Fitness is essential for firefighters. This leads a lot of aspiring firefighters to ask what the best workouts for firefighters are.
Truthfully, the only way to ensure that we stay fit enough to keep up with the demands of the job is to create an effective training regime. This means lots of different exercises are appropriate, but there are definitely some that are better than others.
The absolute best workouts for firefighters are those that focus on high intensity training, followed by short periods of recovery.
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10 Best Workouts for Firefighters
- Object (dummy) Drags
- Farmer’s Carries
- Fireman’s Carries
- HIIT Training/ Interval Training
- Weighted lunges
- Medicine ball slams/throws
While this is certainly not an exhaustive list, it’s a good start for your firefighter fitness. I have chosen some that are related to the role and others that are more general and will help with your general fitness.
Some you may be familiar with if you already hit the gym. Others may come as more of a surprise. I also want to talk about the importance of your fitness level in this fire service and how you can create the ideal workout plan while on duty.
First of all, what does it mean to be firefighter-fit?
Gym Fitness vs. Firefighter Fitness
There will be many young recruits preparing for the CPAT or another fitness test that plan to join the fire service that assume that they are perfectly fit enough to take on the role.
They might play sports on the weekend and have a fairly low BMI so always seem to be the fittest in their peer group.
Others may assume that their age and general activity level is enough to get them by. Many will have a shock when they learn precisely what it takes to be a firefighter and to keep their fitness and strength up to the right levels.
Fitness in the fire service isn’t measured by the number of sit-ups you can do and the tone of your body. Big biceps are great and all, but that’s not what really counts.
It is all about how you can put that body to work in difficult situations. For example, you need to be able to:
- Carry heavy equipment for long distances at the scene of a fire
- Showcase enough flexibility to work in difficult spaces
- Have the endurance to keep on working and moving during long calls
- Have the cardio and lung capacity to keep up with everyone else
And, much more. That is why you need to choose the best possible exercises and workouts for firefighter fitness.
Firefighting Specific Exercises
The first group of workouts that I want to talk about are those that relate to our work as firefighters. There are different exercises that we can add to our workout plan that will help our performance.
These exercises often mimic the actions that we take to help us strengthen muscles and improve our form. These workouts are:
Let’s start with something tough and effective for building muscle.
Deadlifts are a common form of exercise in a lot of sports because they are such a comprehensive compound movement.
They are actually even more important in the fire service because of the number of times you may have to pick up dead weight from the ground in an emergency.
You need to be able to do so with the right posture, core strength and stability. You also need to know how to release the weight correctly without causing injury.
So how does it work?
All you need to do here is set yourself up in a safe area with a barbell. Get into the right position, use a brace around your back and abdomen for support if needed, pick up the weight and drop it back down.
Work on increasing the weight and improving your form to get the most out of the exercise for your arms, abs and legs.
Here is the best video I could find demonstrating the proper form.
Object (dummy) Drags
One thing that you will have to do a lot in the fire service is to drag your hose behind you and pull other heavy items around.
Those that end up working on a rope rescue team will need the upper body strength and arm strength to handle the weight at the other end of the rope.
Therefore, it helps to have exercises in your routine that are geared towards doing this.
Object drags are the perfect way to do this because you can experiment with so many different items and practice for future calls.
The drags are also great for helping with leg strength and balance when the object is heavy enough.
While I doubt your local gym has a 180lb dummy laying around, you could always piece together some weights, rope and sandbags to mimic the dragging of dead weight.
So how does it work?
The idea of these object drags is simply to have one item tied to one end of a rope and a place you’re trying to drag it to.
Many people will do this with tires because they are so easy to find, easy to attach and in many cases are heavier than you’d expect.
You can also practice this all kinds of items at the station including dummies and charged hose lines.
One of the great things about this exercise is that you can also turn it into a competition. This is something that you will see with a few of the exercises I have included here.
Competitive tests of strength and endurance are a great way to test your capabilities as a firefighter and your progress.
But, they are also great for team building as you can all compare distances, times and weights used. This competition will force crews on to improve their form and beat their records.
In turn, this means stronger, fitter firefighters. The following is a video I found demonstrating a proper drag exercise.
This might seem like too simple of an exercise to add to this guide, as in my mind step-ups make me think of basic aerobics classes for older folks.
However, you can’t underestimate the number of steps that you will take as a firefighter and the impact that this will have on your leg muscles and overall endurance.
The more you use this motion in your workouts, the more comfortable you will be when stepping in and out of vehicles, climbing ladders or climbing stairwells in high rise buildings during fires.
