner of Fitness Forum Occupational Testing Services. She started the first hospital-based fitness center in South Carolina where she started cardiac and pulmonary rehab programs. She has over 30 years performing exercise stress testing and has been testing firefighters for over 20 years. In addition, she was on the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), Health and Fitness Certification Committee where she travelled with a team from the U.S. to India and Hong Kong to teach and administer ACSM exams.

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