By Michael Krueger
While straightening up my bookshelf the other day (at the behest of my wife), I began procrastinating by glancing through some of the books–training books, in particular.
I have a habit of taking notes while I read. This isn’t limited to books about fitness; I also do it for novels or whatever. Some of the notes I found in the books on training were interesting. It gives me a snapshot of where I was both physically and mentally when I was reading these books.
Here are some of the books on that shelf, what I’ve learned from them, and how they have shaped me over the years.
The first book is Dr. George Sheehan on Getting Fit and Feeling Great by Dr. George Sheehan. This book has influenced the way I’ve approached every aspect of my life, personally and professionally. It contains a wealth of information on every facet of health, fitness, and life. It’s actually three of his books in one (big) volume. I can’t even begin to recall the number of times I’ve read it cover to cover, not to mention the times where I just paged through and reread bits and pieces. I’ll always remember the day Dr. Sheehan died; it was November 1, 1993, and I was listening to NPR’s “All Things Considered” when I heard the news; it was raining … and I was running.
Another is The Complete Book of Sports Medicine by Richard H. Domingues, MD. This one was loaded with little slips of paper. There was one noting toe injuries; I remember that involved my first “blackened” toenail after a race. There were a couple in the knee section, though I seem to recall that those had more to do with curiosity than an acute injury. The section on how to evaluate an injury seemed to be of particular fascination to me, since that is the section the book naturally fell open to.
The Athletic Trainer’s Guide to Strength and Endurance Training by Denise Wiksten and Carolyn Peters is one I go to periodically whenever I need some insight on training a client for a particular sport. There was a bookmark with a few notes in the soccer section dating back to when my son played soccer in high school. There were also some notes in the sprinting section with regard to hamstring training; that was for me a few years back. At the time I recall feeling that it was a weakness of mine; it’s not anymore, by the way. This book is one that I can page through repeatedly and I will always learn something new.
Next up is Ultimate Abs, a Men’s Health publication. This one had numerous bookmarks with questions scribbled on them. I remember it was a few years back when I was searching for some miracle move that would improve my abs; yes, even I can be susceptible to the thinking that there is something I can do that will change everything. Of course, it mostly contains variations of abdominal exercises that I already know, but it was a nice refresher course nonetheless. It has some good nutritional advice as well as exercise techniques. My favorite section title is “Part 6: Emergency! Step by Step Weight Loss Plans for the Desperate Man.”
Another one is Diva: Unleash Your Female Power by Terri Walsh. I got this one on a recommendation from a woman I met at an NSCA clinic about a decade ago. I mentioned that I was training a lot of women and she said that this book might give me some insight into some of the mind/body issues that women confront.
The bookmark in this one is from a used bookstore, and it’s heavily scribbled with questions and comments. At the time, I recall I felt it was a little too warm and fuzzy for my tastes but, after talking with my wife and my female clients, I found that most of what she said rang true with them. So, I reread it, took it to heart, and applied the lessons I learned.
All of these books and a dozen others have informed and influenced my own personal fitness training and the way I train others. I’ve sifted and winnowed and compared and contrasted the information with my personal experience and, over time, came up with my own philosophy. I’ve found that for me, this is the best way to do it.
One Final Book
Going through these books and recalling how they shaped my life and, in turn, how I’ve tried to use the knowledge I gained from them to help others achieve their goals got me thinking about what I’ve been working to accomplish with these Firelife.com columns over the past years.
That was when I knew which book I had to reach for ….
I pulled off the shelf a book titled Hard Work by Brian J. Sharkey and Paul O. Davis; this one I bought at the National NSCA convention in Las Vegas in 2008. I got a lot out of this one, and it had many legal pad pages scribbled with information. Basically, it defines physical work performance requirements. This is the academic way of saying, “What does it take to do a job?” and my major interest in buying it was for the definitions for firefighting.
Through research and testing it has been determined what is physically needed to do pretty much any job you can think of. There are a lot of strenuous jobs out there, and firefighting ranks right up there with the toughest of them. I’m not going to go into specifics at this time as to what the research has determined are the fitness levels required for various types of firefighting, since that could be a whole other column … or two.
There is so much information in this book that I can’t possibly do justice to it in this space. I will say that I believe it’s a book that every firefighter should read and every fire department should have on hand. The data don’t lie, and the conclusions are sobering: Unless you are willing to be at the peak of your physical readiness 24/7, you are putting yourself, your crew, and the public at risk. It really is as simple as that.
This book begs the question, “Are you willing to be brutally honest with yourself when assessing your fitness?” Then, after you’ve done some soul searching, are you willing to address every area in which you don’t measure up?
You have chosen an incredibly demanding profession, and it’s important that you truly understand that. I’ve spoken with enough firefighters to know that some take this responsibility very seriously, while others not so much. When I went to an NSCA Tactical Training convention a few years back, this became very obvious. In the evenings after the seminars were over, the bars were filled to capacity with police officers, firefighters, military personnel, and the NSCA professionals who train them. There were frank and “lively” discussions, and offense was occasionally taken by someone over a remark or two.
The biggest misconception I noted was how many people were in denial regarding the risk they were putting themselves and others at because of their lack of fitness. I heard over and over comments along the lines of “I’m part of a small-town department; odds are that will never be an issue ….” or “Our tallest building is only two stories; how hard is it to run up two stories?” Too many firefighters seem to be willing to roll the dice with their fingers crossed rather than make the effort to be truly job fit.
Don’t Wait Until It’s Too Late
I know that, statistically speaking, you may never be pushed to your breaking point while attacking a fire. You may never be in a situation where a life depends on your fitness as well as your skills … but you might.
Even if you put 30 years in the fire service and never need to dig deep into your reserves, you will never regret knowing that if it had come up you would have been ready. Your exemplary fitness will have paid benefits every day of your working life and will continue to do so every day of your retirement. Don’t let another day go by without doing your absolute best.
Finally, you never know how a book or a seemingly simple conversation might change someone for the better. The words you say and the way you live your life will influence someone else, even if you aren’t aware of it at the time. Perhaps a rookie firefighter will see you working out, putting in some extra training, taking a refresher course at a college, or going out of your way to help someone who is struggling.
Trust me on this; that’s the kind of influence you can have every day…
…and the kind of legacy you want to leave behind.
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.