Training for the Firefighter Physical Fitness Evaluation Part 1
Firefighter Physical Fitness Exam Preparation: Planning
(Written by guest author: Scott Shimala)
If you’ve been around any person involved in the fitness industry, whether they coach or just train themselves, everything revolves around goals. That’s the whole reason we train. We want to achieve goals: look better, perform better and feel better. This three part series is going to delve into what I did to prepare for my most recent Firefighter Physical Fitness Exam. It will go through my thought process of developing my training program, the execution of the program and preparation and execution for the testing day itself.
The first step to being successful at anything is setting goals. If you’re getting ready for a physical fitness exam, that means you’re going to have some very specific goals. These goals are what your whole training program will revolve around.
Setting goals for a physical fitness exam is pretty straight forward. In my case, my goals were as follows:
● Body Fat %: <10%
● Bench Press: 300-315 (depending on body weight)
● Sit-Ups (1 min): 56
● Sit and Reach: 24in
● Leg Dynamometer: 525+lbs (depending on body weight
● Pushups: 80
● 1.5 Mile Run: <10 min <9:30 min
Your tests might be similar to these or they might be totally different. You need to ask the big questions and be realistic: How long do I have? What kind of shape am I in now? What am I good/bad at? What are the standards? All of these will shape your goals.
Developing a Training Program
After you set these goals, it’s time to develop your training program. Doing this ahead of time will help keep you on task during the day-to-day grind of training as well as look at the big picture and see where you should be two, three or four (or more) months down the road.
You’ll need to decide whether you want to write your own training program or you want someone else to. Whichever you decide, keep in mind that both have their benefits and drawbacks:
● Writing your own training program-this was my choice because of my extensive background in the health and fitness industry (and my job is mind-numbingly boring, so it gave me something to think about all day). It’s very easy to put a lot of thought and care into your own training. If you have the knowledge, you can make changes on the fly, depending on how you’re feeling that day. For me, this was crucial since I work a manual labor job. I could go into a training session feeling great or, more often than not, less than 100%. This, as well as writing your own program, can also be a drawback. A lot of the times, people find themselves leaving out the stuff that they don’t like and just focusing on what they like (which is usually what they’re already good at). It’s also very easy to get home after a long day and think ‘’That was a long day, I need to rest.’’ when you really should be going out and getting better!
● Having a program written for you-This takes the guess work out of the equation. Having someone tell you ‘’Do this, do that.’’ can be nice. The tough part about this is if you work a full-time job. Like I mentioned before, sometimes you come home not feeling great and your body might only be able to handle 4x400m repeats instead of 6. Or you might be feeling great and you’re able to handle that extra 800m repeat. This is a very loose use of auto-regulation during training. In my experience, however, if I’m not following my program to a T it somehow feels like I’m cheating.
Note: Learning to auto-regulate your training is a very useful tool no matter who writes your program. It was vital to the success of my training and could be to yours too. Since it’s out of the scope of this article, I’d recommend a quick Google search of ‘’auto-regulation in training’’ and start reading!
Again, giving a lesson on physiology or periodization is out of the scope of this article, but I will give a few guidelines if you decide to develop your own program:
● DO NOT leave out exercises because you don’t like them. I was a sprinter in high school, so running 1.5 miles was a daunting task, but I made myself do it. You can too.
● Work on your weak areas first. In my eyes, it’s easy to be good at one thing or the other (strength vs. cardio), but it’s very hard to be good at both. Most of us will gravitate towards one type of activity. Identify that and don’t let it bias your program.
● Figure out if the tests are weighted differently. Some areas of your test might be worth more than others.
● The closer you are to exam day, the more specific your training sessions should be. This means no skull-crushers, no tricep kickbacks and definitely no curls in the squat rack a week out from your exam.
● Don’t be afraid to give yourself rest days. Training is all about what we can recover from. If you’re constantly breaking your body down with training, it’s never going to get a chance to rebuild and be even stronger.
The last vital step that you need to take is to identify any barriers to your training/goals.
For me, the biggest barrier was the long, physically intensive hours at work. I started early enough that I couldn’t do my training before work and after 10 hours of manual labor and 90 degree heat, training was usually the last thing I wanted to do. But I constantly reminded myself why I was doing this and forced myself to get out there and do it. Not once did I think ‘’I wish I didn’t train today.’’
If you’ve got a similar barrier that you just can’t get rid of, you need to think about what you can do to minimize the effect of that barrier on your training. For me, it was eating as healthy as possible (which also helped in lowering my body fat percentage) and making sure I got as close to 10 hours of sleep per night as possible. It might be the same for you or it might be totally different. When it comes down to it, it’s about solving a problem and sticking to it.
So those are your three things to do when you’re starting out. Set some goals, develop a program around those goals and find out what’s holding you back and crush it.
Anything worth doing is worth doing right, and that includes training. Planning out the long-term training process is something that takes some extra thought. It isn’t as exciting as going out there and getting it done, but it’s extremely important. You don’t want to be the guy that has no way to measure progress because he doesn’t remember what he did last week. Sit down, plan your training out and you’ll be thankful you did later. The next part in the series will focus on the meat and potatoes: executing the training program.