Sounding the Fitness Alarm for Police, Firemen and other First Responders

FiremanFitnessWhat is the major cause of firefighters’ injuries — or death? Burns? Falls or collapsing buildings? Smoke inhalation?

No. No. No.

It’s stress and physical exertion, according to statistics. About 50 firefighters each year die from those causes,

Policemen are susceptible to over exertion, as well. (No doughnut jokes, please!) They often ride in their cars much of the day, then, in an instant they may have to handle a stressful situation, or chase a suspected perpetrator — all without a warmup.

That’s why one cutting-edge department — in Arcata, California — is working with researchers led by Humboldt State University Kinesiology Professor Young Sub Kwon to increase fitness and manage stress for firefighters and police officers, utilizing state-of-the-art equipment to measure cardiovascular endurance, flexibility – and everything in between.

By measuring the participants physical health, Kwon, the director of Humboldt State’s Human Performance Lab, and his student assistants are  better able to develop effective fitness programs.

“”If we’re going to serve our community effectively we need to maintain a fitness level that’s acceptable for our duties,” Arcata Fire District Battalion Chief Sean Campbell to “This isn’t just for our communities, it’s for ourselves so we can go home to our families everyday.”

First responders across the nation are generally required to pass a physical fitness test in order to be hired, but rarely are they required to maintain a specific fitness level, which contributes to the sometimes-fatal cardiovascular incidents.

Aracata firemen, like other California firemen, must pass the  Candidate Physical Ability Test as a minimum standard for entry-level firefighters (career and volunteer). It includes exercises like the stair climb, equipment carry and ladder raise, all functional test. But after they pass they never have to take he test again.

“You can come in as a new firefighter and be completely fit day one and then you can let yourself go after that,” says Campbell.

If you want to train like a fit firefighter, check out this workout from, written by Jimmy Smith, CSCS:

1. Standing Dumbbell raises–For firefighting training, your first movement should be a multi-plane movement for timed rounds. Start with 3 rounds, 30 seconds each. Build to a maximum of 60 seconds per round.

Some movement options:

2. Explosive moves: Medicine balls are great for this type of training.

Perform 4 sets of 8 reps for any one of the following movements:

Other explosive movements:

3. Unilateral movements –Loading one side with weight in order to resist rotation. When do firefighters carry something that’s equally balanced? Never. Pick any two movements from each of the three sections. Begin with 3 sets of 15 reps. After 4 weeks, increase sets to 4 and drop the reps to 12:

Full-body unilateral movements:

Upper body unilateral movements:

Lower body unilateral movements:

4. Core time! — A firefighter must burst through a building to rescue someone. She activates her core to kick down a door, heft a beam, carry a small child or climb a tree to get your neighbor’s cat.

Start with 3 rounds, 30 seconds each. Build to a maximum of 60 seconds per round:

5. Back work –A firefighter’s shoulders take a beating, so finish your workouts with a direct hit on your upper back. The goal with this movement is to pull your shoulders down and back.

Pick one of the movements below and perform 4 sets of 15 reps:


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