Tools of the Trade: July 2019

June 17, 2019
By Sean Kingswell

We don’t suggest that firefighters solely plan fitness around their job, however a certain amount of relevance makes sense. We need to include some occupational-specific elements to ensure that we have the performance and effectiveness required to execute at a high level.

I have mentioned the concept in other articles, as specificity is an important part of any fitness plan. The concept states that if you want to get better at a certain task or achieve a certain goal, you partake in activities that will lead to those specific improvements. Athletes of today are trained with this concept in mind as their sports are specific and different from one another.

One skill that pertains highly to fire fighting and can easily be neglected is working from the ground. We can improve our abilities in ground management within our fitness routine.

A focus in firefighter fitness is often on strength, but different kinds of strength exist. Relative strength is an important part and involves our ability to move our bodies, especially when we are weighed down.

The ground is our most common and most dangerous position/location as it is where we are required to work during fires of any real heat. We crawl in varying positions, and crawling is oddly a perishable skill. The ones among us best at crawling are, of course babies, and it becomes less natural once we walk and age.

A baby crawl, or crawling on your hands and knees, is ideally done with good biomechanics when possible. We want our neck in alignment with our spine, weight evenly distributed side to side, a neutral spine (lower back), our core braced, shoulders less superior than often placed, and weight equal between hands and knees.

Crawling effectively is a learned behaviour and it needs to be done well and be done quickly at times.

Practice crawling backwards rapidly as it requires co-ordination and could be a life-saver if flashover conditions present in a room and an exit out the original entrance is attempted. In the gym, simply practice occasionally crawling backwards swiftly and add a 90-degree turn to get behind a would-be wall.

We can also do other movements that help to improve our ability on the ground. A bear crawl is walking on hands and feet with the backside raised while a table top crawl is on hands and feet with the torso parallel to the ground and knees bent further.

A crab walk involves walking on your hands and feet in the supine position. Think gym class when you were a kid. Anyone who has done quality training in self-rescue knows the endless variety of positions and movements your body can go through, and how these movements are relevant.

Push-ups are, of course, on the ground, as are mountain climbers. Mountain climbers are holding yourself at the top of the push-up and then having your legs simulate walking, though you remain stationary.

A bridge is one of the best exercises for the glutes and is done from the ground. For a bridge, lay on your back with hands at your sides and lift your rear-end up and place it back on the mat. Do 15 reps.

Lying on your side with your legs straight and stacked is a great abduction exercise. Though it may seem like a slightly 80s exercise video, just raise the top leg to about 45 degrees. Movements such as this support joints and, although they don’t affect mirror muscles, they will aid in their development.

Different core exercises can be done on the ground, including simple flexion and extension work. If you are doing any flexion, which is where your knees and your chest get closer to one another, make sure you know how to imprint your core as well as engage your pelvic floor and transverse abdominis muscle.

If doing extensions, where your chest and lower body get farther away, be very careful not to over-extend. A dart can be a great start and involves lying on your stomach with your hands at your side. You then simply lift your shoulders slightly off the mat (along with your head as your neck maintains good alignment), and your feet remain on the ground. This is a basic extension movement, but a good one.

Though it is not done on the ground, strengthening the neck can be an effective practice to help with groundwork. A helmet weighs half as much as a head so wearing it in compromising positions can be a test for the neck. Gross neck movements with high weight attached to head harnesses is not advisable. A simple start is to perform isometric work by putting your hand on your head on all four sides and pushing gently against that hand.

It is great to do a lot of typical exercises that you enjoy when in the gym, but consider some of these ideas to increase your ability while working from the ground.

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

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