Canadian Firefighter Magazine

Fit for Duty: October 2016

Sherry Dean   

Features Fitness Health and Wellness

Firefighters’ legs carry them everywhere and do an overwhelming amount of work on fire grounds. Anyone who has hauled larger-diameter hose any distance or climbed any number of stairs is familiar with the burn in the legs and lungs. Having good leg strength and fitness is a huge help to maintaining movement at work. Watch out for the many myths and misconceptions about leg workouts, which can get in the way of improving.Activating your support muscle groups is essential to a well-performed leg exercise. Always practise good form, which will eventually become a natural movement with far lower risk of injury. 

As with everything we do, our cores fire first. Fitness progress is difficult without a strong core as a foundation. If your back bothers you when you do leg movements it can mean poor core strength or poor positioning. While improving core strength is straightforward, improving form can be a little more difficult or frustrating. It is crucial you do not increase the weight you lift before you overcome the obstacle. 

Begin every exercise by maintaining a neutral spine (rounding your back increases the likelihood of injury) – this means activating your core and glutes, as well as tracking your knees properly during the entire movement. Some people start with excellent form, but lose control as they move through an exercise, especially when lifting something heavy. If you find yourself rounding your back at the bottom of a squat, lower the weight and/or limit the range of motion until you are able to perform the exercise properly. 

When it comes to knee angles, the biggest myth is that you should not go below 90 degrees. Knees are designed to go beyond 90 degrees, and studies show there can be far more stress on knees and hips at lower angles than at higher angles. Do you bend your knees more than 90 degrees on the fire ground? Yes. So doesn’t it make sense to work in a safe environment beyond 90 degrees to ensure better form and strength when you are in a riskier situation? 

The important thing to remember is to work within your capabilities and practice. If you have a pre-existing condition you must work around it safely, but try not to use it as an excuse not to improve. As always, speaking with your physician is a good start, just remember to say you are a firefighter, not a desk worker. You should be prepared for physical work with risk. 

First, warm up – three to five minutes of your choice, but get warm. 

Next, do three to five rounds with one-minute intervals for each movement. If you need to rest during any exercise, rest only long enough to get going again. It’s better to keep moving at a slower pace rather than to stop, but if you have to stop, don’t worry, just get right back in as soon as possible. 

  • Run – 200 metres (approximately one minute). Adjust the distance accordingly. If you are not a runner substitute with cardio movement such as skipping, stair climbing (quickly), jumping jacks or running on the spot.
  • Air squats – Keep feet shoulder width apart and aim to get the crease of your hip below your knees. Activate your glutes and keep your knees pushed to the outside. Keep your weight on your heels. Add a light weight or jump to increase intensity. If you jump, soft, cat-like landings only.
  • Side speed skating – Start with your weight on your left leg, lunge hop in the opposite direction, landing on your right leg and bringing the original leg swinging in behind as far as is comfortable (left foot swings in behind right leg and out to right side). Continue side-to-side movement maintaining a low, stable position, which keeps legs activated during the whole exercise.
  • Run – 200 metres.
  • Alternate jumping lunges – Start with one leg in front of the other, knees bent and hands on hips. Jump in the air and switch legs, lowering back knee to just above the ground. Repeat. To increase intensity, raise arms over head and jump a little higher or more quickly.
  • Step/jump-ups (box jumps) – Use hi-vol, stairs or a box. Step from the ground and fully extend hips at the top. Increase intensity by height, weight and speed. Try using one leg for 30 seconds and switching for the last 30 seconds.
  • Run – 200 metres.
  • Deadlift – A minute can be a long time, so use a fairly light weight. Water jugs and hoses work fine. Start with feet shoulder width apart, a neutral spine is imperative (no rounding) and shins as vertical as possible. Activate your glutes and keep knees pressed outward as you did with your squat. Stand and return to starting position.
  • Glute bridge – Lay on your back with one leg bent and one straight. Squeeze your glutes and press your foot on the floor, forcing the body into a raised straight bridge. Return to the ground, but don’t relax fully. Repeat one side for 30 seconds and switch legs.
  • Run 200 metres.

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

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