Canadian Firefighter Magazine

Fit for Duty: April 2018

By Sherry Dean   

Features Fitness Health and Wellness Sherry Dean

What is fitness? It means different things to different people and can be activity-specific. For example, a fit triathlete and a fit baseball player are two very different athletes. Some would consider a “fit” person to be someone with a high level of general fitness, while others might consider sport performance and proficiency to be “fit”.

When you separate general fitness and sport performance it becomes clear that there are different training approaches for varying definitions of fitness. If you examined fire fighting as a sport, would you make changes to your training regime in order to maximize your performance?

Some people are happy to just play hockey. Go out, work hard, have a little fun and get a little fit – maybe even win a game. Some people want to master hockey. They practice plays, shots, game strategy, and condition themselves to the best they can be at their sport. There is specificity in these athletes’ training.

However, there are varying outlooks on sport and fitness, and the intention isn’t to say which is best, because it depends on the athlete and the target.

Not everyone wants to be an Olympic athlete or the firefighter equivalent of an Olympic athlete. The intention here isn’t to assume you do, but no matter your outlook on the sport, goal-specific training will help you meet your fitness targets. Your your training should be specific to your goals.


If your goal is general firefighter fitness I recommend a good balance of strength, aerobic conditioning and enough mobility training (range of motion) to help you avoid injury. However, you should take a practical approach. Firefighters need specialized skills and competencies that that vary according to your community and department functions. Interior fire fighting requires different physical skills than exterior fire fighting and rural operations are different than urban.

Some firefighters are not thrilled about climbing a 100-foot ladder. In fact, some are completely terrified. An officer probably isn’t going to send that scared firefighter up seven stories for a rescue. The officer would choose a firefighter with more specialized training or a higher level of proficiency. On the other hand, dragging a hose and carrying tools is something every frontline firefighter should be able to do without the risk of serious injury due to inability. This is an essential, not specialized, skill on the fire ground. Lives and property depend on it. Without sounding dramatic, these are simple truths.

Firefighters should condition themselves by training to the same level of performance required for operational duty. Arriving on scene physically unable to complete a task puts an extra burden on your crew and puts you at risk of injury. Be reasonable about what you are required to do on the job and be honest about your level of engagement. Build your fitness or performance program around those goals.

Time to work.

Warm-up – 2 rounds
Moderate pace. Do three rounds if you aren’t warm after two.

  • 2 minutes cardio (jog, skip, bike etc.)
  • 5 inch worms
  • 15 air squats
  • 10 around the world shoulder loops (light weight) or pass through with towel/pvc
  • 10 walking lunges
  • 10 tricep push-ups (narrow)

Exercise options

  1. Dumbbell: single arm ground to overhead (20 each side)
  2. Use whatever technique you like to take the weight from the floor to pressing it overhead. Clean and jerk , or snatch movement. Use good form, keeping your core and glutes engaged at all times.
  3. Push-ups: make sure your body is straight. No roll ups, no high glutes. If you need to switch to modified push-ups on your knees, that’s ok.
  4. Jumping split lunges: alternate legs each rep. Each jump is a rep. Hands hanging at side for low intensity, hands on high waist for medium intensity and hands directly overhead for high intensity.
  5. Burpees: two foot take off to jump back and two foot take off to jump forward. Try not to step back or step up.

Too easy? Next time start at 25 reps or increase weight/speed

Strength Exercise

  1. Pick the body part you most need to work on to increase strength. Choose one exercise. Yes, only one.
  2. Do two to three warm up sets of eight to 10 reps building each set.
  3. Choose a weight you can complete five reps with excellent form, but you are working hard. Complete five rounds of three to five reps. Increase your weight each round unless you cannot complete three reps. If you can’t complete three reps go back down. Your form should never suffer for a single rep.
  4. On your sixth set go down to 80 per cent of your maximum weight and go until failure. You may not get very many reps, but try for at least five to eight.


  • Round 1 – 20 reps of each exercise
  • Round 2 – 15 reps of each exercise
  • Round 3 – 10 reps of each exercise
  • Round 4 – five reps of each exercise

Cool Down/Mobility
Walk until your heart rate is lowered before starting these stretches.
Kneeling hip flexor stretch two minutes each leg: a deep lunge with back knee on the ground. Push your hips forward and downward

10 twisted cross each side: lying face down arms straight out to the side, place the left foot behind you up to your right hand as far as it will go. Hold for two seconds each rep. Breathe.

Two minutes child’s  pose: kneeling with your feet together and knees a little more than shoulder width apart, place your forehead on the ground and your arms straight out on the ground above your head. Press your underarms and torso toward the ground.

Sherry Dean is a career firefighter/engineer with Halifax Regional Fire & Emergency Service. She has more than 20 years of experience in fitness and training.

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