As you know, our mantra here at Power Athlete is “What are you training for”. Simply put, your training program MUST replicate the demands of your goals or in this case, your job.
Yes, it’s important to be well rounded and prepared for the unknown and unknowable. But if we know what it takes to excel in the task at hand, we would be doing ourselves a disservice to not train these areas. If I’m a competitive powerlifter and all I do is walk for my training, would that yield the results I’m looking for? Of course not. You might ask, what the heck does that have to do with training firefighters?
Over the years I’ve spent time with thousands of firefighters and observed a common theme, they are constantly working hurt. Common injuries include busted knees, immobile shoulders, sore backs, and stiff necks. Despite this discomfort, they are still expected to suit up and execute.
If you’re a firefighter you know that many factors play a role in how these injuries occur, be it lack of sleep, poor movement, overuse, non optimal and unforeseeable scenarios, the list goes on. Since we know that no situation is perfect, it’s important to be prepared for anything, but how do we do that? When I ask what type of training is implemented to prepare them for their job I’m commonly given two answers. 1. I do cardio or 2. Each person on our shift comes up with a couple movements and we do them until we’re tired. Yes exercise is important but remember our goal, our training should meet the demands of our sport/job. With that said, is only cardio or doing a bunch of random movements really the best method for optimal performance?
We know that in order to pick something up off the ground we’re performing some type of lower body primal movement. The general recommendation would be to challenge your posture and position through the 3 different planes of motion or axes. Examples would be bilateral squats and deadlifts, step ups, or lunges. As firefighters, how often do you walk into a medical aid scenario and everything is perfect? The answer is never.
This came to my attention when teaching a group of firefighters how to deadlift. After going through the progressions they said that’s great, but what about when a 400lb bariatric (obese) patient is “takin the browns to the Super Bowl”, their legs fall asleep and when they try to get up they fall between the toilet and bathtub and can’t get up? Yes deadlifting/squatting is the foundation of how they’re going to lift them but what if their toes can’t be forward, hips aren’t squared, and the majority of their weight is shifted to one side? I always figured that why they have sledge hammers on the rig, so they can demo all the stuff in their way so they can have perfect form when they lift. Ummmm… how about no Scotty.
So what do we do with our training? If we know the majority of the scenarios you encounter are less than perfect, we need to implement movement patterns to replicate what you experience on a regular basis. Always remember that we fall to the level of our training so our default movement MUST be as fundamentally sounds as possible within that scenario. In a stressful situation whether it be an emergency, lack of sleep, waking up and having to perform manual labor in the middle of the night, etc. you’re only going to be half as good as you are on your best day.
In the past, Raphael Ruiz, who is a mentor of John’s, one of the original creators of the Power Athlete methodology, and grand wizard of S&C, has referenced something called, State Dependent Learning. This means, the state in which you learn a skill, you will have a better opportunity to recall it. Starting out by placing a demand on your CNS with limited to no external force will help you recall this spatial awareness when you add weight and stress.
We place a high level of awareness on warming up, not because it’s the most sexy thing to do at the gym but because of the huge impact it has on your training and future abilities. The following are some of my “go to” warm ups you need to be incorporating into your training days to prepare you not only for your work out but also what you may encounter in the field. These will get you working through all planes of motion and are basics that need to be mastered. We don’t need to do a million reps, quality over quantity and challenge yourself to hold these positions with good posture and position. Hit your Dead Bugs, move on the to See Saws, to the Lunges, and finally the Side Pillar with a Reach. Depending on time go through the cycle 2-4 times.
The Dead Bug is a staple for our warm ups. Not only is this a great diagnostic tool to identify limiting factors but it builds upper a lower limb coordination and activation in an unloaded fashion. In other words, we’re turning everything on to get the engine warm without redlining it. Hold these for 30 seconds to a minute.
Picking something up requires us to move in the sagittal plane (x axis). These See Saw Walks will not only prep you for a hip hinge but also address any imbalances and build stability. It’s key to load the hamstring but don’t forget to maintain rigidity throughout your trunk. Don’t be that guy who looks like an upside down bow and arrow. Hit up each leg once making sure we hold at our end range of motion for 3-5 seconds. Don’t be lame, jump as high as you can like Lebron James.
Again, we are creating ankle knee and hip flexion but from a slightly different angle which will account for various positions you may encounter. Here is our chance to fix your frumpy shoulders. This requires an active range of motion meaning you need to turn on the various shoulder girdle muscles to maintain this position. By tilting side to side, we attack the frontal plane. Same as the See Saws, get one on each leg with QUALITY and don’t be afraid to hang out in the lunge position with the shoulders activated and adductors turned on.
This is one of my favorites because it trains a commonly overlooked piece of peoples training, rotation. Fortunately we will be doing it in an unloaded position. By reaching under and behind us we challenge the lateral aspect of the trunk and work the transverse plane. When reaching, ring out your midsection like a wet towel. Get 3-5 on each side but when you reach through hold it for a second and stabilize yourself so you don’t sway your hips like a leaf on a tree.
Part 2 will provide you with movements that you can implement in addition to your current training regiment.
MS, CSCS A former collegiate baseball player that has coached in strength and conditioning for nearly a decade. He is currently training a wide range of college level field sport athletes as well as career firefighters. After experiencing the effective Power Athlete method himself, Levi became an intern assisting the crew at PAHQ.
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