Lots of Options…Only One Choice

By Michael Krueger

I was talking with someone–not a client, just an acquaintance–about exercise; now isn’t that a surprise? He was confused as to what type of exercise he should do and how often he should do it. He said he just wanted to “get in shape” and he just didn’t know how to do it.

I was slightly confused and amused that he didn’t know what he needed to do since it seems that the info is ubiquitous in our society; but maybe that’s just my perception. I explained what was necessary and I got a bewildered look in return. He said, “That’s it? That’s all there is to it?” and I said, “Yep, that’s all there is to it.”

He asked then why there are so many products and DVDs for sale and so many types of gyms, runs, and classes. I simply said that everyone is wired differently and has different goals and desires. We also live in a capitalist society: Everyone wants to make money, and the market for fitness products is huge and lucrative.

He shook his head and said, “Hmm, I still don’t know what to do.”

All I could think of after our talk was: “It doesn’t need to be this hard.”


What Do You Want … or Need?

When it comes to exercise success, it’s a good idea to know exactly what you need to do to get precisely what you want. For the average person with the simple goal of “being fit and healthy,” a few cardio sessions and a couple of strength sessions each week should do it. Maintaining adequate heart and lung health along with adding some muscle mass is a simple and sustainable goal.

This minimum level of fitness can be accomplished using nothing more than your own body. Getting out and going for brisk walks up and own hills to the point where you are breathing hard will go a long way toward keeping your heart pumping efficiently and your lungs supplying the oxygen needed to fuel you working muscles. You don’t need to run marathons, lift big weights, or train every day.

As for muscle building, doing a few body weight exercises on a regular basis will do the trick. Push-ups, sit-ups, chin-ups, and squats can be an effective workout provided you do them correctly and hard enough to feel a little sore the next day. For those looking to invest the minimum amount of time to strength train, that’s really all you need to do. You won’t ever be amazingly strong or look like a competitive bodybuilder on that program, but you will build and maintain enough muscle to mitigate age-related muscle loss, help maintain good posture and balance, and get you through your day and even your lifetime with a minimum of problems.

If all you’re looking for is basic fitness, the investment in time is minimal. A couple hours per week of moderate activity, and you are good to go. Couple this with a good diet, and you and your doctor will be pleased with the results. You’ll feel good and be far healthier and fitter than the vast majority of your peers.

If you want to kick it up a notch, you can do that as well without making the time investment or the effort onerous. Make it a point to push really hard up the hills during your walking sessions, and add some additional exercises and some light weights or bands to the body weight strength program. You can probably clean up your diet a bit more (nearly everyone can), concentrating on making sure you get an adequate amount of essential nutrients and lesser amounts of processed foods. This increase in exercise intensity and attentiveness to diet isn’t too difficult to do, and you will see a considerable improvement in your overall health and fitness.

Once you’ve decided to increase the intensity of your workout, you may next want to set some future goals. These can be either health or fitness goals, or both. If your family has a history of heart disease or diabetes, you may want to focus on keeping those from becoming issues for you. If you are more competitive or more socially oriented, you may decide you want to train for a run/walk event. Participating in a fund-raiser for a favorite charity is a great way to meet like-minded individuals. You might even find new friends or someone with whom you can work out. Sometimes it helps when training to be doing it for something bigger than you. Whatever works is what you do.

If you’re interested, the next level is when it gets more serious. You set some ambitious goals, create a training program to achieve them, and get down to work. At this point, something other than health and fitness is driving you. The distance between basic fitness and this level is huge. This place ranges from the person who keeps good logs regarding training and diet simply because it’s a good idea to the person who suffers every detail of training from nutrition to cardio and strength.

This is where you decide what it is you’re after and what you are willing to do get it; and if you’re a firefighter, it is a momentous decision indeed.


Training with a Purpose

This next level is where you need to be. Simply being “fit and healthy” may be good enough for your family, but it’s not good enough for a firefighter. Being “average” isn’t good enough for a firefighter. Being in “decent shape” isn’t good enough for a firefighter. It doesn’t matter if you’re full time or volunteer, you are still a high-level professional and, as a professional, you must train to perform at this highest level.

Your friends and family have a choice as to how they approach fitness; you don’t. Going for a walk or pulling bands isn’t going to elevate your fitness to the level where you will be an effective first responder. If you can’t physically perform in the manner required in every imaginable situation, then you have a major problem, and the people you serve have an even bigger problem. Not being able to do your job because you aren’t sufficiently strong or if you need to rest because your cardiovascular efficiency is sub-par is totally unacceptable. If you aren’t willing to up your game, you may need to reconsider your career choice.


How To Do It

It’s not that hard … really. You already have the desire, and with the resources available to you, you can easily gain the knowledge. Don’t look to the muscle magazines or “meatheads” for advice, and don’t look to current fads. Traditional, basic strength and conditioning will get you to where you need to be. Big moves and hard work are the best way to create the fitness you need to be the firefighter you want to be. Exemplary strength and endurance will allow you to train and use your finely honed skills at an intensity and with a precision that you have never imagined. Once your physical fitness isn’t an issue, you will be able to focus on the job at hand without worry. An added benefit, which is often overlooked, is that your brain will work better too. You will learn quicker and easier, and your memory and recall of information will improve. Having a well-functioning brain is always a good thing!

It’s time to make the commitment. Set the goals. Make the plan. Write it down. Live it every day. Tell everyone about the path you are on, and invite them to come along…

…it’s going to be the journey of a lifetime!


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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