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. Upper-body pull – Pull-ups, lat pull-down, seated row, biceps curl, etc.

3. Lower body thrust and extension using the hip and knee joint – Lunges, squats, seated leg press, etc.

4. Knee flexion (hamstring) – Standing or seated leg curl, etc.

5. Abdominal contraction – Modified sit-ups, crunch routines, etc.

6. Back contraction – Kneeling leg extension, double knee to chest, trunk extension, etc.

If you do this, you will have a balanced weight training program that will promote whole body strength rather than the isolation and focus of certain muscles to the detriment of others. All too often, men specifically want to have a big, broad chest with huge, “look at these” arms. They focus all their energy on working the upper body and end up with little toothpick legs that can’t support their upper-body strength. That is why you should focus on motion patterns rather than specific muscle groups. For instance, squat exercises, when performed correctly, activate the whole body, including abdominal and back muscles. Squats require your muscles to work together to lift and carry in a manner that is very close to activities on the fireground. Priority should be placed on exercises that involve activation of multiple large muscle groups.

One of the most critical but overlooked aspects of strength training is developing the core muscles of the body. These include the abdominal and back muscles. Everything you lift with your upper body has to be supported by your abdomen and back. Everything. If you ignore this area during strength and endurance training, you will not achieve your best performance and you will have a higher risk of injury. Abdominal and back muscles are strengthened by sit-ups and push-ups as well as a series of back specific exercises.

Women firefighters need to train their muscles as much as men. They are expected to do the same job. Some women are under the misconception that strength training will cause them to get huge muscles. This is not the case. Women don’t have the testosterone levels to promote large muscle growth. They can get strong and be fit and still not have huge muscles. It goes almost without saying that drugs, especially illegal steroids, should never be used to increase strength and endurance.

Care should be taken when strength training, especially when unsupported. You should focus on proper form rather than on the amount of weight you can lift. You can easily injure yourself by trying to lift too much weight too early in your training routine. Also, focus on your abilities and growth; don’t compete with others to see who can lift the most. You wouldn’t want to injure yourself and throw your firefighting career away just for a chance to say you’re the strongest.

Intensity. The intensity of your workout is the amount of weight you lift. You should select a weight such that you are able to complete 5 to 20 repetitions. To maximize muscular strength, NFPA 1583 recommends lifting weights that are heavy enough so that you are only able to complete five to eight repetitions. You should complete three to six sets of each exercise. To increase muscular endurance, you should lift weights that allow you to complete between 10 and 20 repetitions and three to six sets of each exercise. Remember to warm up prior to lifting heavier weights.

Rest intervals between sets again depend on the type of muscle changes you wish to see. For strength, NFPA 1583 recommends two to three minutes between sets. To increase endurance, it recommends 30 seconds to two minutes. Finally, if you wish to incorporate a low-level aerobic component to your strength workout, you can do a circuit training program with only 15 to 30 seconds between sets.

As you train, your ability to lift more weight will increase. This is one of the motivating factors in strength training. You will require more weight to limit the number of repetitions you are able to complete. As you train, you should vary your exercises to keep from becoming stagnant and giving up.