How to Motivate Firefighters to Workout

Eric Liford and I were discussing how to get firefighters motivated to workout. Eric is the American Kettlebell Club's editor in chief, as well as Head Coach Valery Fedorenko's right hand man. Since joining the AKC as Fire / Rescue Advisor, it's been my mission to expose as many firefighters as possible to not just fitness, but the best tool possible for the type of conditioning they need. We decided to hold a contest and give away a set of Kettlebells and a Firefighter Fitness Seminar. The AKC supplies the bells, I do the workshop. Simple, but effective plan.

In this business a long time, I've learned that regardless of what the general public's perception, the average firefighter is not an Olympic athlete who can barrel through a CPAT. Quite the contrary, these are everyday men and women, given a chance to go above and beyond. But this opportunity comes with a hefty price tag.

Studies show that we continue to lose over a hundred firefighters in the line of duty every year. Just about half of those fatalities are from heart attack. The human heart, especially if deconditioned, can only take so much. As firefighters, we haven't found a safe way to duplicate the effort put forth by the troops working a structural fire, at least not until now.

High rep, timed and paced sets of kettlebell sport exercises, can recreate the exact condition we, as firefighters, need, but with a workable progression. Both regular weight lifting and cardio fall short for completely different reasons. Let's take a look at both.

Weight Lifting
Do a set, put the weight down and rest. How is that anything like a fire suppression effort where there's zero rest until the work is done? This might be the best way to hypertrophate or bloat muscles. Unfortunately, in this country we've been force fed this bodybuilding poison for over fifty years. High rep kettlebell work will make you exceptionally strong, as well as building crazy endurance and lean muscle. After jerking 24 kilograms (53 pounds) 100 times, pressing 100 pounds just five or ten times seems like no big deal.

Sneakers, shorts, and a tee shirt weigh about two pounds. Full firefighter gear can weigh up to seventy-five pounds, more than a really heavy suitcase. Unless you get under the load, you're not training for the same event, and will fall miserably short . Cardio is a great assistance exercise to be used with kettlebells, as a supllement to heart and lung function, but the firefighter-specific work must be done under load -- that's the job.

Let's get back to the topic, firefighters across this country need to embrace fitness and protect themselves, and not from just fatalities, but every one the thousands of disabling injuries that comes from overextending yourself when there's simply no other choice. This is what I call the adrenalin factor. Everybody is amazed at how firefighters get the job done, but at what cost? The general public doesn't see the beating you take working above and beyond your actual capacity. Heart rate and blood pressure can soar into risky territory. Breathing rate is outta control, but as a dedicated firefighter, when there's work to be done, you just grin and bear it, typically working to utter exhaustion.

They call that heart, ironically. We find the strength to carry on but our bodies pay the price. From minor strains all the way to death, a physically unprepared firefighter is at high risk to him- or herself. It's too bad that in the gym we can't exhibit just one tenth of the motivation put forth by most members a typical worker. The typical firehouse gym can be a ghost town.

Free Kettlebells
Free Kettlebells! What firefighter doesn't love a "FREE-O", as anything free is known on the FDNY. Free lunch, free drinks, free exercise! With kettlebells, as well as firefighter specific stuff, specific instruction makes the system much more effective. The work in the gym is never easy, but firefighters don't fear work, it's the structured program, or lack thereof, that kills most programs. The winner of our essay contest will set an example on how simple implementing a program can be.

Contest Rules
It's pretty basic stuff. You, or any member of your department (friend or spouse OK) must write an essay that's 1000 words or less on Why Your Department Needs a Fitness Program. Entries can be submitted via email or web form. All applicants must be 18 years of age at time of submission. Contest ends 3/31/08 and will be judged on April Fools Day 2008. The winner will receive a single set of kettlebells (four bells valued at $500) and a firefighter / fitness seminar with me, Mike Stefano. The workshop / seminar is at your location (or mine if necessary) and includes up to a 20 members attendance (larger seminar can be arranged). Seminar is valued at $3000 for total prize of $3500. For more information, go to: >> Firefighter Fitness Essay Contest