The Great Outdoors: Safe and Effective Ways for Firefighters to Exercise Outside

Research shows exercising outdoors is associated with increased energy, greater enjoyment and less tension.[1] A recent review of studies found that exercising outside can make it feel easier to push harder and might even kick up your motivation a couple of notches.[2] There is nothing better than feeling the breeze and sunshine as you work out.

So, just open your door and go, right? This is easy if you are off duty and have the freedom of going out on a run or working out in the yard or a park. If you are on duty, you have a few more challenges. But, with some planning, you and your crew can capitalize on the summer weather right at the station.

In the following video, I’ll give you some tips to plan successful outdoor workouts for firefighters.

 

Outdoor Workout Safety

Any exercise program has safety considerations; outdoor workouts are no different. Here are three important factors to staying safe while exercising outside.

  1. Start hydrated and stay hydrated. Staying hydrated is always important during exercise, but it’s especially important for outdoor workouts. Do not wait until you are thirsty, make sure you hydrate before, during and after your workouts to prevent heat exhaustion and cramping. You also want to make sure you are still ready for the next call, so make sure to emphasize hydration throughout and before the shift. You should aim to consume at least half of your body weight in ounces of water each day during the summer.
  2. Wear the right gear. If you are running or doing anything around traffic, make sure you wear bright colors and a warning light if at all possible. This also includes wearing sunscreen if you will be out in the sun. Footwear is also very important; make sure you have the right shoes for the exercise. This is a vital step (no pun intended). Playing basketball, running or working out in flip-flops or duty boots can lead to lasting injuries like shin splints, knee strain and/or sprained ankles.
  3. Check your equipment. Suspension straps, webbing and bands are versatile and make for great options for outdoor workouts. If you are using any equipment like bands or resistance straps, ensure they are fastened properly. They can easily give way and lead to injury. And if you are working out in the bay or anywhere outside, make sure the floor is clear of clutter and moisture. Tripping and slipping can also lead to some bad injuries.

Outdoor Workouts 101

Every outdoor workout should start with a warm-up. It is easy to get in the habit of just opening the door or bay doors and going at it. But whether you are going for a run or performing a circuit, an active warm-up will help to ready the body for exercise and improve your mobility. It does not take much—just choose three or four exercises that will get the blood flowing and stretch your muscles. You might also want to add a few minutes of foam rolling.

Next, plan your course and/or circuit. Running or jogging outside and hiking do not take a lot of planning. You do, however, want to make sure you have an idea of where you are going and what you will encounter. Try to get a layout of your course and make sure you have dressed accordingly and are mindful of the safety of your surroundings.

Another option that works especially well in the bay or parking lot of your station is to perform a circuit of exercises. After years of trying different options, I found that choosing six to eight exercises and setting them in a circuit is not only beneficial but can be one of the best ways to incorporate your entire crew. I recommend performing each station for 30 seconds and then taking 30 seconds to switch and rest. Two or three circuits is all it takes to get a good workout and still ensure you have some fuel left in your tank for the rest of the shift.

When selecting exercises, choose some functional movements. Bodyweight exercises are great options for these outdoor or bay circuits. You can perform bodyweight squats, lunges, burpees, mountain climbers, push-ups, and/or attach some webbing to the back of the rig and do body rows. You can also choose to integrate more functional fireground movements into the circuit like running stairs, crawling, drags, equipment carry and sledges on a tire. I also recommend adding at least one core exercise like the plank or the bird dog.

Every good first responder workout needs to include some recovery exercises and stretching. After you complete the circuits, take a couple of minutes to statically stretch your body and bring your heart rate back down. I like to do the same exercises performed in the warm-up but for a prolonged period like 20 to 30 seconds. This will keep you mobile for the rest of the shift and help you recover for the next day.

Putting It All Together

Here are two excellent outdoor workouts for firefighters:

#1: Crew Circuit

Begin with active warm-up. Perform 5 to 6 reps on each side for two circuits:

  • Step-forward toe reach
  • Spidermans
  • Knee drops

Move into the functional circuit. Perform each station for 30 seconds of work/30 seconds of rest. Repeat two or three times.

  • Crawling
  • Stairs (carry some equipment)
  • Planks (hold)
  • Push-ups
  • Body rows (attach webbing to rig)
  • Sledges on a tire
  • Mountain climbers
  • Squat (hold a squat or wall squat)

End with static stretch and recovery. Hold each stretch for 20 to 30 seconds.

  • Step-forward toe reach
  • Spidermans
  • Knee drops

#2: Outdoor Workout

Begin with active warm-up. Perform 5 to 6 reps on each side for two circuits.

  • Step-forward toe reach
  • Spidermans
  • Knee drops

Proceed with an outdoor activity you enjoy for 20 to 40 minutes.

  • Run or jog
  • Hike
  •  Kayak or canoe
  • Walk the dog or kids

End with static stretch and recovery. Hold each stretch for 20 to 30 seconds.

  • Step-forward toe reach
  • Spidermans
  • Knee drops

Get outside, enjoy the weather and feel your mood and fitness level improve. There are a wide variety of outdoor exercises and workout options. Be creative, try to get everyone involved and stay consistent. Let me know what you and your crew do for your workouts. Contact me at zamzowfitness@gmail.com or visit Fire Rescue Fitness.

References

  1. Coon JT, Boody K, Stein K et al. Does participating in physical activity in outdoor natural environments have a great effect on physical and mental wellbeing than physical activity indoors? A systematic review. Environ Sci Technol. 2011:45(5)1761–1772. Accessed 7/31/21 from: https://pubs.acs.org/doi/10.1021/es102947t
  2. Gladwell V, Brown D, Wood C et al. The great outdoors: how a green exercise environment can benefit all. Extrem Physiol Med. 2013(2):3. Accessed 7/31/21 from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3710158/
Aaron Zamzow

AARON ZAMZOW is a firefighter/training officer for Madison Fire Department with 20 years of experience as a fitness trainer. 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 FireRescueFitness.com 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 zamzowfitness@gmail.com.

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