Fire-d Up for Fitness

Optimal fitness is a combination of lifestyle, nutrition and habits, but it cannot be reached without an appropriate level of physical fitness.

Firefighters perform their job under the most arduous conditions, enduring high heat and oxygen-deficient environments. Compound this with an intense level of mental stress and you can see the importance of keeping the cardiovascular system in tip-top shape. A cardiovascular workout also lowers serum cholesterol levels, triglyceride levels, and blood pressure, thereby reducing the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and osteoporosis, as well as many other ailments.

The way I look at it in this modern high-pressure world, you cannot afford not to work out. Back to square one with the leading cause of line-of-duty death for firefighters across the country is heart attack, it then seems logical for all fire departments to implement some type of fitness and wellness program.

Flexibility and balance are critical factors in achieving your peak physical potential, but they are overlooked many times. It seems all you hear is "pumping iron" is what you need to do. Not!

A good dose of stretching which is what many people refer to as flexibility now should precede and follow just about any exercise routine the American Council on Exercise says. Flexibility, the ability of a joint to move through its full range of motion, is extremely important for general fitness and wellness. What you achieve by stretching your tight muscles, tendons and ligaments are balance. Balance from all the stresses and strains of everyday life as well as balance in training.

These aspects of fitness is very important to firefighters whose work involves strenuous physical activity, restrictive areas, slippery or otherwise unsafe conditions, awkward and/or heavy loads, requirements for rapid movement, etc.

Flexibility just doesn't help firefighters work with less risk of injury but can also contribute to the following:

  • Increased physical efficiency and performance.
  • Increased circulation.
  • Increased neuromuscular coordination.
  • Improved balance and posture.
  • Reduced stress and tension.
  • Personal enjoyment.

Sounds too good to be true from just doing a few stretches, ha.

Muscular Fitness
For the firefighters, the benefits here are obvious I would think. Carrying heavy equipment to the scene or up many flights of stairs while clad in suffocating, insulated clothing and then being required to perform at full capacity puts tremendous demands of strength and endurance on the human body. Firefighting and rescue work frequently involves moving your body into different positions; therefore, all your muscles need to be strong at every position within their normal range of motion. When we look at muscular fitness it encompasses three properties of muscle tissue:

  • Strength- the maximum amount of force a muscle can generate during a single contraction.
  • Power- the rapid generation of force, or the ability to move loads quickly.
  • Endurance- the ability of a muscle to perform repeated contractions for a prolonged period of time.

Muscular fitness is an entirely separate and unique component of physical fitness, different from flexibility and cardiovascular fitness. The high demands of firefighting require a high degree of muscular fitness. Strength training produces new muscle tissue, which is then available to contract and generate force allowing the job to be done better and safer.

Body Composition
The fourth component of physical fitness is body composition. This is the makeup of the body in terms of relative percentages of body fat to fat-free mass (muscle and bone). A minimum amount of body fat is necessary to cushion and protect body organs from injury. These adipose tissues serve the important function of storing and releasing energy in response to metabolic demands.

If your body's energy intake from eating exceeds your normal energy for daily activities including exercise, the excess energy is stored as body fat. Storage of excess fat enlarges cell size and can increase the number of fat cells in the body (commonly, known as the chubbies). Attaining a healthy body weight and maintaining it over your lifetime should be a goal of every member of the fire service.

Functional Exercises
In closing of this very important topic I wanted to show you several examples of functional exercises and how they relate to preparing for the rigors of the firefighting"