Why Kettlebells for Firefighters?

This letter goes out to "the job", where my heart and soul lies. When I retired 2 years ago, my beautiful wife Kim told me, "Don't worry, you'll ALWAYS be a fireman". She was right because today, I don't think of myself as a retired firefighter, just a firefighter.

I spent 22 years with the FDNY, and it would have probably been 32 if not for an unfortunate bout with a some thyroid issues that are now totally healed. I went from firefighter to Captain in about twelve years, and had the privilege of managing the rank and file first hand for ten years.

Fitness has always been my
thing, and on my off tours I compiled what became my first book, The Firefighter's Workout Book. It was published 7 years ago, in the fall of 2000. A great way to build the basic fitness requirement for firefighting is found in my 170 page, illustrated firefighter's manual for exercise.

But time has passed and I've become involved in a new career - kettlebell training. If you ran off right now and did a Google search on kettlebells, you would unfortunately be the victim of clever marketing rather than real kettlebell training. Let me explain.

Kettlebell Lifting is a globally recognized sport popular in Eastern Europe. The training that goes into real kettlebell lifting isn't what has made it's way into the gyms of this country (another marketing scam pulled on the American public).

What is here, is a morph of power lifting and bodybuilding using a variation on a real kettlebell. Not bad in and of itself, but it's not what we're talking about here, nor what a firefighter needs.

My first contact with proper kettlebell lifting came from Valery Fedorenko (kettlebell world champion) and Eric Liford (Valery's right hand man). I've since become a coach and the Fire / Rescue Advisor of the American Kettlebell Club (Valery is head coach of the organization).

Both Valery and I take training firefighters very seriously. The fact that he established a special post to deal with spreading kettlebells to firefighters across the country is testament to that fact.

With all that said, let's get into what's really important. Why use kettlebells for firefighters? I mean, it seems like we know how to train. The FDNY's Fire Academy produces a highly trained probie, but once out of the academy chances are s/he will revert back to what most Americans think is real exercise (bodybuilding).

Kettlebell training has evolved over a hundred years in Russia, and the last 60 as a competitive sport. A set is done for maximum reps over a period of time, sometimes as high as ten minutes and two hundred reps.

When compared to other forms of weight training, relatively light weight is utilized. Bells range from 12 kg (26 lbs) to 32 kg (70 lbs). Technique is emphasized and must be learned over time, but the effect on the body starts immediately.

Long sets, light weight, perfect form, explosive motions, training both strength AND endurance at the same time. This isn't circuit training, I've done all that! This is the real deal, like dragging a two and half inch line down a hundred foot hallway.

Exercise selection is minimal, but that turns out to be a good thing, and these movements are mastered and pushed scientifically towards skyrocketing levels. All this is possible because of the shared secrets of Valery. When competing, Valery kept his regimen secret, even when part of a Russian study.

Athletes in Russia don't share, especially fifteen years ago. Now a full-fledged American, and head of the American Kettlebell Club, Valery is part of organizing an American team to compete on a global level. In Miami this November, the entire kettlebell world is coming together for a World Championship.

I still haven't fully answered the question of why use kettlebells for firefighters. Building proficiency and fitness with kettlebells is doable by just about any healthy individual. It recreates the same level of physical exertion experienced at a structural fire suppression effort. Whether hauling hose or pulling ceilings, kettlebell training will give you the strength / endurance and fortitude to handle it all. I've seen first hand what can be accomplished.

Now let's talk about heart attacks. Weight training and even running aren't enough to prepare for a good worker. We need to experience exertion loaded down. While running and other forms of cardio are great, gym shorts and sneakers fall short of creating the effect firefighters need.

I ask you to consider how Kettlebells could best serve your department. At this time of transition of testing procedures for both paid and volunteer departments, kettlebells provide another tool to prepare the probie, and techniques learned can also be extended as an unsurpassed, convenient, career fitness tool for firefighters.

If you'd like to more information about kettlebell training for your department, I can be reached at: michael.stefano@gmail.com

Thank You,
Mike Stefano