Selecting Firefighter Functional Fitness Equipment for Your Station Gym

There is a movement in the fire service to workout and train in a more functional capacity. For the firefighter, functional training means integrating exercises that mimic and improve movements commonly done during fire and rescue operations. Functional training improves performance, reduces injuries and ultimately, prolongs careers.

As the exercises get more functional so should the equipment. This brings us to today’s topic. What are some essential pieces of equipment firehouses should have to help promote functional movements for fire rescue athletes?

In this video, I provide some suggestions for you to consider:


Here’s a quick review:

  • Space – The first thing to consider is how many people will be using the equipment. One of the most important pieces of equipment is space. We need to encourage each other to get active and train functionally and we need space to do this. Good workout facilities have areas for multiple people to work out at the same time and should be inviting and not cramped. Workouts are a great way to build crew camaraderie. Make sure you have a room that can adequately cater to all of them.
  • Dumbbells – Dumbbells are versatile and can be used for an endless number of exercises. Multiple crew members can work out at the same time using dumbbells, which you can’t do with traditional machines.
  • Foam Roller – A foam roller is a piece of compressed foam and an essential piece of equipment for any firefighter. The roller is used to help release adhesions and improve mobility and recovery. This small piece of foam can prolong careers by helping firefighters recover faster from strenuous workouts or calls.
  • TRX or Suspension Trainer – Suspension trainers are versatile pieces of equipment that use bodyweight to build functional strength. This type of equipment also challenges and develops the core muscles, which transfers to better performance on the fire/rescue scene. Suspension trainers are portable and do not require a lot of space—another reason they are great for the firehouse
  • Adjustable “corner” cable column – These functional trainers can provide enough resistance to challenge your strongest athletes while also catering to beginners. They have a very small footprint, can be adjusted easily to fit a wide variety of strength levels and provide a different resistance pattern to that of dumbbells or kettlebells.
  • Adjustable squat rack – This is a critical piece of equipment that can triple your safety and give you access to most of the weight training exercises available at a commercial gym. Any bar exercises should be performed in the rack with all the included safety guides in place. The added components to the squat rack are an Olympic bar and plate weights. You can also get full racks that have pull-up bars that TRX and suspension trainers can attach to.
  • Adjustable bench – Buying a solid bench is essential. You don’t want a bench folding up under you when you’re in the middle of a hard set (or EVER for that matter). The adjustable bench will open up a wide range of exercises that can be done with dumbbells or bodyweight.
  • Cardio machines (treadmill, stepmill, stationary bike, rowing machine) – No firehouse gym would be complete if it did not address the need for cardiovascular fitness. Treadmills are a great option, but they do require electricity and can have a large footprint. Stepmills are also a great option and functional since we climb stairs on the job. Bikes and rowers have a smaller frame and footprint and can be moved around to accommodate for space. All these options can used in steady state workouts or intervals, which are one of the best ways to improve cardiovascular recovery. One thing to remember about cardio equipment: It requires maintenance. Make sure to budget accordingly.
  • Additional functional equipment (tractor tires, sandbags, stability balls, old fire hose) – These can be great additional pieces to add to your firehouse gym to promote fireground movements like drags and sledges, but make sure there is still enough space. Tires can take up a lot of room and if they create clutter, it will detract from the usefulness of your workout area.

This by no means is an all-encompassing list, but I do believe any firehouse with this equipment—if there is space to use it—will be effective in promoting functional exercise. Providing functional fitness equipment and having an inviting space to use it will help to change the fitness culture of your department and the fire service.

Questions or feedback? Contact me at #GETFRF

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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