Some Workouts to Help You Surpass Firefighter Fitness Standards

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Ohio National Guard firefighters use ropes to extract a simulated trapped building collapse victim.
Firefighters, assigned to the Ohio National Guard’s 178th Wing, use ropes to extract a simulated trapped building collapse victim during Vigilant Guard 2021, held in Fola, West Virginia, Aug. 27, 2021. (Senior Airman Kregg York/U.S. Air National Guard photo)

I responded to an email from a sailor who loved his Navy job so much that he continued his public service as a firefighter when he retired. As an aviation boatswain's mate, he was one of 35,000 Navy personnel who receive ship-board firefighting training each year. After his Navy service, the retired 38-year-old had to prepare physically for the firefighting academy in his county. With his help -- and the help of other local firefighters from Canada, New York City and other major cities -- we created a program to help him ace the candidate physical ability test (CPAT).

Each year, many of today's military personnel are continuing public-service professions once out of their branch of service. They perform jobs in law enforcement, firefighting and emergency medicine. Many of these heroes also are continuing their military service as reservists or National Guard members, and they have to take physical fitness tests every six months to stay operational. 

It is difficult to fit fitness into a busy day or night of shift work, family duties and other distractions. But it is vital that our public servants perform their jobs in a manner that does not unnecessarily risk their lives or the lives of the people they protect. Here are some ideas to help with quick fitness routines when time is short.

The jumping jack/push-up routine

Repeat 5-10 times.

  • Jumping jacks 10
  • Push-ups 10

This one gets the heart going and pumps the arms and chest. I use it to energize me when the need to stay alert is required. It only takes 3-5 minutes. 

Try not to rest, other than touching your toes after jumping jacks, walking your hands out in front of you and slowly placing yourself into the push-up position. I usually do this before a workout to get the muscles loose, but it is a great way to take a few minutes and get 50-100 push-ups. Do this throughout the day, every hour or so, and you will have several reps of push-ups done.

Mix in legs with the above workout

Add squats between jumping jacks and push-ups for a great full-body pump that only takes 5-7 minutes. I recommend doing 10-20 reps of squats or half-squats when doing this workout.

Do it with dumbbells

Place dumbbells near your workspace and pick them up every so often to get in a quick full-body workout as well. I like to do what I call multi-joint exercises with dumbbells:

Multi-Joint Dumbbell #1

This multi-joint exercise focuses on the upper body by mixing several exercises into one movement. This one incorporates biceps curls, military presses and triceps extensions. Start with dumbbells by the waist, raise them into a biceps curl, then overhead, then behind your head. Repeat in reverse order.

Multi-Joint Dumbbell #2

This multi-joint exercise adds lower-body exercises to MJDB #1. This exercise mixes triceps extensions, military presses, biceps curls and full squats. Start with dumbbells by the waist, perform a squat, then raise them into a biceps curl, then overhead and finally behind your head. Repeat in reverse order.

Multi-Joint Dumbbell #3

This multi-joint exercise adds lower-body exercises to MJDB #1. This exercise mixes triceps extensions, military presses, biceps curls, full squats, squat thrusts and pushups. Start with dumbbells by the waist, perform a squat, a squat thrust, then a push-up, then reverse squat thrust, squat up, then raise them into a biceps curl, then overhead and finally behind your head. Repeat in reverse order.

These are some quick ideas to help you fit fitness into your schedule. The thing to remember about fitness is: If it is not in the schedule, it does not exist.

Being unfit should not be an option for any public-service officers with the risks of life on the line. The firefighting and law enforcement professions are simply a cross-section of America's fitness levels. Both groups require a certain level of fitness to do their jobs well and both groups need to add fitness into their lives in case of life-or-death situations.

After interviewing and training firefighters and police officers (and understanding the physical requirements of performing their work), we have developed several routines to test fitness, maintain it and build it from the ground floor.

Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Visit his Fitness eBook store if you're looking to start a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to stew@stewsmith.com.

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