Hydrate for Optimum Firefighter Fitness

I have posted this article a couple of times over the past 4 years of the FireRescueFitness.com blog, I think it is one of the most overlooked aspects of firefighter fitness. Its starting to get cold outside (at least here in the Midwest) and its easy to think that hydration isn't as important as staying warm. Dehydration is still very much a threat to firefighters performance (and survival) in winter just as much as it is in summer.   The combination of heavy clothing and high-intensity exercise can lead to increased sweating and the possibility of dehydration. You may not feel as thirsty in cold weather as in other climates, because your body chemistry impairs your brain’s ability to tell you when to hydrate. Cold weather also has the effect of moving body fluids from your extremities to your core, causing increased urine output and adding to dehydration.  Please take note at how quickly a dehydrated fire rescue athletes' performance can diminish.

In most stations, your shift starts with checking your gear, SCBA, med supplies and looking over the apparatus (usually with a cup of coffee in hand), but do you ask yourself, Am I physically ready to do my job? I imagine 100% of you nodded your head in affirmation to that seemingly rhetorical question.

Hydration and the Human Body

The human body is 66–70% water. Under normal circumstances, the human body loses about 35–90 oz. of water a day through body waste, sweat and breathing (Maughan, 2003). During normal athletic activity, the body can lose 8–16 oz. of water per hour. The extreme conditions of firefighting demand more than this. On average, working firefighters should anticipate losing 50–70 oz. of sweat in 30–45 minutes of fireground activity (Levine et al., 1990). For a 200-lb. firefighter, a 2% sweat-induced loss of body weight would require a post-exercise fluid intake of about 96 oz. or more, considering the individual was well hydrated before the call.

A Matter of Life and Death?

Hydration is critical for optimal performance. Progressive dehydration from exercise (or fireground operations) impairs performance, mental capacity and perception of effort, and it can be life-threatening. With as little as a 2% shortage of body water, the ability to perform a high-intensity activity can be greatly impaired (Kleiner, 1999). The combination of the hot environment and the protective gear insulating the firefighter can produce dangerous conditions of hyperthermia and dehydration.

Properly hydrated, well-conditioned firefighters are therefore much better able to contend with heat stress than their unconditioned and/or dehydrated counterparts. Put that into the context of your crew, which is only as strong as its weakest member. If you don’t hydrate yourself properly before arriving on the fireground, you’re not only putting your own life in danger, but the lives of your crewmembers as well, because your performance level could be greatly reduced (IAFF, 2006). For these reasons, dehydration must be addressed before the firefight begins.

How to Hydrate

To stop dehydration before it starts prior to the alarm for a service call, you must limit the use of stimulants, such as caffeine, avoid carbonated beverages, maintain physical fitness and stay adequately hydrated throughout a shift. Drink plenty of water at regular intervals, and aim to replace fluids at the same rate that they’re lost. At minimum, consume 64 oz. of water a day (Casa et al., 2000). Increase that amount when exercising on duty and after you've completed your workout to avoid being dehydrated at the scene.

Follow these recommendations, feel free to print these out and post around the firehouse. (Click here to download a printable version)

This is an insert from an article I wrote from FirefighterNation.com (you can read the entire article by clicking here). Please like and comment on the article.

Stay safe and healthy,
Aaron Zamzow

Goblet Squat for More Strength on the Fireground

I often get emails and questions about ways to improve leg strength and recovery while in firefighting gear.  We all know that stairs and climbing are major fire rescue movements performed on the fire ground so... improve your leg strength and you could improve your performance on the fire ground.  One exercise in particular is very good at doing just that....the goblet squat.  The goblet squat is a multi-joint lower body exercise that fires up (no pun intended) the glutes, quads, and hamstrings. Unlike the traditional back squat, the goblet squat is executed by keeping the body in an upright position, which results in less strain on the lower lumbar and spine and places an increased demand on your upper back and core.  It is a great exercise for adding volume to build work capacity or conditioning in circuits. Goblet squats also help improve mobility in the hip, thus helping you out with other fire rescue movement patterns. 

Here is how you can do a Goblet Squat:  Grab a dumbbell and hold it vertically in front of your chest, with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.   Keeping your back naturally arched, push your hips back, bend your knees, and lower your body until the tops of your thighs are at least parallel to the floor. Pause, then push yourself back up to the start.   Your elbows should point down to the floor and your torso should remain as upright as possible. Click the link below to see the Goblet Squat in action.


