Canadian Firefighter Magazine

Fitsmart: April 2015

By Brad Lawrence   

Features Fitness Health and Wellness

It is no secret that a firefighter’s line of work is hard on the body. Most firefighters work hard, train hard, and play hard as well. The sheer physicality of the lifestyle many of us in the fire service choose is rewarding, but also brings aches and pains. It is estimated that 80 per cent of the general population will experience back problems at some point in their lives, and you can bet the number among firefighters is even higher. There are, however, effective ways to dodge those debilitating aches and pains.

First and foremost, it is important to realize general back pain is common. Everyone experiences a tweak here or there, and having the odd bout of back pain does not necessarily mean you are aging poorly or are out of shape. For instance, former MLB player Sammy Sosa once hit more than 50 home runs in a single season and soon after was placed on the injured list because of a back strain caused by sneezing – that’s right, sneezing. If it can happen to a finely tuned professional athlete, it can happen to any of us. Any active person can expect to experience a little wear and tear. But with proper preparation and awareness you can makes these incidents happen with far less frequency.

While some people suffer from acute or serious back injuries such as herniated discs, or spinal trauma, it is estimated that 90 per cent or more of all back pain is caused by minor mechanical problems. These injuries are most commonly muscle or ligament strains within the lumbar region of the back. Several small stability muscles can quickly become overloaded with brisk, jerky movements. Unfortunately, even a minor muscle strain can leave you in agonizing pain. While you may be sore for almost a week, the good news is once these strains heal you should be back to normal with no long-term damage.

Always remember that when you are injured you should attempt to let yourself fully heal. Unless you’ve suffered a severe back injury, your minor back strain will usually heal in less than a week. When you do start to feel better, get active, and get moving. While more rest is tempting, motion and activity is truly what your body requires to achieve fluid, pain-free motion once again.

Once you identify that the likely cause of your back pain is a muscle imbalance, or a general weakness of those muscles, you should address the problem. This is where many of us make a major mistake; most people continue to train, and start to work out in a way that avoids their backs for fear of suffering from their injuries all over again. Training around the problem area only makes a person’s imbalances worse and leads to a lifetime of that individual protecting his or her back during all times of exertion. Instead, weakness and imbalance must be targeted and emphasized. This is no different than fire-ground training – train your weak points and become balanced.


These exercises will provide you with a solid base to build upon.

Injuries are frustrating, and back pain is one of the most debilitating injuries. Turn a common area of weakness into one of your strengths by performing these three exercises three times per week. You will build a strong lower back that will keep you off the injured list, and living the firefighter lifestyle you desire.


Brad Lawrence is a firefighter with the Calgary Fire Department and a certified personal trainer who specializes in training and nutrition for emergency responders.

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