Train like a firefighter for endurance, upper body strength |

Train like a firefighter for endurance, upper body strength

Kyler Crouse
Special to the Tribune

Think your job is stressful and tough? The job requirements of a firefighter vary but can include activities like extracting people from burning cars and buildings, being the emergency first responders and, you know, saving lives and such.

According to a published study, “Acceptance of a medical first-responder role by fire fighters,” auto extractions represent a large percentage of the tasks associated with firefighters. The auto extraction device known as the “jaws of life” is hefty and awkward, and, while several different manufactures make the device, most weigh between 50 and 100 pounds and must be held for long periods of time. The job also requires carrying odd objects of varying weight; which can include hoses, ladders and victims; over large distances across rough terrain.

The physical and cardiovascular demands are further increased with the added weight of equipment. Firefighters use air tanks and wear fire-retardant boots, jackets, gloves and helmets, all of which can add more than 70 pounds. This same firefighter is then required to quickly climb stairs and rescue victims while dealing with the exposure to heat and stress. Needless to say the physical and emotional demands on a firefighter are extremely high.

So what does it take to be a good firefighter? A joint study done with the Fayetteville Fire Department in Fayetteville, Ark. and the University of Arkansas looked at what physical attributes are important to firefighting. The researchers found that, “high performance of several fitness parameters- upper-body strength, abdominal strength, upper-body muscular endurance, and anaerobic power- was shown to be related to high performance”.

However, as mentioned earlier, the role of the firefighter is unique. They must frequently get into awkward and injury-prone positions when crawling and twisting. This reality challenges core strength. The study found that upper body strength and endurance lead to higher performance. Also, because cardiovascular failure was the leading cause of on-duty death, adding some cardiovascular activity would be a consideration.

There are very few professions that require the physical and emotional demands like firefighting. There are also very few professions were failure can have such catastrophic consequences. So training is not only important, but potential lifesaving. Three of my favorite exercises to train like a firefighter include pull-ups, sprints for cardiovascular endurance and heavy carries for distance.

Pull-ups: While this exercise targets the large muscles of the back, it is really a total body exercise. Everything from grip strength and even the core have to work hard to hold the body in place with the powerful muscles of the back and arms producing force. A band or training partner can be added to assist with the exercise. Building a strong upper body can help holding onto the “jaws of life.”

Sprints: If you’re short on time, but want the benefits that long, slow cardio provides, sprint workouts might be a perfect solution. Evidence shows that short, high intensity sprint workouts improve aerobic capacity and endurance in about half the time of traditional endurance exercise.

Heavy sandbag carries: The closest thing to carrying a victim out of a burning building may be a heavy sandbag carry for distance. If you don’t have access to a sandbag a heavy duffle bag or even a big bag of dog food can get the job done.

Kyler Crouse, BS, CSCS, FMS is a personal trainer and strength coach that trains at Sierra Athletic Club. He is also a training center instructor at Barton Memorial Hospital. Visit for more articles, videos and information.

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