Canadian Firefighter Magazine

Fit for Duty: July 2018

Sherry Dean   

Features Fitness Health and Wellness

Simply doing a workout isn’t enough. Injury is a fact of life for firefighters. However, some injuries can be prevented with better body mechanics. There are some very important questions around how to train properly. How do we know if we are moving well? Is appropriate movement only important when we exercise? How do we adjust poor movement patterns?

The answers to these questions can vary from firefighter to firefighter, but some are consistent across the board. Poor body position can easily lead to very high shear force on your joints and cause injury. Sometimes these shearing movements can happen over an extended time and cause an injury without heavy resistance or even still, can occur as easily as stepping up on the rig or bending over to pick up a piece of gear. Moving your body outside of good alignment in everyday life can eventually lead to injury. Chronic injury is not only caused by poor movement during workouts.

Anyone who has worked with a trainer or followed an online program will have heard cues like ‘neutral spine’, ‘knees out’ and ‘shoulders down and back’, but that can be difficult to understand while you are working hard. It is easier for us to move well when we slow movements down or if weights are low, but as soon as a movement is sped up or the load is increased movement can break down substantially.

One of the easiest ways to analyze your movement is to record a video of your exercise. We are often unaware of how we move even with a mirror in front of us. Being able to watch an exercise afterward is usually helpful. Comparing your movement to a professional or someone you know who moves well is a great way to see where you can improve.

Here are some things to watch out for.


From the side

  • Spine flexion and extension: Is the curve of your spine the same during the entire exercise as it is when you are standing upright with good posture? Does your back round forward and curve unnaturally? Or, is your lower back overly curved causing you to stick your glutes out backwards? If either of these things are happening your spine is moving out of ‘neutral position’. Concentrate on tightening or firing your core to better support the movement. Allowing spine flexion or extension causes greater compression and shear pressure on the discs and ligaments.
  • Anterior shoulder rotation: Do your shoulders round forward when your elbow moves backward? Your shoulder and elbow should move forward and backward together. Rolling your shoulder forward when your elbow moves back can impinge on the rotator cuff muscles. These muscles are small and crucial to good shoulder movement. Injury to this muscle group is common.

From the front

  • Knee alignment: Your knee should follow the track from your ankle to your hip in a straight line. If your knees move inward or outward it puts increased pressure on the ligaments of your knee. Coaches often cue clients to track ‘knees out’, but it is a straight line from hip to ankle you should be aiming for. Placing a piece of duct tape on your pants and watching the line as you squat, lift or lunge will help identify any movement right or left of centre. There are many foot positions from narrow to wide, but all of them should have proper knee alignment from ankle to hip.
  • Shoulder shrugging: As lifting becomes more difficult you may start to lift your shoulders closer to your ears engaging your trapezius. Although shrugs are a perfectly good exercise, shrugging when you are doing other exercises can cause impingement and lead to rounding of the back as well. Try to maintain good posture by keeping your shoulders pressed downward when lifting.
  • Lateral bend: When lifting on the right or left side of the body, we sometimes lean to one side causing a side bend. This takes our spine and hips out of alignment and causes compression and balance issues. Engage or tighten your core to maintain good upright position.
  • Spine rotation: Rotating your spine without moving your hips in the same direction causes a twisting of the vertebrae. Moving your hips with your spine will add power to a movement, but only rotating your trunk weakens the force. Any twisting movement should be supported by your core. Twisting is one of the leading causes of back injury.

These are not the only poor body movements, but they are some of the most common. If you increase your focus while you are working out, it will help you to maintain good form. Remember, when you increase your tempo or your load you are more susceptible to poor form and poor movement. Watching yourself in the mirror or asking a workout partner film you or cue you to correct these movements will greatly reduce the chance of injury.

Be safe and stay fit.

A quick easy workout
Seven minutes

You will need a barbell with moderate weight you can press overhead. It does not have to be very heavy. This workout is one continuous movement without pausing to rest the weight at ground level. You may rest while holding the weight at arm’s length, at shoulder height or in the overhead press position.  If you put the weight down at any time you have to do five burpees.


  • Deadlift, pause at top
  • Clean the weight to shoulder height and pause
  • Front squat, pause at top
  • Press overhead and lower the bar back in front at arm’s length, pause
  • Touch the weight back to the floor and start again with your deadlift
  • Repeat for seven minutes.

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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