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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Frequency. Frequency depends on several things. NFPA 1583 lists them as initial level of conditioning, individual goals, health status of the individual, volume and load of exercise, and type of movement performed (multi-joint vs. single-joint.) According to the American College of Sports Medicine, weight training should occur at least two times per week.

Research has shown that individuals who are new to strength training that exercise two times per week see the same gains as those who strength train three times per week. After some experience is gained, moving to three times per week has an added benefit. The National Strength and Conditioning Association recommends three days per week on alternating days. A minimum of at least 48 hours should pass before repeating strength training activities in major muscle groups to allow time for the muscles to heal.

Equipment. There are several classifications of strength-training equipment: free weights, weight machines or systems. Free weights are inexpensive in comparison to other types of equipment and have a wide range of exercises. The disadvantage is that you should have a spotter to help you exercise so you don’t get hurt. There is nothing to stop the weight from crashing down if you can’t lift it.

Weight machines or weight systems differ from free weights in that all of the resistance is applied through a series of pulleys and cables. Most have multiple stations that help you to get a complete body workout. They are typically more expensive than free weights and often allow only one user to work out at a time. The user does not need a spotter to safely lift and the weight selection is easier to change than free weights. On the other hand, the machine dictates the motion path you must travel. If you are larger or smaller than average, the motion path may not be correct for you. Adjustable seats and backrests help alleviate this problem, but they still cannot be as adjustable to your body as free weights.

Calisthenics do not require any equipment purchase. They use your body weight for resistance and generally provide a good workout. They are limited by your weight so calisthenics lend themselves to endurance exercises rather than strength exercises.

You can go out and spend thousands of dollars to equip a gym with the latest exercise equipment. Sometimes such a purchase becomes a motivating factor to exercise. If you pay for it, you may as well use it. There is excellent equipment on the market that will meet your needs, but there are a few things you should look for in strength training equipment:

2. Does it allow you to do the various exercises you need to get a complete body workout? Some machines are very specific and allow you to perform only one exercise. These machines are typically very stable and have enough weight, but cost much more than multi-purpose machines. You have to purchase several machines to get a full workout.

3. What is your budget? As with number 2 above, buying single-station machines that are specific to one exercise is very expensive. Some manufacturers make equipment that can do multiple exercises. A bench and a set of free weights can do many more exercises than some of the isolation machines.

4. Does it fit your body size? Is the bench long enough to fit all the members of your department? Are seats and other stops adjustable to fit different sized users?

Another option is to check out local gyms or community facilities and see if you can work out there. They already have the equipment set up and many will give firefighters a reduction in rates to exercise at their facility.

Muscular strength and endurance is vital to working on the fireground and having a long and successful career as a firefighter. Whether you are new to the service or a veteran with 30 years of experience, strength training will benefit your lifestyle both in and out of work. The combined strength and endurance components need to be trained if you want to be able to fight fires most efficiently. It doesn’t have to cost a lot of money or take a lot of time. It just has to be done.