Firefighter Workout Tips From Men's Health
The Firefighter Workout
5 Strategies for incinerating fat and packing on muscle
By: Kate Dailey & Scott Quill
Years of long shifts, intense stress, and downtime spent filling up on five-alarm chili have taken their toll on the bodies of America's Bravest. So we sounded the alarm--and came to the rescue. First stop: Chicago. With the help of personal trainer Carter Hays, C.S.C.S.; nutritionist Dawn Jackson Blatner, R.D.; and trainers Carrie Paulsen and Fernando Perez, of Equinox Fitness Clubs, we designed an intensive diet-and-exercise program to manufacture muscle and torch fat. Next, we took the same challenge to New York and some flabby members of the FDNY.
After just 5 weeks, firefighters in both cities saw remarkable results. Some cut their body fat by a third. Others layered on lean muscle. But the best result? These strategies can help you build a body of heroic proportions, too.
1. Direct your efforts
Most resistance exercises require you to move only forward and backward or up and down. But if you train in additional planes--side to side and diagonal--you'll burn more calories and use more muscles with each move, according to Hays. The following multiplanar moves were staples of the firefighters' program.
Lunge forward with one foot and back to the starting position, then step out to the side. Return to the middle and step to the other side with your other foot. Next, pivot on your right foot to lunge back at a 45-degree angle with your left foot. Then pivot on your left foot and step back diagonally with your right foot. Do one or two sets of 12 reps in each direction.
Standing on one foot, jump out to the opposite side and land softly on your other foot. Immediately jump back in the same fashion. Repeat the same type of jump forward and backward, as well as diagonally. Do one or two sets of 12 repetitions in each direction.
Perform a standard squat, then step forward with your left leg and squat again. As you rise out of the squat, bring your right leg forward so it's even with your left, then take another step forward with your right leg and squat. Next, take a step back with your left foot and turn it at a 45-degree angle, so your toes are pointing to the side, then squat. Bring your left foot back and repeat the move with your right foot. Do one or two sets of 12 repetitions in each direction.
2. Drill your core
The firefighters did core-stabilization moves like the Swiss-ball long-lever crunch (see "Breakthrough," in Malegrams) while adhering to a strict tempo: Crunch forward for a count of 2, pause for a second, then lower your body for a count of 4. "The core is slow to fatigue," says Hays, and this slow tempo provides the necessary stress. Perform core exercises early in your routine, when your energy is high.
3. Hit the floor
Once you've mastered the multiplanar lunge, start the move holding weights at your shoulders. As you lunge, lower the weights toward your toes and touch them to the floor. Then, as you push back to the starting position, press the weights overhead.
Hays calls this move a multiplanar lunge matrix, and the benefits are as cool as the name. By bringing the weights to the floor, you stretch your lower back, hamstrings, and glutes. You also increase the amount and intensity of work you do by moving the weights through such a large range of motion.
4. Snack smarter
Many of the firefighters munched on what they thought were healthy snacks, only to be reprimanded by Blatner. "It's important to limit your intake of juice and dried fruits," she says. "They're concentrated sources of calories." Whole fruit has less sugar, and its high water content means you'll feel fuller longer. And while nuts contain good monounsaturated fats, they're still calorie-dense treats. "Imagine filling an Altoids tin with nuts," says Blatner. "That's how many you should aim to eat in a day."
5. Keep your balance
As with their snacks, the firefighters' high-protein "diet" meals weren't the flab busters they seemed. "Eliminating things like fruit, whole grains, and yogurt is not a long-term solution to weight maintenance," says Blatner. What's more, by cutting out certain foods, the firefighters were also handicapping their health. "Yogurt is full of good bacteria, which can aid your immune system," she says. "These guys are in such stressful, dangerous conditions that they need all the help they can get to stay healthy." Bottom line: Stick with a ratio of 50 percent vegetables and fruit, 25 percent whole grains, and 25 percent lean proteins.