Incorporating into your workout...
You can use the goblet squat as an addition or substitute for any lower body exercise.  For fire rescue athletes, this exercise is a functional way to help improve your performance.  For more endurance try to perform for sets of 12-15 reps or work heavier loads for sets of 8 reps. Give them a try!

The Best Firefighter Workout?

This topic is near and dear to mine and your hearts and careers--Workouts for Firefighters and Fire Rescue Athletes. Over the last couple of months I've been researching, talking, tweaking and writing about some of the more popular workouts seen in firehouses across the world. 

You can read about them here and here or listen to a great radio interview about this topic HERE

I've received a ton of feedback about those articles both good and bad (please keep it coming) and used all of this information to create one of the BEST Workouts for Firefighters.  The Ultimate Fire Rescue Workout is one of the most effective and efficient workouts for firefighters.  Why?  Because it contains these five vital components that are essential for the Fire Rescue Athlete.  Does your program include these components?

1.   The program must be planned using sound periodization and science. The program must be planned using sound periodization and science. Training should follow a developmental approach or progression. This means there should be a hierarchy of training. First it is essential for the fire rescue athlete to develop a training base that should increase the body’s functional capacity. Once this is accomplished, the intensity of the exercise is increased to emphasize strength and muscular development. In more general terms, we can also say we develop stability, then strength, and finally power. Regardless of what the training program looks like, it cannot violate this developmental approach. This is one variable that CrossFit does not do, people are getting injured from performing too many presses or pulls or jumps without having a sound base.

2.    The Fire Rescue workout program MUST place a large amount of focus on Core Strength and Balance. Low back pain is the number one reason firefighters retire early. In order for a program to be effective, it must utilize exercises that focus on the developing the glutes, shoulder girdle, hamstrings, hips and abs. 

3.    The program needs to focus on cardiovascular conditioning and recovery.  When you think of cardiovascular conditioning most people think of running or biking, which in most cases emphasizes aerobic conditioning.  Fire Rescue athletes need to have a good level of aerobic fitness but cannot overlook the value of challenging the anaerobic systems.  If you've ever humped a "charged" hose line up some stairs or dragged a victim or axed a roof open you realized the importance of anaerobic fitness.  An effective Fire Rescue fitness program will set a good cardiovascular base then challenge the cardiovascular system with intervals.  Intervals are one of the best way to simulate the high level of fitness required on the fire ground.  

4. The program must (at some point) contain full-body functional strength exercises. Functional strength exercises increase balance around the joints and helps prevent injuries by stimulating stabilizing muscles. Functional strength movements like the push-up, goblet squat, lunge, pull-up strengthen all joints of the body in numerous planes.

5. THIS IS ESSENTIAL!   Programs must include an Active warm-up and flexibility training.
The warm-ups prepare the body for movement, boosts heart rate, blood flow to the muscles, and core temperature. These movements also improve the function of your nervous system. Think of this component as taking a few minutes to warm-up a car that has been sitting outside in cold temperatures all night. The main goal of this the active warm-up and flexibility component is to improve the long-term mobility and flexibility of your muscles. The more flexible the muscle and joint around the muscle; the better the fire rescue athlete recovers and the less chance of injury.
This is not an all encompassing list but it will definitely give you enough information to help decide if a program has what it takes to be effective for the fire rescue athlete. I truly do believe that the Ultimate Fire Rescue Athlete Workout is the most effective and efficient workout for firefighters....dont take my word for it, take other (click here).  If you're looking for the best program for firefighters...try the Ultimate Fire Rescue Athlete. 

Here are some reviews of the program.  It' guaranteed to give you results...

"So far, I LOVE IT!  Lost 8 pounds in the first month and my core is stronger than ever. I feel more flexible and move faster.  The interval overhauls are a great idea and an easy way to incorporate "real" fire ground movements.  Looking forward to the next 8 weeks....."
-R.  Heltsrtun (Wisconsin)

"Great stuff! Since I incorporated your workouts into my training, my ability on the fire ground has skyrocketed.   That cardio spike can be felt at nearly every fire I ever fight." 
-A Willis (Tennessee)

"Finally someone gets it! I'm a professional firefighter searching for a fitness program that understands the demands of my job.  Aaron's program not only makes you a more efficient firefighter but a leaner, stronger athlete.   The program is written for athletes yet is practical and easy to follow.  I use the workouts with my crew, we are all seeing great progress.  I HIGHLY recommend this program to anyone who is serious about being the best Fire Rescue Athlete they can be.  ...losing weight and reaching their fitness goals."
-C. Gaylord (Minnesota)