How-To Guide: Firefighter Stair Climb

Get ready to climb a quarter-mile straight up! Find out more about the 16th Annual Scott Firefighter Stairclimb , on March 4, 2007 at the Columbia Center in downtown Seattle! At this early stage in my "climb", I was mostly worried about dodging...


Get ready to climb a quarter-mile straight up! Find out more about the 16th Annual Scott Firefighter Stairclimb, on March 4, 2007 at the Columbia Center in downtown Seattle!

At this early stage in my "climb", I was mostly worried about dodging panicky civilians, who were now filing down the stairs in hasty retreat, but by the time I reached the fifth floor landing I could already hear the screams.

Upon arrival, we saw dense, black smoke pushing heavily from what appeared to be a small window on the 23rd floor. Praying an elevator would be parked in the lobby waiting to transport the first alarm assignment, I was met with disappointment when my lieutenant gave my team the nod, "Start climbing, if the elevators don't arrive in a minute, we'll all follow".

Me and my 60 pounds of gear pushed open the stairwell door and started stepping. No big deal at first, one foot after the other, holding a tool in each hand, with a water-can slung over my shoulder. My mask harness began to dig in, as my quads slowly developed a dull ache. But that's when I heard those desperate screams - so I stepped on.

By the time I reached the 23rd floor I thought my legs were on fire. I actually crawled up the last five flights. The screaming turned out to be those of a terrified young woman, who happened to be floors below the fire and perfectly safe. The fire apartment itself was vacant.

As it turned out, the elevator arrived in less than a minute and the troops were safely transported to the 23rd floor, and made quick work of this routine operation. The only injury was to my toasted body. To build stair climbing, as well as other firefighter-specific abilities, click here.

That was very early on in my career, when I didn't quite understand the connection between strength and endurance. In those days, there was a tendency to separate training, to the point of being categorized as either a runner or weight lifter. Today, it's an integrated concept, especially when it comes to preparing for fire operations, as evidenced in climbing multiple flights of stairs while weighted down with 50, 60, or even 70 pounds of gear and fire equipment.

After that fateful day I set about devising some basic exercise programs, utilizing techniques I'd learned through both practical experience and endless research to help my fellow firefighters handle the almost daily stair-climb experience. To follow is an example of one of those routines.

Necessary Equipment

  1. Dumbbells
  2. Step of variable height
  3. Weighted vest (optional)

Exercise List

  1. Push Press
  2. Overhead Snatch
  3. Farmer's Walk
  4. Step Ups

Program Overview

  • This program gradually progresses you over eight weeks. The seventh week represents an unloading cycle (where you can still workout, but at a lower level). During week 8, you'll be at your peak and ready to go.
  • Continue along alternating Workout A and Workout B regardless of how many sessions are completed each week. Ideally, you'll get at least two of each, or three of each over a two-week period. Regardless, alternate between the two routines.
  • Sets are done for a timed sequence and you can count reps just for record keeping. Keep your pace as slow as it needs to be, and stop and rest whenever necessary. Keep resistance light on the Push Press, Snatch, and attempt to complete for the suggested times.
  • You can substitute Step Ups with a stepping machine, but a weighted vest would be necessary as you cannot hold dumbbells while on the machine.
  • You can continue all other cardio or resistance work if you have the time and energy. Suggested, if possible, is some actual stair climbing with a weighted vest (and or SCBA if you have the opportunity).
  • Sets are performed in an alternating sequence between the Push Press (or Snatch) and Step Ups (or Stepping). Both the Push Press and Snatch are 1-Arm moves that will require a set on each arm. Perform one set of Step Ups after the set with each arm.

8 Week Progressive Stepping Program

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