So how does it work?
You can do this with actual staircases to help improve your form, tone the leg muscles and improve your endurance. Or you can just get a block and start stepping on and off.
When you get a rhythm going then you can be surprised at how many steps you get in each day.
Over time, this will have an impact on your fitness. It is also a simple way to burn off some calories if you had a cheat day on your day off.
Here is a good video demonstrating a basic step up.
This is a deceptively simple exercise. You may have seen people doing this and carrying weights from one side of the gym to the other.
Actually, if you’ve ever watched a strongman competition I’d be willing to bet you’ve seen this.
This is actually a really important exercise in the fire service because not only does it help you with your arm strength, it also gives you the chance to work on your grip.
You will be carrying items for long distances during your calls. Whether it be a water can, the irons or a hook you never want to lose it in a fire.
So, how does it work?
The concept is simple. You choose your distance, chose your weights and travel that distance with the weight as quickly as possible.
If you do this and find that it is all a little too easy, you need to start pushing yourself harder.
Increase the distance, increase the weight and try to beat your time. This is another exercise that is very easy to practice at the station because you don’t need much equipment.
It is also another one where you can set competitive challenges with other crew members.
Here is a video demonstrating a farmer’s carry.
Of course, being this this is a website dedicated to the fire service, I couldn’t finish this section without a mention of the fireman’s carry.
It is great that so many athletes use an exercise named after us firefighters to train and better themselves.
Teams and organizations that have combines use it to measure strength, fitness and endurance and will often add one of these to their relays.
So how does it work?
The name comes from the way in which they pick up the dummy or weighted equivalent, hoist them over their shoulder and transport them back to the finish line.
The difficult part is carrying the weight while trying to beat your fastest time. A good technique is essential here. Remember, slow is smooth and smooth is fast.
Here’s a great video demonstrating the fireman’s carry.
Supplemental Workout Programs for Firefighters
Now it may not be your favorite, but cardio is just as important (if not more important) than strength for firefighters.
In case you didn’t know, the biggest killer of firefighters on duty…cardiac arrest. Yup, you read that right, far too many firefighters are overweight and out of shape and need to improve their cardio.
If nothing else these exercises are good for general health and fitness.
The following options can help us to build our strength, cardio, flexibility and more to ensure that we are always at our best in live and when we are out on a call. They are:
HIIT Training for Firefighters
This is something that you will probably be familiar with if you already hit the gym on a regular occasion.
If you don’t know what it is, HIIT stands for high intensity interval training.
HIIT training has gained a lot of popularity in recent years with fitness fanatics in gyms because of the impact it has on fitness and strength. It is a tough workout that pushes you to your limits while maintaining safe parameters.
Firefighters can use this to work on their explosive power and their cardio and build on their abilities as they progress.
The other appealing thing about this approach is that you can do this on all kinds of traditional exercise machines.
So how does it work?
All you need to do is get hold of a treadmill, spin bike or rowing machine that offers the chance to change the intensity to your liking.
First, you get yourself warmed up for a little while to get the muscles moving and blood flowing.
Then you can pick a higher intensity level that you know pushes you at the limit of your comfort zone.
Work at this pace or higher resistance for 30 seconds and then take the settings right down for a cool-down period.
Repeat this process over a 20-minute workout for improved gains.
Yoga for Firefighters
While I know every firehouse out there has those guys that wouldn’t be caught dead doing yoga, I promise you it is much….much harder than you think.
In fact, where I work, one of our officers leads a weekly yoga session for the police and fire departments.
There are lots of great benefits to doing yoga and is one of the best forms of exercise that I know of.
Yoga can have a massive impact on your posture and core strength as you work your way through different poses. This will then translate into the way you carry yourself on the job and your strength in general.
You can also use yoga poses to improve the flexibility in your spine, hips and shoulders. This can make it easier to move in tight spaces and handle the equipment.
Finally, there is the fact that yoga is also great for relaxation. You can enjoy a moment of calm to reflect on the day or any negative events that have occurred.
So how does it work?
I’m not going to recommend too many specific poses here because it is best that you find the ones that work for your current fitness level and body shape.
But, downward dog, child’s pose and cobra work in a nice little cycle to stretch out the spine and improve the flow of energy.
You can add new poses that you learn as you build on your confidence. You can also look into creating group sessions in the station during downtime to encourage each other and have a little fun.
Everyone should be planking in some fashion regardless of their profession. This is a brilliant, simple exercise that anyone can do because it is so adaptable.
