CPAT: Beating the Step Mill Advice & Facts
I helped with the final details of designing Washington DCFD's CPAT testing facility and ended up running that program along with the recruit training for a few years. I've seen hundreds of applicants & recruits through the testing process and recruit school.
The CPAT is a Physcial Test agreed upon between the IAFC & the IAFF. The agreed upon prep time between the two entities for the CPAT test is 5 weeks from the CPAT introduction in which they show you the video and tell you about how that particular department runs their process. The IAFC & IAFF agreed that in those 5 weeks you are allotted at LEAST 2 practice runs and one test at the end of the 5 weeks. It's the departments discretion how many workout sessions they want to host during those 5 weeks. If you miss the practice tests the department is not required to make others available to you. All of that being said SOME departments only allow you to take the test one time where as others allow the tester to count the practice run as a test if you pass and others allow the tester to retake the test multiple times. (I'll save my opinion on that matter for another day). The testing parameters for each departments should be laid out during the introduction. Each testing facility is required to have a license and has the option to make their site available to other departments. If the department informs only certain testers and NOT inform ALL of the testers of the parameters (ie. how many time they can test) they leave them self vulnerable to law suits.
Any of the Stairmaster (brand) Stepmill's will have the CPAT program build into the programs. Choose "other programs", back twice and CPAT program should pop up. Stairmaster is the only brand that has the program built into it. The stepmill is programed to have a warmup rate (speed) of 50 steps/min for the first 20 sec. The machine then increases the speed to 60 steps/min for 3 min. The point of this exercise is to test your muscle endurance, not your cardio capacity. Which is why you're not allowed to use the rails. The physical steps/treat on the stepmill varies - some are a tooth type groove that you seen in escalators and others are on a hinge which you see on a door. The depth of the treat is more shallow then a regular steps depth. Most people will be forced to be up on your toes.
All of that being said; Lets break this down to 3 different types of training: Strength (the amount of weight you can push), Endurance (how long you can maintain said workout for at a set pace), & Cardio ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aerobic_exercise)
Running stairs is a great way to increase your cardio but is NOT going to be optimal training for the stairmill event. Running stairs is going to increase the amount of stress on your knees by about 150-200% (estimate). Running stairs with weights on is going to be way above that and can cause damage rather then good.(ie pain in your patella, shin splints, arch pain, plantar fasciitis etc.). Walking stairs with weight on your shoulders will give you the muscle endurance and strength training that is ideal for building a muscular foundation. You want to feel the "burn" which is lactic acid breaking down your muscles. If you feel the "burn" quickly then your goal is to build up your lactic acid threshold. Basically, workout with a goal of making it through that burn and/or feeling the burn later on in the workout. If you "overdo it" starting out you will strain and or pull a muscle (won't be able to work out, train or sit on the toilet). Because you are going at a slower pace, you will need to work on your balance (especially due to the fact you'll have 75 lbs on your shoulders) The 75 lbs will be pushing DOWN on your shoulders, chest & back which in turn make it more difficult to fill your lungs up with oxygen. Due to the excess weight, your body will be burning calories & trying to release heat. The weighted vest, inability fil your lungs up as you normally would, the extra heat and weight from pants and helmet, you have the potential to overheat. If you're not used to being warm while you workout it could also contribute to your lack of energy. The CPAT facility temperature is regulated which is why CPAT test are not given outside.
Starting off, should work on body weight squats & lunges (always pushing up through you heel not your toes). Walking stairs at a high school gym or track is a good way to start training. If those two workouts have no effect on you, increase your weight by carring weights, vests, rocks in a backpack, sandbag etc.. Another tool you can use is a metronome (beeps/chimes to a set pace) set the metronome to a beep every second (60 steps/min) which will mimic your stepmill test. Every second you should step up then step down alternating which foot goes up first.
If you're in the DC area and looking for a personal trainer who knows the CPAT test very well feel free to check me out and see some fof the videos past recruit classes have posted of our training at the academy. www.wildfireadventures.com
Hope this helps some of you in your quest. Best of luck to you and be safe.