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The Fast Track to Firefighter Fitness: Sequenced Timed Sets

We workout to protect our own health and enhance performance at operations, thereby protecting the lives and property of others.

"If the facts don't fit the theory, change the facts."
- Albert Einstein

Fitness is defined as the capability of the body to distribute inhaled oxygen to muscle tissue during increased physical effort. That's an oversimplified, straightforward explanation of incredibly complicated science.

Going by the above definition, it seems to be all about breath, but let's break it down.

Run 10 miles or bench press 200 pounds. Both call for an increased effort, but represent totally different physical and biological responses.

Volumes have been written about how to accomplish both so I won't bore you with a lecture on VO2 Max or how to build up mitochondria. But who actually possesses more fitness, the runner or weight lifter, and how does the typical firefighter rate?

That depends on why - or the real reason you train. As firefighters, the answer is simple. We workout to protect our own health and enhance performance at operations, thereby protecting the lives and property of others.

To improve performance, you need to mimic the conditions you'll face.

So it seems that "fitness" becomes a calculated decision rather than a simple definition. Let me define firefighter fitness for you, click here.

Most Common Reasons People Workout

  1. Weight Loss and Body Fat Reduction
  2. Increase Strength and Power
  3. Increase Endurance and Energy
  4. Improve Muscle Tone and Body Shaping
  5. Improve General Health
  6. Prepare for a Specific Sport, Event, or Activity

It's been compared to running with weights, sequenced timed sets (STS) addresses real-life demands, where a combination of extreme strength and extreme endurance are infinitely connected. Learning how to master this system and customize it to your exact needs will deliver unprecedented gains, regardless of the reasons behind your training.


After years of training one-on-one with hundreds of firefighters, and thousands more via group sessions and the internet, I can say with utmost confidence that training for only strength or only endurance works in very few scenarios.

Combining the two into strength-endurance training is the illusive approach most have missed. Pure strength and pure endurance have their place, and a touch of each can dramatically enhance an otherwise pure strength-endurance regimen, but it should rarely be the meat of any firefighter's program.

Sequenced Timed Sets Methodology

You'll need a watch with a second hand (a stopwatch is even better) or a timer. Select anywhere from 3 to 10 exercises that form a logical progression of movements that mostly involve the entire body.

Or you can simply follow your workout protocol as outlined in my Firefighter Custom or Firefighter Classic Program. For more information, please click here.

Take a trial run through each move at 30 seconds per move with the lightest weight possible. The entire sequence should take no longer than about five minutes (at 30 seconds per move allowing for changing stations).

Allow yourself little or no rest between movements unless absolutely necessary. Work at an even pace and note the number or reps performed. Next, perform a second set while you adjust resistance and or pace up or down to enable you complete at least 30 seconds per exercise. Record everything.

As per your current workout protocol or physical goals, add weight, increase pace (reps per minute), or add time to each set. You should be following a logical progression that addresses all three issues (weight, reps, time).

Remember, ALL exercises are performed in a series with little or no rest. This necessitates keeping weight light. At the beginning, movements will alternate between full body high-intensity, and somewhat easier, low-intensity moves (kind of an active rest between the more intense sets). The goal won't be to push the limits of the easier moves, but only the full body high-intensity work.

Getting Started

Say your program calls for seven sequenced exercises to be performed every workout over four weeks. There's four bigger, full body, high-intensity moves (squat press, dead lifts, incline press, pull ups) and 3 somewhat less intense, more localized filler exercises (crunches, leg raises, side lunge). Don't get the wrong idea, the filler moves can sometimes be just as tough and also have the option of being performed for specific reps versus timed sets. Later, as you get more advanced with the program, filler exercises can be kicked up a notch to activities like 30 second sprints or jumping rope.

Your trial run would feature each move at 30 seconds each (remember your timer). Start with light weight (or no weight where appropriate), record number of reps performed. Adjust weight up or down to allow 30 seconds of repetitions with proper form.

Future workouts will seek to push the high intensity moves and maintain the easier, filler moves. You have 3 avenues to push; resistance (weight), pace (reps per minute), time (length of set). For example, if your initial set of the squat presses starts at 30 seconds and 20 reps per minute with 10 pounds, add 5 to 10 seconds per workout or per week. You could also increase reps performed, but don't increase resistance until you can get at least one minute (in most cases push to 90 seconds or more).

This timed sequence can be performed one, two, or even three times and should not represent the entire program. Normally, there should be other dimensions to each workout such as a warm up and cool down period.

Be aware, STS is a very powerful way to train. Start slowly and build up gradually. These workouts can be repeated from 2 to 5 times each week, depending upon your fitness and activity levels, and can also be combined with more traditional cardio on alternate days.

Captain Mike's Custom or Classic programs will do all the calculations for you. You'll just need to establish initial parameters as outlined above. For more information, please visit my website at:

Always check with your doctor before starting any new program.