Prioritizing Firefighter Workout Time: The Power of 5

In my last video, we discussed the importance of making time for fitness. Equally important: When you do work out, are you using that time efficiently?

Before I joined the fire service, I worked in several health clubs and routinely watched members wander around from place to place trying to figure out what exercises to do. If you hit the gym without a plan, you’ll either waste the precious time you have for exercise or you’ll need to devote an hour or more to each workout to have an impact.

To help you stay on task and prioritize your workout time, I created a guide called “the power of 5s.” This is just a guide and should be part of a bigger plan.

As a first responder, you should work out at least three times per week for at least 30 minutes. Your crew and your family and community are relying on your to be fit for duty, so this is the minimum. Now, I recognize we all have those days where time is precious—the good news is even if you only have 15 minutes, you can get in some exercise that counts.

In the following videos, I’ll show you some techniques for prioritizing firefighter workout time when you have 15, 30 or 45 minutes.

15-Minute Workout Option


Some of the more important fitness traits for first responders are mobility and cardiovascular recovery. So, if you only have 15 minutes, your priority should be to get moving and work your heart. One of the best ways to do this is through circuit training.

Find 5 exercises that improve mobility and work your core and 5 exercises that work your entire body (including your heart). Perform them in a circuit as many times as you can in 15 minutes.

Example: Perform full-body chops, Spiderman stretches and thoracic rotations for your mobility exercises; glute bridges and plank pulses for your core; and squats, pushups, body rows, mountain climbers and burpees to work your entire body.

Start with performing 6 repetitions of each exercise. Move from one exercise to the next, rest when needed and see how many circuits you can do in 15 minutes.

30-Minute or 45-Minute Workout Option


For a 30-minute workout, you have a little more time to add some additional exercises that emphasize mobility, functional core strength and cardiovascular conditioning. Thirty minutes can go fast, so my suggestion is to not waste a lot of time between exercises. Dividing the workout into three different circuits will be the most beneficial and you will keep your heart rate up and burn more calories.

A great 30-minute workout example is the 5-5-5 workout solution. You choose 5 exercises for your warm-up and core circuit, 5 exercises for your strength circuit and 5 exercises for a cardio/fireground movement circuit.

Start with an active warm-up and core circuit of 5 exercises. The focus of the exercises is to improve your mobility and core strength. Move from one exercise to the next with minimal rest. A fitting example is to perform step-forward toe reaches, Spidermans, full-body crossovers, rotational planks, and bridges in a circuit. Perform 6-12 repetitions of each and then repeat for a total of 2 circuits.

Now that you are thoroughly warmed and primed for movement, you should perform 2 or 3 circuits of 5 different resistance exercises. You can use body weight with the assistance of some webbing or a suspension trainer or use some dumbbells or a plate weight. Example:

  1. Squats using body weight or a goblet (weight in front)
  2. Push-ups or a chest press
  3. Body rows or a dumbbell row
  4. Overhead press
  5. Lunge with a bicep curl and a triceps press

These 5 exercises will challenge every muscle in your body. Perform each exercise for 12 repetitions or for 30 consecutive seconds and then rest for 30 seconds before moving to the next exercise.

Finish the workout by performing 5 exercises back-to-back without rest for 5 minutes. The constant movement will burn a lot of calories and mimic the high cardiovascular demands we face on the fire/rescue ground. I also like to include exercises that mimic fireground movements during this circuit.

Here is an example I did at the firehouse during my last shift:

  1. Ran stairs carrying ½-full foam bucket (I put water in the bucket)
  2. Dropped to the floor and performed crawls around the room
  3. Lifted the foam bucket from the floor to overhead, performing a press
  4. Rowed as fast as I could for 30 seconds
  5. Held a squat for 30 seconds to catch my breath

I performed these 5 movements back-to-back to back for 30 seconds each. You can rest if you need to, but try to move quickly from one exercise to the next. Then, I repeated the entire circuit to complete the 5 minutes. This circuit will challenge you. Again, rest when needed but try to improve with each workout.

If you have 45 minutes, you can do the 5×4 workout. For this program you use the same approach as the 30-minute workout, but you add an additional circuit to the strength section finish with 5 stretches, yoga poses and foam rolling (if you have foam roller). You can change the exercise up to meet your needs and equipment.

An example of the recovery segment: Perform a downward dog, right standing quad stretch, left quad stretch, cross-over right, and finish with a left cross-over stretch. Hold each pose for 30 seconds and repeat them twice in a circuit for 5 minutes. Finish the workout with some foam rolling or additional stretching, which will leave you relaxed and ready for the next call or workout.

Don’t Sacrifice Exercise

Hopefully, these workouts help you realize lack of time is an invalid excuse for not working out. Use the power of 5s to help you prioritize firefighter workout time and make fitness progress.

And one last point about creating time. I have worked with thousands of athletes and clients. A lot of them are parents who make many sacrifices for their kids. They sacrifice their time to cart kids to practices and friends’ houses and lessons and events. All this is great, but by not taking control of your health, what kind of example are you setting for your kids—not to mention your crew?

You can find time and make fitness progress, even in a pandemic. Please let me know if I can help you achieve better fitness in 2021. Stay safe, stay positive and Get Fire Rescue Fit.

Author’s Note: My 28-day CATALYST Workout Program is designed to help you improve your performance on (and off) the fireground by maximizing every minute you spend exercising. And it is free for all Lexipol readers right now. Get started today!

Questions or comments? Contact me at or visit Fire Rescue Fitness.

Aaron Zamzow

AARON ZAMZOW is a firefighter/training officer for Madison (Wisconsin) Fire Department with 20 years of experience as a fitness trainer and host of the Better Every Shift podcast. He holds a bachelor’s degree in health and wellness as well as a Precision Nutrition Level 1 certification. He is an NSCA-certified strength and conditioning specialist, an NASM certified personal trainer and an ACE-certified peer fitness trainer. Zamzow is the founder and owner of and develops programs aimed at getting fire rescue athletes fit for duty. He authored the book "Ladder 2 Workout: A Comprehensive Firefighter Workout Program that will get you 'Fit for Duty' in 28 days." Connect with Zamzow on Twitter at @GetFRFit, on Facebook at Fire Rescue Fitness or at

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