First Steps to Fitness

Many fire departments nationwide are taking the initiative in helping their members become educated in fitness and wellness. Unfortunately, the number of departments that still have not taken this track outnumber the ones that have.

The more educated that department heads become on this topic, the quicker our nation's Fire/EMS services can reach good fitness levels.

To implement fitness standards, the norm for most fire departments starts with a yearly medical physical. Following medical clearance, departments need to implement the Physical Performance Assessment as outlined in NFPA 1500 — Standard on Fire Department Occupational Safety & Health Programs. This will give departments a quick reference to the abilities of their members.

Once they have this type of information, it will be their responsibility to follow up with any discrepancies. This can range from helping members with fitness programs catered specifically to them to even remedial training on the fireground. Any department can easily obtain information on fitness guidelines, dietary suggestions and educational literature from many websites for not cost.

Fundamentals of a wellness and fitness program starts with changing our everyday routine. You need to devote some time throughout your day to your program. That doesn’t mean you need to workout every single day; it means time needs to be put toward maintaining proper diet, and strength and cardio training as well as flexibility exercises.

Fitness basics

  • A well balanced diet with emphasis on decreasing fat intake and increasing water consumption.   Try to eat more often throughout the day smaller meals instead of two or three large meals. Remember, your body will only use what it needs for fuel and muscle building, the rest is stored as fat. There's a range of nutrition tips at the CDC's website
  • Static stretching should be done at the conclusion of any workout session, but you should try to add it into your everyday morning wakeup. Try to devote 10-15 minutes before you start your day with static stretching, where you hold the stretches for 20 seconds, repeating all the stretches twice.
  • When doing static stretching, you need to remember to always keep safety in mind and elongate the muscle slowly. Never lock your elbows or knees or bounce during these stretches.
  • The more you stretch on a regular basis, the more flexible you will become. It will also break up toxins, promote healing and increase the range of motion. Flexibility=Strength
  • Sleeping habits need to improve, with six-eight hours of deep sleep. Napping throughout the day can also help relieve stress and promote healing. Remember to cut down on carbohydrates before sleep due to the insulin spikes that occur while you may be sleeping, which in turn can disturb your deep sleep patterns.

Cardio, strength for starters
You can begin a fitness program with some cardio and bodyweight exercises every other day or even every third day. The following suggested workouts can be for anyone starting a fitness program or needing a change in their current regime:

  • Start any program with a warm-up. This can consist of dynamic exercises like jumping rope, a light jog, arm rotations and calisthenics. You can also do some static stretching, but remember to hold stretches for no more than 10 seconds and do not repeat. Holding stretches prior to a workout for too long will decrease muscle strength.
  • Cardio for 20-30 minutes on your favorite machine or you can run, do the speed rope, step-ups or cycle. Try to maintain your Target Heart Rate for the entire cardio workout. 
  • A full body routine can be done with body weight exercises such as:
    • Body weight squats 
    • Push-ups
    • Crunches
    • Chin-ups
    • Swimming
    • Leg raises
    • Dips
    • Squat thrusts
  • Each bodyweight exercise can be done consecutively with high repetitions and little rest, which increases muscular endurance. It can also be done with minimal reps with two to three sets and one-minute rest between each set, then moving onto the next exercise, which increases both muscular strength and size.
  • You can do both cardio and bodyweight exercise training the same day with cardio first, or you can off set days doing cardio on day one and exercises on day two.
  • Following your workout, you need to statically stretch. Hold each stretch for 20 seconds and repeat.

It's important to remember that before these or any other programs are started, each participant needs to make sure they are able to participate in a fitness program. A fitness appraisal along with a PAR-Q should be obtained. After that is all done, the rest is a slice of cake — low carb of course!

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