The Firefighter Fitness Pentagon: Part 3 – Muscular Strength and Endurance

Rod Hammer discusses how increasing muscular fitness will allow you to perform fire suppression activities better and reduce on-the-job injuries.


Everything you do during fire suppression requires muscle activity. Whether you are pushing, pulling, lifting, bending, holding, carrying or even just standing, your muscles are active. It is because of this activity that you are able to function on the fireground. Each task you...


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2. During a one-minute rest period, have the firefighter stretch the muscle group.

3. After the rest period, the firefighter presses 60% to 80% of the expected 1 RM weight three to five times.

4. Next, increase the weight conservatively and have the firefighter attempt his 1 RM lift. This will be the most weight the firefighter thinks he can lift. If successful, the firefighter will rest three to five minutes before attempting the next weight increment. Follow this procedure until the firefighter fails to complete the lift.

Obviously, a larger person should be able to lift more than a smaller person. To include this consideration, we factor in body weight. This is known as relative strength. To determine your relative strength, divide your 1 RM by your body weight. According to the Cooper Institute for Aerobics Research, above-average males age 20-29 should have a relative strength of 1.22, age 30-39 should be 1.04 and those 40 -49 should have a relative strength of 0.93. Above-average females 20-39 should have a relative strength above 0.42, those age 40-49 should be above 0.38.

Muscular endurance is measured by performing as many repetitions as possible with a given weight. The YMCA bench press test works well to measure this. To conduct this test, male firefighters will use an 80-pound barbell and female firefighters will use a 35-pound barbell:

2. With the firefighter lying in the standard chest press position, instruct him to press the weight to the cadence of the metronome. Each time the metronome clicks, the firefighter should have his arms extended. Advise him to go slower if he is pressing faster or more often than the cadence.

3. Count the number of complete repetitions the firefighter is able to press while still maintaining the cadence. If he slows down or is unable to continue, he must stop. You should spot the bar and be prepared to take it from the firefighter’s hands as soon as he is finished.

According to the YMCA protocol, above-average males age 18-25 should be able to press 30 repetitions, males 26 35 should be able to press 26 repetitions and males 36-45 should be able to press 24 repetitions. Above-average females age 18-25 should be able to press 28 repetitions, females 26-35 should be able to press 25 repetitions and females age 36-45 should be able to press 21 repetitions. Measuring strength and endurance of the chest muscles is only an indicator of overall strength. Obviously, all major muscle groups must be exercised to properly strengthen the body to work in extreme environments.

Training. There are nearly as many strength training methods as there are people to promote them. Go to any bookstore and you will find a shelf full of books telling you how to get a body just like Arnold Schwarze-negger’s. That’s fine if your goal is to look like that. I would recommend a more practical approach. As I said in the beginning, muscular strength and endurance is critical to fight fires. Therefore, you should look for a program that will promote strength and endurance needed for fighting fires. The number-one goal should be functional fitness, not muscle size.

Functional fitness describes the theory that you train to perform the tasks that you will encounter. I don’t ever remember lying on my back at a fire and pressing 120 pounds (although I’m sure someone out there has.) On the other hand, I have pulled, dragged and carried more things than I can count. I have dragged charged hose and tossed furniture out of homes, carried and hoisted ladders and have even thrown bales of hay. I have chased fire in walls, pulling lathe and plaster, until I almost threw up, but I have never had to perform a chest press. What I am getting at is this: traditional strength training exercises are good. In fact, they are great if you are trying to focus on specific muscles, but more general training that reflects the motion of activities on the fireground is a better use of your time.

According to National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) Standard 1583, we should exercise using the following movement patterns each time we strength train: