Could You Pass The CPAT? Kettlebell It!

August 31, 2018

Staying in shape for any first responder should be a top priority. At any time, any one of us could be pressed into service in a moment’s notice. The life of a firefighter is physically demanding. Just like taking a CPAT exam, we are often called upon to climb ladders, pull hose, and carry heavy objects–all of which can take a heavy toll on your body. That is why it is so important to always be in the best shape of your life. Emergencies happen, and it’s your responsibility to be ready to handle them both mentally and physically.

“I foresee a set of kettlebells
in every firehouse!”

Don’t Americans already know how to get in shape? There seems to be no shortage of super fit models adorning billboards, magazines, or TV commercials. But, I urge you to take a closer look. Are we simply assuming these models are capable of any real work or possess athletic ability, or are their results more about appearance, diet, and good genetics? We know how to pump up muscles, but bodybuilders are not performance-oriented athletes. As firefighters, it’s ludicrous to think that training like a bodybuilder will do anything but handicap job performance.

Why kettlebells? Our job, firefighting, is all about “strength-endurance.” I’ve written numerous articles about just what that is, but for simplicity’s sake we can define strength-endurance as strength that endures. Superhuman, one repetition maximum lifts have no real place on the fire ground, nor do isolated movements designed to train only minimal amounts of muscle.

Kettlebell timed sets, whether utilized in sports-oriented or fitness protocols, build the elusive quality of strength-endurance like nothing else. The student learns how to NOT PUT THE BELL DOWN, going that extra, extra mile to finish the set. But, do we just bull through this? No! We master technique, meaning we find a way to work WITH the bell, minimizing stress per rep, doing ten times as many reps than we’d have thought possible.

Imagine performing a set of 150 reps (versus 15) while never putting the bell down and only switching hands one time. That’s 75 reps per hand. This takes more than just brute strength, but tremendous endurance, mental fortitude, as well as a high level of technique – that everybody that’s passed a CPAT can achieve.

I see it firsthand every day. Young men and women who couldn’t pull a hose line, drag a dummy, last 3 minutes on a step mill, TRANSFORMED into physically fit and capable people. Backgrounds all vary. Some have been running and weight lifting and are shocked that they had very little real work capacity or endurance. A certain percentage of people that show up at my gym are completely deconditioned. Real kettlebell training can drag them back from the depths of the sedentary.

But people resist. Understandably so. Years of commercial advertising has defined fitness for most Americans. I know we, as firefighters, must do better. We need to find a really workable system that addresses exactly the specific aspects of fitness necessary for our survival. I’ve found it, and offer it to you, fire departments across the country.

I see a set of kettlebells in every firehouse. No longer will the mainstay be 30 second bench press sets that do little, if anything, to prepare you for the job. Kettlebell sets, lasting 2, 3, and even 10 minutes will closely replicate what we actually do, and prepare the individual both muscularly, and aerobically — addressing our greatest need, increased cardiorespiratory capacity.

Mental fortitude, strength, endurance, cardio, all in a nice neat little package called the kettlebell. As the American Kettlebell Club’s Fire and Rescue Advisor, my mission is to bring kettlebells to every department in the United States, big or small. Be one of the first.

Written by Michael Stefano


Mike was born in the borough of Brooklyn in the spring of 1958. He joined the FDNY in 1982, advancing to the rank of captain before his retirement in 2005. In 2000 he wrote The Firefighter’s Workout Book (published by HarperCollins New York), an instant success, selling over 70,000 copies, and is used by several colleges and academies as their firefighter fitness text book.

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