Heat, smoke, and flames rise during any type of fire. Many searches and rescues are performed from the floor, and you're taught in the academy to "stay low" when you're dragging a line into a burning building. With 50-60 pounds of resistance added to your body in the form of gear, plus the weight of a charged line, it seems as though performing at this low level is nothing short of an extremely athletic event.
But, then why aren't many fitness programs including exercises of this nature to help improve performance?
The principle of specificity applies to all aspects of a training program. Specificity is the concept that you get what you train for. In order to maximize the effectiveness of a program, at some point the exercises must mimic the activities performed on the fire ground. The purpose of training is to prepare your body for the working conditions of a fire scene. If your body is prepared, you lessen the chance of injuries from the increased activity and workload.
Running, sprinting, lifting weights, and climbing stairs are great for overall conditioning, but they don't specifically prepare your body to crawl on the floor. While crawling, your center of gravity is different from its normal standing position. Anytime your COG changes, your body must adapt to maintain balance. If your balance is off, your ability to perform any work is limited. It's kind of like firing a canon from a canoe.
So, to help prepare your body for the demands of staying low, the following three exercises can be incorporated into your training program:
Forward Crawl: Give yourself about 5 yards of space. Get into pushup position. Make sure your hips are in line with your shoulders and your abs are tight. Begin moving forward by picking up your hand and putting it down a few inches ahead of you. At the same time, drag your opposite foot forward the same distance. Make sure your leg stays straight. Continue with the opposite hand and foot until you reach the end.
Lateral Crawl: This is similar to the forward crawl, but you're moving from left to right. In pushup position, pick up one hand and place it a few inches to the right or left of your body (depending on which direction you're going). At the same time, pick up your opposite leg and move it the same distance, keeping it straight. Make sure you keep your abs tight, hips in line with your shoulders, and head 'tucked' so your chin isn't hanging towards the floor.
Spiderman Crawl: Begin in pushup position. Starting with the right side, bring your right leg forward towards the outside of your right hand. At this point, keep your left leg straight, tighten your abs, sink your hips a bit, and activate your left glute muscle (butt cheek). Hold for 2 seconds. Then, move your right hand forward about 6 inches, and bring your left leg forward towards the outside of your left hand. Again, tighten your abs, sink your hips, and activate your right glute muscle. Hold for 2 seconds and continue moving forward.
These three exercises can be done in the warm-up or training phase of your workout. They are great for:
- Developing dynamic flexibility in the hips and low back
- Activating the essential "extension" muscles (rhomboids, glutes, hamstrings, erectors, and rotator cuff)
- Raising your core temperature
- Strengthening your core musculature
- Decreasing tight hips and low back pain
- Reducing rotator cuff injuries and strains
By adding these exercises into your workout, your body will be more prepared for the next time you have to crawl into a burning building.
Rich Meyer is founder of FASTBODIES Fitness & Performance and creator of FAST Responders Functional Fire Fitness program. Rich is a firefighter and Rescue Technician with the Bloomfield Volunteer Fire Rescue Company in Bloomfield, NJ and a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist who specializes in assessing and designing training programs for firefighters. For more information or questions, check out www.functionalfirefitness.com or send Rich an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.