Canadian Firefighter Magazine

Fit for Duty: Creating your own path

By Sherry Dean   

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Photo credit: New Africa / Adobe Stock

Cardiovascular emergencies and deaths continue to plague the fire service. There is no question that your work is difficult. Being prepared and Fit For Duty is a responsibility we all need to take seriously.

Not everyone has easy or proper access to a coach or programming, and building a custom workout or program can be a daunting task. Understanding the elements can remove some of the mystery from the process. It may not be the answer or solution for everyone, but for times when you don’t have a fitness coach handy, it can be helpful to know how to break down the steps.

Before your start building a program or single workout you must know your goal(s). It is important to be honest about your current state of fitness, and realistic with what you can achieve in an appropriate amount of time. If you don’t currently do strength training or go running regularly, it won’t be realistic to expect to squat double your body weight or run a half marathon in 30 days. Being realistic will ensure you are able to make progress.

Ask yourself: how much time do I have? Remember to be honest and realistic. You do not need to work out for two hours every day for decent fitness. Even if you can’t manage to find 30 consecutive minutes, maybe three 10-minute slots will work better for you. Remember, effort in equals results out. You also may have to juggle your priorities. If you are not as fit as you should be for your job on the fire ground, the result can lead to injury.


With regard to strength training, your full body can be broken down into four basic areas: legs, push, pull and core. This is oversimplification. Legs can further be split down into push/pull with quads and hamstrings. That would create five overall groups. Pushing exercises will work your chest, shoulders and triceps. Pulling exercises work your back and biceps. Your core is always stabilizing you in every exercise, but you should target your core as a body group that needs to be worked.

The number of reps you complete can be structured like this:

  • 12 or more reps means endurance training. Reps can go much higher, but anything over 12 reps will force you to use less weight (or lower intensity) in order to work through lactic acid build up.
  • Six to 12 reps will build strength and muscle size.
  • One to six reps means strictly strength gain, and this is not the best fitness approach.

Focus on reps of between eight and 15. Stay on the higher end of reps to improve your overall endurance.

The exercises you choose will be based on the equipment that is available to you. If you don’t have a full set of weights, don’t worry. Body weight exercises can be very effective. If you are training at home with mostly bodyweight exercises, try to use the equipment available in the station to add resistance when you can work out in the fire hall.

Putting it together

You can easily get started on your fitness journey by choosing one exercise from each of the four groups. Your options in putting a workout together with just four exercises can still provide variety. We will start with basic exercises.

  • Exercise 1 – Body weight squat
  • Exercise 2 – Push up
  • Exercise 3 – Pull up
  • Exercise 4 – Crunches

Option 1: Complete five sets of eight to 12 reps of each exercise. Do a total of 20 sets.

Option 2: Run through one set of eight to 12 reps each exercise and then move to the next exercise. Repeat four times. Do a total of 20 sets.

Option 3: Complete each exercise one time for 30 to 45 seconds with a 15 second rest. You can stay at the same station four times or move through the exercises before repeating.

Option 4: Complete a Tabata – a type of high intensity interval training – of the four exercises. Each movement for 20 seconds with high intensity followed by a 10 second break. Each exercise is completed twice during a four-minute Tabata. Repeat the Tabata four times with a two-minute rest in between. You can also complete a Tabata on one exercise and then move to the second exercise after a two-minute rest.

How much time do you have? Remember to be honest and realistic.

To add variety, you can choose two, three or four exercises of each body group. You may simply adapt the frequency of the sets and still stay within the same time frame and the same total number of sets.

There are some fundamentals to remember. You should always start your workout with a warmup. Warmups can be a five-minute cardio exercise or a series of dynamic movements like inchworms, high knee steps, etc. This gradually gets your blood flowing, increases the warmth of your muscles, and gets protective fluids ‘oiling’ your joints.

You should also cool down after every workout. Similar types of exercises can be used to cool down, but the focus is to slowly lower your heart rate, cool the blood flow and re-lubricate your system.

Keep your specific focus on your specific target. If your goal is to improve your upper body strength, do more upper body exercises than lower and vice versa. You should overall work your entire body, but that doesn’t mean there can’t be a targeted effort.

The options and variety are endless in creating a workout. You can keep your workout fresh and inspired by consistently changing the exercises and the sets/reps. Your body responds best to constant change. Keeping change a consistent part of your exercise regime will reduce repetitive injuries and impart overall body balance.

Now, I’m leaving you today with a very simple workout. Enjoy and be safe!

Body weight workout

50 reps of each exercise. Work for 30 seconds rest for 15.

Take yourself out of cruise mode and complete these exercises as quickly as possible.

  • Burpees with high jump, minimum of 12 inches.
  • Decline push ups – you choose the degree, but it needs to be a challenge.
  • Strict pull ups – Add a weight belt if you can easily complete pull ups.
  • Superman/Banana – no hands used on the transition.

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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