Canadian Firefighter Magazine

FitSmart: April 2010

By Canadian Firefighter   

Features Fitness Health and Wellness

Many FitSmart columns have focused on how to become stronger, fitter and faster. This time, we’ll explore the broad world of body composition and how we can live leaner lives through proper training.


Many FitSmart columns have focused on how to become stronger, fitter and faster. This time, we’ll explore the broad world of body composition and how we can live leaner lives through proper training.

Fat burning is among the top reasons most fitness facilities exist, and with good reason. There are numerous major health risks directly associated with excess fat, especially in the abdominal area. Weight loss and fat reduction is the primary reason people join gyms. However, bettering our body composition doesn’t have to be solely about losing weight. I’ve had several clients happy with their weight who are looking simply to burn that lingering layer of fat that hide their muscles.

Body composition and testing
This method of health measurement, in my opinion, is far superior to the archaic changeroom weigh scale we’ve all used for so many years. Obviously, the only thing a scale can tell you is how heavy you are. The scale can’t tell you how much of that weight is muscle or fat. For instance, you may weigh 190 pounds and you may know that is within the norm for you. You may not know that you have 35 per cent body fat and are at an increased risk for hundreds of health problems. As a reference, the healthy, fit body fat range is between seven and 15 per cent for adult males and 14 and 22 per cent for females. Guys should start to see abdominal muscles around the 10 per cent mark.

I encourage everyone to get a baseline body composition test done at least once. You may be pleasantly surprised, or it may be quite an eye-opening motivational tool. If you’re about to start a training and nutrition program it’s a perfect time for the test. Get a benchmark now and then a follow-up test in a month or so. Nothing makes us more accountable than documenting our progress. If you’re curious about your body composition it may be worth asking at your local gym. Most gyms offer the service and many offer it at no charge. The test is easy and can usually be done in less than five minutes.


Improving body composition
Several variables affect your body’s fat burning ability including weight training, cardio and diet. Those who have had success burning fat have probably found a positive balance among the three. The following is a quick reference guide to finding that proper formula for the gym.

Cardiovascular training
Cardio training plays a major role in burning fat off our bodies but you may be making things harder on yourself. Recent research has confirmed that traditional, long distance aerobic exercise is not the most effective way to burn fat. HIIT, or high intensity interval training, burns more calories and fat in a fraction of the time. HIIT training has been shown to raise the metabolic rate for up to 24 hours following a workout, and to increase your VO2 max and athletic performance.
The following program is designed based on your rate of perceived exertion or RPE. The RPE is a zero to 10 rating that you assign to your exertion level, with zero the equivalent to sitting on the couch and 10 the maximal exertion you are unable to sustain for more than 15 seconds.


Try this program for a total of seven sets, or 21 minutes after a warm up. Follow with a proper cool down and get a great cardio workout in about 25 minutes. Add more sets as you progress.

Weight training
Training sessions with these goals should be performed five to seven times a week and at a high intensity. Keep your rest intervals to 30 seconds or less when dealing with non-competing muscle groups. Keep your workout relatively shorter as well; shoot for around 45 minutes. If you can train for much longer than 45 minutes while performing a fat loss routine you need to up the intensity and shorten the workout. Consider a workout partner to help make you accountable if you feel that could become an issue.

You should be using heavy loads and choosing exercises that require a high metabolic output. Some of the best fat blasting exercises are lunges, squat variations, dead lifts, pull ups, Olympic lifts and step ups. Make sure your weight training occurs before your cardio training; this will release up to 1500 per cent more growth hormone than saving your weight training until the end.

When you discover your goal in the gym, commit to making it a goal in your life. Shortcuts in the gym or the kitchen don’t do anything but set you back and cheating yourself is never worth it in the end. Train hard, sprint hard and eat well to better your body from the ground up.

Check back in July for a detailed nutrition guide to go with your better body training program.

Brad Lawrence is a firefighter with the Calgary Fire Department and a certified personal trainer who specializes in training and nutrition for emergency responders. He has trained and coached countless firefighters through all aspects of fitness and overall well-being. E-mail Brad at

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