The best, single exercise for firefighters has been a long debated subject among many in the fitness world. Not as bad as smooth bore and TFT nozzles, but close. Many trainers tell you body weight exercises, or calisthenics, while others proclaim certain weighted exercises are the most beneficial for our jobs. This has not only fueled debates among the fitness enthusiasts in the fire department, but also left the inexperienced among us thinking there are only a limited number of exercises we can use in our field to make them more functional and healthier firefighters. After years of research, testing, and experience, we came up with the following included in this article.
Push-ups, planks and pull-ups are the most simple calisthenics. When some hear these they think “Awesome workout”, and others think “Well I don’t think I can do many”. For the one’s who think they can’t do many, that’s
okay. It just means you need to start working more on these exercises. But why are they so good for being a firefighter? Because they don’t only work one muscle, but several. For example, a push-up works the chest, triceps, shoulders (or deltoids), abdominals, and your “wing” muscles- the serratus anterior. The reason they work so much is not only because you are holding a plank while in the “up” position, but also because you are putting these all at work by the pushing motion. And even more so when you add the challenge of putting your feet on a raised platform. This is why many say body weight exercises are best for responders.
Squats are a weighted, or non-weighted, exercise many also recommend for firefighters. This is because this exercise not only works out every muscle in your legs, which we all use for many of our most basic as well as challenging tasks. But it also works your entire core, from your abs through to your back. This is because you are working to keep the weight upright and stabilized. If the weight keeps dipping too low your back will quit on you and you will be at a high risk of injury. So you need to know what you are doing and practice good form. Once you are comfortable, though, the squat will be one of your favorite exercises.
Deadlifts have been called “The King of Lifts” for a while. And it is for a good reason. They are also the authors personal favorite exercise. Deadlifts are a war between your body and the weight, and they challenge everything in your body from your feet to your fingertips, and especially your mind. Like the other exercises, trainers and fitness experts recommend this exercise for firefighters due to it being a true test of ones strength, but also the large amount of muscles trained during this exercise. But just like the squat and many other exercises, this one requires good form or you risk severe injury. Make sure you practice with little to no weight before you attempt heavy weight. But you may also soon find yourself loving this exercise.
Sandbag exercises have become increasingly popular with responders and military personnel. This is because they create an “uneven load” while lifting the sandbag, forcing your muscles to adjust to the shift in weight. And these are perfect for what we do, because how often is something we lift perfectly and evenly loaded when we lift it? I can honestly say in my time as a firefighter; never. These fall into their own category due to how unique they are. It’s a part body weight exercise due to the stabilization you need to perform many of the exercises, and part weighted exercise.
By now you’re probably saying to yourself, “okay, you’ve listed a bunch of different exercises that are good for us, but you haven’t told us what THE BEST one is yet.” So here it is; The best exercise for firefighters….is exercise. There is no single best exercise or lift for what we do. We are firefighters, we have more than one way for doing EVERYTHING we do, and exercising our bodies should be no different. The fact that you are exercising and doing it consistently and making progress, is what the best exercises are for being a firefighter. You are bettering your mind, body and health, and that is what is best, especially in our field.