#1 Exercise for Firefighters

July 31, 20190 Comments

The single, most useful exercise for firefighters is the deadlift. Retired firefighter of 30 years, Ed Kranski, said “Deadlifting is by far the most important real-life strength exercise. When you pick anything heavy up – you don’t squat, bench, or snatch it – you deadlift it. If a heavy beam falls on another firefighter, you deadlift it off them. If you’re dragging a fallen firefighter out of a burning building, you deadlift them.” The deadlift is the king of compound exercises that when performed correctly builds overall strength that translates directly to the fireground.

Proper Technique

Often times deadlifting gets overlooked for fear of injury; however, when performed correctly deadlifts are safe and may even help prevent future injuries. Start light and practice proper form before adding weight. Remember, technique is always more important than increasing weight. Also, practicing proper technique will make your body more efficient, utilizing all the proper muscles to increase strength gains.

To perform a proper deadlift, follow these steps:
• Stand with your midfoot under the bar hip-width apart
• Bend over and grab the bar shoulder-width apart
• Bend your knees until your shins touch the bar
• Lift your chest and straighten your lower back
• Tighten your core and grip
• Lock your elbows
• Stand up with the weight
• Lock your hips and knees
• Hold the weight at the top
• Return the weight to the floor

That is one repetition. How many repetitions you can perform will depend on your experience, the weight you’re pulling, and programming. There are three different grips you can use to deadlift: overhand, underhand, and alternate grip. Using the overhand grip is the most common, but you may use an alternate grip to help you lift heavier weights.

“performing the deadlift with proper
technique will strengthen your back
to avoid injuries in the field”

To help prevent injury and increase strength gains, follow these cues to ensure proper technique:
• Shoulders: When you bend over, your shoulders should be directly over the bar. Don’t shrug or roll your shoulders and don’t squeeze your shoulder blades.
• Feet: Keep your feet flat on the floor.
• Back: When you bend over, keep a neutral back with no rounding or excessive arch. Your head should be inline with the rest of your spine. Don’t lean back at the top of the lift.
• Legs: Drive up with your legs. Keep knees fixed throughout the movement without bending in or out.
• Lift: Don’t jerk the bar off the floor. Pull the bar up slowly. Keep a fluid motion from top to bottom. Take a deep breath at the bottom, hold at the top, and exhale at the bottom

The most common concern when performing the deadlift is getting a back injury. On the contrary, performing the deadlift with proper technique will strengthen your back to avoid back injuries in the field. When the deadlift is improperly performed it can become dangerous, which is why it is important to focus on proper technique before adding weight. Dr. Stuart McGill says “your spine is like the mast on a ship – the rigging holds it firm so it can’t buckle. Your trunk muscles around your spine are that rigging. They hold your spine firm so it can bear heavy loads safely and pain free.” Deadlifting strengthens your trunk muscles, increases back endurance, and builds safe movement habits. Always consult with a physician before performing physical activity when recovering from an injury or surgery.

Deadlifts are the Real Deal

“The best exercises for firefighters are not the ones that will have you looking good on the beach. They are the ones that could potentially keep you alive when you need your strength the most,” according to John Annillo, military, law enforcement, and firefighter fitness coach. The result of failure for a firefighter is worse than missing a lift or not hitting a new personal record. The ability to effectively work on the fireground translates to lives lost or saved, and deadlifting is the ultimate test of strength and effective muscle recruitment patterns.

Ed Kranski adds, “The stronger you are the easier demanding physical tasks you face as a firefighter become.” Increasing your strength in the deadlift will increase strength throughout your whole body, from big muscles like the glutes to your hands for grip strength. The deadlift works more muscles than any other movement, the primary muscles being the glutes, hamstrings, spinal erectors, and quads. Also, the core stability needed for deadlifting targets all the major muscle groups in the waist, upper and lower back, and hips for correct posture and core strength. This helps prevent back injuries, the most common injury among firefighters, strengthening the back and all surrounding muscles.

Increasing your strength with the deadlift will help you build strength to perform laboring tasks like stretching hose lines, raising ground ladders, forcing doors open, pulling ceilings, and lifting a victim or fellow firefighter. This impact on overall strength and efficiency in the fireground leads to lives lost or saved.

Sources: The Firehouse Tribune, Barbend, Breaking Muscle, Stronglifts

By Alicia Iwakiri, Grapevine Staff

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