I receive questions every day from firefighters across the country, looking for ways to get fit quick. Everybody wants the shortcut to flat abs, rock solid legs, and a V-shaped torso, as well as the associated strength and stamina, but unfortunately most don't know how to go about getting them.
It's simply a matter of doing a moderate amount of what works, and none of what doesn't.
Spot reduction doesn't work. The notion of doing more sit-ups to burn off the spare tire you've been lugging around for the last couple of years has become obsolete. The most productive fat burning is accomplished through calculated aerobic exercise (walking, jogging, cycling). Gauging intensity with heart rate (or breathing rate) enables you to burn fat as your primary fuel, and increase your overall cardiovascular endurance level.
Resistance training (weight lifting, working with resistance bands or body-weight, sprinting) builds strength, endurance, and muscle -- muscle that requires fuel (calories) to function. When you increase lean muscle mass through resistance exercises, you also raise your basil metabolic rate, or the amount of fuel you require just to exist. This is also the second best way to keep body fat levels under control after aerobic exercise.
But what about those specific body parts and the endless list of improvements? Is it necessary to perform an individual exercise for each "trouble spot" or area of concern?
Absolutely not! The human body functions as a unit. When operating a high-pressure hose line, too many muscles to mention get into the act. The arms, chest, back and shoulders work feverishly to keep the nozzle extended, while your legs press into the floor as you push forward.
So it is with exercise. Even when you perform the simple action of going from a standing to a sitting position (also known as a squat), more than just the glutes, quadriceps, and hamstrings are at work. The muscles of the inner and outer thighs, low-back, abdominals, and obliques are all engaged as stabilizer muscles.
This can translate into a lot of exercise with only a small investment in time, and without the need for sophisticated or expensive equipment. Squats or lunges done with just body weight or hand weights are extremely effective at working the entire lower body, thus eliminating the need for possibly three or four additional movements.
The same affect can be seen with the upper body. Movements that act at more than one joint, and involve more than one muscle get big results. One such exercise, the push-up, virtually works the entire upper body in one capacity or another. The shoulders, triceps, and pecs are directly involved in pushing the body away from the floor, as the back, hips, and abs stabilize, holding the body straight. That's mega-muscle usage in a compact, easy-to-do exercise. The push-up can be modified to be more or less intense, thereby opening it up to almost anyone who wants to add it to their program.
So slim down while you trim down -- not only your body, but your routine. Rid your program of unnecessary exercises that eat up time and energy. Get more bang for your buck. Pack your program full of multi-muscle movements like the squat and push-up, and get fit in less time.
The Firefighter's Workout Book contains over 50 illustrated exercises and routines, including strength, aerobic and stretching programs for every level of fitness.