The average American gains five pounds a year every year over the age of thirty. Some estimate that 50 or even 60 percent of our society is overweight. As firefighters we're not exempt from this alarming trend, and many firefighters need to deal with substantial weight gain.
The next time you're sitting at the firehouse kitchen table, take a look around. It's easy to see why we're known for tasty cooking as well as battling blazes. It's pretty obvious that firefighters like to eat. Of course, the best way to avoid obesity is to resist temptation and never let the unwanted calories cross your lips in the first place. But what approach can we take that will help us balance exercise and food consumption?
Number One - Cardio
Besides all the incredible health benefits of cardiovascular or aerobic exercise, it's been touted for years as the best way to get your body to burn fat. Most experts agree; a fitness program with the main goal of achieving weight (and fat) loss must include at least three weekly cardio workouts. This translates into 20 to 30 minutes (or up to 60 minutes when working at lesser intensities) of any physical activity that gets your heart to beat at a rate that is 60 to 90 percent of its maximum.
The specific exercise isn't as important as its affect on heart rate (and breathing rate). Generally speaking, cardiovascular or aerobic exercise involves working the major muscles of the lower body in a continuous, rhythmic fashion. Activities such as brisk walking, jogging, riding a bicycle, and jumping rope all qualify as aerobic exercise and should be incorporated into your weekly fat burning regimen.
Number Two - Strength Training
There seems to be a lot of misunderstanding regarding strength training, even amongst firefighters that strength train on a regular basis. When you lift weights (or engage in any other type of resistance training) you pit your body against a challenging (but controllable) level of resistance. If done right muscles will adapt and grow stronger as they anticipate a progressively more difficult workout to follow.
This muscle growth will take the form of a sculpted and more toned physique, and unless taken to an extreme, will usually not materialize into big and bulky muscles. But what about that layer of fat that floats over every inch of your otherwise sculpted body? An increase in lean muscle, if only slight, will result in an increased basil metabolic rate, or your body's requirement for fuel at rest. If you consider that almost all the burning of body fat takes place inside muscle tissue, it's logical to assume the more muscle you have, the more fat you'll burn just to exist. This translates into a 24 hour a day increase in demand for fat as fuel, and if accompanied by a steady or decrease in supply, will result in major fat loss. Related Article: Rev Up Your Metabolism
Number Three - Flexibility Training and Yoga
Many would question the connection between stretching and fat burning. Flexibility training increases the effectiveness of the rest of your fitness program in many ways. It cuts down on injuries in the gym and on the fire-ground, which keeps you working out! It also minimizes recovery time, reduces next day soreness -getting you back in the gym sooner. Stretching improves performance, balance, and speed of motion, allowing you to perform more work in less time.
Interspersing some stretching exercises into an otherwise strength training routine keeps you moving between sets, adding to the overall caloric consumption of your workout. Yoga, with its unique blend of stretching and strengthening exercises, has gained unprecedented popularity. Many fitness enthusiasts, who at one time wouldn't be caught dead in a cat pose, now find themselves attending regular Yoga classes -and looking as lean and fit as ever.
Number Four - Sleep, Rest, and Recovery
Most of us won't resist this one, but you'd be surprised at how often lack of sleep and, or rest is the culprit behind a failed weight loss program. With firefighters working swing shifts, this can be a difficult problem to overcome. When putting together a fitness and weight loss plan, be sure to include adequate recovery periods between workouts. Rest at least 48 hours between full body strength training sessions, and limit cardio to no more than 3 to 6 hours a week. If over trained, your body will breakdown, you'll lose precious lean muscle mass, and actually get fatter.
Do whatever it takes to ensure a good night's sleep -get a new mattress, install heavier blinds, go to bed earlier. During sleep the body's recovery processes go into high gear. Depending on activity levels and individual requirements, get 7 or 8 hours of sound, restful sleep.
Number Five - Meditation and Stress Reduction
Mediation has been proven to minimize the body's reaction to stress and alleviate many stress related health problems. As firefighters, we're exposed to extreme levels of stress on daily basis, and meditation may be a way for us to minimize some of the ill effects of stress a career firefighter can face.
Few realize that mediation can actually raise your body's levels of DHEA, an over-the counter hormonal supplement that's so popular today. DHEA is a precursor to testosterone that's necessary for many functions, including muscle growth and fat loss. DHEA and testosterone levels decline with age, but in tests conducted on people that meditate on a daily basis, serum DHEA levels were restored to much more youthful levels.
In addition, stress has been found to produce dangerous levels of the naturally occurring hormone cortisol that is associated with an increase in body fat levels. Meditation, or any other form of stress reduction, can balance this hormonal shift. You can also use your meditative sessions to visualize how you'd like to look, or imagine yourself engaged in activities you once enjoyed and now avoid. This type of visualization technique has been found to not only relieve stress, but can actually increase your odds of achieving goals you've set -a nice fringe benefit.
Firefighters from volunteer to career, if your goal is to burn fat take a five-pronged approach. Combine the above five suggestions with a sensible eating program, and you'll be on the road to unprecedented fat loss, and a health and fitness program that you'll stay with for a lifetime.
Michael Stefano is a 20-year veteran of New York City Fire Department, currently serving in the rank of captain, as well as author of The Firefighter's Workout Book, and creator of the Firefighter's Workout video.
He has been developing exercise programs for the firefighters he's worked with and the general public for the past seventeen years. His workout routines and articles have been featured on such internet giants as America Online, Yahoo!, eDiets, and iVillage.
"To find out more about The Firefighter's Workout Book, or get more of Captain Mike's fat burning, muscle building workouts, go to: www.firefightersworkout.com.