In part one of this series, we spoke about the "3 Fs" of firefighter conditioning: fitness, fat loss and function. The "3 Fs" system is a way for you to achieve optimal health, body composition and performance as a firefighter. This installment will remind you of the impact fitness has on...
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In part one of this series, we spoke about the "3 Fs" of firefighter conditioning: fitness, fat loss and function. The "3 Fs" system is a way for you to achieve optimal health, body composition and performance as a firefighter. This installment will remind you of the impact fitness has on firefighters, show you how to create your own fitness plan and recommend alternative ways to achieve fitness.
What exactly is fitness? Is it some tangible thing we hold in our hand or is it an image of you standing in the mirror showing off your rock-hard abs? Is it your doctor telling you that you have just passed your stress test and doesn't want to see you for another six months? In general terms, fitness is a feeling of good health or a feeling of being in good "shape."
As a firefighter, fitness helps you endure the long calls that involve a lot of work and helps you recover quickly after the big three-alarm fire so you're ready for the next one. Being fit means that you don't use as much air in your bottle and that you feel light yet strong in full turnout gear. Other benefits are listed in Table 1.
Traditionally, fitness has been achieved with aerobic exercise such as walking, jogging, stair climbing, and cycling. It is usually supplemented with light strength training (i.e., three sets of 12 to 15 repetitions per set) and stretching. Recreational and extreme sports and weightlifting are examples of activities that can also help improve your fitness, if performed properly.
Why is fitness important to you? As a firefighter, given the physical demands and unpredictability of the job, your body has to be ready at a moment's notice for every possible situation. Having a high level of fitness means you're able to perform at multiple scenes without increasing the chances of a heart attack or stroke. Your breathing rate returns to normal quickly after strenuous work, and your heart maintains a more constant rate as opposed to big peaks and valleys. Essentially, your heart, lungs, breathing tubes and blood vessels are efficiently delivering oxygen to working muscles.
Lactic acid, a waste product in your blood and a limiting factor to your efficiency, builds up quickly during intense movements and is associated with the "burning" in the muscles that are being used. For instance, if you are climbing stairs with your gear and tools, your quads (thigh muscles) and calves are going to burn from a lactic acid buildup. A high level of fitness means that your body will get the lactic acid out of your quads and calves quicker so you can get the job done swiftly and pain free. Improving your fitness also helps lower your blood pressure, thereby reducing the chances of an on-scene heart attack.
Consult Table 2 to figure out your target heart rate (THR) and use a heart-rate monitor to stay within that range during training sessions.
Three to five sessions per week of training in your THR zone can progressively train your cardiorespiratory system to become more efficient (and yes, burn more calories from fat too). Each session must last between 20 and 60 minutes, depending on your conditioning level. The length and intensity of your sessions can increase (while staying within your THR) as you become more fit.
Create YOUR Plan
Creating your plan is simple, easy and fun, and it doesn't require extensive training experience. To customize the "3 Fs," you must include your goals and self-assessment and define your variables. First, define a measurable, realistic, and specific goal. An example of a goal is, "I will decrease my two-mile run 45 seconds by Nov. 12." Measurable (decrease time by 45 seconds) means that it can be quantified during your re-test to see if you have progressed. Realistic means it can be accomplished within a sensible time frame (two months). With a properly designed training program, cutting 45 seconds off your two-mile time is a realistic goal. The specificity of your goal will help you focus on what you have to do in order to achieve it. To cut 45 seconds off your time by Nov. 12, you know you have to run two miles at least twice per week as well as strengthen your running muscles. So, take your goal and put down on paper what you need to get there!