1. #1
    Forum Member

    Join Date
    Oct 2006

    Default CPAT / Physical Agility Preparation

    The following is an excerpt from an article I recently wrote for the e-Magazine Launch Your FireDepartmentCareer. I though it might be of interest for readers here.
    David Arthur, FF/EMT

    The CPAT or similar physical agility test is a big part of any fire department selection process. The number of candidates who are unable to pass these physical tests remains high. It is a frustration for many would-be firefighter recruits. So, if you are a potential fire department recruit looking forward to one or more physical agility tests with fire departments in the coming year, what are you doing to prepare?

    As career firefighters, we are athletes. Specifically, firefighters are occupational athletes. Our physical strength, cardiovascular stamina, and our physical agility allow us to perform our jobs well--allows us to lift, pry, climb, crawl, drag, pull, and push adequately and for long periods of time. This athleticism is what the public expects of us. This is what the public pays us to do, and they rightfully expect us to be good at it.

    As a direct result of these expectations and the demanding nature of the job, most firefighter physical agility tests are quite challenging. The most common test currently used is the CPAT (Candidate Physical Ability Test). Most other tests are similar to the CPAT, being made up of tasks such as those required on the scene of a fire. All of these tests are taxing, both in terms of strength and cardiovascular fitness. The failure rates for almost all of these tests are high.

    I have acted as a proctor for several firefighter entry tests over the years. I am continually surprised by the people who pass the tests with no problem, and by those who fail miserably. It is not uncommon to have a 118lb female pass with flying colors. I have also witnessed more than a few strapping young studs who could pass for linebackers who have given up without finishing the physical agility test.

    The difference between passing and failing?

    There are three:
    1. Cardiovascular fitness
    2. Core strength
    3. Technique

    Use this list to prepare yourself. Train smart to get ready for your test and your fire department career: Before you begin though, you should check with your doctor to confirm that you are in adequate physical condition to undertake a strenuous workout. Many fire departments will actually require you to have a physical and to submit a doctor’s clearance before you will be allowed to participate in their agility testing.

    1. Cardiovascular training- Push yourself in your cardio workouts. Run wind sprints. Work your way up to the truly taxing settings on the stairclimber at the gym. Enroll in a group cycling class.

    Figure out your target training heart rate. Use the following formula as a good estimate of your target heart rate: (220-your age) X A. In this formula, the variable “A” represents your desired intensity level. Use a factor of .6 to .85. The lower end is for moderate intensity workouts, the high end for workouts of greater intensity. Do one or two high intensity cardio workouts each week, interspersed with one or two moderate intensity workouts, each 30 to 60 minutes in duration.

    2. Core strength- Your core is made up of your abdominal and back muscles. These muscles provide the base for all body movement. Building these muscles provides the quickest way to vastly improve your athletic performance and to avoid injury. Go out and purchase one of those big silly looking fitness balls from any department store (they are sometimes called Swiss Balls or Stability Balls). They are not expensive and allow you to do a number of great core-building exercises in your home. Most of these balls come with a basic set of exercises or a workout poster. There are also a number of good fitness books on the market that show literally hundreds of full-body and core workouts with beginning, intermediate and advanced moves using little more than these cheap rubber balls. It is possible for anyone to get a challenging workout using these simple devices.

    Another option is to join a gym and pay for a few sessions with a certified personal trainer. Still, most good trainers are going to start you off on a core strength routine and will continue to incorporate core work as you progress.

    3. Technique- When it comes to physical agility test-taking technique, experience is king. Almost every agency will provide an opportunity to walk through the course prior to taking the test. Ask the proctors a lot of questions about what techniques work well. I know that I was always dying to lend a couple of “tricks” to candidates, but I couldn’t unless I was asked. Ask!

    Good luck and be safe out there,
    David Arthur, FF/EMT

  2. #2
    MembersZone Subscriber

    Join Date
    Nov 2006


    excellent post, thanks!

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