The Struggles of Staying Physically Fit

Rookie School circa 2008

Rookie School circa 2008

Physical fitness and personal wellness are not two things that I have always been passionate about. Honestly, at the beginning of my career, I wasn’t fit for the job I was expected to perform. While it’s hard for me to admit this, it is a fact. At the same time, it is something that I have battled with throughout the last few years and continue to do so today. There is no doubt that being in the fire service, we need to be in top physical shape to perform when our citizens need help. They expect that we will be able to help them out of any situation, not only with our mental expertise but also physical ability. Part of my drive is fueled by the fact that I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I was not able to perform a task on the fire scene and a citizen suffered from it.

Information about the no-brainer relationship between physical fitness and the fire service is readily available in textbooks and online. It wasn’t that I didn’t understand that they went hand in hand, instead it was more that I didn’t realize exactly how out of shape I was. It wasn’t something that JUMPED right out at me either. Even though it was the obvious, I found myself in a state of denial. The slow realization of reality came from looking at photographs, the fact that I felt like sh*t all the time, and my performance on the fire ground.

Edward Hadfield writes:

The Spartans understood and embraced the concept of using hard physical training to develop the mind along with qualities such as discipline, honor, integrity and teamwork. They did not just rely on a good workout to develop their warriors; neither should we. Our goal should be to use physical training to carve out mental toughness and physical preparedness as a body of work, core competency, and an essential requirement to be a member of the fire service.

Click here to read Hadfield’s article from Fire Engineering called: CrossFit 4 Fire: Pain Threshold Training and Firefighter Survival.

The ups and downs...

The ups and downs…

Throughout the last several years, I have had my ups and downs with staying in shape. Motivation seems to come and go, and so does the support of those around me. I have no doubt that if you are surrounded by others who are trying to stay fit and in the gym…it’s natural incentive to get you to do the same. There aren’t many people I know that will sit on the couch if the rest of your crew in the firehouse is in the gym. Through the ups and downs, my weight has fluctuated quite a bit. I am still far of getting back into the best shape of my life, but I’m travelling on that road.

Recently, through the determination of a few friends, I made a trip to CrossFit: Shifty Powers. It is one of the CrossFit gyms in The “Model City”. A coworker went with me, and we attended one of the free workouts. It didn’t take long for us both to realize how far we had to go and the room we each have for improvement. shiftypowersWhile CrossFit seems to be the hottest thing since sliced bread right now, it also receives a lot of criticism. I personally believe a lot of it boils down to what you enjoy the most. Some guys at my firehouse have stated that they like to “just go to the gym and lift weights and get cardio in on opposite days.” A few years back while stationed at Headquarters, we started doing some of the CrossFit Workout’s Of the Day (WOD). While I did benefit a lot from these workouts in the firehouse gym, it is nothing like belonging to a box. I’m in my last week of the Basic Training, a 2 week class that focuses on the basic movements and form of the exercises. As soon as we finish the training, we will start the regular WOD’s with the rest of the gym. While I know the intensity level is about to increase, I welcome the challenge and look forward to pushing myself more each and every day.

 

In our first class, my CrossFit Coach, Willie Hamilton, was outlining what exactly CrossFit is all about. As I stood there in the room listening to him talk, I couldn’t help by to relate it to the Fire Service. He stated:

CrossFit consists of Constantly Varied. High Intensity, Functional Movements.

When we think about the typical fire ground activities, these three things can also be applied. The fire ground is a High Intensity environment. While this doesn’t necessarily mean that things are out of control, it more less is interpreted to me as the high level of effort that may need to be applied. By not knowing exactly what conditions we are going to face, there are many unknowns that we experience as well roll up. The first few minutes of the fire scene are often the most intense moments as tactics are decided and a game plan is put into motion. Once a few of the immediate priorities are addressed, the intensity level slowly decreases. This is not to be confused with saying that you are any less likely to get injured, and the reality is that we are probably just more likely to let our guard down.

The second item is that CrossFit is constantly varied. This isn’t to be confused with random, as there are 9 functional movements that are involved. Of course, each of those 9 have additional variations that can be applied. Fire ground activities are typically the same on every fire. While some may be omitted on some fire scenes due to the scenario, we all know of the possible tasks that we may be expected to perform. Our assignments to each activity may also vary depending on the scene in that we may be expected to perform a rescue on one fire, but the next may only involve extinguishment and ventilation.

By definition, functional movement is described as  movements based on real-world situational biomechanics. On the fire ground, our core is involved in nearly every activity that is performed. Whether is it crawling around searching through a smoke filled room, lifting an ambulance cot with our legs and not our back, or carrying an SCBA around for minutes to hours. These functional movements are used in nearly all of the CrossFit workouts. The core is constantly being put to the test during the workouts from lunges to deadlifts.

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As I stated, I am just getting into the CrossFit experience and definitely looking forward to expanding my knowledge in the concepts behind it. It is a type of workout that I can relate to the fire ground and believe that it can help my performance on/off-duty. The brotherhood that is experienced in the fire service somewhat can be found in the gym as well. The men and women that complete the workouts before you don’t pack up and leave, but instead stand over your shoulder to push you to the end.

gymWhile this article is comprised of just my personal experiences and beliefs, what is most important is finding what works best for you. If it is throwing on turnout gear/air-pack and climbing stairs, so be it. If it is hitting the heavy weights with the guys in the gym, no problem. Our job is full of injuries that are taking place in training and on the fire scene that are preventable. The most common injury we suffer from are strains and sprains. If we strengthen our core, practice good body mechanics, and are ready for the next call that comes in, then we are able to climb off the truck and go home the next morning.

Another great resource for members of the fire service is FireServiceWarrior.com. I know several of the guys that operate the site, and it is much more than just a website. They have several text/workbooks available for purchase as well. The website states that FSW is:

Our Mission is simple: Forging Fire Service Excellence.  That’s why we take classes, struggle in the gym, and sweat on the drill ground. Our Ethos guides us in “How” to achieve that goal. Our Ethos is the road map, laid out clearly and concisely for each of us to measure our actions against. What is the product at the end of the day? We are a resource, an opportunity, and a community for firefighters who are prepared to thrive on the fireground so they can protect the lives and property of their neighbors.

555 Fitness

555 Fitness

While we are on the topic of different styles and programs of workouts available, you may also want to check out 555 Fitness. This is a fairly new organization that posts WOD’s Monday-Saturday. The organization is looking to reduce injury and death on the fire ground by firefighters preparing their bodies for the activities that we face on-scene. Their WOD’s are also posted on Facebook here and also on Instagram at: @555Fitness. Check them out!

If you have a style of workout that is working for you or that you enjoy, then you are making a difference. Drive yourself to be better tomorrow then you were yesterday. What style of workout works for you? Do you belong to a CrossFit box? Are you a Fire Service Warrior? Let us know!