Firefighter Fitness Case Study

Dec. 5, 2003
In its infinite wisdom the human body is more concerned with survival than with appearance.

At age twenty-four, John was the typical strong, lean, and athletic firefighter. He trained hard for an entrance exam that weeded out the weaker applicants and allowed only the strong to survive. But after twenty years on the frontlines, providing for a wife and three kids while paying off two mortgages occupied most of his off-duty time. Exercise and eating right became luxuries John's busy schedule just couldn't afford -or so he thought. See related article

Climbing ten or twelve flights of stairs, which was he once considered a routine task, had become John's most dreaded assignment. In addition, his latest annual medical revealed a sharp escalation in blood pressure at a time his department was applying stricter standards. For the first time in his long career, the once super fit firefighter was sidelined and placed on limited duty, not allowed to do what he did best -fight fires. John began to feel his health, strength, and possibly his livelihood slip away.


Firefighter Fitness Case Study

Name: John
Age: 44
Sex: Male
Height: 5ft, 11in
Weight: 237lbs
Occupation: Urban Firefighter
Available Exercise Equipment: Dumbbells (full set)

Goals: I want to reduce overall body-fat and lower the associated risk of cardiovascular disease. I also want improve my job performance (strength and endurance) on the fire-ground.

Comments: I've been feeling sluggish and unable to perform some basic firefighting tasks without getting out of breath (previously I found these activities not too strenuous). Over the last ten years I've also experienced a loss of muscle definition and increase in belly size.


As I looked over the 44-year-old's profile, it became obvious to me how important his firefighting career was to him. In the comments section of the form, John expressed such dedication and loyalty that I was moved to follow up with the 20-year veteran and find out how he fared over the long haul. Six months after customizing a fitness program for John, I dropped him an e-mail.

John's Progress Report

He had begun working out immediately upon receipt of the program and never looked back. His blood pressure stabilized and the once overweight firefighter dropped forty pounds, but what impressed John most was the relative small commitment in time and energy necessary to reach those goals. He had expected to be training six days per week, two hours each day to get the kind of results he was experiencing with a program that took less than three hours a week. Needless to say, he was back in his firehouse, doing what he loved more safely and effectively than ever before, with lower blood pressure and a body that felt and looked 15 years younger.

A combination of the right exercises coupled with light cardio two or three days per week could have an amazing effect when part of a structured, systematic approach. Eating right, and learning portion control was the icing on the cake (sugar free of course). The key to the long-range success of John's program was the quick initial results he saw after only a week or two, and this what kept him coming back.

Performance Before Appearance

In its infinite wisdom the human body is more concerned with survival than with appearance. Hence, physical adaptations as they relate to the body's ability to perform more work with less negative impact are the first to kick in. "Stroke volume", or the amount of blood that gets pumped with each beat of the heart increases after only two or three brisk walks or slow jogs. This instantly improves cardiovascular endurance, and subsequently lowers blood pressure.

Strength gains, possibly attributed to the quick adaptation of your nervous system, take place almost immediately following the institution of a resistance regimen. But appearance changes aren't far behind. Paying attention to how your clothes fit is probably the best way to keep tabs on your overall progress. There was no doubt that John's transformation was complete when he had to be refitted for new bunker gear. He hadn't seen a size 32-inch waist in many years, and he felt like a svelte rookie ready for action with his brand new gear and body to match.

Males over the age of forty represent the largest age group of active firefighters in this country, and many are being confronted with the same issues as John was forced to face. Unfortunately, many times the situation seems too overwhelming to act upon, and nothing gets done. I urge you to take some action today. If possible, seek advice within your department. If you department doesn't support structured fitness programs, they may provide an incentive program that will pay some of the cost of a health club membership. Local gyms sometimes offer police and firefighter discounts as well.

As another option, put together a firehouse gym. Seek professional guidance on how to get it set up and fund the program by establishing a "fitness club" within the firehouse. Initially, each member can contribute a specific amount of money, and then continue to periodically pay dues. This will keep the gym growing and allow your fitness club to flourish.

Please note that the firefighter depicted in this case study is a composite character representing similar characteristics shared by hundreds of firefighters Michael Stefano has previously created programs for.

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. Stefano, an ACE certified fitness instructor, has been developing exercise programs for the firefighters he's worked with and the general public for the past nineteen years. His workout routines and articles have been featured on such Internet giants as AOL, Yahoo, eDiets, MSN and iVillage. Captain Mike is also available as a fitness consultant for fire departments throughout the United States.

"To find out more about The Firefighter's Workout, or any of Captain Mike's fat burning, muscle building programs, go to:"

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