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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Excellent information. I am a firefighter in Peoria, IL and follow your website and crossfitfootball religiously. I am beyond interested in getting you and creating a program for strength and functional movement. We have a barbell club called The House Barbell Club in Peoria, IL. We have 15 firefighters who are solely dedicated to being the biggest, strongest, fastest firefighters we can be. Thank you for all you do in creating your programs and endless amount of useful information
Peoria firefighters Local 50
Good shit Levi. I am currently training a firefighter for the Nationals in the Firefighter’s Challenge. While the movements he will be asked to do are more ergonomically pleasing than what he would encounter in the field I still see the same limiting factors in him as you are discussing here. They all become apparent during the warm ups that we use at Power Athlete and we’ve been addressing them accordingly.
Looking forward part 2
Great article!! As a firefighter I truly appreciate the attention to our profession and the problems that come with it. Love the warm ups and will be implementing them with my fellow firefighters.
Levi thanks for the article. I am also a professional firefighter. I was wondering if in part two of Demands of a Firefighter if you would be covering food needs and dietary things. I have been following CFFB for a few years now. I have tried to follow the CFFB diet plan to a T, but I always seem to fail. I fail to due to lack of time at station to prepare a meal, eat at set time times, eating on the station train (everyone throws in money during the morning, cooking and eat together)and energy requirements. With an average of 1.5 to 3 hours of sleep every shift night, 3 hours being a great night. We average over 8000 calls a year out of my station a year. Not being able to go home and nap the next day due to watching a child or a part time job. Just like to see what you think would a be a great way to maximize results by a different approach to dietary needs due to the lack of sleep, stress,etc.
Thanks Levi for the article. I am Firefighter and have been following the Cffb program for a year now. I have seen a tremendous improvement in my work capacity and strength. As Matt mentioned sleep is the limiting factor for most of us. @matt I’ve been successful in learning when to not train or when to scale way back. After a long night I’ve done on Monday the back squat and skipped the rest of the training. However I’ll add the missed lift in on Tuesday and attack the conditioning. Once again thanks for the great article.
Glad y’all enjoyed this first piece. There will be more to come that will address the questions you’ve presented here. Create a thread in the forums for ongoing discussion and tag me in it. In the mean time here are some quick responses:
@denny – I think from here on out I’m going to make everyone carry me when I train them, genius. Looks like you got your boy on the right track, keep pounding the P and P in his warm ups. Don’t be afraid to fix his posture on movements where he is mechanically able to. Keep it up, love the pulling and COD.
@matt – The full breadth of nutrition can’t be covered in this short response BUT having meals prepped before you start your tour (even if you’re a 48/96 guy) is key. Try to refrain from binge/impulse sugar bombing when it’s around the station. If you can’t meal prep then use the crockpot for your meal with the crew, it goes far and can be healthy. Most importantly, ALWAYS have some beef jerky, dried fruit, nuts, etc in the rig (see the Well Food Co. MRE bags). Obviously they aren’t a “meal” but when you’re 4 calls deep and all you’ve had is your morning coffee, it’s paramount to have some snacks not only for health but performance.
@mprice311 – You hit it on the head for @matt. You can’t choose whether you want to go on a call or not so ultimately, listen to your body. If you feel like you can crush it that day then do it, if not then scale back. Another mantra of ours, move the dirt. Some days it’s gonna be there and sometimes it’s not but remember that you alway need a little left in the tank when you’re training at the station because you may get slammed with calls be it medical aid or fire, both require focus and performance. With that being said, don’t be a marshmallow.
Great article. Thanks for writing it. I too am a fireman. What program are you guys doing, is CfFB meeting your needs or should I look at FieldStrong, Jacked Street?
@RD i have been following the CFFB program for a year now. I don’t know your current training or what you have done in the past, if you have not done a linear progression strength program i would start asap. For me once i tap all that’s left in the tank on the linear progression I am probably leaning towards field strong. Or simply doing the collegiate template at CFFB. The conditioning is more than enough to meet the job demands imo.
i have been on the amateur template for awhile simply because life gets busy and there have been weeks that i have not hit all the lifts and do a small restart.
Levi, your article is greatly appreciated and helpful to the firefighters I shared it with on the Facebook page for the Firefighter Throwdown. Health, wellness, fitness and nutrition as it relates to firefighter safety, job performance and quality of life are the underpinnings of the Throwdown as we attempt to address the weight and heat attack issues plaguing the industry. Awareness is the first step, education the next then implementation…and you are hitting on all cylinders. Let us know where we can find more of your articles and if you happen to need any firefighters for interviews, case studies, or input, just reach out.
@RD and @mprice311 – Fortunately Field Strong is comprised of an “Amateur” and “Collegiate” template we call PA1 and PA2. The difference between CFFB and FS is you get what you pay for. No doubt CFFB is great but it doesn’t have the breadth of movements/resources that FS has. The warm ups and videos alone are worth it plus you get John narrating you through the training day. Bottom line is FS is everything and more of what CFFB has to offer. Again that’s not a knock on it but do you want to be a BMW 3 series or 7 series?
I am a police officer is oz and this is of great benefit to us. Like some above, I have been doing CFFB for sometime and the results speak for themselves.
Great work and keep it up.