Often neglected and misunderstood, flexibility is a critical fitness component that all first responders need to focus on to improve performance. When I mention the word “flexibility,” most people picture bending at the waste and reaching your toes. Whether or not you can touch them, we all need to work on improving our flexibility.
Flexibility is the joint’s ability to move through a full range of motion. The better the joint moves, the less stress is put on that joint and the easier it is to move. This improved motion can lead to a multitude of health improvements.
Increased flexibility can improve aerobic fitness training, muscular strength and endurance. It can also make functional fireground movements like crawling, carrying and twisting easier to perform. Flexibility training can decrease soreness and stiffness, especially for first responders who are moving heavy objects like fire hoses, equipment and patients. It is also a form of relaxation, which can positively impact not only physical fitness, but also mental fitness. This, in turn, can improve your performance on the job and off.
Check out this video to learn more about the benefits of flexibility as well as two types of flexibility exercises and three essential flexibility exercises for firefighters.
Need a quick recap?
The two types of flexibility exercises are static and dynamic. Static stretches isolate one (or two) muscle groups at a time and hold a position (20-30 seconds) rather than moving through a range of motion. Examples include calf stretches, toe touches, standing hamstring and quad stretches, and many yoga poses. This type of stretching is great to do after a long shift and/or workout.
Dynamic stretches involve movement, usually of more than one muscle group and take the body through a near-full range of motion. Examples include arm circles, knee hugs, twisting lunges, butt kickers and leg swings. Dynamic stretches are a great option before a training or a workout.
Stretching seems simple, but there are a few Golden Rules to follow:
- Never stretch cold muscles
- Breathe during the stretch
- Reduce intensity if you feel pain
There’s no shortage of stretches that can improve fireground performance. If you’re not sure where to start, consider these three flexibility exercises for firefighters, which can be done as static or dynamic stretches:
- Step Forward Toe Reach – Step forward with one foot and reach toward your toe. Static: Hold for 20-30 seconds. Dynamic: Come back up, go to next side
- Spiderman Stretch – Get into a pushup position. Bring your right leg toward your right hand. Static: Hold for 20-30 seconds. Dynamic: Hold for 2-3 seconds, then move to opposite side.
- Knee Drops – Lie on your back, arms out to sides. Let your knees drop to one side. Static: Hold for 20-30 seconds. Dynamic: Hold for 2-3 seconds, move to opposite side.