If you can devote four hours a week, you can give yourself the body you’ve always dreamed of having. It’s unnecessary and even counterproductive to spend hours at the gym or doing endless aerobics. Most firefighters train while at the firehouse, either before or during their shifts. Usually a long arduous workout isn’t even possible between alarms, and the equipment can also be limited. Here are a few of the benefits you can expect to achieve with just a minimal amount of time and effort.
Reduced Blood Pressure, Body Fat and Cholesterol
The leading cause of line-of-duty death for firefighters across the country is heart attack. While tragic burns and other serious injuries have taken the lives of many brave firefighters, cardiovascular incidents account for about half of all job-related fatalities. According the USFA Firefighter Fatality study, in 2011 there were 83 on-duty firefighter deaths. 48 of these fatalities were classified as sudden cardiac deaths.
We perform our job under the most arduous conditions, enduring high heat and oxygen–deficient environments. Compound this with an intense level of mental stress, and you can see the importance of keeping the cardiovascular system in tip-top shape.
Heart disease is also the leading cause of death for the general public, and what most of us don’t realize is that we all endure and react to extreme stress in our lives every day, whether it be mental or physical. It’s been proven that exercise has a positive impact on the efficiency of the heart-lung system and its ability to handle these stresses. Exercise also lowers serum cholesterol levels, triglyceride levels, and blood pressure, thereby reducing the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and osteoporosis (a real problem for women as they age).
Increased Strength, Endurance, and Lean Muscle Mass
For firefighters, the benefits here are obvious. Carrying heavy equipment to the scene of a fire or up many flights of stairs while clad in suffocating, insulated clothing and then being required to perform at full capacity puts tremendous demands of strength and endurance on the human body. For the average individual, life’s everyday tasks get easier. Packages begin to feel lighter, and there is suddenly a spring in your step. Your clothes begin to fit differently, and people ask what you’ve been doing to look so good. Fat melts away, and missing the elevator and taking the stairs doesn’t seem like such a big deal any more. Once you get used to this new stronger you, you’ll never want to go back.
Worth a mention here is the fact that a strong, lean body is also more efficiently able to cool itself down and warm itself up, making you less susceptible to the ravages of extreme heat or cold.
Increased Flexibility, Balance and Coordination
I cannot emphasize enough the importance of a solid flexibility routine as part of your complete workout. Keeping joints, tendons, ligaments, and muscles limber will prevent injury, period. I’ve seen it a thousand times in the fire service – the more range of motion you have about a joint, the less chance of injury when you over extend yourself. Children, the best example of flexibility, appear to be made of clay the way they can bend and twist without injury.
While we, as adults, may never again have the flexibility of a 12-year-old child, the fact remains that the more we can bend, the less we’ll get hurt.
Flexibility training combined with strength and endurance work also increases athletic performance and circulation, delivering more vital nutrients to the cells of the body. Balance, posture, and body awareness are all enhanced.
By Michael Stefano, FDNY retired