Chief Guccione's Thoughts To Help Improve Your Success

Are You a Firefighter Athlete?

By Chief Dean Guccione - 

When we look at professional athletes, we typically see them as finely tuned machines who are runners, swimmers, cyclists, or athletes who have the ability to hit, catch, throw or kick some type of ball, combined with running and/or jumping to ultimately score points in their given sport. Their goal is to be the best, whether as a team, or individually.

Only now are firefighters starting to be recognized as athletes in their own right, because of the intense, sustained, physical work they are required to perform in high risk, high consequence situations, where total physical conditioning is necessary for optimum and sustained performance of these high risk tasks and assignments.

While firefighters are not hitting, catching or throwing a ball to score points for their team, they are performing highly skilled, physical functions and tasks in adverse, high risk conditions, where there is little room for error.

For a firefighter to be able to perform these functions in the worst of conditions, he/she must be able to maintain a high level of cardio-respiratory stamina coupled with macular strength and endurance.

To do that, a firefighter’s approach to their fitness routine needs to combine the correct type of muscular strength and endurance training with cardio-respiratory interval training to be not only be effective in the performance of those tasks and assignments, but to maintain overall physical health and to prevent injury.

Cardio-Respiratory Fitness

The first component of overall fitness endurance is your cardio vascular or cardio-respiratory stamina.

We all know that if we run 15 miles a week, or run on the elliptical machine, or stairmaster for 30 minutes a day, we can improve our cardio-respiratory fitness.

But, what more can we do to improve our stamina in this area? It may be fairly obvious, but the answer lies in what we do when the tones go off and suddenly we’re in a smoke filled hallway, advancing a 1 ¾” hoseline towards the fire, while conducting a quick primary search for victims, or we’re throwing ladders to ascend for rooftop ventilation.

The answer is to add weight and interval training to your cardio routine. After all, when you’re advancing your hoseline, with smoke down to the floor, what have you got on your body?

You have 30 lbs. of turnout gear, plus another 40 lbs. of SCBA on your back, breathing air through a hose, with a mask on your face, while advancing a 75lb hoseline.

I’m not suggesting that you run on the elliptical machine in full turnouts and SCBA (while I’ve seen some firefighters do that), but what I am suggesting, is to be able to increase your cardio-respiratory endurance, you need to add weight to your routine, while doing intense interval training.

In other words, when you do aerobic/anaerobic interval training on the stairmaster, elliptical machine, or when you run, add some type of additional weight to your body to give you a similar sense when you’re working in full turnouts and SCBA. Weight vests are becoming more and more popular for this type of training.

This intense interval training with the added weight will quickly improve your cardio-respiratory stamina, which will help you conserve air and last longer, as you’re working in the IDLH (Immediately Dangerous to Life and Health) environment.

Strength Endurance

The next component to your overall fitness routine should be to increase your strength endurance.

I learned early in my career that firefighters who strength train with endurance in mind were far better prepared for firefighting than those who could bench press 350 lbs. once or twice.

Just because you’re strong, doesn’t necessarily mean you can keep up that pace over a prolonged period.

With the advent of new SCBA, the air bottles are lasting longer in the IDLH environment, usually 30+ minutes as opposed to the old SCBA bottles, which lasted about 20 minutes.

This means you will need to maintain that high level of stamina and endurance for up to 30 minutes at a time when you’re working hard in an adverse environment.

That extra 10 minutes can cause you to hit the wall if you’re not conditioned or prepared for that intense of a work environment over a sustained period of 30 minutes.

What strength endurance training requires you to do is to slightly reduce the amount of weight you normally train with, and increase the number of reps per set, while working both the upper body and lower body in the same set.

This may mean doing bench press, biceps, squats and planks in one non-stop set with less than a minute between reps, for 5 to 7 sets, with a weight that will allow you to do 15 reps in each exercise per set as opposed to 10.

Then the next day do your shoulders, quads, calves, and planks in one non-stop set, again doing 15 to 20 reps per set, with less than a minute between reps, for 5 to 7 sets.

You will see your strength endurance increase significantly over a 2 month period, because you will be going aerobic/anaerobic/aerobic while doing these strength training sets, while working your upper and lower body simultaneously.

It’s sort of like doing the CPAT 5 to 7 times with about a minute of rest in between sets.

While you’re not going to build big muscles like you would by doing muscle isolation training, you will get very good muscle tone while building your strength endurance, which should be your goal.

You obviously want to design a strength routine that works best for you and your fitness goals. Just be sure strength endurance training is at least part of your strength training routine.

Final Thought

Your fitness goal, as a firefighter, shouldn’t be that different from a professional athlete, because you are going into a profession that requires you to have the proper conditioning to be able to perform the physical skills, tasks and assignments that are required of the job.

So, your body must be up to the challenge and your fitness routine must be adjusted to match the work that firefighters are required to perform.

You’re work environment, at times, requires you to go into an anaerobic state, and then take a few seconds to recover, and then continuing.

This is where you’re endurance and stamina training will benefit you. You should also add a stretching routine to your fitness plan, as well as eating a healthy diet most of the time.

I'm a realist and I know how difficult it is to eat right 100% of the time. It's not very feasible sometimes, and I know I'm not as disciplined about my diet as I should be.

So, being physically flexible while improving your stamina and endurance will prevent all types of injuries to your back, joints, muscles and ligaments.

You will not only gain long term health benefits from adjusting your workout into an endurance/stamina routine, but you will also shave a minute or two off your CPAT time.

And who doesn’t want to have a faster CPAT time!