How to buy firefighter fitness equipment

By Captain Shawn Perry; M.S. Exercise Physiology
Sacramento Fire Department

Exercise equipment and nutrition programs/supplements comprise a multi-billion dollar industry aimed at capturing our attention and ultimately our wallet. As firefighters we are prime candidates for acquiring and hopefully utilizing appropriate exercise equipment within the confines of our firehouse. The best way to select such equipment is to take a reverse engineering approach. What health issue kills firefighters (cardiac), and what serious injuries are firefighters most likely to sustain during our career (back, shoulder, etc.)?

Success in a fire fitness facility boils down to three components:

  • A motivated workforce
  • An educated/trained workforce
  • Supportive fitness equipment/environment (including department policies)

It makes sense to start with your heart. While there are numerous products out there designed to improve cardiovascular health, the gold standard by which all are compared is the treadmill. It is simple to use, versatile (walk, jog, incline, etc.) and can be placed in a climate controlled environment (unless it’s stuck in an apparatus room). Stair climbers, elliptical machines and other similar products are useful and can offer great cardio options but seem to get less overall use.

From a muscular strength and endurance standpoint there are also many options. Standard barbell, dumbbell, and squat rack options can be effective, but there is plenty of evidence to suggest that improper application can lead to acute and/or chronic injuries. Multi-station, cable based units are also effective and possibly safer from a solo participant standpoint. Today’s flavors include kettle bells, medicine balls, Bosa or Swiss balls that provide an infinite amount movement options with moderate resistance. Education ultimately is the key ingredient to long term success.

From a purchasing philosophy/standpoint get the best you can afford. Treadmills in particular are notorious for breaking down when buying on the cheap. A great treadmill starts with a great motor (A/C preferred) and frame, and commercial grade products generally run in the $4-7k range.

Resistance equipment may be partially determined by space availability, but as mentioned above, education and training are essential. In this regard, competition while fun can be counterproductive and result in injuries.

For some, group training is not preferred and limitations of space and equipment may preclude a good team workout. Other crews may depend on each other to pick up the motivation slack that occurs in most of us.

Keep in mind that whatever the tools available for training, participation is the goal. Safely exercising goes hand in hand with participation and education ensures a successful experience. Keep on moving!

  • Any other suggestions? Anything we missed in the list above? Leave a comment below or e-mail with your feedback.

Fire Captain Shawn Perry's health and fitness experiences include competing and coaching track and field at the NCAA division 1 level. Capt. Perry earned a B.S. in Human Performance from San Jose State University (1983) and a M.S. in Exercise Physiology from the University of Illinois (1987). He began his fire service career in 1992 with the Sacramento Fire Department, promoting to the ranks of engineer and captain.

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