One Rep at a Time

Five words that represent the perfect approach to exercise - and life.

I've spent many years, and explored many avenues on my quest for the best methods to prepare men and women for the everyday rigors of the fire service. To mention just a few...

Weight lifting, distance running, circuit training, slow motion, power yoga, medicine balls, sand bags, dumbbells, bosu, stepmill, stepping, sleds, sledge hammers, sprinting, rowing, meditation, deep breathing, and of course, STS training and kettlebells.

Regardless of what path you're on, progress is best achieved in small steps, sometimes the smaller the better. Applying this mentality to finding the best way to build a strong body is a simple jump in logic.

Traditionally, most of us were taught to exercise in sets and reps. We've all been through the basic drill of "three sets of ten reps". It just never occurred to us to do a set of 100, or even 200 reps. Our best science tells us that muscles must be under load for X amount of time, with X amount of resistance to really benefit. I've found that philosophy to simply not be the case, and don't have time for science to catch up to reality.

Another tradition that Americans need to lose when it comes to fitness training is isolating the body down to its parts for scheduling workouts. The classic, "chest and back on Monday, shoulders and arms on Tuesday" is not applicable. Forget it! At no time during a fire fight, or any athletic event, is the body granted the luxury of isolation. It's more of a "all for one, and one for all mentality," as any high school foot ball coach could tell you.

Over the past year, and since becoming a coach with American Kettlebell Club, I've embraced high repetition kettlebell training, along with my firefighter-specific STS training, like nothing else. I've seen the improvement, firsthand, of what 200 rep sets can do. Kettlebells have also provided me with another way to functionally prepare the body for the likes of high-pressure hose lines and 20-story stair climbs.

The goal of your program becomes the quality of work performed, not the effect on each muscle. You learn to recognize and measure true work capacity. Think about it... TRUE WORK CAPACITY. Isn't that what a firefighter really needs, what we all need? Health, fitness, weight loss, are all glorious side effects, but the main focus of a firefighter's workout needs to center on work capacity. The physical discipline to pace yourself and not overexert under the worst possible conditions (weighted down with 80 pounds, high heat, oxygen deprived), when expected to perform a mini-marathon of heavy work, is what's needed most.

Kettlebell lifting and my high rep STS training can provide a firefighter, or anybody else with the tools to safely perform and progress with strength-endurance full body workouts. Remember, perform one rep at a time, climb one rung of the ladder at a time, extinguish one room of fire at a time. It's all the same. A firefighter who possesses an android work capacity doesn't falter when the going gets tough. Technique is constant, right down to the last rep, last rung, last room.