Firefighting is one of the most physically demanding jobs out there. Firefighters are required to run, climb, lift and carry while wearing as much as 100 pounds of gear. Muscular strength, muscular endurance, aerobic endurance and anaerobic endurance can all come into play during a single, routine call. For this reason, it's important for firefighters and those aspiring to join their ranks to adhere to a training program that incorporates all of these areas of fitness.
Know What's Expected of You
Prospective recruits must pass the comprehensive Candidate Physical Ability Test. The test consists of eight different events designed to closely replicate the most common physical tasks firefighters face in the line of duty. Those eight events include a stair climb, ladder raise and extension, hose drag, equipment carry, forcible entry, a crawling search through dark spaces, a body drag and ceiling pull. The wide variety of these tasks indicates the breadth of fitness firefighters are required to have, allowing no room for weakness in any one area.
Train Your Muscles in Two Ways
Having the strength required to lift and carry a body is quite different than having the muscular endurance to hammer away at a steel door until it gives, but both may be required at a single call. That's why it's important for firefighters to train muscular strength and endurance equally.
To build strength, lift a heavy weight that only allows you to perform up to six repetitions. To train strength and explosive power simultaneously, vary the speed of those repetitions. To increase muscular endurance, lift lighter weight for 12 or more repetitions. Train each muscle group two or three times per week, on nonconsecutive days.
Train for the Long Call
While most firefighter fitness tests last for only 10 minutes or less, firefighters routinely find themselves on physically grueling calls that can last for hours. In light of the fact that heart attack is the number one cause of death for firefighters, you can see why aerobic fitness training is so important.
A solid cardiovascular program for firefighters includes 20 to 60 minutes of moderate- to high-intensity cardiovascular activity most days of the week. Aerobic activities such as jogging, rowing, cycling and swimming are all good options, but stair climbing is specifically recommended because it is so central to firefighter duties.
Have Energy to Spare
The tricky business of firefighting often requires climbing stairs or a ladder before the real work even begins. This type of taxing activity is performed in the anaerobic zone, where the body is burning glycogen stores instead of oxygen for fuel. This causes the accumulation of lactic acid in the muscles, which can leave you feeling spent.
Interval training is a good way to improve anaerobic endurance and avoid this outcome. After a short warm-up, perform four or more intervals of high-intensity effort alternated with easy recovery periods. Start with a work/recovery ratio of 2 to 1 and progress by reducing the recovery time until it is equal to or shorter than the work interval.