Canadian Firefighter Magazine

Tools of the Trade: April 2019

By Sean Kingswell   

Features Training

As a trainer and wellness coach, it is crucial to prescribe quality exercise programs. That being said, the exercises need to be done – and executed properly.

The best-laid program has no bearing if it is not being done. Exercise adherence is a topic near and dear to me and is a fundamental concept of our positive outcome-based coaching.  

One would think that we have a perfect recipe. Our society in this day and age knows the “whys” of exercise and there are gyms on seemingly every other corner. Yet, adherence is commonly still not there.  

Sticking to a plan of fitness long term is fundamental to civilians and even more so to firefighters. I have mentioned adherence before, but it is worth revisiting. It is such an important attribute in our longevity due to the fact our body is the cornerstone of what we do, along with our skillsets and equipment.  

There are many different factors that affect exercise adherence. Like a Halligan tool, there are three main points. And, like a Halligan, all three areas can be destructive. These three are time, energy and motivation, in that order.  


First, we all need to examine our outlook on objections to determine if they are legitimate reasons or more likely excuses.

Time can be a factor for any of us. That being said, firefighters typically work shiftwork, offering days away from work to be diligent in fitness. In addition, most firehouses have some sort of fitness set-up which both allows us to exercise while on duty and proves that this is part of our job. A lack of time is typically a perspective over a reality and really comes down to priorities.  

Energy is a second top factor and this can often be tied to both sleep issues and stress. Sleep and stress are both issues that affect firefighters big time. So, managing sleep and stress actively is a direct exercise-compliance strategy and, ironically, consistently exercising is undoubtedly a sleep and stress management technique.  

Motivation is the final of the big three and firefighters should not need me to list all of the motives for exercise. Professionalism, life-safety, performance, longevity, and crew commitment are a few among a list of many, along with countless direct physiological gains like weight control, heart health and stress relief.  

All three points of a Halligan tool can be destructive, like I said. However, all three can be used effectively and used in different ways in varying scenarios to lead to some amazing results. The same applies to time, energy and motivation.

So, what are some techniques to increase adherence?

Having balance is actually an adherence strategy. If we go at things in a way that is too aggressive or frequent, we can risk burnout, overtraining and injury. Plans that are too rigid are known to be unsuccessful over time.

Preventing injury is another technique. Of course, if we hurt ourselves we may not be able to adhere to our plan. This means exercising properly and safely. That may require further knowledge in the form of educating yourself or requesting the services of someone who can assist.   

Exercise needs to be meaningful and purposeful to help with adherence. This is great for firefighters because exercise, in general, is effective for what we do and we can also choose movements that strengthen us for our job, specifically.  

I went over the concept of specificity in an earlier article and it is as important to firefighters as it is to athletes.

Goal-setting is an adherence strategy and goals are best written down, conveyed to others and driven by the individual. That being said, please consider goals in your primary areas of fitness, but also in the elements that can affect fire fighting directly such as cardiovascular endurance on air, groundwork, mobility, good biomechanics, strength endurance and stair climbing.

Prompts or rituals can help us to stick to our exercise routine. Sometimes it can be as simple as setting out a gym bag the night before or putting a personal commitment on the refrigerator door.  

Scheduling exercise is also an important element. By setting aside time in advance, we can book our exercise with us. This allows us to work it into our schedule officially while at the same time making it a “when” over an “if.”

Chart or journal your exercise, too, as it can help to make sure you are adding progression to your routine. A visual representation of that progression can be a motivator. Let those in your social circle know that this is important to you and part of your job and thank them for finding ways to help contribute in positive ways.  

Next time you are at work reflect on what it means to be a professional and, as you look at that crest on your shoulder, remember it’s not just a symbol of the local citizens you represent, but a reminder of your obligations to those citizens, your crew and yourself.

Sean Kingswell is an experienced professional firefighter, personal trainer, fitness coach and the creator of the FIRESAFECADETS program. Contact Sean at

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