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A CPAT Case Study: Candidate Joe C.

In a very short time, Joe C. mastered the basic and advanced skills of the kettlebell workout.

Joe was in his eighth minute of a 10 minute kettlebell set. A client and firefighter candidate, Joe had been lifting kettlebells for a little over six months when he attempted his first 10 minute set. He originally came to me to help pass the FDNY's upcoming certified physical ability test (CPAT).

A year ago, Joe was a little overweight and a lot out of shape. He'd done really well on the FDNY written exam, but knew he'd be facing a tough, eight-event, mini-marathon as his next step in the hiring process. The 75 pound vested step mill event seemed daunting.

Joe was in need of a workout to extend work capacity and operate more efficiently on the fireground. To find out about his work, click here.

But the CPAT isn't the final step. The legendary FDNY fire academy, New York City's version of Marine boot camp, has gotten increasingly demanding over the years. Besides daily running, push ups, pull ups, sit ups and endless calisthenics, the academy is now six months long. That's 26 weeks of fire simulations, hose stretching, the smoke house, ladder climbing, marching, running, physical training, and push ups for every possible infraction. And then there's "motivation alley", where two probies are required to advance a charged high pressure line 75 feet, while down on one knee!

As minute nine clicked by, Joe saw the light at the end of the tunnel and picked up his pace. He felt confident in his ability to finish. But what about that step mill test - do kettlebells crossover to steps?

At first, kettlebell lifting was awkward, as any newly learned skill would be. I put Joe on a starter program of push ups, pull ups, and running as well, so he'd have something to do at home, in between our kettlebell lessons.

It wasn't before long before Joe purchased his own kettlebell and began training more consistently. One by one, he mastered the basics of the swing, clean, and at first, the push-press. In a very short time, he began to jerk and snatch, and I witnessed an amazing transformation.

Gone was the lack of core strength and stability under the bell. He'd become poised and in control even when loaded down with 53 pounds. His push up numbers went through the roof, and suddenly 30 reps seemed like no big deal. But his endurance, both long and short term, was remarkable.

My firefighting sled simulator can be pushed or dragged with a variety of attachments, and can be weighed down with over 150 pounds. That's just about Joe's body weight, but he pushes and pulls with authority, increasing his standard times by over 50 percent in six months.

Last week Joe donned a 75 pound vest and got on a step mill for the first time. We did this after an intense kettlebell workout, when he was thoroughly pre-fatigued. Joe not only handled it, he aced the event, with a finishing heart rate of only 160 beats per minute.

Back to Joe's 10 minute kettlebell set. I counted down the last ten reps and he put the bell gently down on the mat in front of him. He'd just completed 100 reps while holding on to the bell, and switching hands just once. He turned to me and asked, "What's next Mike?"

"How does Ladder 166 sound?"

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MIKE STEFANO, a Contributing Editor, is the author of The Firefighter's Workout Book and American Kettlebell Club (AKC) Fire/Rescue Advisor. For more information on kettlebell and firefighter workout programs, visit To read Mike's complete biography and view their archived articles, click here.