Coaches and athletes have long appreciated the role exercise plays in the enhancement and prevention of injury. But the power of exercise isn't limited to gymnasiums and playing fields. The same benefits need to be applied to the fire stations.
It has been said that firefighters expend as much energy during a major emergency as the players in a football game, if not more. This assertion is supported by many studies that demonstrate the need for and benefits of high levels of physical fitness in the fire service.
The sedentary hours firefighters may spend in the fire station may be as hazardous for them as fighting a fire. A major reason for firefighters high risk of heart attacks may be that they get little or no exercise while on-duty or neglect to perform while at home. The sudden, intense energy demand that is needed to fight a fire is what puts the firefighter who is not in good physical condition in grave danger. A firefighter's lack of physical fitness can be viewed as a matter of public safety as well as one's individual health.
A firefighter is just like an athlete, being they must be properly equipped, skilled at what they do, and fit for the demands of their jobs. Optimal fitness is a combination of lifestyle, nutrition and habits, but it cannot be reached without an appropriate level of physical fitness.
Let's look at what is considered the major components of being physical fit and to understand their benefits and how they play a part in building a firefighter's body to the ultimate.
Nothing is more important to overall health and fitness than cardiovascular or aerobic training. Cardiovascular exercise improves the ability of the lungs to provide oxygen and the heart and vessels to supply blood to the tissues. This type of fitness largely determines your ability to participate in vigorous physical activities for extended periods of time. Firefighting is a physically demanding occupation because they have to perform heavy physical labor under extreme environmental conditions. Unlike manual jobs where most of the effort has been engineered out of manual handling tasks, firefighters must respond to an ever-changing set of environmental conditions for extended periods.
The heart rate response to hard physical work has been demonstrated to be a reliable and a valuable tool for establishing the intensity and arduousness of work being performed. As the rate increases, the amount of oxygen consumed by the body increases. In fact, it is the demand for the increased amount of oxygen that triggers the increase in heart rate.
The maximal heart rate declines with age, (220 - your age = your maximum heart rate) is generally accepted as the basis for establishing the "red line" for people who are exercising or working in arduous settings. Most people can only sustain high percentages (90 percent) of their heart rate for a short duration.
The studies pretty much shows that aerobic capacity is so important to a firefighter's performance that it provides an independent and necessary indicator of the physical fitness of firefighters to perform the more critical elements of their job. In other words, without cardiovascular fitness, you can't do your job safely or well.
To increase your cardiovascular fitness, you must undertake a regular program of sustained aerobic exercise. Criteria must be met with frequency, intensity, time, and type to be effective. The most effective exercises for producing an improvement in cardiovascular fitness are those that are performed continuously while using large muscle groups. Activities that meet these criteria include jogging, brisk walking, cycling, stair climbing, rope skipping, aerobics, cross country skiing, swimming, rowing, etc.