By Michael Krueger

It’s necessary for you to understand, believe in, and see the value of your fitness program for you to exploit it to its full potential. This means that if someone asks you a question about an exercise you are doing and you look at them with a blank stare or get offended or defensive because you don’t know the answer, then maybe you need to sit down and review how and why you are training.

It doesn’t matter if you are working with a trainer, or following a routine you read online or found in a book or magazine. If you don’t know why you are doing a routine, then you definitely should find out.


Why Do You Do What You Do?

A current trend is to market programs to a demographic, and fire, police, and military personnel are prime targets. The reality is that a firefighter has the same body as does a police officer, football player, or office worker. The basic physical training of that body is the same. It needs muscular strength, muscular endurance, cardiovascular fitness, and flexibility. It’s like building a house. There are many different types of houses, but they all need to start with a solid foundation. The flourishes and details that distinguish one from the other come later.

It’s the same deal with fitness: The flourishes come much later once your strength and endurance have been solidified. When you have basic fitness, then the appropriate skills training enters the picture. At this time, it may be determined that some aspect of your physical training is lacking and needs additional work for you to perform your skills. This may be because of a demand of your profession or sport, or it may be needed rehab type work because of a previous injury or a weakness. Either way, you will need to add in additional specific assistance work.

Sometimes people go on a specialized workout without having laid the proper foundation. Their progression is generally slow, and issues with injury often crop up. If this is the case, you would be better off backing up a few steps and strengthening your foundation rather than trying to move forward before you are ready.

Once you have moved past the foundation stage, it’s also possible that the routine you have chosen isn’t quite in sync with your goals. If you’re hoping to get more muscular but you are working within the parameters of a power lifting routine, then you aren’t making the most of your efforts. Likewise, if you are using a bodybuilding program with the aim of improving your one max rep strength, then you’ll most likely be disappointed at the outcome. In the short term, if you go into any routine in an untrained state, you will get both stronger and more muscled, but that is just a quirk of nature and not an endorsement of the training methods.

You need to understand your goals so that you may match your desires with your program to see the best return on your efforts.


Fitness Training

The term “fitness athlete” is often applied to an individual who isn’t training solely for strength, endurance, or appearance. They aren’t training for a particular job skill or for specific sport prowess either. They are trying to be a healthy, strong, and fit individual. Sometimes they are accused of training in an unfocused way because of their seemingly willy-nilly exercise programming. There is a method to their madness, though, and it can be a very effective way to train no matter what your ultimate goal.

Without a specific objective other than the somewhat amorphous “fitness,” it can be difficult to tell exactly when you have reached your goal. This can be a problem for those who are very goal oriented. If you need to know when you have “arrived at fitness,” then you may have issues with this type of training. That’s why fitness competitions have cropped up. To me it seems to muddy the waters and confuse the issues when you are competing to see who is the fittest of the fit without any way of determining what that means. Fitness athletes tend to have very different definitions of fit depending on how exactly they plan on using their fitness, though training for these competitions can be fun and motivating if that’s what gets you going.

Usually, but not always, fitness athletes use full body routines as opposed to split routines. This is more in keeping with their nonspecific aspect of training. This isn’t a prerequisite for this type of training since it encompasses a huge range of goals and techniques. Find the type of training that you prefer and use it; there is no “wrong” way to train for fitness.


Defining Fitness

“CrossFit” and “Ninja Warrior” competitions have come to define the body type and abilities that characterize being fit. Unfortunately, if you have no interest (or time) to compete in such activities, you have very little other than your own ideas to go on.

On the surface, that seems as if it might be a problem, but in reality it’s what makes fitness training so enjoyable and personal. You get to decide what you want to do and how you are going to do it. This can be very liberating, provided you have the wherewithal to apply it progressively to your situation.

As a firefighter, you need to possess a certain level of fitness to be able to adequately perform your job. The fitness needed is basic and easy to acquire and maintain, provided you are willing to put forth the consistent effort needed. Once you have attained this basic level of fitness, you are then able to train the skills needed to be a firefighter at the highest level. It’s really pretty straightforward.

Basic fitness is one thing, but achieving an exemplary level of fitness is something else altogether. The level of fitness that you attain in your training is entirely up to you. Once you are strong enough to be able to do your job, you may stop there and enter a simple maintenance program. You may also apply your fitness to playing a sport or becoming an even better firefighter. You’re the one with the dreams and goals, and you’re the one who will have to set the plan and do the work.


… if you just don’t know

You may harbor the secret desire to be a bodybuilder, or a power lifter, or a marathon runner, or a tri-athlete, or the Combat Challenge champion. Then again, perhaps you just want to lose 20 pounds and look good when you go to the beach. Any way you look at it, it helps to define what being fit means to you personally.

Any trainers worth their salt will listen to their clients and design a program that will help them attain the goals that they’ve expressed. Unfortunately, often these desires fall well outside of what can be delivered in a 45-minute session once or twice a week, unless you want to include a mental health profession in the mix. That’s when a subtle, but totally innocent, and in my mind appropriate, manipulation on the part of the trainer takes place.

I can’t make you thin and I can’t make you aerobically fit and I can’t make you a “champion” in the time allotted to me. I can’t make you comfortable and happy with your life; that just isn’t directly within my powers. What I can do is make you strong, very strong, and indirectly this will help you achieve all the other goals you have.

I listen to my clients, I really do. What I hear them say is sometimes different than the words that come out of their mouths. What they want isn’t so much to lose weight or to win a competition as is often the stated goal but rather to feel good and gain control over their body and in doing so gain some control over their life.

After I have worked with clients for a few months, they begin to see how much stronger they are becoming. When this happens, they begin to feel more comfortable, powerful, and in control. They can see what consistently applied effort will do for them both mentally and physically. Soon they are eating better and getting more activity outside of the gym. They are sleeping better and their stress level begins to fall as well. They feel good about themselves and, by extension, they believe that they can in fact do whatever they want to do, be that lose weight, run a marathon, or pass the lieutenant’s exam.



Once you have made progress toward becoming more fit, you will see that there is nothing outside the realm of possibility; this includes not only health and fitness but professional and personal accomplishments as well.

It all begins with your physical fitness. Then, by making the most of the opportunities that life has given you, you will be strong, confident, fit …

…and happy.


Michael Krueger is an NSCA-certified personal trainer. He got his start in fitness training while serving in the United States Coast Guard. He works with firefighters and others in and around Madison, Wisconsin. He is available to fire departments, civic organizations, and athletic teams for training, consulting, and speaking engagements. He has published numerous articles on fitness, health, and the mind-body connection and was a featured speaker at the IAFC’s FRI 2009 Health Day in Dallas, Texas. E-mail him at MKPTLLC@gmail.

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