Online Exclusive

What a Firefighter Needs: Strength + Endurance = Performance

Firefighters and candidates often take on workout plans that don't meet the needs of their day-to-day duties on the fireground.

Panicked occupants sat perched at every window as dense, black smoke pushed them to sill's edge. We couldn't rip the bulky ladders from the rigs fast enough, but thank God, every man, woman, and child pouring from the tenement's brick facade was miraculously plucked to safety.

I'll never forget the mass effort that went into that day's rescue. Every firefighter on scene went above and beyond, pouring their last shred of strength into beating back that raging inferno. Dozens were delivered to safety before the firefighters themselves collapsed from pure exhaustion.

Firefighters must workout to extend their capacity and operate more efficiently on the fireground. Find out how by clicking here.

Job Requirements Are Demanding
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, especially when distraught occupants are grabbing for the tip. And that's before climbing the ladder and possibly carrying down an injured or unconscious victim.

Hand-held high-pressure hoselines can pump out over 200 gallons of water per minute, and backpressure can be severe. It takes two powerful individuals to control one line. What is in essence a giant water gun (bazooka might be more appropriate) must be advanced and operated simultaneously. And that is no easy feat when crouched down below high heat.

Typical residential apartment doors feature multiple locks and are very often made of steel. Hydraulic forcible entry tools are not to be relied upon, as every firefighter must posses the know-how and explosive force necessary to pry open locked doors by hand. Skill, as well as brute strength, is a major asset.

By taking a quick look at the typical tasks, it's easy to see why strength and endurance must go hand in hand on the fireground. Having the brute strength to lift the heaviest ladder one or two times would be of little help to the trapped occupant at the third window. But strength is necessary and that is a strength that endures!

The body must strike a balance between strength and endurance. As firefighters, we need a good measure of both. Kettlebell lifting and my system of sequenced timed sets (STS) training are superior methods that build this seemingly elusive quality of strength / endurance.

Things to Ponder
What builds strength? Lifting a heavy weight a few times.

What builds endurance? Lifting a light weight many times.

So, what's the best way to build strength/endurance? Lifting a moderate weight many times. And one last question; what builds the extreme strength/endurance a firefighter needs? Lifting a moderate weight, many, many times!

Timed sets, featured in both kettlebell lifting and my STS training (for those with no access to kettlebells), satisfy the exact formula a firefighter needs to excel on the fireground. As an added bonus to the strength, endurance, power and explosiveness developed with this type of training, intra-muscular and abdominal fat loss accelerates due to the body's increased ability to utilize fat as its primary fuel (mitochondrial increase).

Stop floundering in the gym performing endless low rep sets of bicep curls. Explore something new, unique, and finally, specific for firefighting. Build the strength of a power lifter, endurance of a distance runner, physique of a body builder all rolled into one program. For more information about Mike's programs, click here.

Disclaimer: This type of training is designed specifically for those who are conditioned and experienced enough to handle it. Before proceeding, be sure you get clearance from your physician to engage in high intensity exercise. If at any time during the workout you feel short of breath or can't breathe, stop and seek medical attention. Always warm up before beginning with some light cardio or stretching, and work with low resistance on all high rep sets.

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.