How to Train Like a Wildland Firefighter
Shannan Mills – Each year, millions of Americans make New Year’s resolutions. Among them, losing weight consistently ranks at the top of the charts. If you are one of those ambitious individuals who made it their New Year’s resolution to get fit in 2016, then follow this firefighter fitness guide and watch your progress take shape.
FireFit is a fitness program designed to help wildland firefighters get in shape for the upcoming firefighting season. By design it is easy-to-follow, well-balanced, and aimed at keeping participants healthy and safe. Whether you’re looking to become a wildland firefighter or simply extinguish your extra weight, the FireFit program can help you meet your goals.
Pre-Season Fitness Module
The FireFit fitness plan begins with the pre-season fitness module. This is an eight-week module that includes six weeks of “ramping up” and another two of transitioning into the next segment. For firefighters working out year-round, this section helps them switch over from the post-season module of the prior year into the upcoming fire season. If this is your first year on the program, this is where you’ll want to start as it will help prepare your body for the more intense fire season module ahead.
This module begins by focusing on building muscle strength, and later transitions into focusing on muscle endurance. Cardiovascular fitness as well as flexibility are also important components. Below, we outline each element of this module:
Cardiovascular: Start with 4-6 days a week of cardiovascular exercise (such as running) for 30-60 minutes at a time. Individuals should aim for 70 to 85 percent of their established target heart rate. Allow 1-2 days per week of rest. If you are just starting the program, begin with the minimum 4 days per week at 70 percent your target heart rate. In the last two weeks of this module, aim for vigorous cardiovascular fitness 5-6 times per week with at least one rest day per week.
Muscle strength: In the first two weeks, weight lift twice per week at loads of at least 70 percent your maximum strength. Do 8-10 reps in 1-3 sets. Then, increase to three times per week. Allow 48 hours between workouts for muscle recuperation. Consider callisthenic workouts in the first six weeks to complement your strength exercises.
Muscle endurance: Begin building your muscle endurance in the last two weeks of this module. Lift loads 50-70 percent your maximum strength 3-4 days per week, doing 12-20 reps for 1-3 sets in one-minute intervals.
Flexibility: Establish a pre-exercise and post-exercise stretching regimen. Pre-exercise flexibility can include slow activities like warm-up jogs, and post-exercise flexibility should include a slow cool down of static stretches. Hold each stretch for 20-30 seconds, and avoid bouncing.
Rest: Allow 1-2 rest days per week.
Fire Season Fitness Module
The fire season module ensures that wildland firefighting crews stay in shape during the fire season when their fitness matters the most in their job. It’s designed to minimize injury and maximize job performance in the field through intense cardiovascular training and continued muscle strength, endurance, and flexibility exercises. This module lasts for 24 weeks.
Cardiovascular: Cardiovascular training should be performed 5-6 days per week for 45-60 minutes at a time and at 80-90 percent of your target heart rate. Consider cross-training exercises to ensure variety and reduce the chance of injury.
Muscle strength: Strength should be established at this point, but it’s important to maintain it. Using 70-90 percent your maximum weight, perform 8-12 repetitions for 2-3 sets three days per week. Allow a 1-2 minute rest between sets.
Muscle endurance: Using 50-70 percent your maximum weight, perform muscle endurance exercises 3-4 days per week. Complete 12-24 reps for 2-3 sets with a one-minute rest between sets.
Flexibility: Continue your pre-exercise and post-exercise flexibility routine from the pre-season module.
Rest: Rest 1-2 days per week to allow your muscles to recuperate.
Post-Season Fitness Module
The post-season fitness module lasts for 20 weeks after the fire season has ended. It’s designed to keep firefighters in shape even during the off-season. By following this module, firefighters will establish a base fitness level to make entering the pre-season module easier next year. The first two weeks are rest weeks with minimal activity. This allows the body to recover from the rigorous training in the fire season module. In the following 18 weeks, recommendations are as follows:
Cardiovascular: Train 3-4 days per week for 30-45 minutes at a time with an intensity of 65-80 percent your target heart rate. Consider cross-training to diversify your activities. If you’re starting out in this module, work out three days per week for 30 minutes at a time at 65 percent your target heart rate.
Muscle strength: Muscle strength in this module should be minimal to aid those with rehabilitating injuries and to establish a baseline for the pre-season. Start with muscle strength exercises two days per week, and then increase to three days per week throughout the module. Perform 8-12 reps in 1-3 sets while lifting 70-90 percent your maximum weight. Rest for 1-2 minutes between sets, and be sure you’re exercising opposing muscle groups equally.
Muscle endurance: Perform muscle endurance exercises twice per week. Do 12-20 reps in 1-3 sets with one-minute intervals between. Aim for 50-70 percent your maximum weight.
Flexibility: Maintain your flexibility routine as you would for the pre-season and fire season modules, including slow jogs for warm-ups and static stretches for your cool down.
Rest: Allow yourself 2-3 days of rest per week with minimal activity or activities you enjoy during the post-season module.
By following the FireFit program the same way wildland firefighters do, you can ensure that you’ll meet your New Year’s resolution and lose weight this year. Who knows? Maybe by next year you’ll be in good enough shape to apply to be a wildland firefighter!
Shannan was hired as an Administrative Assistant in 2002 and quickly moved into a new role as Marketing Coordinator. Throughout the years, she learned that the Wildland firefighting market and customers were her true passion and in September of 2013, she was promoted to Division Manager for National Fire Fighter Wildland Corp. In her role as Division Manager, she is able to focus on helping the company best serve the Wildland firefighters who protect our lands and homes and growing the Wildland firefighting market.