Planking is tougher on the muscles than it looks because the posture and engagement of the muscle really focuses in on the core.
There will be firefighters that haven’t tried it won’t be able to hold a plank for more than 10 seconds, but, regular sessions can help with your strength and endurance.
So how does it work?
There are different ways to do this. The traditional and recommended method for crew members is to place your hands on the floor and support yourself there with your body in a straight line from your shoulder to your feet.
You can either support yourself on your forearms, which is often more comfortable, or on your hands with straight arms.
The test for firefighters here is simply to hold the shape for as long as possible and continue to beat that time. Just know, that this is the sort of exercise you can all get quite competitive at the station.
Here’s an example of a proper plank.
Lunges are always a good way to stretch out the leg muscles, build a little more strength and increase your flexibility.
The deeper you can go, the greater the impact but you do have to be careful not to overdo things if you aren’t used to this sort of exercise.
Traveling lunges are a great way of moving across the floor as it means that you have to train both of your legs equally and really test your strength. For a extra difficulty, you can have weights in both hands to increase the intensity and build your strength.
In fact, adding weights to many exercises can be beneficial. For example, you can wear weighted chains or a weighted vest when doing squats or pull-ups.
So how does it work?
Grab two equally weighted dumbbells or other weights, one in each hand, and perform your first lunge as deeply as you can.
Then keep moving forward in this motion with the weight down by your sides at all times. Travel the length of the room.
To increase the intensity, add more weights or a longer distance. You can also try asymmetric versions with one weight to try and build on your core strength.
Here’s a video demonstrating proper lunge technique.
Medicine Ball Slams/Throws
I have grouped these last two exercises together because they are so similar and can be carried out together. If you have never used a medicine ball before then you might be in for a shock.
These large balls are very heavy and can be difficult to handle. But, their weight and bounce mean that they provide a different type of exercise.
These slams and throws are designed to test the explosive power of athletes. This is essential for firefighters that need this power when breaking down doors or powering through obstacles on the fire scene.
So how does it work?
The medicine ball slam means that you take the ball, raise it over your head and throw it down to the ground as hard as you can. This sudden burst of strength in the arms is what you need to master.
Catch the ball on the bounce and repeat. The throws require the same explosive power to hurl the ball over your head as hard as you can.
You can measure the distance and try to beat your record. This is another one where the competitive side of firefighters tends to come out.
Here’s a video demonstrating the exercise.
Training While on Duty
New recruits may wonder when they will have time to workout if they are on call for jobs and working so many hours at the station.
Don’t forget that your shift involves a lot of downtime and there is always something to do. In fact, here’s an article on the site I wrote about the different job’s firefighters do throughout their day.
If you don’t have any chores or tasks, or have completed your studies for the day, you can always find time to get in a workout session.
The department is the perfect place to find the equipment that you need for these workouts for firefighters.
That is why I included so many workouts that either require no equipment at all or that can be carried out with items found around the station.
You can carry out deadlifts and running lunges with traditional weights as well as heavy objects in the station. You also don’t need a lot of space to try out some yoga or planks.
Start your training as soon as possible if you are planning to apply for the fire service.
Maybe you are reading this as someone that has an interest in joining the fire service and that wants to learn more about the fitness requirements for tests like the CPAT (link takes you to our article on preparing for the CPAT).
If so, my advice to you is to start on these workouts as soon as possible. The sooner you get an idea of what this role entails, the sooner you can get used to the exercises and improve your form.
You will have a better chance of being able to meet the expectation of departments during your training if you have already practiced those deadlifts, farmer’s carry and other exercises.
Don’t forget that physical fitness is an important part of your initial application process. The department will put all applicants through their paces with timed tests and demanding exercises.
Also, you will probably be asked at some point during the firefighter interview what you have done to prepare for the job. Your physical fitness is a big part of your preparation.
Speaking of interviews, if you’re looking for a guide on interview questions and answers click the link for our comprehensive guide.
Find A Workout Plan That Is Best for You
The exercises that I have mentioned here are just suggestions based on my experience. While all of these can prove to be helpful, don’t feel as though you have to master them all.
Find a routine that works for you where you can still improve your strength in those key muscle areas, build on your flexibility and work on your endurance.
Use the equipment at your station and the knowledge of your peers to your advantage. Tweak programs as needed for the best results.
With time and dedication, you will find that you can maintain a great fitness level to be a reliable and competent firefighter.
More Resources You May Find Useful:
Firefighter Shift Schedules and Working Hours Explained