Canadian Firefighter Magazine

Fit for Duty: October 2018

By Sherry Dean   

Features Fitness Health and Wellness chief firefighter training

Examining firefighting as a sport and firefighters as athletes helps to assess the kind of training regime to improve performance. No two calls are exactly the same, so it’s logical to consider we aren’t required to have the same fitness demands for every incident.

How do you ensure you are balancing the strength, endurance and power requirements of your job? Cross-training is an excellent approach.

There are benefits of a single sport focus. Some of the benefit comes from specializing and honing specific skills. Practising climbing stairs fully geared, if your company specializes in high-rise response, is one of those types of skills. Confidence is another benefit. Practising a play over and over improves performance and gives athletes the benefit of knowing they are able to achieve the goal. Focusing solely on strength training will improve your ability to lift something on-scene, but it may do little to improve your endurance if that is your weakness. There isn’t a good athlete who doesn’t work on weaknesses.

In 2017, 30 out of 32 NFL first-round draft picks were multi-sport athletes. The pros of multi-sport focus help to improve a variety of skills, reduce athlete burnout and overuse injury.

Cross-training helps to eliminate imbalance, but also uses several modes of training to develop a specific component of fitness. Each firefighter has different strengths and weaknesses and it is important to spend time working on weaknesses and becoming well-rounded. If your strength is good, but your cardio needs some attention you should be working on cardiovascular endurance at least some of the time.


It’s important to remember that cross-training doesn’t mean you start running marathons or power-lifting to balance your ability. It is simply a way to ensure you are challenging your whole body and abilities and taking time to rest other areas. Sometimes, athletes need rest from the repetitive nature of training. A break can help renew energy.

Access your fitness from an overall perspective and try to cover all of the following areas in your programming:

  • Muscular endurance – This is the number of times you can complete a specific task. This would apply to the number of times you can swing an axe for forcible entry or the number of times you can pull down on a pike-pole in a ceiling overhaul.
  • Cardio vascular endurance – This is the capacity for your heart, lungs and blood to supply oxygen to your system, and the ease at which you can maintain breathing or avoid fatigue while completing a task. This would apply to pulling hose through a structure or climbing stairs in full gear.
  • Muscular strength – This is the amount of force you are able to produce. This would apply to your ability to lift a patient to a stretcher or moving charged high-volume hose off the road.
  • Power – This is the applied maximal force with speed. This would apply to your ability to transfer your strength into movement, as with forcing a door.
  • Flexibility – This is the range of motion of a joint. This would apply to you being able to reach overhead to pull hose off the apparatus bed or crouch and travel in a heated environment. Flexibility is especially important in avoiding injury.
  • There are a number of ways to ensure you are getting some cross-training in your programming, such as:
  • Add one or two cross-training workouts to your program each week. If you’re not cross-training at all this will be an easy way to improve your fitness.
  • If you are currently cross-training, add/change a new workout. Find a new workout partner or create a new workout with your crew.
  • Tack on a cross-training activity to the end of your workout. It doesn’t have to be an hour-long. Ten to 20 minutes can do the trick.
  • Try a new sport or go back to a sport you haven’t done in a while. Everyone knows how sore they are when they do something they haven’t done in a while.
  • Don’t avoid cardiovascular activities. Picking things up and putting things down can be done with a cardiovascular tempo. Lighten the weight or go for a jog, swim or bike ride.
  • Try new equipment. If you use barbells, try dumbbells or a bodyweight workout. You could even try yoga.

The easiest approach to cross-training is variety. Your body is an extremely smart machine and will find ways to make things easier.

Changing the way that you do your workout by adding reps, different exercises or timeframes, is a simple way to challenge yourself and keep freshness in your program.

If you simply make one day a week different than the rest, you will get a benefit from cross-training.

Think about it from the point of view of the variety of activities you do at emergency scenes and it becomes easy to apply.

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

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